Coheed and Cambria's fierce prog-metal dominated the San Antonio area's Whitewater Amphitheater

It says a lot that the cult band packed a venue known primarily for country music.

click to enlarge Coheed and Cambria weave a spell onstage at Whitewater Amphitheater. - Christina Feddersen / Matchless Exposure
Christina Feddersen / Matchless Exposure
Coheed and Cambria weave a spell onstage at Whitewater Amphitheater.
Prog metal stalwarts Coheed and Cambria delivered an expansive set at New Braunfels’ Whitewater Amphitheater on Saturday night, leaning in on new songs and showing off a large-scale, science fiction-tinged stage.

As its set wound down, the band noted that its current tour celebrates the its 20th anniversary. The members thanked the crowd for its support, noting that not many acts get to do it this long.

Even more notable is that 10 of the songs from its 18-song setlist came from the band’s two most recent albums, a sign that Coheed and Cambria remain vital decades into its career. Plenty of 20-year-old acts would be happy to crank out the old stuff for adoring crowds on a nostalgia trip.

Indeed, one of the show’s highlights came in the form of “A Disappearing Act,” from Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind, the band's latest LP, released less than a month ago. Frontman Claudio Sanchez switched to keyboards for the song, which has an infectious, dancey groove combined with contemporary vocal phrasing and effects.

Sanchez’s sense of adventure has guided the band all this time, and his Amory Wars sci-fi saga has been a thematic anchor, dominating the lyrical content for all but one of its 10 albums.

Both Sanchez and his legendary hairdo were in full effect Saturday as he reminded the crowd of where the band came from. Classics including “Everything Evil” and “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3” featured the kind of anthemic crowd singalongs that defined the spirit of Coheed and Cambria's music, even as the band has moved away from its house-show, post-punk roots.

Coheed and Cambria's current musical finesse is helped in no small measure by drummer Josh Eppard. Perched on a drum riser affixed with the band’s logo, he laid down a commanding pulse focused on quarter notes — rather than eighth notes — that supported the controlled air of the proceedings. The musical precision served as a reminder that this a very different band than the one that blew up the White Rabbit back in the '00s.

When it first burst onto the scene, Coheed and Cambria was described as “Rush playing basement punk shows.” The Rush comparisons stemmed not just from Sanchez’s high register vocals but also the group's prog elements — even though the band's approach is more overtly influenced by Iron Maiden.

And, in the end, Maiden is the real touchpoint here, punk roots be damned. Maiden’s “Aces High” played over the PA as the band took the stage. A sinister Lovecraftian monster — possibly made of rubber — watched over the proceedings, Eddie-style. One had to wonder whether the members of Coheed were taking notes when the band opened for Maiden when the British legends recreated their Seventh Son of a Seventh Son tour a decade ago. (Spoiler alert: they were).

Coheed spent the first part of the set with the opening tracks of its 2018 release Unheavenly Creatures, before diving into “The Embers of Fire” and “Beautiful Losers” from Vaxis II. By the time Coheed wrapped up its regular set with “Window of the Waking Mind,” the evening felt like a concept album itself, bookended with new, similar pieces, that speak to the band's ambition. Hell, “Window” even has a section that invokes showtunes.

Coheed closed its encore with “Welcome Home” from 2005’s Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness. Little surprise there since the tune has become a signature for the band. Though not one of the headliner's most anthemic, the song marks the moment the group began to shed its punk roots and embrace the prog metal that marks its current path. 

The evening opened with Mothica, an indie-pop performer known for her emotionally raw lyrics.

Chicago’s Alkaline Trio followed with a generous, hour-long set that highlighted its Jawbreaker-inspired pop-punk. While the band pulled from a well-worn sound, the large crowd clearly enjoyed the performance. Pockets of fans were clearly familiar with the material. Alkaline Trio joined the tour after original opener Dance Gavin Dance was dropped from the bill following sexual assault allegations against one of its members.

Despite Alkaline Trio's positive reception, it’s hard to open for a cult band — and Coheed is assuredly a cult band — so the evening belonged to the headliner. It says a lot that the prog-metal powerhouse packed a venue known primarily for country music.

Much like Rush, Coheed has found its niche and earned a large, devoted following that wants to be challenged.

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