So there I was, at the fabled Melico Salazar Theater, about to experience the pleasure of seeing the Costa Rican Philharmonic’s Guitar Monsters show. It’s a collection of guitar-heavy covers arranged for band and orchestra, featuring 12 of the best guitarists in the country.
It featured national axe luminaries such Aaron Retana, the Filarmónica’s official guitar player; Federico Miranda, of Ghandi; Ari Lotringer, from Time Forgetten; and solo artist Lucho Aguilar, among others.
They played some of the best guitar tracks in rock history, from Clapton, Gilmour, Hendrix and more. It was beautifully arranged for the orchestra and managed with great flair by Director Marvin Araya, who oftentimes seemed to subtly invoke Argentinian comedy troupe Les Luthier with his humorous comments. However, near the end of the show I was surprised to see a familiar face: that of guitarist Jose Chanti Gonzales.
It took me back, because I was sure I had seen him before. And then it hit me – just a couple of days prior, when I experienced metal so intense that it felt like the Devil himself had to resurrect me back into this mortal coil.
It was Friday night, Sept. 21: Canvas in Concert at Jazz Café, along with Inner Stroke and Giant Sleeper. For those not in the know, Jazz Café is one the best and oldest live venues in the country, with two separate locales – the original, more intimate San Pedro venue in east San Jose, and the larger, more bombastic Escazú location in the west.
Both are worth following to be aware of some the best events happening in the country, but I’m a beast from the east, so the following took place at the San Pedro one.
I hadn’t heard of Inner Stroke and Giant Sleeper, but I did know Canvas, a band of the former vocalist for The Last Void, Adriana Muñoz.
The Last Void were a well-known progressive metal outfit that unfortunately disbanded some years ago (their fantastic 2010 debut and only album, “State of Mind,” sits proudly as the first disc in my still-woefully-small-but-growing Costa Rican record collection).
The first band up was Inner Stroke. By the time we reached the Jazz, they had just begun, and, boy, from the get-go I knew this show was going to be something else. If the opener was this good, we were in for a treat. The power trio began with purely instrumentals – a barrage of highly technical, odd-signature progressive metal. The trio gave way to a quartet as the singer joined a few songs in, unleashing thundering hellish growls that took the show in a more intense death metal direction.
Canvas was up next, and it was a jewel of a show. While retaining many progressive metal elements, their songs dripped with the melodic influences that hearkened back to the age of early 1970s prog rock acts like Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer, as well as the more recent sounds of symphonic female-fronted metal.
The songs showed a wide range of diversity. Some began like indie folk rock strumming before morphing into anthemic metal choruses and crushingly heavy, angular riffs. They were all peppered with some unbelievable synthesizer passages recalling some of Dream Theater’s finest early work.
At some point my bassist turned to me and said “I think I’m going to go home and sell all my bass guitars.” I totally understood the feeling. There was some shockingly good musicianship on display, but perhaps best of all was the freshness in composition. The songs seemed to flow seamlessly from genre to genre, and from the highly accessible to the more musically challenging. Canvas has two songs available on Spotify right now – I would suggest, dear reader, that you stop immediately and take a momento to check them out now.
Speaking of shockingly good musicianship, all bets were off when Giant Sleeper took the stage. Inner Stroke upped the ante in terms of sheer intensity, Canvas took us across the cosmos with their unparalleled compositional ability, but Giant Sleeper came out guns blazing in terms of instrumental virtuosity. Each member was monstrous in their respective instrument, taking us on a journey – song after song – of face-melting solos and complex time-signature riffs, earthquaking drums, and monster grooves emanating from the bass. It was especially shocking to know that they have only been playing since last year.
They’re absolutely a band to keep your eye on, along with Canvas and Inner Stroke.
It was during this third act of this show that I had seen the aforementioned Mr. Gonzales: to my surprise, he was the lead guitar player for Giant Sleeper. Two great, and very different, shows in a single weekend but also with a single running thread that recalled the words of the Filarmónica’s director: “Go out and watch and support local musicians and local music – not because it’s local, but because it’s good.” It makes one wonder if Mr. Araya himself would have known that three local bands, just days earlier, had proven this axiom true with such gusto.
PS: You don’t have to take my word for it – treat yourself and check out Canvas personally, along with local giants Heresy and The Movement in Codes, on October 24th in Mundoloco.