This has been the scenario for thousands of shows I have seen. Maybe 6,000 plus shows that I have attended or performed in since I was a small child. The final bow, thunderous applause, and the blinding lights of the house coming on, our shared experience ending as we gather ourselves to go to the bar, or home. Except this was different. This was the last time I would ever see Slayer. It was definitely hitting me, long before the final notes of ‘Angel of Death’ rang out and the final jets of pyro screamed across the top of the band in a way that would excite Beavis and Butthead to no end. Continue reading →
The year was 1993 and the times they were a changing. The generational pull of Gen X was underway and a new American President ushered in a hopeful, new time for a while. Some of the cultural touchstones of the time included a weekly science fiction program about aliens and monsters dominated prime time in The X-files, the best comedy in ages, Groundhog Day reminded us why Bill Murray was and is a goddamned national treasure, and Jurassic Park was the most dominant movie in half a decade. Also, a little known “alternative metal” band from Los Angeles, by way of everywhere else named Tool hit the scene with their début full-length album and changed the course of modern music. Oddly those particular references to pop culture coinciding with Tool’s ascendance from the underground to popularity all signal a weird synchrony that was represented by the band and the music they brought to bear.
Boston was ablaze with amazing epic geekyness for a Friday night, befitting of an evening with prog rock mastery. The music school nerds were out in force, and some death metal fans were in the crowd as Cynic made a rare appearance in Boston. They actually played this venue once a few years ago when it was called Harper’s Ferry, and on that night they played their classic Focus albumin full. No one expects them to go too far down memory lane much anymore, but the band still has it’s ardent fans, many who were sporting merch from their recent album Kindly Bent To Free Us (Season of Mist). The bill was also stacked with a collection of awesome and unusual bands, but the crowd was definitely open-minded and ready for fun.
Kicking things of was Protean Collective . Protean Collective are Boston’s answer to Dream Theater, and the comparison my friends is legit. Every member of the band is a virtuoso level talent, but they also know how to write a catchy, rocking tune or three. The early crowd was full and packed at the front, hanging on the bands’ every note. When they played ‘Caldera’ off of their recently released The Red and The Grey album, there was an audible recognition in the crowd, as if everyone all said “ah, they are playing my jam!”, all at once. The entire band was impressive, but as usual we were watching drummer Matt Zappa from the far side of the stage. He was just crushing on this night. If you love progressive metal, do not sleep on this band! Coming up next was Buffalo, New York’s The Reign of Kindo. Playing a spastic mix of jumbled styles from Jazz, to Afro-Cuban, to funk, to pop, to rock; these guys interchanged styles like you wouldn’t believe. They were really phenomenal singers too, everyone of them. Their ability to share the wealth musically was very impressive, but ultimately they were not really my thing. A little too much pop cuteness, but still, you have to give it up to them for the level of musicianship and fun they bring to the table.
Everyone in the house seemed to be repping Lesser Key tonight, equally hard as Cynic in fact. This really surprised me, since I consider Lesser Key still somewhat of an underground band. I suppose it would be hard to keep secret a prog metal band with a founding member of Tool as their bassist, Paul D’Amour. While most of the press focuses on this factoid, the real story is their brilliant self-titled debut EP (Sumerian) and their dynamic stage show. It’s hard not to be transfixed by front man Andrew Zamudio, with his haunting voice and performance. He is what I would term “a singer’s singer”; capable of anything. The band plays their take on post-metal/prog-metal with dynamic swells and peaks, with droning licks followed by crunching riffage. The band put on a performance worthy of a headliner, not an easy feat on this night. I don’t believe the band has toured all that much either so the amount of people in the crowd singing a long was surprising to me. I’m just glad there weren’t idiots out there yelling at Paul to play Tool songs, like I imagined. I applaud him for carving his own path and leading this new project. I for one am looking forward to more new music from them soon.
