Symphony X / Epica
6 March 2008
Epica had been cancelling most of their recent dates due to the protracted illness of vocalist Simone Simons. With headline dates around the UK put on hold, tonight was a one off support performance. With the Indigo intro tape playing, the male members took their places on stage one by one before launching into The Obsessive Devotion. Right on cue for her first line, Simone entered the stage, and with her illness well publicised, was met with a cheer from the crowd. Certainly her vocal didn’t seem any different to normal and she even indulged in some headbanging as if to signify she was giving no less than 100%. It seemed apparent that 100% was “under the circumstances” as she departed the stage for the middle section of the song which did not require her vocal.
Guitarist and growler Mark Jansen greeted the crowd and introduced Sensorium from the band’s debut cd The Phantom Agony. As the song broke into a regimented beat, Simone got the crowd clapping along, instructing us it was “Time for a little bit of aerobics”. With a pretty good and not overly loud sound, the band seemed to relax at this point and began moving around the stage a little.
Simone was left to introduce Menace Of Vanity, noting that for Epica it was great to be playing a larger venue in London. The fans at the front seemed to really enjoy this song. Chasing The Dragon seemed like a sign of defiance against Simone’s illness, casting her in the limelight with just guitar backing her voice as the song built. However, I must confess this is where my attention started to wander. Whilst undeniably good musicians, I have difficulty keeping interest in Epica’s material beyond a few songs. It doesn’t really help that, aside from Simone and Mark Jansen, the band seem very laid back in the performance department. Speaking to a few people afterwards, it seemed that whilst some were in agreement, others were deeply devoted to the band. A brave performance then which was well received by fans of the band.
Epica set list:
Indigo (Intro) / The Obsessive Devotion / Sensorium / Menace Of Vanity / Chasing The Dragon / Sancta Terra / Cry For The Moon / Fools Of Damnation / Consign To Oblivion
I was quite surprised that this show was actually taking place in the larger of the two Astoria venues, with Symphony X headlining the smaller venue on their last album’s cycle. The Astoria 2 (or Mean Fiddler as it was called then) was respectably if not heavily attended last time and you could say the same about tonight, though bearing in mind this is a much bigger venue. Indeed it was quite busy downstairs even with the balcony opened and the loud responses to songs from the band’s latest album would lead you to believe they picked a number of fans up from their support slot to Dream Theater at Wembley Arena.
A widescreen backdrop of the band’s Paradise Lost album artwork with no band logo was cast in red light as the Oculus ex Inferni intro was played over the PA to loud cheers. Unsurprisingly, Set The World On Fire (The Lie Of Lies) opened the show, with frontman Russell Allen getting the crowd to sing the “Forever higher” line in each chorus. As the song reached Michael Romeo’s ripping solo it was apparent that there was an imbalance in the crowd, with a much larger swell at the guitarist’s side of the stage, straining to see him speed across his fretboard.
Looking like a Musketeer with his goatee beard, bassist Mike LePond led the band into Domination, which is exactly what they were doing on this crowd who were lapping it up. Aside from the fact that Allen is at the top of the game in terms of his vocal which was outstanding tonight, he has also become a much more commanding frontman than I last recall, as he incited the crowd to a spot of jumping during The Serpent’s Kiss. Drummer Jason Rullo received a well deserved cheer as Allen introduced him before his mini solo section mid song.
Allen announced that Symphony X were in Paris last night, to a chorus of boos from the crowd. Grinning he hinted that tonight might be livelier, before Masquerade, which originally appeared on the band’s 1994 self titled debut, followed.
Taking the foot of the gas, the more ballad-like Paradise Lost was up next, with the crowd waving their arms along with the song. It was interesting to watch Allen’s control of the microphone as he put in an emotive performance. He was not going to do all the work tonight though and handed over the vocal to the crowd and where I had expected the sing-along to die off after the “Looking down on Ethereal Skies” line, it was carried for the whole chorus.
This time it was Michael Pinnella who was introduced as he made use of his three banks of keyboards for the epic Through The Looking Glass Pts 1-3. The song was broken up with a number of stops to allow for some crowd interaction. Allen held a sustained note whilst in the spotlight to huge cheers. He then indulged in some “Yeah” call backs with the crowd and once satisfied with the response proclaimed, “Now that’s what London is all about”. It was then time for some comedy as Allen showed us how he could “Unleash the power” with his hand, sparking the band into life. As Part 2 passed by both Romeo and LePond were afforded solos.
Picking up the pace, Inferno (Unleash The Fire) took us to Smoke and Mirrors which sounded particularly fast tonight with Allen’s vocals recalling the dramatics of Ronnie James Dio. As Romeo raced through another killer solo during Sea Of Lies, Allen finally proclaimed that tonight was “The number 1 show on the tour so far.”
Closing the main set, Revelation from the band’s latest album was appended with part seven of The Divine Wings Of Tragedy opus. Allen had been wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt tonight and it was that band’s Immigrant Song that opened Symphony X’s encore. Stopping the song after a couple of minutes to a huge cheer, Allen concluded, “I feel like I’m in England now”, as the band launched into their own Eve Of Seduction.
The Malmsteen-esque Out Of The Ashes came as a welcome surprise, with Allen asking at its conclusion “Are you lot entertained yet?”. Absolutely we were, but it was no surprise that Of Sins & Shadows was still left to being the evening to the close, with Allen juggling water bottles and tossing them into the crowd.
This was a first class performance from Symphony X who really appear to have moved up a gear, able to balance progressive with catchy material and thoroughly entertain at the same time.
Symphony X set list:
Oculus ex Inferni (into) / Set the World on Fire (The Lie of Lies) / Domination / The Serpent’s Kiss / Masquerade / Paradise Lost / Through The Looking Glass (Pts.1-3) / Inferno (Unleash The Fire) / Smoke and Mirrors / Sea of Lies / Revelation / The Divine Wings of Tragedy Part VII- Paradise Regained / Immigrant Song (excerpt) / Eve of Seduction / Out Of The Ashes / Of Sins and Shadows