This was the third time I have seen Symphony X in the past year, all 3 times at The Agora in Cleveland. The last two times I lived near Cincinnati, Ohio which is about 250 miles from Cleveland, but Cleveland was the closest city they were playing in so I decided to make the 4 hour car trip. It was more than worth the drive both times! I now live close to Cleveland so this time I thankfully only had to drive about 40 minutes.
In December, 2002 I saw Symphony X open for Blind Guardian, and both bands blew me away. However, it was a tease only seeing Symphony X for 45 minutes, and I left the show with a strong desire to see them as a headliner. I got my wish in March when they came back as a headliner, and they blew me away once again. Before the encore we were chanting for The Odyssey, but when Russell Allen returned to the stage he said they couldn't play the song because it "needs practice" and they didn't want to play it without doing the song justice. He promised to play it the next time they came to Cleveland, and at last night's show they kept their promise, much to everyone's delight.
The Agora is a venue that can host two concerts at the same time because it has two sections, the theater and the smaller ballroom. I forgot about this when I first arrived and I was shocked to see a huge number of teenagers with purple and blue spiked hair waiting outside the place! I thought to myself, "This isn't a Symphony X crowd - am I in the right place?" Then I realized that the band Rancid was playing in the theater. It was funny how it was so easy for me to pick out who was going to see which band, based on age, hairstyles, and t-shirts. Symphony X fans saw a much better band at a much better price in a much more intimate setting than the Rancid fans. I got to the show early so when the doors opened I found a spot right in front of the stage directly in front of where bassist Michael Lepond would be playing. Before the show a host from a local progressive rock radio show noticed I was wearing a Yes t-shirt so he gave me a flyer about his program (which is on Tuesday nights from 10pm - 1am Eastern Standard Time and can be heard at here).
There were two opening bands, and the first was a local band called Antithesis, who opened the show back in March as well. Their lineup consists of a drummer, a six-string bass player, a guitarist, and a guitarist/vocalist. Dream Theater fans would be interested to know that they played part of "Pull Me Under" during their sound check! Their music is lightning fast, complex progressive metal similar to Dream Theater. I enjoy watching them, but I have been reluctant to pick up their CD because they lack a keyboard player, the vocals could be a little better (although the vocalist seems like a really friendly guy), and they sound like a million other bands. Still, I enjoyed their set more than the next opening band - The Devon Townsend Band.
Apologies to any Devon Townsend fans reading this, but I just couldn't get into their set. This is obviously only one guy's opinion, and there were people at the show who were there just to see DTB and they were really into it. Most of the songs sounded too much like punk to me, although I did really enjoy an instrumental they did called The Guitar Song, which sounded much more progressive and complex than the rest of their set. Townsend was dressed in gray sweatpants and an Onion.com t-shirt, and he has a "skullet" (balding at the top with long hair down the back) and a goatee. Much of his vocals involved shouting at the top of his lungs. His antics were amusing at the beginning of the show but eventually became annoying - he spat on the stage, blew snot out of his nose, and made comments about his genitals. Although as a Dungeons & Dragons nerd I did find it amusing when he asked all of the current or former Dungeon Masters to raise their hands!
Since I was right up front I saw the Symphony X set list as soon as the roadie taped it to the stage, and everyone in my vicinity smiled when they saw that The Odyssey was penned in for the encore. At about 10:15pm Symphony X finally hit the stage, opening with Inferno and Wicked from the new album. Russell Allen was wearing an Oakland Raiders jersey with quarterback Rich Gannon's name and number. A reviewer of a previous show in Europe mentioned that Michael Pinella's keyboards were barely audible during these songs, which was the case at the show I saw as well. I also couldn't see his hands because he was standing behind his rack of 3 keyboards (one of them was a Korg, but I couldn't tell what the other two were). Next they broke into Evolution from V, and people went nuts as soon as they heard the opening chords.
Accolade II from The Odyssey was next, which I was pleased about because I don't think they played this song at the last show back in March. I was pleased to hear that Pinella's keyboards were finally noticeable during this song. They followed up this beautiful 9 or so minute song with another mini-epic that gives me chills, Communion and Oracle. Unfortunately the guys had some trouble with the beginning of the song and I was afraid it would become a train wreck, but things got back on track soon enough and the rest of the song was flawless. After King of Terrors from the new album, the set ended with 3 classic, kick-butt Symphony X cuts - Smoke and Mirrors from Twilight on Olympus (before this song Russell said "This song is from 1998, back before any of you knew who we were!"), Sea of Lies, and Of Sins and Shadows. In the middle of Sea of Lies, the show stopped temporarily and Russell had the crowd scream at the top of their lungs after he counted to four. He had a contest between the left side of the room and the right side of the room to see who could scream the loudest. My voice is still raw from that! After Of Sins and Shadows the band left the stage.
After Russell Allen returned to a throng of cheers, he introduced each band member one by one. After he introduced the amazing guitarist Michael Romeo he said, "If I had hands like his I would never leave the bathroom!" Russell also talked about how they had been touring Europe for a few years and people over there really like what they do, but it's finally great for the band to tour "the land they love". He then said they promised to play The Odyssey the last time they were in Cleveland, and they intended to keep their promise. Hearing the band perform this great 25-minute epic was worth the price of admission alone, and at certain points I had a lump in my throat because of the song's power and emotion (especially when everyone in the place was singing along with the lines, "Seems like forever that my eyes have been denied. Home, I dream of home. I've been 20 years away from all I ever knew. To return would make my dreams come true." Seeing this song performed live certainly was a dream come true, and as a veteran of over 100 concerts I would list this as one of the best moments I've ever witnessed. The reviewer who wrote about the show in Europe mentioned that they had trouble with the end of the song, but when I saw them they absolutely nailed it.
After the epic finally came to a close, the band took a bow and made their way off the stage. Since I was lucky enough to be in the front I shook hands with all 5 band members. This was a show that I will never forget and I hope Symphony X comes back to Cleveland on their next tour. I will certainly be there.