If there’s one band out there that I feel like everyone should listen to/see live (besides Bruce Springsteen), its a relatively unknown band out of Nashville called The Protomen. The Protomen are a nine piece ensemble who have put out two spectacular original albums, and one album of Queen covers that was just released. Their two original albums are titled The Protomen (Act I) and Act II: The Father of Death, which are the first two installments of a three part rock opera based on the Mega Man video game series. Their sound is one that is unique, as it combines the stylings of current electronic music with sounds of grunge, metal, 80’s music (both pop and hair metal), and vocals that compare to the likes of Freddie Mercury and Meat Loaf. They tell an alternate tale of Mega Man, creating a dystopian society ruled by Mega Man villain Dr. Wily, who took over using robots that he helped create with his former partner, Dr. Thomas Light. Act I tells the story of the death of Proto Man, and the rise of his brother Mega Man, who goes to try and finish his brothers job of stopping Wily’s society, only to find that Proto Man is working with Wily now. Act II is actually a prequel, telling the story of Dr. Light and Dr. Wily, and how Dr. Wily rose to power by falsely accusing Dr. Light with a murder that he did not commit to get him out of the way. The band is well aware that their story is not the tale that the video game series tells, but if you ask them, they’ll just tell you “the games jumped off point with the story we want to tell.”
While their albums are quite enjoyable, the live show that they put on is in a tier of its own. Their live shows are a theatrical spectacle involving band members wearing masks, face paint, and even the helmets of Proto Man and Mega Man. The energy that they put forth night in and night out has earned them a cult following that includes the likes of Jack Black, who recently invited them to open for Tenacious D. I first saw them live last summer in South Carolina, and as soon as I left the bar they played at, I knew I had to see them again. Being out in Kansas has really hurt my opportunities to see them, as the bulk of their touring is in the southeast and northeastern seaboard. So when I saw that they were going to play a show in Kansas City, I had to make sure to clear my schedule and get there. They played at a tiny bar just down the road from Kansas City’s Power and Light District, and the Sprint Center. The stage looked like it would barely hold the whole band, which was true, as the guitarists often jumped down in the crowd to play. They were forced to do an early show due to the bar having another gig later that night. Czar Bar, however, knew the drawing power of them and had two gigs that night. Tickets were cheap, and the place started to fill. At 8pm, the bands MC, K.I.L.R.O.Y. took the stage to get the crowd hyped, asking if we were “ready to stand up and fight,” and with that, the rest of the band took the stage. I didn’t know what sort of setlist to expect, as they just released an album of Queen covers.
The band got started with the song “Breaking Out,” a song comparable to a Springsteen or Meat Loaf epic off of their Act II album, and gave it an extended intro. A great start, as that is my favorite song by them. They followed that with “Keep Quiet,” which follows it on the album. After those two songs finished, they talked to the audience, apologizing for not getting out here more often, and that they would play a lot of stuff from Act II, as that album had not been released the last time they played in KC. They also joked about how there were only 11 people in the audience last time, but that’s what they get for scheduling a show the night The Dark Knight came out. They then continued on with songs earlier from Act II, going with “Father of Death” and “The Hounds,” the latter of which is not sung by lead singer Raul Panther III, who portrays Dr. Light on the album, but rather multi-instrumentalist/singer Turbo Lover, who portrays Dr. Wily.
The first time I saw them, they did their entire Act I album, as they were touring in support of re-releasing the album on vinyl. Their songs are very album oriented, so I was curious to see how they would set them if they weren’t all in consecutive order. I was thinking it would be odd, like going to see Pink Floyd and hearing “Time” followed by “Comfortably Numb.” It just wouldn’t work. However, The Protomen generally paired their songs, so each two song bit was paired together on the album. This trend continued, as they went into Act I, playing “The Will of One” and “Vengeance,” both of which included the first appearance of Panther’s Mega Man blue helmet, to help give the song a real feel. After that couplet, they played what is arguably their most popular song “Light Up the Night,” a fast paced rocker you’d think was straight out of the 80’s. They followed that with “The Fall“, which it is attached to on Act II. They then slowed it down for Act I opener “Hope Rides Alone,” in which Panther tells the story of Proto Man and his fall, during which he was wearing Proto Man’s red helmet. “Hope Rides Alone” is full of energy, as K.I.L.R.O.Y. is on stage getting everyone to clap and fist pump throughout the whole thing. After that, Panther said he wanted to give the other singers a chance, so they followed it up with Queen’s “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)” featuring Turbo Lover on the vocals sporting a Freddie Mercury-esque spandex outfit. Following that up was a feature for female singer/keyboardist known as The Gambler, and she sang a great rendition Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” which featured some silly on stage antics by K.I.L.R.O.Y. After that song ended, they went into a fast drum beat and stated that they were gonna “end the show the way they always end it” with Act I closer “Due Vendetta.” As the song ended they thanked everyone and left the stage, leaving the crowd chanting “one more song.” The band knew that they had to get off stage for the other gig, but decided to screw management and got back up for one more song, another Queen cover “Under Pressure,” which they did very well. Both Raul Panther and Turbo Lover are very good at emulating Freddie Mercury, both with voice and stage presence. And once again, The Protomen left me wanting to see even more of them.
Their newest album is titled The Protomen Present: A Night of Queen. It is a live album from a concert that they did which consisted of only Queen covers, with the only non Queen song being “Due Vendetta,” as that’s how they end every show. Queen is probably one of the hardest bands to emulate live, but these guys really got it down, with the help of vocal modulators to help them with Queen’s distinct harmonies. Panther and Turbo Lover both have the voice and the antics down, and the guitarists got that Red Special sound just right. Plus, the tracks on the album were very good selections for the more in depth Queen fans, including songs such as “Princes of the Universe,” “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…),” and “Flash/Battle Theme,” while leaving off hits such as “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.” Playing the songs that they loved and enjoyed I thought gave a better performance on the album. All in all, it is very well done, and I will give it a 4.5 out of 5 rating.