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Arch/Matheos Concert Review, Hartford, CT 5/5/12

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I am not sure where to start, really.  The events of this weekend really started about 30 years ago and in a blink of an eye it has ended.  I guess I’ll start from the beginning.  This will be one of my longer-winded posts, so be prepared, the background story is, for me, as important as the concert itself.

Well, this isn’t the beginning, but Ill start by saying that Kelz and I went to Hartford, CT this past weekend to see Arch/Matheos and it was incredible.  I could really stop there but there’s so much excitement bottled up in me that I have to expand on this.

Once upon a…oh wait, wrong story.

Kelz and I met around 1982 at church.   Along with Petey, we were the 3 amigos for sure.  Discovering metal together through our teen years was quite bonding.  We even had to do a secret tape trade during sunday school to hide metal from our parents who thought we’d go to hell for listening to this stuff.  In late 84 or early 85 Kelz went to California to see some family and while there picked up a tape by some Connecticut-based band called Fates Warning.  The album was their debut, Night on Brocken.  We were all blown away by it…well, by everything but the cover.  haha.  But this music, this voice was so haunting and beautiful.  The voice of John Arch.  As the next 2 years went on they released Spectre Within and Awake the Guardian, 2 more classics and 2 albums that I don’t think I could live without.  Desert island albums for sure.  Unfortunately we never got to see them with the classic lineups because they never rolled through our part of Virginia.  Quite unfortunate.  Arch left after the Guardian tour and Ray Alder from San Antonio took over and was on their followup release No Exit.  A decent album in its own right, but it’s nothing compared to those first 3.  Fates did come to DC with Sanctuary on the Perfect Symmetry tour but I didn’t make that one.  A few friends did and said it was good, of that I have no doubts.  I like that album a lot.

We all graduated in 1988 and folks went to college or work (me) and went out separate ways, but never lost contact.  Visits to colleges and holidays and stuff, all of us would find a little time to hang out.  Not to mention we did have telephones back in those days too.  haha

Petey moved to Richmond, Kelz ultimately to NC and here I am in Texas now.  There have been some meetups for shows over the years like Wrathchild America in Va Beach, Foetus in DC in 95, Death/Hammerfall at Jaxx in 98, Loudness in Fayetteville, Sabbat at Jaxx and probably a few others.  Music is the tie that binds us.  I can’t count how many times since 84 that the words, “Yeah, I was just listening to Fates the other day…”  That holy trilogy of records never gets old and I listen to all of them regularly.  Lots of great memories while spinning those albums from the high school days and from a band I was in or 2 where we attempted Buried Alive, The Sorceress and Kyrie Eleison.  All decent renditions sans the vocals.

In 2003 John came out of retirement (sort of) and released the EP Twist of Fate with Matheos, Vera and Portnoy.  Not a bad album at all.  Then just a year ago, it was announced that Arch was joining forces with Matheos, Bobby Jarzombek, Frank Arest and Joey Vera for a project called Arch/Matheos.  SCHWING!  Best news ever!

After the fantastic album had been out in a while, they announced that they were playing the Keep It True (KIT) festival in Germany and then announced that there would be a show in Hartford, CT.  WHAAAA?  As soon as I heard that I automatically bought 2 tickets for the Webster Theater.  Hard to believe they were only $18 each.  I told Kelz that the spare was for him should he decide to partake in the event.  Kelz has a wife and kids and I would’ve understood if he said he couldn’t make the show, but he said he’d do it.  So there it was, plans were in the works to see a band that we have waited since 1984 to see.    Twenty-eight flippin’ years!

Videos from KIT surfaced pretty quickly and got us pretty excited as John and the band sounded great.  Hard to believe that we were finally going to see a band we idolized since 1984.  Now bear in mind that our favorite band is Iron Maiden…both of us.  We saw the Seventh Son Tour together and Daniel and I went to Raleigh to see Chris and see Bruce’s Accident of Birth tour and got to meet Bruce and Adrian Smith, 2 guys that are over the top important to us musically.  But Fates Warning was/is different somehow.  I don’t know if I can truly explain it.  I’m not sure if I can even try to.  Maybe because they were a bit more underground.  I really don’t know.

