NEW YORK — Billed as “An Evening With Coheed and Cambria,” the venerated emo-proggies’ show Friday at Irving Plaza was split into two parts: an intimate acoustic performance followed by a thunderous, high-octane, plugged-in set that included two tracks from Coheed’s forthcoming disc, Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star V — Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness.
It would be the first exposure to new Coheed material for at least some of the fans gathered outside the venue hours before the 8 p.m. doors (some of whom were even committing the cardinal sin of donning C&C T-shirts at the show). The group finished the album only recently following months in an upstate New York recording studio. Inside, the capacity crowd waited in muted anticipation for its first glimpse of frontman Claudio Sanchez’s hay-bale hair. The audience erupted when the sci-fi-obsessed foursome — awash in blue from overhead stage lights — emerged onstage. Hands and fists darted into the air in triumphant exuberance.
The scraggly bearded, King Buzzo-esque Sanchez sat down in a folding chair, as did the rest of the Coheed crew, and, with amps turned off, launched into “Time Consumer” from 2002’s The Second Stage Turbine Blade. The throng at the foot of the stage crooned along, spitting Sanchez’s words back at him with earnest emotion — a tone that seemed to cry out, “I get it!” — and managing to drown the singer out at several points.
Colorful condoms doled out by LIFEbeat volunteers were inflated and batted from one side of the crowd to the other. Following unplugged renditions of “God Send Conspirator,” “The Velourium Camper II: Backend of Forever” and “A Favor House Atlantic,” Sanchez conceded to his pay-to-play audience that, “You sing very well.”
With a spotlight shining brightly on his formidable tresses, Sanchez strummed his guitar and, with a high-pitched howl, belted out the opening line to “The Light and the Glass,” which capped Coheed’s flawless and impassioned acoustic set. “Slowly the pen touches paper in the guidance of the words that you write/ Memories roll in; of the things you once did,” he sang. The crowd responded by raising flickering lighters that multiplied from five to 10 and from 10 to 20 before transforming into a sea of fragile luminance. “That’s the most lighters I’ve ever seen,” Sanchez noted, smiling from behind the dark coils shrouding his cherubic face. “That’s really amazing.”
After a 15-minute breather, Sanchez returned to the stage with a white double-neck Gibson SG guitar and bassist Mic Todd, guitarist Travis Stever and drummer Josh Eppard. The quartet launched into “Welcome Home.” The epic, bombastic tune, the first single from Good Apollo, resembles an outtake from Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute. Devil horns arose into the smoky air that hung heavy above a frenzied mosh pit in full swing less than 30 seconds into the six-minute track. “Hang on to the glory of my right hand/ Here laid to rest is our love, ever-long,” Sanchez squealed in his best Geddy Lee impression while struggling futilely to keep his mammoth mop out of his face.
Stever’s blistering guitar work in “Blood Red Summer,” “Three Evils” and “Devil in Jersey City” provided the perfect complement to Sanchez’s elfin vibrato. Eppard’s dazzling tight drum work inspired fist pumping throughout “Al the Killer,” “The Crowing” and “Everything Evil.” Following an inspiring “21:13,” Coheed teased the audience for a few minutes before returning for an encore. “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3″ preceded the blues-laden, “Have a Cigar”-ish prog-rock masterpiece “The Final Cut,” the seven-minute conclusion to a half-hour opus from Good Apollo titled “The Willing-Well Suite.”
Perhaps in homage to his band’s prog-rock roots, Stever twisted his riffage with a talkbox, the evening’s single cliché. If the two new tunes were any indication, Good Apollo’s going to pick up right where In Keeping Secrets left off. And judging by the crowd’s response, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
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