How do you like your prog metal?
With or without vocals? With a little death thrown in? Maybe some post-rock? Some Rush?
The crowd at Stage AE got it every which way Thursday night from an ear-shredding four-hour bill topped by Coheed and Cambria, a band that's become popular enough to sell out the 2,500-capacity venue.
If you got there late, or were stuck in the security line outside, you may have missed some or all of Russian Circles, which is too bad because it was the night's most jaw-dropping musical display. The Chicago trio, with only spare backlighting, carefully and flawlessly went at it like metal architects, building the songs up from simple melodic foundations into towering skyscrapers. Think Explosions in the Sky with more explosion. Guitarist Mike Sullivan and bassist Brian Cook brought the monster riffs and squalls, but the focal point was drummer Dave Turncrantz, who isn't fancy, but is up there with the best drummers I've ever seen.
Holding down the middle slot was Between the Buried and Me. The North Carolina quintet, which incorporates the death growls, is among the wankiest, most bombastic, emotionally sterile bands I've ever encountered. The songs made no structural sense, jumping through genres (I swear there was jazz fusion and country in there, too) like an iPod run amok. Frontman/keyboardist Tommy Giles Rogers really should decide if he wants to sing pretty or monster growl, because switching on and off so rapdily is just silly and schizoid. It was an interminable hour of heavy music with a deadening effect, trying so hard to rock that it barely did. Aside from the 20 or so moshers up front, people seemed to be enduring it more than enjoying it. At least that was the feeling I got from the people around me, although the crowd was heavily slanted toward the poppier Coheed.
Just about anything would have sounded good after that, making the melodic Coheed even more of a welcome relief to the ears. Not many prog-metal frontmen would hit the stage with a ukulele, but Claudio Sanchez couldn't care less about the rules. In another universe (and they actually constructed one over seven albums), Coheed is an arena band. In this one, it does an arena-sized show in a large-scale club. Sanchez, with one of the biggest manes in the business, is a friendly, energetic singer with a impressive range and guitar chops to match. Look no further than his intricate acoustic solo on "Iron Fist." Coheed also had a nice balance of majestic rock (any of those songs that started with the words "Key Entity"), moody intimacy (again, "Iron Fist") and straight-up hard rock ("A Favor House Atlantic") that got the crowd shouting along for the first time of the night.
(Revised on Feb. 11)