at Gramercy Theatre, New York City, NY, USA, February 6, 2020

SONS OF APOLLO (Live at Gramercy Theatre, New York City, NY, USA, February 6, 2020)
Photo: Kristian Singh-Nergård

Remember to check out the photo gallery at the end of this post.

It’s not every day one gets to see a supergroup play live. People will jump at the chance and that was evident by Gramercy Theatre in New York being completely sold out before the show with Sons of Apollo. They brought with them special guest Tony MacAlpine, and a local band, Ethan Weissman’s Mass Extinction Event, to play support.

The honorable Gramercy Theatre can hold up to 650 people and by the time the first support band, the local (Poughkeepsie, NY) Instrumental Rock band Ethan Weissman’s Mass Extinction Event (yeah that’s a tongue twister, as Jeff Scott Soto can attest to after a couple of attempts to thank them at the end of Sons Of Apollo’s set) took the stage, it was already filling up. The band seemed young and a bit inexperienced but they definitely had the chops. They seemed a bit nervous at first but a couple of songs in they were warm, as guitarist Cotter Champlin can attest to. He was wearing his winter jacket and hat for the first half of the show. Arguably it looked a bit odd when the drummer was sitting there in just a tank top.

Photo: Kristian Singh-Nergård

The band released their debut album The Human Error last month. Both lead guitarists, the aforementioned Champlin and the namesake of the band, Ethan Weissman, are technically gifted and displayed a variety of shredding and sweeping, and they often traded solos. Some of the song writing seemed a bit inconsistent and they do need more live experience, but their music is technically challenging, interesting, and they played flawlessly. This band is definitely proof that instrumental guitar music is far from dead. Remember the name Ethan Weissman’s Mass Extinction Event because these guys are going places. As a side note, how often do you see two left-handed guitarists in the same band?

Tony MacAlpine

Photo: Kristian Singh-Nergård

Let it be known; Tony MacAlpine is a legend! He is often overlooked but he’s in the same league as Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, although his style is more neoclassical. He’s known for his tenure with Steve Vai, Vinnie Moore and Planet X, among others, and of course as a solo artist. He has released 12 studio albums under his own name to this date and is known as a shredder both on guitars and keyboards.

Onstage this evening he played both guitar and keyboard, sometimes even at the same time. He traded solos with his other guitarist, who is definitely a skilled musician. MacAlpine ventured off to the center of the stage at times, to interact more with the band when he was playing his guitar only. The rest of the time he stayed at the right side of the stage where his keyboard was set up. The only negative thing about this setup was that there were no spotlights on his keyboard. Therefore the crowd appreciated it even more when he maneuvered to the center of the stage.

Photo: Kristian Singh-Nergård

MacAlpine really brought his A game for this show. Playing songs like “The Stranger” and his classic “Tears Of Sahara” the crowd got what they came for. He didn’t talk much onstage, only at the end of the set when he introduced the band. That’s fine; When you are Tony MacAlpine you can let the music do the talking.

Sons of Apollo

Photo: Kristian Singh-Nergård

The boys finally came back home! With this being a short US tour (it started at the end of January), New York was the third to last show. Everyone in the band is from the state of New York and the crowd appreciated the hell out of that fact. Lead singer Jeff Scott Soto joked that it was a good thing they saved New York for last. Now they were a well-oiled machine as opposed to the beginning of the tour.

The set consisted of a good mix of songs from the first album, Psychotic Symphony, and the sophomore, MMXX, which was released this year. The former is arguably a bit more keyboard heavy on the riffs, while the latter is more balanced, but live they blend together well, and the order of the songs seemed very well-thought-out.

They started the show with the first single off the new album, “Goodbye Divinity,” which the crowd knew well already. They snuck in a bit of “Tom Sawyer” as a tribute to the late Neil Peart (Rush) during “Wither to Black” off the same album. This was a night for tributes. Before playing “Desolate July” Soto made a heartfelt dedication to David Z (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Adrenaline Mob), whom the song was originally written for, and to Kobe Bryant who tragically just passed away.

Photo: Kristian Singh-Nergård

Soto was unusually active for a vocalist during the instrumental parts. He was clapping along to the odd-time signatures, and interacting with both the other musicians and the crowd. There were a lot of these instrumental parts, and during the introduction of “New World Today” Soto said, “On every album there will be one song that we call a motherf**ker!” The song clocks in at 15 minutes and 50 seconds. Soto brings tons of energy to the stage and he’s a driving force for the band live.

It seemed like these guys have been playing together for years (some of them have). They were joking around, smiling and laughing, and in the back drummer Mike Portnoy was juggling sticks, dropping them and pulling out new ones.

While each and every one of these skilled musicians could have delivered memorable solo spots, it might have been too much with four of them. So they narrowed it down to two solo spots.

Photo: Kristian Singh-Nergård

Of course, if Billy Sheehan plays in your band you got to let him do a solo, so naturally he claimed the first solo spot of the evening. You can’t argue with his skills and he makes it look so easy playing away on his double neck bass. He jokingly looked at his watch midway as if to say, “I probably should stop and let the other guys back on stage.”

Photo: Kristian Singh-Nergård

Right before the encore keyboard shredder Derek Sherinian took home the second solo spot. He started off on the Hammond organ, then switched to the piano, then to various keyboards. He had a total of 5 keyboards onstage and he made use of them all.

Soto started off the encore vocalizing with the crowd, in a way that would make Freddie Mercury proud. Then they brought on Tony MacAlpine for a rendition of Deep Purple’s “Burn,” with guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal singing Glenn Hughes’ parts, and MacAlpine traded solos with Bumblefoot and Sheehan. The last song of the evening was “I’m Coming Home” from the first album. Soto went to the back of the venue to the seats during an instrumental part, and sat down to watch the rest of the band perform. Then he got everybody out of their seats and on their feet and had them sing the chorus, “No one sits at a Sons of Apollo show!”

Photo: Kristian Singh-Nergård

With Sons Of Apollo being a supergroup you have to expect the members to return to their respective bands (multiple bands in this case) every now and then, but based on the perfection, deliverance, all the fun they seemed to have on stage, as well as the crowd’s reaction, they should make Sons Of Apollo their primary band. This band has so much talent and potential that it’s a shame if it turns out to be just another side gig.

This US tour is over. Watch out Europe; you’re next!

Sons of Apollo setlist:

Goodbye Divinity / Fall to Ascend / Signs of the Time / Wither to Black / Asphyxiation / Labyrinth / Billy Sheehan bass solo / Lost in Oblivion / Desolate July / King of Delusion / Alive / New World Today / Figaro’s Whore / Derek Sherinian keyboard solo / God of the Sun

Encore: Burn (Deep Purple cover with Tony MacAlpine) / Coming Home


  • Kristian Singh-Nergård

    Kristian is one of the partners at Metal Express Radio. He is Metal Express Radio's Marketing and Communications Manager, and on occasions also reviewer and photographer. Based out of Oslo, Norway, Kristian is a bass player and owner of the independent record label Pug-Nose Records. He has been a proud member of the Metal Express Radio crew since 2006.

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