Northern Ireland trio, Fighting With Wire opened the evening with a half hour spanking of their ballsy alt-rock. Compiling the majority of the set from new album Colonel Blood, guitarist/vocalist Cahir, bassist Jamie and drummer Craig impressed with a sound that combines the likes of Foo Fighters with local heroes Biffy Clyro. Although ‘Colonel Blood’ pounded and delivered with a brawny UK rock style much like early noughties Brit stars, Reuben. ‘Waiting On A Way To Believe’ and its tight vocal harmonies sounded great on top of groovy riffs and the tenderer ‘I Won't Let You Down’ was a set highlight with equal amounts of melody and power. “Are you fucking ready for this shit?!” the lads quipped in between a lot of stage banter and jokes in their thick brogue. Heavier slices of alternative goodness came from their 2008 debut Man vs Monster; the stomping raw energy of ‘My Armoury’ and the darker thrash of ‘Make A Fist’ showing their experience and ending their time with a confident and authoritative air.
After the ‘Wire had left the stage, it was a mere twenty minutes before the next support arrived. Claudio Sanchez stepped out, unruly hair tied back and acoustic guitar in hand. Yes that's right, Coheed and Cambria in some sense, also supported themselves with what was an intimate and heart-warming mini acoustic set. Opening with the beautiful love letter, 'Pearl Of The Stars', the frontman/guitarist started alone to elated whoops and warm applause. He was soon joined by the rest of the band for a stripped down version of fan-favourite, ‘A Favour House Atlantic’ as well as the already quite tranquil and bare ‘Mother Superior’ and ‘Wake Up’. There were a few blank faces on those that arrived a little late to the mellow and serene sounds coming from the stage. Whispers of "Who's that?" and "Oh brilliant, they're opening for themselves!" were uttered around. Fifteen minutes after they had walked off, they re-emerged all fired up and ready to start blowing fuses and people's minds.
With the orange glow of the band’s Keywork symbol adorning the huge backdrop, they appeared to the buzz of low resonating notes and an equally buzzing crowd. Opening with the suitably dramatic and perfect combo of 'No World For Tomorrow' and 'Gravemakers & Gunslingers' from 2007’s Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow, they simply astounded the rammed room. Soon enough the magical 'fro was let loose and Claudio looked to be enjoying every second of The Second Stage Turbine Blade classic ‘Everything Evil’ next to long-standing lead guitarist Travis Stever. Well, from what I could see of his face under those infamous untamed locks. After we had been well and truly pumped up, they continued with the lesser-known ‘Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant’ which I have only heard once previously. It will be featured on The Afterman: Descension - the upcoming second part to the band’s ambitious double-release.
As men of very few words, in-between songs for the majority we were presented with hums and blips of what sounded like spacecraft cockpit sounds as the band regained their energy. The flurry-like riff of ‘Ten Speed (Of God’s Blood & Burial)’ brought us into the next section which also included a brilliant high-energy performance of ‘The Suffering’; another from their wonderful third release, Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness. The passionate high-pitched singer pulled off intricate guitar solos like he eats them for breakfast, all the while mounting the drum riser and once again trying to tie back his hair. The mini “plays” going on around as people attempted to act out as well as mime the words with their friends/partners were both hilarious and touching; the overwhelming passion of the fans was pouring out of the vast venue.
When any speaking did take place, it was of a very humble and genuine nature; no swearing or smutty banter to be heard. The New Yorkers kept it simple - “Are you havin’ a good time tonight?" to which the sweat-drenched fans replied with much delight. “We had a new album come out recently..." the unassuming leader gently teased as the opening sweet guitar lick of ‘The Afterman’ rung out. It’s one of the band’s most peaceful and tender ballads and provided a little break of sorts from the alternative-rock onslaught. The thing with Coheed and Cambria is that they make it look so easy; like second nature. They’re the kind of guys who you can see live, breathe and feed off of music. And everyone in the Capital was soaking up their greatness like a sponge. Another new hit, ‘Goodnight, Fair Lady’ brought a lighter atmosphere with its comical, Broadway musical style and ‘Here We Are Juggernaut’ brought back the brawn. In fact it was the only track in the set to come from 2010’s Year of the Black Rainbow album (aside from the earlier acoustic ‘Pearl Of The Stars’).
To end the bulk of their set, Coheed used the slow-burn of ‘In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3’; recently returned drummer Josh Eppard strongly guiding the dark number. The big choruses instigated a succession of crowd surfers whilst cries of “Man your own jackhammer! Man your battle stations!” filled the air. As the track ended and the band left the stage, I couldn’t quite make up my mind on what a great encore would entail. With so many strong tracks across their six mammoth concept albums to pick from, I was ready and willing to hear anything further from their vast catalogue. With the Keywork logo behind starting to glow red and another low hum resonating from what appeared to be new bassist, Zach Cooper’s instrument, I had a fair idea what was coming. And soon enough the cinematic guitar melody of ‘Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute’ paired with Claudio’s creepy but enticing “la la la” vocal enveloped me. The nigh-on eight minute single proved to be even grander in the flesh; every complicated section played flawlessly.
From one huge crowd pleaser to another, they sustained momentum with one of their best live songs; the tense and relentless ‘Welcome Home’ with its instantly recognisable acoustic intro. The highlight was the singer ascending what appeared to be a plinth at the side of the stage for an incredible guitar solo, shredding his double-headed Gibson above his head and whipping his hair maniacally. They then brought the evening to a slow and steady conclusion with the fitting ‘The Willing Well IV: The Final Cut’ - “This is no beginning, yeah yeah! This is the final cut, I'm in love” It’s a groovy prog-rock jam with plenty of impressive soloing and a cool Jimi Hendrix-like vibe. As an extended outro of sorts, instead of being a big final full stop to the set, it was more of a cliff-hanger ending; an Arnie-type “We’ll be back” moment which suited me to a T.
Coheed and Cambria are a band who come to life in the live environment; no gimmicks, cheesy wordplay or OTT production needed. Their professionalism and passion emanated from the stage and they lit up London with a well-executed set from their ever-expanding and dynamic repertoire of progressive and melodious rock slabs. I particularly loved the one-part acoustic and one-part electric element to the evening. It felt like something more personal and meaningful than your usual brief encounter with an international band of their calibre. With a lengthy US touring schedule still ahead, it will see them right through to the February 2013 release of the highly-anticipated concluding part of The Afterman story. And with any luck they’ll be back on this shore in the new year to play it out, ideally with a high-profile, if not headline slot at a UK summer festival. They certainly deserve it from the standard of this performance alone.
Photo credit to Jemma Dodd.