OK - so it's been about a week since I saw this show and every time I sit down to write the review I end up frustrated for not being able to capture the sheer emotions involved. But it has to get done so I'll try my best. I guess I could start by saying that even though it's a warm summer day here in New York I'm covered in goose bumps while YouTube clips from the show are playing in the background. My face hurts from smiling and I'm even shaking a little bit... yes I get more than a little choked up when I hear the old Fates Warning songs.
Let me regain my composure if that's at all possible and go over some of the facts. This concert was only one of two in the world and marked just the second time onstage in the last 25 years for singer John Arch. The first show was at a festival in Germany at the end of April and this show was a hometown reunion at the Webster Theater in Hartford Connecticut. As my friend Phil said a few days earlier: "Not many cool things happen in Connecticut, but it is the one place you can have an almost complete Fates Warning reunion." Sure, this was billed as an Arch/Matheos show and yeah they played four songs of the amazing album they released last year, but this was so much more than that.
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With a band that consisted of three ex-Fates members (Jim Matheos, John Arch and Frank Aresti) and two current members (Joey Vera and Bobby Jarzombek) this was just as much a Fates reunion as an Arch/Matheos show. To makes things even more interesting there were three OTHER ex-Fates members in attendance. Drummer Steve Zimmerman and guitarist Victor Arduini both played in opening bands and bassist Joe DiBiase was seen in the audience.
And just let me say a thing or two about the audience if I may... I've never seen so many grown men weeping openly. There's just something special about the music that these guys create together, no matter when it was recorded. People came from all over the US to witness this musical gathering. I saw cars in the parking lot from Maryland, Maine and North Carolina and heard of people flying in from Texas and even Rio!
I missed out on seeing Fates Warning in the mid 80s because I was only 15 or so when 'Awaken The Guardian' was released so this was my first time seeing the mighty John Arch live. I had literally waited 25 years for this and the anticipation at the end was killing me. The house lights dimmed and my pulse stared racing as the pre-recorded strains of 'Neurotically Wired' seeped out over the PA. Nothing like hitting the stage with an eleven-minute tour de force: so much for breaking things in with a fast easy tune.
Right out of the gate you could see that Arch was brimming with nervous energy. He was hand drumming on his body and digging into the groove created by the band while trying to take in all the familiar faces in the crowd. He was smiling more than I was, and I didn't think that was possible. At some point the recorded part of the vocals blended right into John's live voice and the band dropped intro for the meat of the song. It was like being transported back to 1987, Arch sounded exactly the same and right then I knew this was going to be an even more special show than I had anticipated.
Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti were spitting out chunks of molten guitar while Joey Vera stalked the stage like a caged animal keeping an eye on every member of the band, especially Bobby who he was in solid lock step with all night. Like I said before this was no cakewalk tune to start with and they didn't have much time to rest so they just ploughed through and blew us all away.
With barely enough time to take a deep breath the band went right into another new song, 'Midnight Serenade', but at least the pace was a little slower and John could relax a bit. The music was just unreal and what was even crazier was that in that moment I forgot that some of my favorite songs of all time were coming up later. Proof that this was not just a nostalgia trip.
Finally John had some time to say hello and explain to us just how this special this night was for him: "This is the best night of my life, really." Looking out into the crowd to see family, friends, old fans, old band mates he reminisced about the old days playing small clubs in the area and just how long ago it seemed. "We all come from humble beginnings, don't we?" Something else that struck me was his admission that back in the day he never really realized what a healing force music was. Then he said what many of us had been waiting to hear: "Let's go back in time".
'The Sorceress' intro begins delicately enough and then like a prog Metal bomb the band explodes into the Middle Eastern riff and the place just went absolutely nuts. It seems like blasphemy to even try and sing along with such an iconic voice, especially since none of us can even come close to creating the sounds he does, but we did it anyway. It may have been during this song when I saw Jim smile for about a tenth of a second. If it was good enough to make Jim smile, you know it was good.
Back to the album for 'Stained Glass Sky' giving the band a chance to show just what they could do and after which John said, slightly out of breath: "Who writes these fifteen minute songs anyway?!?!" while gesturing towards Jim who was changing guitars and not paying attention. As 'Damnation' started John had a look of disbelief on his face. I know how he felt, you really had to keep pinching yourself to make sure this was really happening. During this tune I looked across the front of the stage and saw Steve Zimmerman who seemed to be enjoying it as much as everyone else. We were literally shredding our voices trying to keep up with John on the "oh ohh oh ohhhh" parts.
'The Apparition' is another song that John reminded us was "really fucking old" before we all went back to singing along with him. It was really hard to tell who was having more fun, us or him. 'Any Given Day/Strangers Like Me' would be the last new material before the big blowout ending that we'd all been waiting for.
It stared with 'Guardian' which he dedicated to his brother in law who was "fighting for his life in Boston" then asked us to pray for him saying, "you can beat this". Now this song has been a favorite of mine for a long long time and I'd never heard it live. It builds slowly which makes the wait even worse. But when the chorus hit I nearly lost my mind. Even typing this is starting to get to me. Metal Blade head honcho Brian Slagel who was also there called it: "A religious experience" and he was absolutely right. Allow me to insert some lyrics here...
"I will wish upon a star, I believe in you
And if my will has strayed afar
I remembered you, will you remember me?
I the one you sentenced, penance unabsolved
Answer me, save my will
Have you forgotten me?"
The night could have ended there and I would have been a deliriously happy man, but there was more to come in the encores. And even though John said his voice felt like was "about to blow up" he pushed on drawing from the crowd saying: "You're getting me through this" as they launched into 'Epitaph' and finally 'Exodus'.
Pausing to thank his band mates who "learned all these tunes in THREE rehearsals", he again thanked everyone for coming and then he said these four extremely loaded words: "I'll see you again."
For those of you who couldn't make it to this gig, I seriously hope those words can be taken literally. This music is too good to be limited to just one show in the US and one in Germany. It needs to be heard by the masses. John Arch may have spent a long time away from the stage, but he really loves being up there and the mutual admiration flowing back and forth between him and us was palpable.
I may not go to as many concerts as I used to, but I sure know how to pick 'em. This easily ranks as one of the best musical events in my lifetime.
Thanks to everyone who made this night possible.