I've been aware of Savatage since the mid 80's, when I first bought Hall of the Mountain King on cassette. I couldn't get into it too much back then, but then Gutter Ballet came out, and though I still wasn't hooked, there was something appealing about their dramatic style of hard rock and heavy metal.
Now more than a decade, and 6 albums, later, I am a huge fan of their's.
In fact they have officially usurped Metallica to become my favorite band.
So when I saw the chance to take the trip to Orlando and see them, I had to do it.
First thing's first though.
I went up to Orlando with my crazy cousin HC. Neither of us had ever been to the House of Blues, which is in Downtown Disney. As soon as we got there, I immediately noticed Jon Oliva, keyboard player and (part time) vocalist for Savatage. I wanted to go up to him, but I couldn't think of how to do so without looking like a total dork.
I decided I was indeed a dork anyway, and borrowed a pen from one of the sales girls and went up to Jon with a small piece of paper which had the Savatage setlist printed out on it. (I got that from Savatage.com)
Anyway, when he saw what it was, he was either impressed, or thought I was a freak to had printed it out. But he cheerfully signed it. I asked him what the new singer was like, and he jokingly said, "he's exactly like me, but one third my size".
(Jon's a big guy).
With that he shook my hand and told me to enjoy the show.
I thought he was really cool, and being the fanboy that I am, that made my night
At 9 PM, Fates Warning hit the stage.
I've never really been able to get into Fates Warning though I've known of them almost as long as I've known Savatage and have bought a lot of their stuff.
Fates Warning is like nerd metal. Their music is very intricate. They don't do regular, simple power chords…these guys are like the rocket scientists of the genre.
Hell they even kinda look like nerds, albeit with long hair.
Well actually, the bassist kinda had a Flea thing going, with a shaved head but a tuft of hair right on top. He was excellent though. No standard bass lines for him. I watched him just as much as I watched the guitarists. He went at it non-stop.
All in all, Fates Warning put on an excellent show, and had a really great attitude on stage.
At about 10:25, a recorded intro from Commissar, the opening track on Savatage's newest CD, Poets and Madmen started playing. The lights started flashing around and you could see silhouettes of the band members walking onto the stage. The crowd cheered enthusiastically, and with that Savatage began it's 21 song set.
I wasn't sure what to expect…
Savatage had recently lost two of my favorite members… a great vocalist in Zak Stevens, who replaced Jon Oliva as lead singer (Oliva stayed on as keyboards and backing vocals, and does all the vocals on the new CD), and guitarist Al Pitrelli, who is just incredible.
But longtime rhythm guitarist Chris Caffery took over, and did a great job on lead , while a new member, Jack Frost, handled rhythm.
The revelation was that the new lead singer, Damond Jinaya, turned out to be really good…
It's kinda bizzare…Jon Oliva still sang many of the leads, and when he did so, Jinaya would stalk around the stage, mouthing along and singing back up, but when it was one of Zak's old songs, Damond took the lead, and was very impressive.
He also has a cool, almost Goth look and he's kinda funny…at one point he said it was good to be back home, "in the land of the Sacred Mouse", and later on he literally put on some mouse ears while he sang.
Savatage's set seemed to be a way to introduce the fans to the new singer…they seemed to choose some songs that were favorites when performed by Zak Stevens, as if to say, "see, the new guy's pretty good".
They also did a lot of songs that were from the 1993 CD Edge of Thorns, the last CD to feature original guitarist Criss Oliva, Jon's brother. Tragically, Criss died in an accident cause by a drunk driver. He was an excellent guitarist and from all accounts, a stand up guy. Judging from the crowd's reaction at the mention of his name, he's missed greatly.
I must say that the entire night was really great. My cousin and I had been a little nervous since we didn't know what to expect from the House of Blues. Turns out it's a great place.
Also, the crowd was really into it, and nobody started any trouble.
I dunno what Savatage will do on the next CD…which I would imagine is at least 3 years away. It seems the new members got a great response from the crowd, so hopefully they will be on that next CD. Who knows?
But I know I'll get it…
And I will definitely see this band perform again.