The Sunset Boulevard landmark Roxy Theater has been witness to many a performance of mythical proportion. Ancient Roman and Greek amphitheaters were places where stories of mythology were portioned out to the populous. One can imagine the thinkers, dignitaries and fellow performers of the day gathering to partake of the cultural impartations of the comedians and tragedians. On Saturday, January 25th, the two thousand and some year gap was bridged and The Roxy became a modern day Colosseum as Sons Of Apollo played to fans, friends and fellow musicians on the third date of their 13-stop tour.
S.O.A. brought some serious guitar mastery with them to initiate the evening’s events. The first of two shredding instrumental bands is Schiermann. Led by guitarist Chris Schiermann, this trio picks and pounds out a half hour of classical inspired, guitar-fueled eight minute string sagas. The second and third legs of this stool are Reese Ortenberg on bass and Joseph Arrington on drums. The trio make a noise much larger than the sum of its parts. Schiermann adeptly massages the strings on his guitar from which to elicit dulcet harmonies. Ortenberg and Arrington very capably provide the posts through which Schiermann can run a six stringed slalom.
The second set of musicians to take the stage is Tony MacAlpine and his band. Not exactly a household name, MacAlpine is no stranger to the world of guitar players and professional musicians. Having worked with several members of The Sons in the past, it makes sense that they would bring him along to help prime the pump for their set. The MacAlpine quartet continue the vocal-less opening sets with a good 45 minutes of guitar laden metal infused, classically inspired mini-symphonies. MacAlpine is backed by a rhythm section of Mark Michell on bass guitar and the MG-42 drumming of Aquiles Priestor. When you are a virtuoso player, you’d think that would be enough. Not for MacAlpine, who is such a glutton for perfection that he co-opts a “rhythm guitar” player, Emil Wertsler, who could be a lead guitarist for just about any other band. While MacAlpine handles the lead guitar parts, there are a few songs in which they trade leads and he seems to have no problem sharing the spotlight with Werstler. MacAlpine also outs his piano playing skills on display in addition to at times fingering the fretboard with his left hand and tinkling the ivories with his right.
The confined space of The Roxy is evocative of the intimacy of the archaic venues of old. The congested stage set for the openers gives way to a more expansive performing space for the headliners, providing an intersecting contrast of grandiosity and familiarity between the musicians and audience. For a late January evening, the theater is unusually warm from the mingling of the bodies in such close proximity to one another. The temperature is inflated even more by the intensity of the opening number, Goodbye Divinity. So much so in fact that at its completion vocalist Jeff Scott Soto is already glistening with perspiration, and it’s just getting started. Always cool as a cucumber, bassist Billy Sheehan seems unfazed by the temperature and hoists his double necked bass in competition with guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, also wielding a double necked instrument, one fretted and one fret-less.
The Sons weave a tapestry of songs from their 2017 debut Psychotic Symphony and their most recent release of a week earlier, MMXX, which is of course 2020 in Roman numerals. Like stand up comics who outdo themselves to try and make their peers laugh, the Sons are in top form. Spotted in the room were Zakk Wylde, Dug Pinnick and Bjorn Englen. Also reportedly at the show were Sheehan and Mike Portnoy’s Winery Dogs band mate Richie Kotzen, guitarist Brent Woods and KISS drummer Eric Singer. The group has a unique sound which mixes harmonious vocals from Soto, backed by Thal and Portnoy, lead guitar and lead bass, underscored with keyboards from Derek Sherinian, who along with Portnoy spent many years in Dream Theater. The two-hour production in which all of the players appear to be thoroughly enjoying themselves is capped off by an encore of Deep Purple’s Burn in which the group is joined on stage by MacAlpine, followed by a number from their first record Coming Home. Sons of Apollo indelibly channel their “father” who was the Greek god of music amongst other things like only the gods can.