Symphony X, Haken, and Trope Brought Prog Metal Perfection to Park West Chicago 5/19/2022 (Live Report + Photos)
A fine summer's eve. Magnificent weather. Copious sunshine. Noises of a city bustling with life after the long dark of the past few years. It is scarcely possible to imagine a more perfect scenario for a good time.
Trope: in a word, "Wow!" I'm a notorious grouch when it comes to new music and new acts. My skepticism is well known to those around me. Trope showed up as consummate professionals. It was a tight performance. Pitch perfect vocals, perfect backing track synchrony, and a fresh take on a familiar flavor. Oh yeah, they're also a power duo.
It's as if a talented singer baked a cake made of Soundgarden and Tool, then added secret herbs and spices. That cake became sentient and started making glorious music of its own. I look forward to tasting Trope again.
Disclaimer: Symphony X and Haken are two of my top 10 bands of all time. I am not going to pretend that I am unbiased in this regard. However, it does mean that I know the tunes backwards and forwards. I know if they goof up and underperform. You might say I'm a... Symphony eXpert. [Editor's Note: groan]
Haken: This pairing makes sense. Haken are to current prog metal what Symphony X were to prog in the '90s. The absolute kings of technique and composition. They find a way to make interesting music that is engrossing, tasteful, unique, and nuanced. They're a band you should know.
We were treated to the new single "Nightingale." Introduced as "Something we're still working on," the tune had all the Haken hallmarks. It is currently available for your listening pleasure somewhere on an interwebs near you. The band was in top form and nailed every tune with masterful precision. This Haken is radically tighter and more dialed in than what we saw on their last Chicago stop. They were already great. Now they are a juggernaut.
The performance had groove and swing to it. Their recordings typically have a tighter, more metric feel. The live dynamic makes the syncopated grooves hit much harder. Even "that one angry looking guy who is at every show" was visibly begrooved.
I don't know about you, but when I waltz into a metal show the last thing I expect is a stunning rendition of the Yes classic "Owner of a Lonely Heart." They dove into it mid-song and every single crossed-arm black metal-shirt-wearing scowler was singing along. Imagine being in a crowd of strangers reenacting that concert scene from "I Love You, Man" but with Behemoth shirts. It was a magical moment of unity sorely needed after this long isolation.
Haken brought the goods and delivered them like a Mike Tyson punch.
Symphony X: Yes, they played "The Odyssey" as the encore. Yes, it's secret wizard magic every time. Yes, they're all still top 0.1% of their individual crafts. In the 20 years I've been listening to Symphony X, I have gotten slower and fatter. Everyone in the band has done the inverse; they're even better and slimmer than ever before. Secret. Wizard. Magic.
You'd expect it from Michael Romeo, the man who needs no introduction. He stood in front of a wall of Engl cabs. Moisturized, confident, in his lane. There's nobody who has the complete musical toolset like Mike. Composer of note, guitar titan, songwriter, and excellent dude. He's so good, in fact, that he even got away with white new balances with black jeans for over a decade! [Imagine "We're not worthy" gif here].
Russel Allen, the other man who needs no introduction, was electrifying. His performance was the best I have yet seen. Can you imagine being in a band for 25 years and still getting better every day? I heard subtle colors that were reminiscent of Russel's work on a plethora of side projects. His control and placement seem more efficient and sustainable than in years past. This is great because the tone and range is all there, but it sounds like he could go balls to the wall for at least another 25 years. I hope he does.
Lepond, Rullo, and Pinella were equally top notch. I can’t imagine a more capable lineup. It was clear that these fellas didn't leave anything on the table. I would dearly love to wax eloquent on the virtues of these unsung heroes, but that may have to wait for a future exclusive interview. Nudge. Wink. Slide into my DM's plz?
There is enough Symphony X concert coverage out there that I'd not be doing you a service by regurgitating the same points yet again. Instead, I will leave you with an impression that profoundly affected me.
Somewhere in the middle of the set, I looked around. Though I knew no one in the room, I saw the faces of friends old and new. Two fellas were headbanging together in just the same way my dear friends used to. Each bringing out the best in the other. In the distance, I saw what appeared to be an estranged friend and collaborator. His head inclined just so, slackened open-mouth expression exactly the same. These vignettes reminded me that we all have a kernel of something indescribable within us. An essence that permeates our being and seeps out into the world. I like to think of it as an essential goodness that hides somewhere under a pile of regrets, anxieties, and woes. I saw a thousand kernels that night. Free of trifles and troubles. Blooming into a magnificent bowl of prog-corn.
We are back together again for now. Let's lay aside our differences and breathe deeply the healing power of music.
photos by Josh Dagenais