Kings of the Impossible

Let’s start this off with the most important piece of information:  you can listen to the Protomen’s latest album in full, and for free, on their website, and that is basically as much as you need to read here. You’re off the hook. Go have a great day.

I’ve seen a lot of music lately. I’ve seen a lot of music I’ve called good, and a lot less that I’ve called bad. But I feel now like I may have become a bit desensitized. Because there is truly a difference between good and good that I think I sometimes forget about.

The difference is in the feeling that becomes tangible the second a band walks on stage. It’s in the immutable energy that rolls off a crowd like a sheet of lightning. It’s in that moment you can tell a band is confident they’re going to own it, like a sword juggler is confident he’s going to own it, because otherwise, he might die.

I had never really listened to The Protomen before they played the Biltmore on Wednesday (always one of those bands I would “get around to eventually”), but I knew the second they all stepped on the stage what a horrible mistake that had been. Actually, it wasn’t even when they all stepped on stage – it was when one man in a mask stepped on stage and began hyping the crowd up with tales of the apocalypse and demands that we fight… injustice? Criminals? He didn’t say really, but everyone in the room was more than willing to join him. That explains why everyone had come with helmets.

Not bike helmets, mind you. These helmets had lights, silver spray paint, and metal. They actually looked a lot like… well, Protoman’s helmet.

Okay, so let’s back up. The Protomen are a nine-piece rock band that compose rock operas based on the Mega Man video game series.  If you’ve never played Mega Man (you should, because there’s probably over fifty of them at this point, and there’s that many for a reason), they have only the barest skeleton of a plot:  two scientists build a bunch of robots, one scientist goes mad and tries to take over the world with said robots, and the other scientist builds Mega Man to stop him. Rinse and repeat. Later it’s discovered there was a prototype to Mega Man (you can guess his name), and he’s all mysterious and, well, that’s about it. The Protomen have expanded on this seedling of a plot and turned it into a sprawling epic that rivals the best of Meatloaf and Queen, tripping hard on the eighties and turning out some of the best theatrical rock of any decade.

When the whole band finally appeared, they looked like they were pulled straight out of 1987. Painted silver faces, Ziggy Stardust in their eyes, zebra-stripe spandex suits, aviators, and Flash Gordon. Yea, the opener was the theme song from Flash Gordon, just so you knew what you were getting into right off the bat. And wow, they killed it.

As it turns out, The Protomen just finished putting together a live album of Queen covers. There’s not many bands I can think of who would have the courage to try that, but The Protomen absolutely nail it. Our set at the Biltmore was closed out by an incredible version of Bohemian Rhapsody, and if you ever wanted to hear that song live in 2012, that is hands down the best way I can think of.

Their own songs weren’t at all shabby either. They led the crowd like puppeteers through their suite of tunes, summoning them into chanting, singing, and screaming names and obscure phrases like it was a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Their performance actually made it seem not unlike watching a play or movie, if you could pay attention to the lyrics. There were distinct “scenes” if you will – each band member played a character, and over the course of the show, confrontations were had, helmets were worn, Gatling guns were wielded, and, presumably, hearts were broken and worlds were saved.

I’ve never had that much fun at a concert before, period. Especially not at one where I wasn’t super familiar with the music. The band and the audience together made Wednesday a night to remember. Everyone was part of the show, and whether you knew what was going on or not, you felt like part of it too.

I’ll be down at the Penny Arcade Expo this weekend in Seattle, where among other things, I will be seeing the Protomen again on Friday because they’re just that good. I wasn’t even going to. I was going to go do something else, which now seems like the dumbest idea ever. If you’re anywhere within city limits of wherever they are playing, you should make the decision to go see them. It is truly an event unlike any other live musical performance I’ve ever seen.

You don’t need to care about Mega Man or video games to appreciate the Protomen’s music. They’ve turned the concept into something that is entirely their own and that is totally enjoyable no matter what your interest is in the original work. As long as you enjoy musicians performing at their absolute best, both musically and theatrically, you really can’t go wrong with The Protomen.