So here we are to present day, this weekend even.  Our flights were scheduled to arrive in Hartford at around the same time.  As soon as we landed I had a text message from him telling me where he was waiting.  I found him, we exchanged some greetings and mama jokes and went to get the rental car.  From the rental place we went straight to our hotel.  What a shithole!  Hartford is kind of dumpy but our hotel was shitty.  But whatever, we were there and would make the best of it all.  Once settled in we decided to forage for food in Hartford.  Found a “Mexican” restaurant in the downtown area with all honkys working the front of house.  That a;ways makes me suspicious of Mexican food, but the food was good as were the margaritas.  The conversation with Kelz over dinner were mostly about our game plan for Saturday, metal nerd talk, past events that we had attended together and just the ridiculousness of our lives.  That’s not to say ridiculous as in bad, but in knowing each other for about 30 years, did we ever think we’d be in Hartford, CT to see John Arch and Fates.  It was still unbelievable.  After dinner we hit Walmart as my duffel bag was falling apart.  “Chris (Kelz), I take my duffel bags seriously.”  Liquor stores closed at 9 so we had 5 minutes to find one and get whatever drinks we wanted.  Four 22oz bottles of Newcastle were the selection.  We drank 2 of them, talked about stuff until late and just fell asleep, worn out from the trip.

I brought my copy of Headbangers by Mark Hale to hopefully get signed by the band and happen to have an extra copy that I brought for Kelz as a gift.  After waking up Saturday, it was more metal talk, more mama jokes and the search for breakfast.  We found a cool little diner in Weathersfield.  It hit the spot.  We were both still tired from the trip and decided to go back to the hotel and relax.  I had told the front desk that we didn’t need any housekeeping but they ended up waking us up to come in and clean.  Bummer as I had just fallen asleep when Sanjay had unlocked the door to come in.  Since we were awake it was decided to go ahead and get our gear together and make a plan for going to venue.  Some friends I have known online for years were also in town and we didn’t get to meet until later in the day at the venue.

So we’re all showered up and I said that we should go find the venue and scope the area out for parking and such.  When we found the place we decided to just go ahead and park.  As we got out of our car, we heard then doing soundcheck.  GUARDIAN.  My knees got weak.  We heard them mess with a few parts of that and do the intro to Sorceress.  As we were standing there we met Tom Phillips from the long standing band While Heaven Wept and struck up conversation with him for quite a while.  About 10 minutes after soundcheck, John Arch comes out of the venue and we just say hello as he is walking by.  He turns and comes over and just talks with us for a few minutes, said he wasn’t feeling well and had likely caught something after traveling from Germany’s KIT.  It was quite humbling that the man who owns my favorite voice in metal was standing next to us, just hanging out.  Turned out that he and Tom knew each other and they struck up some convo then John  left to go take care of his throat.  Holy moly.  Right after that we thought we’d walk up the block to check out a chinese place for food.  Once in front of the place we decided not to eat there.  The Yelp reviews were all 1s.  PASS.  We ended up just hitting up the quickie mart across the street from the venue for drinks and snacks, which essentially became our dinner.  The parking lot was filling up quickly and some of other friends had gathered around and it was great to meet them after 10+ plus years of online correspondence in various metal forums and such.

The doors opened for the side venue around 5PM and we waited to go in right around 7 when Magus Beast (formerly Agressor from NYC) was taking the stage.  Once inside we caught the last half song from Kali Mah from CT.  We were given a CD then found the main stage where Magus Beast was already on the stage.  They were finishing a song and when into Metal Church.  Good version.  Unfortunately right after that, they were told to get off of the stage.  The band was supposed to get 30 minutes for their set and apparently only got 15.  Not sure why they got cut but they were pissed.  Understandable.  We never really got to hear them play a full original song except for hearing Death Before Dishonor from their 1997ish Agressor Say Your Prayers album.  The singer still had the pipes.  We spoke to the singer for a few minutes after and he was cool, but obviously pissed.  They decided to just go back to NYC and not see the rest of the show.

Right after that I saw Steve Zimmerman (former Fates Warning Drummer on the first 4 albums) in the hallway and Igrabbed Kelz.  Steve was very nice and a bit on the quiet side.  He signed our stuff and did a few pictures with us.  Steve’s band, Enemy Within was going to be playing a little later.

