ProgDay '98 Reviews

From: henderson.120@osu.edu (Keith Henderson)
Well, since you seem to be interested...here's what I posted to the Hawkwind mailing list...it was pretty much an off-topic item, so I didn't elaborate too much on some of the music. As you can imagine, I'm a bit more into the space/kraut/psych side of things (I own well over 100 Hawkwind items, but merely 2 from Genesis, Gentle Giant, and ELP combined). Actually, the 90's Scandinavian prog has regenerated alot of my interest in prog music these days, hence my trip down to NC for Svenske-fest (Day 2 as it turned out). I didn't say anything about the venue (which was great, though no camping - I had to drive 20 miles to a campground where they played *gasp* honky-tonk/bluegrass music) or the sound, which I thought was generally good, though in both evenings, the speakers got kinda crackly as if the condensation during sundown was creating a problem. The volume was fine for me, and anyway you could sit as close or as far away as you liked. Some people said the sound was murky...I didn't think so, but then I like murky sound (see Hawkwind comment above). Some musicians complained about the monitor sound on stage, so I think that was the bigger problem. All the bands seemed extra-tight, so they managed to deal with it just fine. All in all, a great event, and if Korai Orom (or someone of that sort) comes next year, I'll be there.
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Hi Folks...
Yesterday, I returned from a whirlwind 1000 mile trip to Chapel Hill, NC for >the fourth annual ProgDay festival. Nine bands played over two days, hot >miserable days, but at least that was (slightly) better than the other possible scenario, i.e., Hurricane Earl, who chose to head out into the Atlantic just in time.
Well, I had a great time, heard some great music, and (as always) spent more money than I could afford. Here's a brief rundown of the bands, in order of relative 'enjoyment'
1. Par Lindh Project (Sweden) - the intended Saturday eve. headliner, who was rescheduled for Sunday aft. when Air France lost their instruments (temporarily). For those who don't know, they combine the classical (church organ-style) with powerful intricate rock music, with blazing guitars and thundering drums. Singer/violinist Magdalena Hagberg provides the 'coloratura' vocals...beautiful.
2. A Piedi Nudi (Italy) - Bands name means 'Naked Feet' (or barefoot), I presume. I didn't know these guys, but they were very impressive. Very diverse group. They never got too 'cute' with their music (i.e., they mixed the complex passages with countering 'smooth' melodies), and they've got wonderfully atmospheric keyboards (a la Richard Barbieri) that other prog bands don't use.
3. The Flower Kings (Sweden) - One of the better 'neo-prog' type bands...nice guitar work from leader Roine Stolt, dual vocalists, nice compositions that tend to wind around for 10 or 12 minutes each.
4. Alaska (Pennsylvania) - Very pleasant duo (!) that creates a full sound that you would expect to need 4-5 people to produce. Keyboardist was busy playing bass parts, texture and solos. Must've been some sequencing/sampling going on as well. Drummer/singer also played some guitar.
5. Crucible (Connecticut) - Another neo-prog band. Nicely done, but then nothing you haven't heard from Marillion/iQ/Pendragon before.
6. (tie) Discipline (Michigan) - Mix two parts Crimson and one part Marillion and this is what you get. Mediocre first 45-min. followed by very impressive last three songs. Still, I think an overrated group (their latest seemed to be No. 1 in everybody's Top Ten list for 1997 in prog circles).
6. (tie) Cast (Mexico) - Neo-proggish, but a little different. Ended up being the headliner for Saturday by default. Sounded better than the one album I have, but nothing really special. There's nothing about their sound that would lead anyone to guess that they're from Mexico.
7. Soundscape (Connecticut) - Dream Theatre-style prog metal. Not very original, but credibly done. Singer was ok most of the time, but got a little screechy at times, as they're oft to do. (My brother is *really* into this stuff, so I bought their CD.)
8. Brett Kull (Maryland/Pennsylvania?) - Ex-Echolyn guy playing a short set of acoustic numbers. He's got a nice singing voice and has some good songs, but there's only so much you can do with just yourself and a guitar.
9. Boud Deun (Virginia) - An agressive, instrumental fusion band pretending to be a prog band. They started out with a few mellower, simpler numbers that I liked ok, but the rest of their set left me cold. Great musicians (drummer and bassist especially), but they don't seem to know why they're making music, other than the fact that they can play it *really* well.
