The first time high-concept progressive rock band Coheed and Cambria played New Orleans circa 2002, guitarist Travis Stever and his bandmates schlepped their own gear up a flight of stairs to a small, decidedly unglamorous room.
On Monday night, they’ll plug in at a far more prestigious location: the multimillion-dollar Fillmore at Harrah’s New Orleans, the swanky new 2,200-capacity venue developed by Live Nation.
Initially, the Foo Fighters were slated to open the Fillmore on Friday and Saturday. But after an unnamed Foo suffered an unnamed injury, the band postponed its sold-out Fillmore appearances until May.
Coheed and Cambria were the next act on the Fillmore schedule. Stever didn’t initially realize his band got the Fillmore grand opening gig by default.
“As a band, it’s a big deal when you get to open a spot — even if it’s because another band canceled,” he said, laughing, during a phone interview this week. “I hope everybody’s OK in the Foo Fighters. They’re awesome.”
For more than two decades, Coheed and Cambria has churned out a dense, intricate brand of progressive metal/hard rock. Over the course of nine studio albums spread across 23 years, the musicians have streamlined their sound but still specialize in loud, ambitious, at times aggressive, music.
Lyrics are mostly based on “The Amory Wars,” an elaborate science fiction saga conceived by Coheed vocalist/guitarist Claudio Sanchez that has spawned a novel and a comic book series, in addition to the concept albums in the band’s ever-growing catalog.
They took a break from the storyline on their 2015 album “The Color Before the Sun.” But last year’s “Vaxis — Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures” returned to the plot, kicking off a new five-album sequence that expands the “Amory Wars” universe.
The band’s creative output is not necessarily dependent on the "Amory Wars," Stever said, as evidenced by “The Color Before the Sun.” For that album, Sanchez “just wrote lyrics about his life. He’s the lyricist. It’s his decision. Everything has a real-life basis. On prior albums, when the band was going through turmoil, that would make its way into the words and music. You don’t need to go the concept direction if you don’t want to. The songs are songs.”
That said, the conceptual content “is something our fans enjoy diving into. It separated us from the rest of the pack.”
In an age of streaming, anything that gives consumers a reason to actually buy an album is an advantage.
“Now records are not really considered something that people find appealing enough to go out and get. Your average bear is just going to check it out on Spotify,” Stever said.
“But if people hear, ‘Wow, every album has to do with a storyline? That’s weird,’ if people get involved in it, then they’re part of this other counter-culture thing that goes with the music. It’s been an honor to be a part of something that has that extra dimension beyond the music.”
Not that he fully understood where Sanchez was coming from in the early years of the band. “If you’d talked to me when I was younger and this whole thing was starting, I would have been like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on here.’ But I can honestly say I am so proud to be a part of something like this.”
He’s also proud to be the first act to headline the Fillmore (technically speaking, Coheed and Cambria’s opening act, Foxing, will be the first band to actually christen the stage).
The vast, long-vacant second story of New Orleans’ downtown casino has found a flashy new tenant: The Fillmore at Harrah’s New Orleans, a mult…
Legendary concert promoter Bill Graham operated the original Fillmore West in San Francisco from 1968 to 1971 as the epicenter of the city's psychedelic rock scene. Graham also opened the Fillmore East in New York City.
Fifty years later, the Fillmore brand is part of the portfolio of Live Nation’s club and theater division, with venues in Charlotte, Detroit, Philadelphia, Miami and elsewhere.
Two years ago, Live Nation executives entered into discussions with Harrah’s about building a Fillmore on the casino’s empty second floor. The result is a larger, more lavish spin on another local Live Nation property, the House of Blues.
The Fillmore has its own box office and entrance on Harrah's Canal Street side, so patrons can access the music venue without entering the casino itself (which allows the Fillmore to host all-ages shows). The venue can also be accessed via the escalator in Harrah’s Masquerade club.
The main music hall has stadium seating at the back of the room and VIP booths. Chairs can also be set up on the floor to create a reserved-seat space of 1,000.
After Coheed and Cambria’s Monday night show, the Fillmore will host two nights of Duran Duran on Tuesday and Wednesday. Stever may listen to some Duran Duran before he performs Monday: His warm-up music playlist includes Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer” and hard rock band the Deftones’ cover of Duran Duran’s “The Chauffeur.”
“I’ve always been a Duran Duran fan,” Stever said. “You’d be surprised at all the different music that everybody in the band listens to. Every musician is going to say that, but we really are a band that has a wide diversity in our musical tastes. It ain’t just metal and prog. It’s all over the map.”
Those tastes include the Foo Fighters. Foos drummer Taylor Hawkins played on Coheed and Cambria’s 2007 album “No World for Tomorrow.” And Stever was impressed that Foo frontman Dave Grohl continued to tour in 2015 after breaking his leg.
“That dude was playing shows with a broken leg — he didn’t cancel. That’s what makes you kind of worried (about the latest, unnamed injury). I hope it’s nothing serious. Probably not. They would probably say something if it was.”
But don’t expect Coheed and Cambria to cover “Monkey Wrench,” “Learn to Fly,” “Everlong” or some other Foo Fighters anthem as a tribute on Monday.
“That would be awesome — we’re fans,” Stever said. “But we have a pretty eclectic set of our own stuff right now. So it would be hard to tackle anything else.”