Sons of Apollo
Another glorious evening saw the sun shine down upon old Belfast Town and made for a warm and pleasant wait for the crowds outside the Limelight until the doors inevitably opened. And in poured a lot of eager punters.
Tonight was going to be an interesting night of rock.
Up first on stage was Jay Wud, a Dubai-based 4-piece, band named after its frontman, a Lebanese singer/songwriter and guitarist. Cranking it up immediately they offered the crowd a solid performance of crushing riffs and catchy clear vocals with “Empire”, “Juggernaut” and “Killing my Own”. Chugging rhythms, thumping drums, rolling bass, lightening solos and clean vocals provided a full-on delivery of rocking tunes that really got a lot of the crowd hooked. This was a good introduction to a solid heavy rock band. On they went with “Low”, fast paced “Shine your Light” and the slowed but no less heavy delivery of “Melancholia”. Each track landed with a heavy fuzzy pace and juxtaposed with light clean sound. Finishing their set they kept the attention of the crowd with “Evil in Me”, “Deception” and “False Utopia”.
Jay’s vocals fitted well with the overall style they were going for, and it had the added bonus he looked like a Dubai version of a young Frank Zappa. Overall, they were a great act to start the proceedings of the night. Slick, professional, fun and at ease with what they were doing on stage as they worked well together.
While they have published their own albums, their slick professionalism and polished performance show they are far from being just another garage level rock band. They have huge potential to go far and are definitely a band to watch out for.
Then the headliners of the night, to a huge applause, came onto stage. The one, the only, Sons of Apollo. They have been named a Supergroup, and while it can be overused no-one was in doubt that given the depth and breadth of experience of each of the five members of the band, they could easily be called a supergroup. Now though, for a Belfast audience, they had to prove it.
Sons had never played in Belfast before and yet, without a note played or a lyric sung, the entire packed floor roared in appreciation. The power this group had in just walking onto the stage was palpable from the very beginning.
Jeff Scott Soto with a constant grin from ear to ear engaged immediately with the fans before the band launched themselves into “God of the Sun”, nailing their current single “Signs of the Time”, and then delivering “Divine addiction”. With these three songs alone, Sons of Apollo made that moniker of Supergroup feel an entirely inadequate word to describe them. Soto, Thal, Sheehan, Portnoy, and Sherinian interacted with each other and played with the audience like it was a fun family get together where someone picks up a guitar and everyone joins in for a bit of craic. But this was on whole other level!
The first Dream Theatre cover of the night was “Just let me breathe” before powering on into “Labyrinth” with an incredible bass intro from Billy Sheehan.
Before the band slipped into “Lost in Oblivion” Billy really let rip on his bass. It is difficult to describe the performance without using the words divine or apotheosis. It was now incredibly easy to see why he had won the "Best Rock Bass Player" readers' poll from Guitar Player magazine five times for his "lead bass" playing style. He caressed out of a bass what many lead guitarists wished they could do.
On the Sons went, toying with each other and the euphoric crowd with a confident abandon. Jeff then did a beautiful unexpected thing, he did a full-on Freddie Mercury with the audience through “The Prophet Song” and the audience utterly lapped it up. Hands waving and larynxes warbling, the crowd stood swaying a little here and there like a giant transfixed beast. The experience so far can only really be described as a religious one. Everyone there had given up themselves wholly to these five Celestial Gods of Rock. It was like witnessing a wave of evangelical ecstasy as everyone seemed to be caught up in profound sense of awareness that they were part of an incredible moment in music history.
Jeff then paid tribute to Vinnie Paul, iconic drummer and co-founder of Pantera, who recently died. And it was a beautiful, poignant and unforgettable experience as the packed sweaty audience lovingly joined Jeff as he sang Queen’s “Save Me”. This song is an emotional one at the best of times, but with the incredible power of delivery from the Sons of Apollo, no one could hold back. The verses sung softly leaving Jeff to lead the vocal harmony, but once the chorus hit, the roof nearly came off as, as one, the whole hall bellowed out those immortal words of Freddie Mercury’s “Save me, save me, save me, I can't face this life alone; Save me, save me, save me, I'm naked and I'm far from home”.
Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal then stepped up to lift the mood and drive the set forward into “Alive”. The wonderment did not cease one iota when Jeff stepped away from the mic and handed over to Bumblefoot who, like a mystical conjuror, created a fantastical rendition of Henry Mancini’s “The Pink Panther”. And bizarrely a real focus for discussion afterwards, though admittedly only for those over a certain age. Ahem.
Back on board the Apollo express with “Opus Maximus” before Derek Sherinian was handed the stage and, boy, did he light it up with his mastery of the keyboards. It was a magical performance with a full bowl of cherries on top. Mesmerising and entrancing are just mere understated words compared to then performance he gave.
Another Dream Theatre cover brought the audience back to rock and roll normality with “Lines in the Sand” before the encore produced the Van Halen cover “And the cradle will rock” and finished off the whole set with “Coming home”.
The whole performance was perfectly crafted on stage and delivered with love to each and every person there. The open and friendly demeanour of each band member heightened the experience. Jeff’s joshing with crowd members, calling for a pint of Guinness (duly produced for consumption) and even coming down off stage to sing in the crowd created a very intimate and personal experience. The craftsmanship of each member of the band was worthy of a gig all on its own, but getting five of them in the one place playing at the same time was an event of epic proportions. If you get the chance to see Sons of Apollo, drop everything and go.
This will be notched up as the best gig of 2018 by a clear margin. So many left the Limelight still dazed and delightfully confused, clutching and grasping desperately for the words, any words, to describe the sublime performance they had just experienced.
Review by Ivor Whitten
Photography by Darren Mcveigh