Coheed & Cambria are a band that isn’t easily pigeonholed. It’s not that they’re doing something completely original; it’s more that their particular combination of influences doesn’t quite fit with any one scene or style. Their brand of prog-rock is both metal and punk-influenced and overlaid with a nebulous, massive sci-fi narrative that’s threaded through all of their albums. It’s not an easy sell outside of a certain, generally geeky audience. Consequently, the band often takes on tours that don’t quite fit with what they do. A couple of stints on the Warped Tour (when your best songs are 6-8 minutes long, a 25-30 minute set can’t be easy to do), a co-headlining trek with Avenged Sevenfold, and a month opening for Linkin Park all preceded this current tour as the second banana on Slipknot’s tour.
The first band of the night, however, was Trivium. While clearly still struggling to get past their “we want to sound exactly like old-school Metallica” phase, the quartet put on an entertaining 40-minute show. Their combination of thrash, blazing guitar solos, and mid-tempo stompers worked well to warm up the crowd, and plenty of people in the audience already seemed to be fans. Still, the band seemed a tad uncomfortable on the big Verizon Wireless Theater stage. Singer/guitarist Matt Heafy and guitarist Corey Beaulieu continually wandered back and forth across the stage during the set, as if they felt like they had to utilize all of that space as often as possible. It got to be really distracting. Even worse, the tour’s two-night stand at Houston’s 3,000-capacity Verizon Wireless Theater was one of the smallest venues on the tour. With almost every other date taking place at big arenas, I had to wonder how Trivium came off in those settings. Heafy also had a habit of urging the crowd to sing along. Hearing him say “If you know the words, sing along!!” once or twice would’ve been okay, but it happened several times. There’s only so much an opening band can ask of the crowd. He also fell back on the tired, “the other cities on this tour were awesome, so you guys have a lot to live up to!” shtick, specifically mentioning how great the Corpus Christi tour stop was and prodding the audience to be even louder than that. Despite the generally fun set, it was clear that Trivium isn’t quite ready to step up out of the club circuit just yet.
With a band as theatrical as Slipknot, their concerts often afford one the opportunity to do some serious people watching. The most obvious thing to observe was the dozens of people sporting one of the official new tour shirts. I know it happens all the time now, but it still pains me to see so many people comfortable with paying $35 and up for a T-shirt. Also interesting was the couple standing with the boy’s arms around the girl, making out to the sounds of Trivium. Oh, and the big bald guy stalking his way across the floor, doing a metal growl along the way. I’ve seen this attempted before, but I’ve never seen a person actually manage to look either tough or cool while walking and growling. This guy was no exception. By far the most amusing incident of the evening, though, was at the entrance. A dude showed up in a full Slipknot mask, obviously expecting to walk right in. He was incredulous when security stopped him and told him he wouldn’t be going in with the mask. At first he tried to mime his way out of it, making gestures to the effect that he couldn’t take off his mask. When this didn’t work at all, he started talking and attempted to argue with security about it, but this didn’t work either. He eventually had to leave, defeated, to go put the mask away.
Coheed & Cambria arrived on stage as a five-piece, with their two female backing vocalists nowhere to be found for this tour. They also had a new three-piece backdrop featuring a faceless figure with a slit, bleeding throat and banners to each side saying “Your God Will Not Save You.” I’m not sure what this was referencing, but it seemed specifically targeted at making the band seem tough and intense in front of the Slipknot crowd. Similarly, the six-song set was filled with the band’s harder-edged material. They opened with their biggest hit, “Welcome Home”, and the instantly recognizable guitar riff brought a big cheer from the crowd. From there it was onto “Al the Killer”, with its chorus of “When I kill her / I’ll have her” and its relentless chugging guitars. The middle of the set ran through a trio of songs from the No World for Tomorrow album—“Gravemakers and Gunslingers”, “No World for Tomorrow”, and “The End Complete.” The latter was interesting to see live, as the band didn’t perform it on any of their tours in 2007 or ‘08. It was also the only song of the set where lead singer Claudio Sanchez pulled back his caveman-like mane of hair into a ponytail and let the audience see his face.
The set closed, predictably, with the band’s signature epic, the title track from In Keeping Secrets of the Silent Earth: 3. With its creepy, atmospheric opening riff, bombastic chorus, and false ending, it makes for a great finisher. The audience was generally receptive to the set, but not overly so. But the setlist itself was well chosen to appeal to the Slipknot fans. The difference between Trivium and Coheed & Cambria’s stage presence was striking. Coheed has done arena tours and regularly headlines theaters the size of the Verizon Wireless, and they seemed much more comfortable with the large environment. Band members generally stayed in their own zone, without standing stock-still. But the lack of running around seemed to indicate a greater confidence in themselves. As for Slipknot, well, I don’t have anything against their music, but I wouldn’t call myself a fan, either. I weighed the idea of sticking around to see them play, but in the end I decided to take advantage of the early night to go home and watch that evening’s episode of Lost instead.