Like them or not, I suspect most of us have heard of Sons of Apollo. Just in case you’ve been too busy genning up on your ultra obscurities in the world of prog, they are a ‘super-group’, for want of a better description, comprising Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan, Derek Sherinian, Bumblefoot and Jeff Scott Soto. You can tell from that line-up the kind of thing they offer; technically proficient chest-beating metallic classic prog rock. If that sounds horrendous to you, you are excused for the remainder of this review! For those of you still here, as the title of the album suggests, this is a live album recorded at the iconic Bulgarian venue, the Roman amphitheatre in Plovdiv.
I confess that until my daughter and her partner announced that they were going to Plovdiv to see a special show a few years ago by Paradise Lost, I’d never heard of either the place or the venue! Since then, a few bands have played there and recorded live shows with an orchestra, so it seems to have established a bit of a reputation as a classy venue. So perhaps not a great surprise to find Sons of Apollo following this route. Or is it? On one hand, for a band who have released just one studio album only two years ago, it seems a bit of a bold move. In fact, any band recording live with only one self-penned album of songs to draw from is a bit odd in my opinion. Back in the day, most bands would record at least four or five studio sets before embarking on the obligatory live double surely? Well, obviously Sons of Apollo care little for convention. It does however beg the question, just who is this album aimed at? I can only imagine that people who bought the first album and saw them live on the subsequent tour would really be up for this. Anyone with a more passing interest would probably be put off by the sheer scale of what is on offer here, and might be better advised to check out the studio album.
OK, what else makes this album worth having? Well, the main reason has to be the one-off nature of the occasion. You have essentially the live show which those who have seen them will be familiar with, plus a second set featuring the Plovdiv Symphony Orchestra, and some hand-picked (by Mike Portnoy) covers of unimpeachable quality. The recording is excellent, production spot on, you’re there in the thick of it, missing not a second of the frankly thrilling experience. The playing and showmanship is top drawer, and the whole atmosphere is electric. I suspect they don’t get too many big rock shows in Bulgaria. The covers, in particular, are tremendous fun. No, they don’t beat the originals, of course not, but they’re fun and well-executed. We have Kashmir, Gates of Babylon, Dream On, Diary of a Madman and Comfortably Numb. These are over and above the other covers which they’ve been playing on the rest of the tour, such as And The Cradle Will Rock, The Prophet Song and the pair of Dream Theater songs. So to be clear, if you like the band, it’s a no-brainer, you simply buy this.
Now for a sense of balance, I have to say I have a bit of an issue with all the solo spots. In the context of a live show, and I mean actually being there, they make sense and are impressive. In the context of a live recording meant to be played over and again though, they soon start to bore. Now Billy Sheehan, for example, is simply a stunning bass player, there’s nobody else like him. But do I really want to hear a five-minute solo more than once or twice? Bumblefoot fares a little better on his Pink Panther theme solo spot, but Jeff Scott Soto’s Queen interlude, good though it is, just gets too much after a few listens. Sherinian’s keyboard solo is terrific but overlong at nearly nine minutes! To his great credit, Portnoy eschews the chance to take a drum solo, and I wonder if even he thought the solos had been overdone? Perhaps with a second album of proper songs to choose a set from, these party pieces might shrink or disappear? I’m not truly griping (well, just a bit) because you could hardly put out a live document of a special night without including everything, and when you immerse yourself in the whole show from start to finish, although exhausting, it’s an amazing experience. I just suspect that when listening to the audio on future occasions, I just might be hitting the skip button a few times, that’s all.
So, this isn’t likely to convert any naysayers or those not thus far interested, but for fans it is a superb document of a one-off show and an essential addition to your Mike Portnoy live album collection! The pedigree of the performers cannot be questioned, and the performance is huge and intoxicating. And long. Now I need a lie down while I wait for the next studio album.
01. God Of The Sun (11:56)
02. Signs of the Time (6:38)
03. Divine Addiction (5:14)
04. That Metal Show Theme (0:56)
05. Just Let Me Breathe Live (5:53)
06. Billy Sheehan Bass Solo (4:42)
07. Lost in Oblivion (4:45)
08. JSS Solo Spot: The Prophet’s Song/Save Me (9:33)
09. Alive (5:12)
10. The Pink Panther (4:31)
11. Opus Maximus (11:11)
12. Kashmir (9:35)
13. Gates of Babylon (7:48)
14. Labyrinth (9:24)
15. Dream On (4:53)
16. Diary Of A Madman (7:51)
17. Comfortably Numb (9:17)
18. The Show Must Go On (4:22)
19. Hell’s Kitchen (4:31)
20. Derek Sherinian Keyboard Solo (8:46)
21. Lines In The Sand (12:40)
22. Bumblefoot Solo Spot (2:38)
23. And The Cradle Will Rock (5:58)
24 Coming Home (9:32)
Total Time – 132:26
Mike Portnoy – Drums, Vocals
Derek Sherinian – Keyboards
Billy Sheehan – Bass
Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal – Guitar, Vocals
Jeff Scott Soto – Vocals
Plovdiv Symphony Orchestra (dubbed “Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony” for the night)
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Formats: Ltd 3CD+DVD+Blu-ray | 3CD+DVD digipak | Blu-Ray | Digital album
Date of Release: 30th August 2019