Live Review : Sons Of Apollo + Schiermann @ Academy 2, Manchester on October 1st 2018

I’d literally just clicked send on the Just Eat order, the anticipation of a large chicken kebab swirling around the axions and synapses.  Was I droolin?  Then that little ping and a blue message “I’m on my way”.  What? Why are you on your way?  What purpose? I check the Rockflesh calendar, clear as a bell 1st Oct - Sons of Apollo.  I quickly throw a t-shirt and hoodie on and dive out. Johann’s late for a gig I thought was tomorrow.  He roars down the street, I’m already missing the kebab.  The rain has turned the roads black, slick and shiny.  Distorted brake lights multiplied in the windscreen.  After a few death defying, maybe law breaking manoeuvres we are at the familiar side street in Manchester city centre.  The Academy 2 is the epitome of a box auditorium.   It looks like a glorified Punch and Judy stand.  

We’ve made it inside just in time to see the opening act.  I nearly always navigate to the left side of the stage but the sound is awful, I wander to the right.  The bass sounds like a bag of farts and the bass drum is drowning everything out.  I start to fall back, I’m nearly out of the room before the band sound reasonable.  I absolutely love guitar music, shred, prog, djent, classical and Spanish.  I brought myself up on a mix of Ozzy and Joe Satriani, I like a bit of legato in my chops so was hoping to see this on display with Schiermann.  Alas the sound was so bad I couldn’t quite discern between the bass and guitar parts.  There were some nice moments in the set which either paid homage to Satriani and Vai or where unimaginative rip offs.  The sound was so poor I couldn’t tell you which song, was which.  I know from research “Technical Disabilities” will have been played, I just don’t know when.  I’m at the back, I’m starting to fume a little, hunger may be playing its part.  There are no coherent melodies, it’s as self-indulgent as a fat man in chocolate bath eating a grease covered letter from the doctor with a diagnosis of heart disease.

At one point the cacophony sounded like a group of horny pigs on coke trapped in box with a cat and a microphone.   The dizzying lack of respect for their audience was slapped back at the band as the crowds disinterested chatter started to drown out the band.  Schiermann are/is probably a very good band, it just wasn’t very evident here. 

After some bitter complaining and yet more audience buffoonery which saw a teenager collapse with what must have been boredom and a fifty plus man with the tightest perm in history stumble head first into a pillar Sons of Apollo emerged.  Albeit after a half hour break.  

In the lead up to the gig (prior to forgetting and then ordering a kebab) I was really looking forward to some top quality musicianship.  I’ve always wanted to see Ron Thal since the day he donned a bucket and played both guitar and vocal parts for GnR.  I looked out for his Bumblefoot work and was amazed at how talented he was and yet wasn’t regarded in the same air as say Petrucci or Gilbert.  Then add to the mix the evergreen Sheehan and the drum legend that is Mike Portnoy I thought “Great! A band of wonders!”.

The sound has improved ten fold on the support band but still isn’t great.  Portnoy’s drums sound like firecrackers and Billy’s bass is much louder than Thal’s signature Vigier double neck, a fretted and fretless monstrosity that won’t be shifting units anywhere soon.  The guitar is laden with LEDs which become almost irrelevant once the lights go up.  The bands music veers between Dioesque and Djenty, with more of a nod to Malmsteen than anyone else.  Jeff Scott Soto on vocals is immense, his range and power are fantastic and he brings a much needed levity and human touch to the night.  Between the plethora of guitar, bass and keyboard solos he performs a magical vocal solo using a delay pedal. If you are already familiar with Sons of Apollos music then their live performance will enthrall, Ron Thal is a gifted guitar player who gives an energetic live performance.  Billy Sheehan is belying his sixty year old frame and Mike Portnoy is well Mike Portnoy. They are a technical, loud, brash prog rock band with more than a dab of eighties dragon rock.  Well worth the entrance fee.

The Manchester Academy 2 could do with a rethink of it’s sound.  A chicken wrap was my reward for a bitter and rainy trip home from Manchester.  Johann, mayonnaise all over the dashboard was far more enthusiastic than he has been for a while about a band.  

Websites : Sons Of Apollo, Schiermann

Words by Paul Flett
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki