[7 December 2004]
Coheed and Cambria
So this is what the kids are listening to—apparently in large enough numbers to sell out the Bowery Ballroom. Judging by audience members, most unable to grow the requisite facial hair required to follow prog rock bands of the Coheed and Cambria ilk, people under the age of 18 have finally latched onto something other than saccharine chart music.
Kids with parents. Kids making out. Kids spewing their first alcohol-fueled puke. Kids simultaneously chewing pink bubble gum and drinking beer. All types turned out in New York to witness a poor metal band followed by an onslaught of sensitive prog rock.
In a gutsy attempt to gain a fan base, UnderOath delivered a series of incoherent screeches and synchronized four-person finger points to the sky. The band put in more effort than this description alludes. So did the audience. By that virtue, I feel compelled to explain why their sound didn’t appeal to me. From the dull stomp-along bass to the middle of the road metal percussion, UnderOath did nothing to raise the bar, coming off as little more than an ordinary, if slightly affected, metal band. Weakening the combination were inexplicably odd changes and bridges, a furiously energetic yet somehow ineffective keyboard operator and a front man with the apparent desire to sound inhuman.
Not being in the front 10 rows, I wasn’t able to tell if the free water show made the necessary difference. Dallas Taylor, UnderOath’s long-haired front man, delighted in liberally dousing his hair with water, only to vigorously shake it—in the process he silhouetted himself in the stage lights. Soft, ‘80s hair-band moment: “roar.” Unfortunately Taylor’s audition for a cutaway Baywatch scene went unnoticed by the crowd, who were baying for more noise to fuel their party.
From my perspective, UnderOath’s performance may have been spirited, but they lacked the musical ability to merit inclusion in a high school battle of the bands.
We should give the kids in the audience credit where it’s due. As Coheed and Cambria took the stage the crowd surged forward in worship of the group. The band shares its name with Coheed and Cambria, two characters that live in their song narratives as well as a series of comic books released by the band to help heighten the experience. Perhaps the onrushing was that of autograph hunters seeking signatures on their copies of the comic book. I honestly couldn’t see past the hundreds of kids piling forward.
When I turned, not one drifter remained clutching the bar. A few parents were left scattered in the dark corners of the Bowery Ballroom anxiously watching the churning mixture of clothing, bodies, and a guy wearing a Garfield costume (really!) as they bounced over the heads of the feisty, rambunctious crowd.
As Claudio Sanchez’s soulful vocals first emerged from the powerful punk, melodic yet crunchy rhythm mixture, someone nearby was overheard suggesting a resemblance to Hanson. A visible circle of the band’s loyal fan-base formed around her in disagreement. On closer inspection there is an element of shrill clarity, similar to that of the blonde pop triumvirate. Sanchez’s hair is certainly not of the blond pop type, its dark coils defying gravity in much the way his characters do in his songs’ various space-action epics.
Travis Stever has a wonderful affinity with his guitar’s fretboard, clutching, twisting, stretching, and screeching in a dazzling display. As powerful and cleverly deployed as Sanchez’s high-pitched vocals were, Stever’s accompanying caterwaul detracted from the overall presentation. In the digital recording of Coheed and Cambria this unnecessary element appears to have been wisely suppressed.
“Emo,” possibly meaning emotive rock, was an invention of the popular music press used to describe the synergy between prog rock and emotionally charged songwriting. Coheed & Cambria’s mysterious world of violent and heroic stories, told through a cleverly crafted mixture of melody and typical prog-genre guitar hooks, has unjustly attained this label, vastly underselling the band’s talent. The typical Coheed & Cambria follower is empowered to explore the band’s complex narrative through the comic books, developing a tighter emotional connection to the characters and the music, more than merely the angst ridden moments of vulnerable boy/girl love affairs that usually characterize emo music.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with boys screaming, “man your own jackhammer, man your battle station,” can be a bewildering experience. That is, unless you’ve taken the time to work out why anyone would make reference to a hand-held machine for drilling pavement. The band’s 2002 debut The Second Stage Turbine Blade invited the listener to an underworld in the midst of a fight for survival. When the band released the apocalyptic In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 the characters Coheed and Cambria addressed the tragedy of their space-dwelling existence.
The band’s ambitiously layered metal and hard-rock sound, delicately woven around a story with the complexity of the Star Wars trilogy, was lost in the cavernous Bowery Ballroom and also as the result of the overly boisterous crowd. Coheed and Cambria’s stripped down interpretations of their two albums were, thankfully, played out of sequence. It’s true; the result created a certain musical flow but still lacked the energy of the recorded material.
Rather surprisingly, the band recently won two of college network mtvU’s Woodie Awards (http://www.mtvu.com/music/woodie_awards/) in the categories “Soundtrack of My Life Woodie” and “The Road Woodie,” for the best album and for the best live performance respectively. The first award is a mild overstatement but not as difficult to believe as the second accolade, based on the live evidence I witnessed. Then again, a legion of hearty stooges never did any harm to one’s chances of winning an online poll. With loyalty like this you can expect Coheed and Cambria action figures to appear at the merch stall the next time the tour swings through town.