DVD REVIEW: SONS OF APOLLO – “Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony”
If there is anything prog fans are familiar with, it’s musicians doing side projects and supergroups. And there are none more well known for this than Mike Portnoy. Given his schedule and prodigious output, it is no surprise that yet another of his bands, Sons of Apollo, has a DVD/Blu Ray release that is due Aug 30th. ‘Sons of Apollo: Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony’ is the first live release by the band, and was captured following a highly successful world tour of their 2017 debut ‘Psychotic Symphony.’ SoA joins the ever-growing list of progressive metal bands to perform with the Plovdiv Symphony at the historic Roman Amphitheatre in Plovdiv Bulgaria. The show is split into two sets, the first is the band by itself, and the second with the full orchestra and choir. As SoA only have one studio album, the majority of the second half is comprised of covers.
The concert begins with some rather effective overhead shots of the amphitheater before settling down looking at the ground and stage as the band explodes into “God of the Sun.” Now I will be fully honest in admitting that I am not really a fan of the band. However, I definitely enjoyed their songs a good deal more in a live setting. They tear through the opening set with great precision and enthusiasm, and it’s very clear that they’re very much enjoying themselves while doing so. This is also one of the best shot and sounding live DVDs I’ve seen in a while. The lighting is exceptionally well done, and it is very well edited as well. The camera lingers on the band and during the solos puts the viewer right up by their hands so you can watch every run, tap, and finger movement.
A highlight for many will most likely be their take on the Dream Theater song “Just Let Me Breathe” taken from the ‘Falling Into Infinity’ album, which was the only full-length album keyboardist Derek Sherinian played on during his tenure with the band. This version of the song grew on me over repeated listens, and the backing vocal work of Portnoy, and guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal worked very well. Other highlights from the first set is the bass solo by Billy Sheehan and the closing instrumental “Opus Maximus.”
The second set begins with shots of the orchestra, before panning back to the band as they begin rather boldly with “Kashmir.” Yes, that Kashmir. And yes they should have rethought their choice, and that is all I’m going to say about it.
The rest of the covers work a bit better with “Gates of Babylon” and “Diary of a Madman” working quite well with Jeff Scott Soto’s rather lower ranged and grittier vocal style. Throughout the set, Soto works the crowd masterfully and is highly engaging and often rather amusing as well. It’s clear that he loves what he’s doing, and the crowd feeds off his energy, which in turn gives it back to the band. The crowd is especially into the keyboard solo of Sherinian which was played at mind-melting volume, and intensity before going directly into the DT classic “Lines in the Sand.” It certainly has a different feel than the original, with all members of the band getting involved with the vocals, and while lacking some of the soul of the original, it still works quite well.
The show ends with a Bumblefoot guitar solo, which leads into a shot of Soto sitting on the stone benches of the theater with the crowd and drinking a beer. After some banter, they go into Van Halen’s “And The Cradle Will Rock,” sung half in the audience (with their help) before making it back on stage for the fiery closer “Coming Home.” Unsurprisingly the band brings the house down, and the crowd loses their collective minds.
‘Sons of Apollo: Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony’ is an exceptionally well-produced, filmed, and mixed DVD/Blu Ray that fans of the band will flock to, and undoubtedly be very happy with. Despite a few questionable choices of covers, Sons of Apollo put on a very engaging performance, and unlike too many other bands are clearly having an incredible amount of fun. The joy and passion coming from this show are hard to not find infectious, and prog metal fans will find plenty to enjoy.