Earlier in the night hanging outside of the venue, I bumped into Sacha Dunable, the affable singer of Intronaut and a few other bands. Sacha was teching on this tour for Cynic and he agreed with me when I claimed it must be just an experience working with Paul Masvidal on any level. They guy has a pure spirit and he is genius guitar player as we were about to find see. Armed only with a cool video screen and some clever sound clips between songs, Cynic was here to play some prog rock tonight and blow some minds. They did just that! Opening with ‘True Hallucination Speak’ the place went wild at the atypical opening song. Cynic has become a band focused on the overall sonic picture, not just a little feature piece here and there. Master musicians and performers don’t have to fall prey to the trappings of the comfortable after all. The band is always excellent live, but now was buoyed by the presence and monster bass playing of Sean Malone. As a huge prog fan and bassist, I have waited my entire adult life to see Sean effortlessly express himself in a live setting. Damn, he was flawless! Naturally Paul’s playing and singing were exemplary. If you look clearly at Paul’s fret hand, I think there is an face-sucker from Alien trying to break out of his forearm muscles and kill someone! Max Phelps has also grown into a nice compliment to Paul too over the last few years, and chipped in some occasional growls, much to the delight of the long-hairs in the room
The set list was beautifully constructed. I joked that after ‘Veil of Maya’ from Focus was performed, the death metal heads in the room could go home. Hopefully, people stuck around. Sean Reinert has never sounded better and he was just insanely tight on the older material, especially. He seems to be in about the best shape of his life too, as he never seem to tire. There were truly some magical numbers played tonight as ‘Carbon-Based Anatomy’, ‘Integral’, ‘This Space for This’, and ‘Gitanjali’ put a smile on a lot of faces. Keeping in fashion with their approach, they closed with two new songs that went over as big as anything else they did earlier. See, Cynic fans get it, and Cynic doesn’t need haters to play along if they choose not to. I’d surmise that you would be hard pressed to find a better collection of musicians, rocking out for as appreciative a crowd as I witnessed tonight.
One of the more underrated tours this summer so far that definitely should be getting a bigger buzz is the Cynic headline tour. On the strength of their excellent new album Kindly Bent To Free Us (Season of Mist) the band is embarking on coast to coast jaunt and taking with them some exciting bands to boot. Ghost Cult will be catching this tour in a few weeks near our HQ in Boston. Lucky for us Bostonians we have an abundance of great progressive music in this town with Berkelee School of Music and several prestigious local conservatoires. The second leg kicks off soon, so we will truly have a Prog Metal party in this town on the night of August 9th.
Kindly Bent To Free Us was our Album of The Month for March this year. As Cynic main man Paul Masvidal told Ghost Cult in a wide ranging interview for the cover of Issue #16, Cynic was never intended to be a band that re-made their seminal Focus album over and over:
“I mean it’s funny, because it’s the same attitude I have right now, the mindset I have right now, this is the same person that created Focus. They want us to to recreate a sound would have never happened had I not been this person. It contradicts the very nature of the band to try and play it safe, do something familiar, repeat a pattern, stay in a cocoon, of “we found a sound, let’s just recycle it”. That goes against everything this band represented. Especially at the beginning with Focus, we were going against the grain. Everyone was offended and everyone was confused, we had a really hard time back then. It took a while for people to come around and realize there was something there. And now they want to keep you in the same place. It’s the eternal dilemma that every artist goes through, that has a work that maybe it’s received well. It represents a time and place, and has a sort of historical reference, and people want to keep you there. They are forgetting, we change too. We evolve. Art is not a static thing. It is alive. The very nature of Cynic is to honor that process of being open and having skill as a musician, enough to develop a voice that keeps expanding and exploring. For me anything but that, would be the death of this project. It is all about a platform for freedom and exploration. Art is not a thing, it’s changing. That is how I view it. I can’t imagine it any other way.”
Cynic is not to be missed live and still pulls out many an old gem live from the Focus era. In addition to drummer Sean Reinert, Cynic is joined by bassist extraordinaire Sean Malone who rarely has toured with the band, in spite of playing on every recording the band has made. Joining Cynic that night will be three other bands. The atmospheric, piano driven jazzy alt-rock of The Reign of Kindo will surely mellow out the crowd ready to rock out. Meanwhile Lesser Key will thrill fans of bands as diverse as Failure and Pelican. Lesser Key has among its ranks former Tool bassist/co-founder Paul D’Amour. And last and not least, local Boston prog metal heroes Protean Collective are opening the bill. They are still supporting their recent epic album The Red and the Grey and are calling your name if you like Scale The Summit and other modern prog bands.