Steve Zimmerman, Kelz, Dean’s rabbit ears in the background.

Victor Arduini (former Fates guitarist on the first 2 albums) was about to hit the stage with his band Freedoms Reign.  Victor showed that he still had the chops.  The venue didn’t seem to be filling up but I had heard that it


was sold out.  FR got a 30 minute set and the venue was keeping everyone on a tight schedule.  Arch/Matheos was scheduled for 9:30-11.  After a quick set change, Zimmerman’s band, Enemy Within, came on and went through their set.  It was great to finally see Steve play, even though he was behind a huge kit and we couldn’t see more than his head.  He’s got an interesting style for sure.  It was before their set that Kelz and I moved closer to the front of the stage.  Enemy Within finished their set and there was 45 minutes until Arch was to hit the stage.

I believe that was the longest 45 minutes of my life.  The anticipation.  Twenty-eight years of waiting for this one moment, what’s 45 more minutes?  A lifetime, it seemed!  Tick tock.  Kelz and I would just look at each other every few minutes…”36 minutes”.  “29 minutes”.  “15 minutes”.  “9 minutes” zOMG.  “4 minutes”…then there it was, 9:29PM in Hartford, CT at the Webster Theater and they hit the stage with a song from the new album called Neurotically Wired.  I was in awe.

There they were.  John Arch, Jim Matheos, Joey Vera, Frank Aresti and Bobby Jarzombek.  Just feet away from us doing their thing.  It all seemed unreal.  It still does, really.  John seemed a wee bit tense but loosened up quickly.  He made sure to get the crowd involved.  His voice sounded stellar.  They then went into Midnight Serenade next and the band was just ‘on’.  The next song was The Sorceress and the crowd went wild.  Everyone sang along and John’s vocals were just great, especially for how bad he felt.  He knocked it out of the park.  He was hitting the notes he knew he could hit and sang around others in a way that didn’t matter.  Stained Glass Sky came next.  A beautiful and eloquent song and they played it perfectly.  John made a joke to the effect of “Who write 15 minutes songs?  What the hell?” and pointed at Matheos.  It was pretty funny.

And then came Damnation.  From the album that started it all for us.  The acoustic intro and John starting with “Thousands of years before the dawn of history…”  It hit me hard.  I was 14 again…I was 23 again…I was 34 again…I was 42 (now-duh).  A wave of emotion crept over me and I got choked up with tears in my eyes.  A quick glance at Kelz and he saw it.  He knew exactly how I felt.  They went into The Apparition and it was just another wave of emotion.  The whole night was.  Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me) was next.  John spoke between songs and you could tell that he was enjoying himself up there.  Other than KIT, this was his first US performance in 25 years.  Amazing.  The closed the main set with Guardian.  A crowd-pleaser for sure.  It was gorgeous.  I adore that song.

After a brief break they came back and did Epitaph.  Oh man.  I was in heaven.  Unfortunately they didn’t do the ending part.  I really wanted to hear about the omen birds soaring the desert land!  No bother.  They closed with Exodus and it was great.  The crowd sang along with most of the set which was really cool.  Kelz and I stayed in the same spot for the whole show, holding our copies of that heavy ass book.  haha.

When it was over, there was a moment of silence.  We needed it.  They the gushing about how awesome that was started…from everyone there.  After the show, it was just milling around and talking to people you didn’t know.  Checking out people’s band shirts.  I was wearing SA Slayer, for the record.

As security was pushing people out of the main venue area, we ran into Victor Arduini and I asked if he ad time to sign some stuff.  “All the time in the world”, he said.  He was pretty excited to see the book and sign CD covers.  As he was signing our stuff, he says, “Joe bones!  get over here and sign this stuff.”  It was Joe Dibiase, former Fates bassist for their first 6 or 7 albums.  His head was shaved and I never would have recognized him.  Thanks Victor!  They both graciously signed our stuff.

