How many times has this band been branded with the name supergroup? Does it annoy you? Is it overused? Well in this case I have to say probably because they are way better than that moniker.
When “Psychotic Symphony” came out in 2017 I was seriously excited and the album blew me away, the technical ability on that album is one that I cannot seeing ever being beaten, the closest you will come is with Dream Theatre and for me SOA are above and beyond even those geniuses.
When that album came out I thought it was purely going to be a one album side project with no chance of them touring the UK but to my amazement I have already caught them twice with a show at Graspop and a show in The Garage in Glasgow last year.
I stood in awe with my rock heroes only feet from me in that intimate show, I am sure I spent most of the night with my mouth wide open as my eyes bounced from one person to the next in the band and not believing what I was seeing and the one thing I took from those shows more than anything was I was not the only one in Awe, Jeff Scott Soto could not believe his luck at fronting a band of this magnitude. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HdbG07nFfw&w=560&h=315] When I heard this live album was due for release I did wonder how it would turn out, would it pick up the intricacies of all those instruments, would the drums overshadow the playing and would Jeff be too low in the mix but after listening to this( I did not get the DVD for review) those worries were unfounded.
Long gone are the its our fifth album we need to do a live album…for one when you only have one album how can you fill a double album but SOA have no issue here, they have so much talent they can play anything and with that singer you can pick whatever the hell song you want…it will be bang on but the set list of covers for this is inspiring and a little unexpected but we will come back to that as this is basically split into two parts with the first the bands own material so lets start there.
The first Cd basically follows the debut and if you have seen the band live before the set list from those shows. There were so many highlights from those shows it was scary but for me hearing those original songs was magical and on this release they are so powerful and the production is outstanding, it is so crisp, so precise and I think in over 39 years of gig going I have not heard a better sound on a live release.
The solos alone on here are magnificent and when Jeff does his part sit down, turn up those speakers as loud as they will go and just bask in amazement at the sound. It is started with some chanting, a local ditty(that the crowd loved) and then saw Jeff messing about with some looping with Queen’s Save Me. This is a one off moment and I am so glad that has been recorded live and done so beautifully, the hairs are still standing up on the back of my neck.
As you will all have heard the debut album(if not, why not?) I am going to move onto the real surprises of this release…the covers.
First up is meant to be untouchable in “Kashmir” and this is our first taste of the Symphony and god is this special, the haunting keyboards and that solo violin set the tone and then that riff comes in and you are lost in time, for those lucky enough to have seen Zep I am sure this would bring back memories and I am sure every one of them would be nodding in approval.
It is sometimes difficult to fathom that these modern geniuses can have their own heroes but that is the reason they are up on stage so it is fantastic to hear them playing songs they love and none more so than Rainbow’s “Gates of Babylon”. Those keyboards are unforgettable for those of us of a certain age and the addition of the orchestra is beautiful.
Next up after a cracking run through of their own song “Labyrinth” we come to an untouchable for me. No one can replace Aerosmith on “Dream On”, I have seen that song sung live so many times and I will never tire of the sight of Perry on top of that white piano. Now Blacktop Mojo came very, very close but Sons of Apollo you nailed it and that is not easy for me to say as its damned near blasphemy for me.
From an absolute classic we pick a far less popular tune from a certain Mr Osbourne in “Diary of a Madman”. I can see why Bumblefoot would want that in there as its only one of the best guitarists the rock world ever produced in Randy Rhodes and technically this was phenomenal but I have to say it was my least liked cover.
“Comfortably Numb” is another one of those songs you need to do spot on or you should just forget it and I am glad to say it is perfection. The band only rehearsed these songs over a week and just once with the orchestra which makes it all the more outstanding.
From a classic to another not so popular track of a bands in Queen’s “The Show Must go On” and Jeff’s vocals are perfection with just the bass and the Orchestra at the start, it is phenomenal. This is followed up with Dream Theatre’s “Hells Kitchen” and you know the band just went off on this one, Billy definitely did. The man I have followed since he first blew me away in his first band Talas never fails to make me smile and just gush like a fanboy.
The real surprise for me was Van Halen’s “And The Cradle Will Rock”, I have to admit I have never seen a band cover this and when Bumblefoot lets rip with that opening riff I am gone, decades roll back and DLR is back to his best. Jeff owns this song as does Bumblefoot, you can very nearly hear him smile through the speakers as they kick off the party mode. For a song four decades old this sounds so fresh and all I can say is “Rock On”.
The band finish the set with an original in “Coming Home” and what a way to close this show out.
Everything slots together perfectly and with the audience participation you know this was a hell of a show.
All of my favourite live albums are old, they are all on vinyl and I just wished this was released on vinyl as it would slot in perfectly with Live in the Heart of the City, Exit Stage Left, Tokyo Tapes, Live after Death and Unleashed in the East, every one a classic and this album is the best addition to that list in a very long time. This is a must buy for rock enthusiasts the world over.
Review Ritchie Birnie