Coheed and Cambria played Val Air Ballroom in Des Moines on Tuesday, February 12th. They were joined by Russian Circles and Between the Buried and Me.
Val Air Ballroom is a staple in Des Moines. The venue was built in 1939 and has played host to a varied array of bands for decades. These days (partly due to ‘noise level issues’ coming by way of complaints from nearby residents), shows at Val Air are somewhat rare, but they continue to be a treat when they do happen.
Russian Circles opened the night. The Chicago-based trio plays instrumental rock/metal, shifting between melodic elements laced with finger tapping into heavy breakdowns. They were able to lock into some serious post-metal moments and their sound was a great intro for the evening. All three members were interlocked with their instruments, and it was clear the trio is road-tested.
Between the Buried and Me played next and rocked incredibly hard. Shortly before their set a friend explained he was there specifically to see them, stating, “Well, I think you are in for a treat.” He was right. Even if a casual listener is not particularly into metal, the unique combination the band brings to the stage is an interesting one. They have plenty of straightforward, almost classic, metal breakdowns with intricate time signatures – they pull this off with almost laughable ease. Conversely, they also have catchy melodic moments as well as pseudo-jazzy sounds. They even spent some time jamming on what can only be described as a salsa-esque intro. Throughout their set, they had a black cloth across the back of the stage intertwined with colored lights that offered a simple, yet very effective visual as it shifted with the changes in their music. At times it resembled falling rain, but it also offered some slightly psychedelic feelings.
The venue was roughly 3/4 full when the lights went out for Coheed and Cambria. Leading up to that moment, the stage was revealed to have two sets of blank white mannequins flanking the drum kit. A smoke machine filled the air and the band emerged, playing “Pretelethal”, the first track from their recently released album, The Afterman: Descension. Singer Claudio Sanchez played a ukulele and the song was a great choice to open their set. It built slowly (with a ukulele pick-line) before breaking into Coheed’s perfected soaring sound. As the song burst, all four members of the band laid into their instruments and the eager crowd went wild.
Coheed and Cambria continued playing a mix of songs from their extensive category. Early in the set the band played “A Favor House Atlantic”, which was an obvious crowd favorite (Sanchez didn’t even sing the chorus – he left it up to the dedicated fans in the audience, most of whom seemed to scream it at the top of their lungs). The song is from the band’s 2003 release Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3. It has stood the test of time and remains a fresh part of the band’s performance.
The smoke machine continued to fill the stage for the duration of Coheed and Cambria’s performance, and sharp narrow spotlights created symmetrical designs around the energetic band members. Visually, it was a neat experience. Similarly to Between the Buried and Me, anyone who may have been unfamiliar with the band could have still had a good time taking in the tightly executed songs coupled with the great aesthetic. Sanchez has the ability to swing around, with some kind of wild control, all the while playing without error. The band remained heavy throughout, in no way getting too repetitive, and at points seemed to conjure up an almost tribal rhythm.
Coheed and Cambria has had an interesting evolution as a band. More than a decade ago they set out to start telling a story, and they did so by way of their lyrical content. Sanchez has created another universe in which the story takes place, and there is an accompanying set of graphic novels to help with the process. There is no denying it is an intriguing concept, and one that has helped the group develop a loyal and diverse fan-base. At one point during the show, Sanchez (who did not speak often) very genuinely thanked the crowd for supporting his mission. He mentioned the band had recently been able to release their seventh album (The Afterman: Descension had come out just one week prior to the show on February 5th). In speaking of the release, he seemed humble and appreciative of the support afforded to his group.
The show proved to be another successful one for the historic venue in Des Moines, IA. All three bands brought different feels, and yet mixed together well. If you get a chance to catch this tour, it is worth your while.