Everyone was kicked out of the venue at that point and we all just stood in front of the venue talking.  There was a meet and greet but you needed a special pass to get in, which we didn’t have.  Frank Aresti came outside and we spoke to him a bit.  I met him 2 years ago at SxSW and had him sign the book back then.  He did sign my CDs and all of Kelz’ stuff.  He’s a super nice guy.

Shortly after John came out and signed stuff for everyone out there.  He seemed to be in great spirits.  When I got the chance, I had him sign the book and my CDs as did Kelz.  Two quick photos and we left him to the masses.  It was still a bit humbling to stand next to him.

John Arch

Bobby Jarzombek came out next.  He saw my shirt and commented on it.  I told him that I was the guy he asked for my Riot vids that I shot at their San Antonio shows a few years back.  “That’s you?  You’re here from Austin?  Fucking cool.” or something similar.  He signed the Riot page in the book and my Immortal Soul CD cover.

Bobby J

Then here comes another legend.  Brian Slagel.  Yes, the man who created Metal Blade Records and gave so

many of us a lifetime’s worth of music.  I couldn’t believe it.  Shook his hand and we talked about the show and the possibility of more.  He said the same thing that Aresti said about more shows, “It’s up to John.”  I showed Brian the book and asked him to sign it.  Even though he’s not in it, he’s responsible for many of the bands that are in it.   He also signed my River’s Edge CD soundtrack cover and gave us a little insight about it.  I told him that we had met in 1997 when I was at their offices and asked him if I could buy the huge poster on their wall, to which he replied, “Just keep walking.”  haha

The king

Joey Vera came next and talked with everyone.  He was pretty excited that so many of us had traveled from all over the place to see this.  Again, signatures and pics.  He’s a really cool guy.

Joey Vera

Jim Matheos came out last.  He’s quiet, stoic.  He signed everything that everyone put in front of him and silently stood there for pics.  “Thanks for coming so far.”  That was about all the emotion anyone got out of him.

Don’t worry, Jim Matheos. I won’t eat you.

I was hoping to see some of the guys from that area who were in such classic bands like Obsession, Liege Lord and Sacred Oath.  Well, I probably wouldn’t have recognized them anyways.

Everyone’s performance was outstanding.  John sounded amazing and seemed to really enjoy himself.  Jim didn’t move much and rarely changed his facial expression, but his playing was spot on.  I think there was a mistake made somewhere because Jim shot a look over to Frank and Joey and everyone started smiling and laughing a bit.  Frank’s solos were sweet.  He is a great guitarist, no doubt.  Frank’s backing vocals were really good, too.Having never seen Joey Vera play live, I didn’t know what to expect.  I was blown away.  He was solid as could be.  And then there’s Bobby J.  I had seen him previously with Halford (2000) and Riot (2009).  He was as great as expected and I thought it was really cool how he stayed true to Zimmerman’s licks in the older songs.

After the final goodbyes to the folks we hung out with after the show, Kelz and I went back to our fleabag hotel.  We stopped at McD’s for some nasty grub.  It was the first fast food I had had since mid-March.  It was great and gross at the same time.  When we got back, we ate and just talked about the show and looked at our fotos until we both fell asleep.  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fall asleep but once the adrenaline wore off, I was out.

Then Sunday…still excited from the show and still in a bit of disbelief that all of this really happened.  We checked out and headed to the airport.  we grabbed a quick meal there and Bobby J ended up coming into the same eatery.  We spoke to him for a few minutes then went on our way.  It was a nice ending to the weekend in Hartford.

It couldn’t have been much of a better weekend in general.  Time with a practically lifelong friend, the most awesome of concerts, new friends and just the all around experience of traveling for a show.  Lots of song quotes, YouTube song wars, “failed missions”, Simpsons and River’s Edge quotes. I think that this will be considered the best show I have ever seen and for obvious reasons.  As I said to Kelz yesterday, pretty much everything else is downhill from here.  I pretty much doubt anything could top this weekend.  I don’t think I want it topped.

Here are some additional pics for your viewing pleasure.  Most of mine sucked.  I’ll post more from others once I have their permissions.

Kali Mah

Agressor/Magus Beast

Freedoms Reign

Enemy Within

The last goodbye.

Arch / Matheos Setlist Webster Theater, Hartford, CT, USA 2012
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