Coheed and Cambria came through Houston on 27 April with the latest iteration of their Neverender tour, this time performing their album Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Part 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness in its entirety. The Neverender tours have proven to be a uniquely synergistic endeavor between the band and its fans. Back in 2008, following the main tour in support of 2007’s No World for Tomorrow, the band did four-night residencies in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and London. They played their albums in sequence, one per night, and dubbed the shows “Neverender” after a song on their first album. Since the band is a progressive rock outfit with a continuing storyline that runs through these albums, there is a certain satisfaction that comes with seeing them performed front to back. With the full Neverender tours, fans in all the cities get to share in this experience, albeit one album at a time. And the band has a guaranteed way to bring out their audience on tours when they aren’t promoting a new album.
Opening the show was fellow progressive rock group the Dear Hunter. Casey Crescenzo’s band has their own ongoing in-album story that has continued (with interruptions) throughout their career, but they’ve never quite broken through like Coheed and Cambria have. Aside from a handful of fans that cheered exuberantly for every song, the bulk of the audience (including myself) was unfamiliar with the band’s material. Still, the band’s combination of dramatic rock songs, interesting musical twists and turns, and ability to rock hard when they wanted won the crowd over. The people around me, at least, were polite and attentive and didn’t show any of the usual signs of boredom that come with a poor opening act. Of particular note were Crescenzo’s soulful vocals and the band’s spot-on harmonizing, often in three or even four parts.
Amidst the piped-in song “Keeping the Blade” that serves as the album’s introduction, lead singer Claudio Sanchez strode out to the stage with an acoustic guitar to perform the ballad “Always and Never.” Sanchez played the tender song (with hints of violence) mostly under blue and purple lights until right near the end, when the full lights came up, and the crowd roared. The crowd roared again immediately afterward and headbanged along as the band kicked into “Welcome Home”, their biggest hit and traditionally an opener or closer in the group’s more conventional shows. From there it was the catchy, high-velocity rocker “Ten Speed (Of God’s Blood and Burial) and onward through the rest of the record.
While the band played, three vertical screens at the back of the stage showed spacey, psychedelic imagery related to each song. These images often had minor bits of animation to them and tended to repeat hypnotically throughout the song. Sometimes it was distracting enough to make one stop focusing on the band itself, but the audience’s enthusiasm and loud sing-alongs throughout made it clear they were fully engaged.
The highlights of the show were, as expected, the highlight songs from the album itself. Coheed and Cambria aren’t known for jamming or rearranging their songs, so the album was presented pretty much as-is. The biggest sing along came from mid-album acoustic break “Wake Up”, possibly the best ballad the band has ever written, which led to “The Suffering”, possibly the catchiest song the band has ever written. “The Suffering” in particular was excellent because it’s one the band hasn’t played much in recent years and hearing the crowd chant along to the cheerleader-like “Hey! Hey!” background shouts is always exciting.
The four-part suite that closes the album was a treat since the band, as far as I know, has never performed all of those songs together outside of a Neverender show. “From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness”, with its uncharacteristically bouncy groove, had the audience bopping along. And the band got a huge pop for the guitar riff quote of earlier single “Blood Red Summer” that anchors the second half of the song “Apollo II: The Telling Truth.”
And then there’s closer “The Final Cut”. On the record, it’s a heavy, portentous track that effectively finishes the album on a note of doom and gloom. But live it is the band’s designated song for jamming. It goes well beyond the regular five minute running time and can last for as much as 15 or 20 minutes. And it tends to be excruciating, precisely because Coheed and Cambria aren’t a jam band and they don’t improvise as an ensemble. The extended live versions of the song just feature the band endlessly trading solos around, and it’s an exercise in pure rock wankery. This version was no exception, but at least they finished it up at the 10-minute mark.
The encore was relatively brief, with only three songs. The catchy 2015 single “Island” started things off on a bright note and was immediately followed by the knotty, not at all catchy fan favorite “Delirium Trigger” from the band’s first album. The show closed, as it must, with “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3”, the eight-minute epic of great guitar riffing and shout-alongs that never leaves the band’s setlist (and with good reason).