Wednesday Mar 12, 2008

It was 30 years ago today......

It is hard to believe, but it was 30 years ago today (March 12, 1978) when the Rock in Opposition (RIO) festival was held at the New London Theatre. Hosted by Henry Cow, the lineup included
  • Henry Cow (England)
  • Stormy Six (Italy)
  • Samla Mammas Manna (Sweden)
  • Univers Zero (Belgium)
  • Etron Fou Leloublan (France)
Later festivals would include Art Zoyd (France), Aksak Maboul (Belgium), and Art Bears (replacing the then defunct Henry Cow), but it was this one chance meeting of the five original bands that would change the face of avant/progressive rock forever.

Samla Mammas Manna and Univers Zero are still active bands and have been known to headline various progressive rock festivals around the world. Etron Fou Leloublan is long gone, but it's spirit continues with Volapük.

Tuesday Jun 27, 2006

NEARfest 2006 Progressive Legends Showcase

Progressive Music Society (PMS) regular contributor Mike Montfort points out that NEARfest is an acronym for North East Art Rock and discussion of the progressive merit of the artists should be avoided. And I generally agree with this assessment, but I also have to admit that the lineup at NEARfest 2006 has made me significantly re-evaluate what I call prog. This leads to the recognition that there are many prog bands that I don't particularly like, but that doesn't make them any less progressive.

This all applies to the Legends Showcase, specifically the Tony Levin Band.

No question that Tony Levin is an amazing musician. He also surrounds himself with equally talented musicians, and sometimes the results are spectacular. It's interesting that Tony made a point of mentioning that he was returning to his progressive roots, but other than a few obligatory cover songs, this wasn't overly apparent in the music that they performed. That being said, it was a very enjoyable set which proves that the best way to enjoy music is in a live setting, even if the artist isn't one of your favorites. They seemed to be having a good time playing and that added to our enjoyment.

Hatfield and the North. It's always a tricky thing when you attend a performance by one of your favorite artists. The two proper Hatfield albums are some of the most complicated progressive rock ever composed and performed, yet are some of the most enjoyable melodic jazz rock pieces in the Canterbury catalog. How would this translate on stage, 30 years later ?

Quite well actually, but then again I admit to hearing with my heart more than my ears. I can see that someone not familiar with their material may not understand what all the fuss was about, but for a fan it was a sublime (to borrow a phrase from Luis Torregrosa) experience. They are progressive rock legends and to hear them perform this material was very special indeed.

New keyboard wizard Alex Maquire made us say "Dave (Stewart) who ?" on several occasions. He was as skilled in the subtle electric piano accompaniment as well as the all out keyboard atonal barrages. Richard Sinclair's voice was in fine form and his bass playing was solid. Pip Pyle is an ageless wonder counting out all of the odd time signatures with precision and little visible effort (arm flailing stick flicking drummers could learn lots from watching Pyle do his magic). Phil Miller's guitar lacked the power of the early 70s, but was a nice complement to the efforts of the others.

In the end it was a legendary performance and one of the highlights of the weekend of Progressive (errr Art) Rock in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Monday Dec 05, 2005

Wishbone Ash - 35th Anniversary Tour

I got a call from a buddy the other day asking if I wanted to see Wishbone Ash as they came through town. I had no idea they were touring and even less of a notion that they would be within 1,000 miles of Dallas, Tx. Since I missed their set at Progday a couple of years ago, I didn't ponder this point too long. Oh yeah, I'm in.

Wishbone Ash was one of the brightest stars from the most creative period of British rock. If Andy Powell and Ted Turner didn't invent the dual lead guitar style, they certainly refined it to perfection over a 5 year period from 1970 to 1974. And Andy continued on with Laurie Wisefield for several more years before the music industry (and to a lesser extent their fans) turned away from creativity and talent in favor of image.

OK, so only Andy Powell is left from the glory days - one can argue that they are almost a tribute band now. But even a tribute band with that catalog is worth hearing. but let's think about this a second. A tribute band ? That's not really fair. Like fellow British heavy rockers Uriah Heep, the core lineup of Andy Powell, Bob Skeat and Ray Weston have been together longer than any of the formations from the classic era. And in the case of both bands, it shows in their live set. Wishbone Ash was well a well rehearsed machine and played as tight as they ever did.

Was it an enjoyable show ? Absolutely! If they are playing anywhere near you make sure and see the show.

There were a few surprises in their set, and I won't spoil them except to say that Persephone (from There's the Rub) was a an unexpected surprise and brought down the house. That is one you have to experience live.

New guitarist Jyrki “Muddy” Manninen fits in perfectly and it was eerie how well he complemented Andy Powell's style - his blues style a perfect match for the classic material. Andy's Flying V was being fussy, so he had to be content to play a Fender all night - which was fine as Muddy stuck pretty close to his Les Paul, so we still had the diversity of the two great guitars and guitarists. Even more scary was how much he sounded like Ted Turner. Close your eyes and it was 1974 all over again and you were reliving Live Dates for the first time.

