Coheed and Cambria played The Rooftop at Pier 17 in Manhattan last week with special guests Deafheaven. It was one of the first stops on the band’s “Neverender: No World For A Waking Mind” Tour which will be hitting cities across North America through the end of this month before picking up for a second leg in September and early October.
It’s funny how seeing a band can remind you of the passage of time. I last saw Coheed and Cambria in 2011 at Williamsburg Waterfront, an outdoor venue that was set on the Brooklyn side of the East River. I’d just moved to New York and was starting to find my footing in the city; the drastic transition from the quiet solitude of North Carolina was still fresh on my mind.
The weather was particularly dreary that day, a misty rain welcoming Coheed and Cambria as they opened their set with “Always and Never”. I remember the surreality of this combo coupled with distant hints of the Manhattan skyline peaking through the fog. My future at that time felt about as clear as the weather around me.
Now, twelve years later, New York is my home and I struggle to remember it any other way. It felt fitting that I’d be seeing Coheed and Cambria on the East River again, on another cool and cloudy day, but this time on the Manhattan side looking across to Brooklyn. I’m sure there is poetic symbolism somewhere in there that can tie it all together but I’ll just leave it at the fact that time moves very quickly, and in this case Coheed and Cambria served as a unit of measurement to remind me of that fact. I couldn’t help but reflect on the years between these two shows, how much I’d grown, and how thrilled I was to be there with proper camera in hand this time around to capture the prog rock icons.
Bay-area post-metalers Deafheaven opened the show with their nine-minute opus, “Dream House”. Vocalist George Clarke conducted the band and the audience with his unbridled intensity, delivering each verse with every string of his heart. The band played as if in a meditative trance, taking moments to acknowledge the crowd and the city around them before sinking back into the warmth of their distorted guitars and blast beats.
Always the self-surprise ruiner, I had looked up the setlist for Coheed and Cambria prior to the show and mistakenly read that they were playing “Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness” front to back. This was seemingly further confirmed when an acoustic guitar was brought out on a stand and placed front and center prior to the band taking the stage. However, when frontman Claudio Sanchez walked out and began to play the beginning notes of “The Reaping”, I realized we were actually going to be treated to the album’s direct sequel, 2007’s “No World For Tomorrow”, instead. Despite my best efforts, I managed to be surprised after all.
Against the nighttime backdrop of an illuminated Brooklyn Bridge, Coheed and Cambria took fans on an epic musical journey that began with “No World For Tomorrow” and culminated with the performance of a selection of tracks from the band’s most recent album, “Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind”. My photo pass granted me access only to the first three songs of the set, but my exiting of the venue afterward gave way to a personally memorable experience. We’ll get to that, but first let’s talk about what I did with that photo pass.
Shooting a show at The Rooftop at Pier 17 has been a long time coming for me and it was worth the wait. The venue, which is now in its fifth season, offers a breathtaking environment in which to experience a live performance. You’re standing on a rooftop, but the views of Manhattan and Brooklyn make you feel like you’re on standing on top of the world.
The experience of shooting photo coverage at the venue was great. The photo pit was a bit narrow and required some strategic maneuvering to get from one side of the stage to the other, especially once the pit was packed with photographers. However, we all seemed to find our flow and make it work with minimal obstruction of and/or from the other photographers.
There was still plenty of daylight when Deafheaven took the stage, allowing me to keep the ISO low and increase my shutter speed a bit. This certainly came in handy with frontman Greg Clarke. Always on the move, Clarke provided no shortage of photo opportunities if you were able to move quickly to capture them. Given the height of the stage I was having trouble highlighting the beautiful scenery behind it. Thankfully, the crowd that was against the barrier could not have been more kind, encouraging me to use the space right in front of them so I could get the shots I wanted. Thanks so them, I was able to capture the moments before and during the start of “Sunbather” with the iconic Brooklyn Bridge finding its way into the composition as well.
As a concert photographer, there are times where your photo pass does not double as a ticket. This means that once you leave the photo pit after the first three songs, you sometimes have to leave the venue entirely and wait to be escorted back in for the next band. Such was the case for me at this show. After my time in the photo pit during Deafheaven, I made my way down the elevator and to the box office to take a breather and review my shots. It was a nice break and allowed me to reset before heading back up for Coheed and Cambria.
By the time Coheed was ready to take the stage, there was minimal daylight left. I adjusted back to my standard settings: Shutter Priority mode with Shutter 1/160 and ISO 800-1,250. With these settings, my aperture doesn’t change all that match and usually sits at 2.8, but the Shutter Priority allows for that aperture to stop down automatically during sudden increases in brightness. When I shot in Manual, that sudden increase would instead blow out the image, and by the time I’d adjust manually it would be too late. To that end, Shutter Priority has been a game changer for me.
When the crew brought out a single acoustic guitar on a stand and placed it behind frontman Claudio Sanchez’s microphone, I began the age-old internal struggle of which lens to start with. Given that the stand would keep the guitar stationary, that meant Sanchez would be stationary too. I also assumed it would at the very least begin with him on stage solo. The 70-200mm was feeling like the right way to go.
I definitely made the right decision at the start, as I was able to get a comfortable amount of shots of Sanchez, but the moment the band launched into “No World For Tomorrow“, there was too much excitement and energy for me to fit into a telephoto frame. I quickly switched to my 24-70mm and kept it on for the remainder of my time in the photo pit.
Though I was fine leaving the show after the third song, I was bummed that I’d surely be missing a live performance of “Mother Superior“, a song that had been particularly meaningful to me back in 2011 during those first few months of living in New York City. I’d heard them play it before at the last show, but given the theme of self-reflection for the evening, I felt like it would be a good way to end the night and bookend the memories. Well, sure enough, as I was walking out of the venue I heard a sound from above that was none other than the first notes of “Mother Superior.” I stood on the pier for the entirety of the song, gazing this time at the Brooklyn skyline as I listened. A nice bookend memory perhaps, but hopefully instead just one of many chapters of Coheed shows to come.