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Well, there's my impressions...not really very much on-topic, though I'm sure a few of you are prog-heads. The band that would've been the 'space-rock' representative, Hungary's Korai Orom, was forced to cancel because KLM airlines rescinded their offer of free airfare at the last minute. They are a very cool band with a different flavour. I now have all three of their CD's, which they don't title (nor do they title the songs)...I haven't listened to '1995', but '1997' is really very interesting (and somewhat different from '1996'). Very rhythmic, tribal music with multiple layers (hell, they've got something like 12 people in the band) of percussion instruments, spacey guitar and electronics, some trumpet and other wind instruments, and a bit of chanting vocals here and there. It's kinda like techno music ('1996' less so), but with more 'organic' instrumentation. So if you like danceable music, but hate the stale over-sequenced techno/rave music (as I do), this is the band for you. Hopefully, they'll be offered a spot at ProgDay '99 as they would help break up the neo-prog onslaught and add colour accordingly (they'll need a bigger stage though).
The most interesting and relevant news to folks on boc-l is the upcoming inaugural NEARFest (NorthEast Art Rock Festival) on June 26-27, 1999 in Bethlehem, PA (a city I once lived in). Most of the artists planned (probably none confirmed at this early stage) for this event are the typical fare you come to expect from these things (i.e., Mastermind, Finneus Gauge, Spock's Beard, Alaska). But when talking to organizer Rob LaDuca (a fellow chemist), he mentioned that he was talking to Frank Bornemann about bringing Eloy over for this show!! Ocean II (their first release in a while) is due out soon, so perhaps this might become a reality. Who's in the band these days...is K-P Matziol still around??

From: <>
**** ProgDay 98 ****
Here is my review of the 2-day Progressive Festival that took place this past Labor Day weekend in North Carolina.
Before the festival, I had not heard any live or recorded material from any of these groups, so I went to the festival open minded and eager to hear everything.
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As I said before, there was good, bad, and ugly at the festival. I'll start with the ugly.   Although Stonybrook Farm (where the festival was held) was beautiful, Sunday at midday, the temperature rose to 1,000,000,000 degrees and nearly roasted me alive. It took away from the listening pleasure as I had to frequently find shelter from the sun. There was no fountain or water hose you could use to cool down with. The portable toilets grew gruesome quite quickly and made you want to go in the woods. This was about the worst of it. I was happy that it didn't rain that weekend.
*** Now, for the good and the bad.
*** I will review the bands starting with the one I enjoyed
*** the most and go down to the one that I enjoyed the least.
The Flower Kings: I had heard lots of good things about this band so I was real anxious to hear them play. This band charmed me the most. These guys were absolute pros. They were so tight together, you could calibrate a metronome to them. The keyboard player had both flawless technique and passion. The drummer not only kept the band together but also played beautifully orchestrated parts. There were two vocalists contributing to the songs and one of them had a wonderfully powerful voice. None of the players behaved or played pretentiously. The focus of the band was the music itself, and they delivered. There was a lot of diversity to their material, and so you were bound to enjoy some of it. I became an instant fan of these Swedish meatballs that night and will surely be purchasing everything they produce. I wish them much success in the music business, they deserve it. I recommend hearing these guys play live.
Alaska: Two guys, a keyboard player and drummer, came on stage and ran around frantically because they had equipment problems during setup. After a while, equipment began to work and they started to play. My jaw dropped because I was looking for the other musicians that I heard playing but couldn't see. I heard an orchestra playing but saw only one keyboard player. I moved in closer to check if he was really playing everything, and he was. Both hands and one foot on pedals were in constant motion. Their material really hit home for me. I think it was the chord progressions and the tasteful ripping solos. I found out later that this was only their fifth live show together, and it showed. They were not tight together. The tempos wavered often and the keyboard player sounded rushed at times, but he did not hit any sour notes from all of the notes that he did play. The drummer also sang and played an acoustic guitar. The drummer's voice was sweet and high pitched like Anderson, but he needs more time developing his singing. His drum orchestrations were wonderful though. The live show these guys delivered impressed me more than the Jordan/Morgansteen duo even though they are not as polished as them. I purchased their album but am more impressed with their live performance. I would do them injustice to compare their material to any other band's, but I could hint towards Jobson, Emerson, or Anderson.
Cast: This band really surprised me. Before I heard these Mexican guys play, I had visions of burritos and dancing around a sombrero. However, they played like any other European prog band would. You would never know these guys were from South-of-the-Border from their playing. They started their set by playing material which sounded dated to me. By the middle of their set, I thought I was listening to new YES music. The keyboard player was a delight to listen to. His technique was solid and the band was tight. They should be tight considering they've been together for 20 years. Their material ranged from light to real heavy, and there was enough diversity for all to enjoy. I felt their weak point to be the vocals, otherwise they're terrific as an instrumental group. This band will surprise you as much as they did me.
