As a fledgling band in the late nineties/early noughties alternative rock scene of America, how do you go about staking a place at the table without becoming one of the faceless crowd? Simple – you design your entire catalogue of songs around a comic book saga written by your frontman, and combine the nerdy musical equivalents of progressive rock, pop punk and heavy metal to make something defiantly unique in execution.
|Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria, performing live in 2015.|
So goes the recipe of Coheed and Cambria, one of new prog’s leading exports and commercial heavyweights, at least Stateside. For their eight and most recent record The Color Before the Sun though, they’ve gone off-piste from their space opera sage, instead delivering a tightly packed album of mainstream-shiny pop-rock gems which lyrically ignores all seven sets before. It’s a surprising sidestep at first glance, but singer and guitarist Claudio Sanchez possesses an ear for an inventive and original pop song, glimpses of which have been teased throughout their thirteen year recording career so far.
Their middle show of a three-date jaunt across the UK takes in Manchester’s small O2 Ritz, an elegantly upholstered venue that does no benefit with its sound for minor support band Crooks, whilst the returning Glassjaw underwhelm in a scattershot set where they look to be going through the motions. In comparison, there is something wild and untamed about C&C’s performance, from opening note to closing barrage. They play four tracks from The Color Before the Sun and each one numbers amongst the most rapturously received of the night. Opener Island is a buyout blast that hides its darker lyrical platitudes underneath a melody that brings warm skies and summer to the mind. Lead single You Got Spirit, Kid is indebted to late-seventies power pop. Here to Mars is a heavy power ballad for the modern band that soars on its feedback-drenched melody. In recalling seventies rock influence on the pop side of the spectrum, C&C cultivate an inviting familiarity to their tracks, comforting FM radio-friendly pop rock that celebrates the joyousness of the moment.
|Travis Stever, of Coheed and Cambria, performing live in 2013.|
The rest of their eighty-minute set is littered with a career-spanning romp through live staples, deeper cuts and early singles, with all but one of their remaining seven albums encompassed. Devil in Jersey City goes down a storm, triggering mass singalongs, alongside bubblegum-punk cuts such as Blood Red Summer and A Favor House Atlantic as Sanchez and long-time guitarist Travis Stever throw themselves around the stage. Progressive metal number Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant exemplifies Sanchez’s episodic format of concept albums perhaps better than anything else played, though his vocals and the bass of Zach Cooper are sometimes drowned out substantially. When it reaches the final song of the main set, their standout dark-prog masterpiece In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, the frontman solos above his head and with his teeth on the fretboard. In the hands of other rockers, it may seem cliché, but there is a genuine earnestness from the softly spoken Sanchez that stops it from becoming gimmicky.
They encore with a double-hit of singles, Ten Speed (Of God’s Blood and Burial) and their alternative metal fan favourite Welcome Home, its melodic grooving structure raising the echoes of classic seventies rock wrapped in a bludgeon of a riff. It’s a fittingly overblown end for a band to whom subtlety has never been a strong suit – but it’s also shown that outside of the quasi-conceptual journeys, C&C known how to write a damn good pop record and play it well too.