But how about the new material ? Well that has always been a tad of an issue. The various reunions and new lineups have produced some great material, but not always consistently. And some of the recent tours have had a fair amount of the weaker material creep into the set list - and that's to be expected as this isn't the Argus tour (again). There was quite a bit of new material in this set list, but in a pleasant surprise it was as good as the older material. It rocked along nicely and had lots of bluesy dual guitar leads - just they way it should be played. I will be looking for a copy of their latest album to be sure.

Wishbone Ash point on a great show. Don't miss them if they are playing near you.

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Sunday Sep 18, 2005

NEARfest 2006 looks good so far!

Every year I'm amazed at the linueup Rob LaDuca and Chad Hutchison put together for the NorthEast Art Rock Festival (NEARfest). Even though only a few bands have been announced, next year's lineup already looks one of the best.

I'm particularly happy to see that Akihisa Tsuboy's band KBB will make an appearance. Tsuboy has lent his amazing talents to a number of fine Japanese bands and KBB is one of the better ones. With a sound reminiscent of the fine 80's band Midas, KBB offers instrumental symphonic fusion featuring loads of violin excursions supported by lush keyboards - and the occasional Theremin (remember all those 1950's science fiction B-movies????). KBB can kick up the pace a bit, so comparisons to some of Jean-Luc Ponty's better works isn't out of order.

But the big news so far are French legends Ange. It took me a long time to warm up to the French symphonic scene, and Ange in particular. But an amazing performance by Mona Lisa at Progfest 2000 (captured on both CD and DVD by Musea Records) opened up the scene in a big way. On a recent road trip I brought along the 1977 live recording Tome VI, just to get into the mood. If they can pull of anything close to this, it will be a memorable show indeed.

Since Ange aren't headliners, how can Rob and Chad top Ange ?

Well, one headliner has been announced, Ozric Tentacles. I can't say that I'm overly excited about that - and given their downward spiral of late, they hardly seem worthy of a headliner slot. 2004 Sunday opener Hidria Spacefolk seem to be thefront runner of the space rock scene at the moment (although Giant Hogweed Orchestra and Scarlet Thread aren't to be overlooked), but maybe Ed and crew can throw together a show worthy of their past reputation.

For now we'll just have to wait for the next band announcement, which should be real soon now.

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Wednesday Sep 07, 2005

What's this thing called Prog

A nearly compulsive collecting of unusual items is commonplace in the technical community. In my case it is obscure and forgotten progressive rock music.

If you aren't familiar with the term progressive rock, think back to the early to mid 1970s when theatric (often quite over the top) bands like Genesis, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes, and King Crimson filled concert halls. Complex compositions, side long suites, unusual instrumentation including flute, violin, and the unbiquitous Mellotron ruled the day.

As disco reigned and the technically sophisticated art rock gave way to punk, many of us in English speaking countries thought the prog was dead. Fortunately, quite the opposite. Not only was it migrating all over the world, it was also evolving into dozens of new musical classifications, some of which are quite far removed from the basic symphonic rock bands of those early days.

In the early 1990s, email discussion lists were forming, eventually being replaced by Usenet news groups such as alt.music.progressive and it's successor rec.music.progressive. While it may never reach the widespread (commercial) popularity of the 1970s, the Internet has helped connect collectors and artists. Without major label support, there is certainly a renewed interest in this musical style.

As with many Usenet groups, spammers and flamewars have driven many of the contributors away. Topic specific discussion lists have popped up, many of them taking advantage of the "free" hosting by Yahoo.

Without hesitation, the finest general discussion group about progressive rock is the Progressive Music Society. At the time of this posting, there were about 600 members, including artists, collectors, labels, and distributors. Newcomers as well as old-timers (that we will affectionately call prog-o-saurs) discuss all sorts of music. There is a weekly chat as well as some other fun activities (guess the album cover, etc).

If your tastes run to the avant garde then consider the avant-progressive discussion list, hosted by Cuneiform Records and Wayside Music's Steve Feigenbaum. This is a very active community including artists, labels, distributors, and collectors. While there is an occasional mainstream prog conversation, most of the discussion is about the more challenging musical genres, such as Rock in Opposition, Post Rock, Zeuhl, Chamber, and other things that may be hard to classify.

Progressive Ears is a large community, and has essentially replaced rec.music.progressive as the "large" prog board.

For more information on the amazing amount of music that we can call progressive, visit the Gnosis Project. I'll post more about this fascinating project soon.

For an encyclopedic approach, the Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock (GEPR) is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, network compendiums on this subject.

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About

Bob Netherton is a Principal Sales Consultant for the North American Commercial Hardware group, specializing in Solaris, Virtualization and Engineered Systems. Bob is also a contributing author of Solaris 10 Virtualization Essentials.

This blog will contain information about all three, but primarily focused on topics for Solaris system administrators.

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