Soundscape: These guys are extremely talented. This was the only metal band in the festival. The guitarist was one of the best live performers I've heard. He reminded me of a cross between Malmsteen and Holdsworth. He had the technique and styles of all my favorite guitarists. The drummer was terrific too. I think you'll be hearing about this guy in Drummer magazine in the next few years. The bassist was a little weak I thought. While the others guys were playing really technical stuff, the bassist played simple lines. What really made these guys happen for me was the killer guitar and drums. The band was extremely tight. The material didn't work so well live as it sounded noisy, but I did purchase a couple of their records and am enjoying them a lot. The records are not as heavy-metal as the live stuff they performed. The keyboard/singer is talented since he writes all the material and can do blazing keyboard solos, but he chooses to sing in a raspy heavy-metal voice which I'm not too fond of. I feel these guys are evolving/devolving. While they may be getting better as a band, they may be becoming less and less prog.
Discipline: This is a GOOD band. They work together very well. I'm not so much into songs, and this is what the band did mostly. Although the singer has a good voice and can sing very well, the problem was that he sang, and sang, and sang, and sang. This left very little room for instruments to perform. I like prog music for composition, not song. If you're into song oriented prog, then you can't lose with this band. The singer had painted his face white and his eyes black. By the end of the set, the sun's heat had melted the paint, and he looked very strange. I'll say it again, this is a good band, but I don't think the song oriented prog works to their advantage. I'll bet if these guys went mainstream, they'll become an overnight success.
A Piedi Nudi: I didn't know what to expect from this group, but it was surely not avant-garde music. I'm a huge fan of avant-garde. I liked these guys a lot, but I felt sorry for them. The weakest link in this band was the drummer. Although none of the musicians in this band was top notch, the drummer was taking them to lower standards than what this band can achieve. The drummer was capable of singing though. I mean, they can keep him on as the singer but should get a real drummer. This band was all over the place. Nobody seemed to be in sync with anybody else. The drummer is the backbone (the motherboard) of a band and everybody's got to lock in with him. The material they played was very interesting and kept me listening intently. I kept saying to myself, wow!, that was a real cool piece, I wonder what it would sound like if a good band played it.
Crucible: This was a solid band. I enjoyed the singer's voice and his abilities. The musicians are very capable of doing pretty much anything they want to. For me, their material was very dated, and I didn't hear much originality. Also, I didn't hear much variety in their material. I don't think this band can go very far with what they have. I think they're trying to cater to the Genesis/Marillion crowd, but the "Been There, Done That" aspect of the material leaves me wanting.
Par Lindh Project: This was another band (like the Flower Kings) that I had heard lots of praises about. I had heard comparisons to ELP, and I've heard ELP play live, so my expectations were high. Man, was I disappointed. These guys couldn't hold a candle to ELP. They even tried to do an ELP cover, but they blew it. I have never heard an album from this group, but their live show made me not want to purchase any right now. The drummer was weak, the guitarist was weak. Par Lindh was sloppy, and even forgetting what to play at times. The band was regularly not in sync. The singer annoyed me because everything she sang sounded the same. An Annie Haslam, she wasn't. As far as the material is concerned. I did enjoy a large percentage of it, and some of it even rocked. The music often reminded me of Rising Force, but without the heavy virtuoso guitars. I think the singer has to go, or, they should get a heavy-duty male singer. With the current lineup, they will never be a great band, but if they all practice a lot more together, I think this band has the potential to be a very good band.
Brett Kull: Brett is a very good singer. His guitar playing style was to strum chords while he sang. So, in this respect, he is not a great guitarist, but what he did was perfect for what he was trying to achieve vocally. He writes very interesting songs with interesting chords and progressions. I never really paid attention to the lyrics but the melody line kept his songs interesting for me. But alas, one man with an acoustic guitar can only hold one's attention for so long.
Boud Deun: This is really a jazz fusion band. I didn't feel that they belonged part of a progressive rock festival, but this opinion would be moot had their material been good. This band was not playing music that had any ideas. As far as I could tell, four guys got up on stage and just started to jam. There was no solid ideas to any of the pieces, there was no direction or any consistency. It could be that they were simply improvising most of it as they went along. This was not prog, even by a mile. I hope I never see them again at another prog festival.

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