The Bodhisattva Beat
Music and Life

Oct
04
Storybook Farm

Storybook Farm

After the demise of NEARfest I was left without an annual prog pilgrimage. Good friends had been urging the trip to Chapel Hill for years but I could never swing it (a lot going on Labor Day weekend in this town). This year it was decided that no matter what, Prog Day would be the only thing on the agenda. Being used to the spectacle that was NEARfest the simplicity and intimacy of Prog Day is indeed a sharp contrast. Immediately running into familiar, friendly faces at the hotel was just the beginning. The attendance peaking right around 200 allows all involved to stay at the same place. Storybook Farm is in a remote country location and consists of a few cabins, metal shop and the festival area. If you are thinking the usual outdoor concert venue forget it. It is a grassy field about the size of a baseball park, flanked by a covered pavilion and fronted by a medium size roofed stage. People set up lawn chairs with tented covers and directly behind is a squared off set of tables with a few vendors and band merch. That’s it! With no fear of the sun I plopped down in the grass up front between the stage and the people in lawn chairs. Zombie Frogs kicked things off and gave the wake up call. Appearances suggested that the band members were likely half the age of anyone else there and they utilized youthful exuberance as the chief weapon. Boy did it work! The prog metal rocked but wasn’t anything I would be rushing to get on CD. The boys knew how to work a crown and put on a fantastic show. I should add that the stage has no lights or effects so it is all up to the performers. Well, there was a woman walking around blowing bubbles up to the stage but she was doing that on her own.

Zombie Frogs

Zombie Frogs

Next came Kotebel. My prediction was that they would be the best act of the festival and they lived up to my expectations. Absolutely mesmerizing music and virtuoso performances raised the bar to an almost unreachable level. This was only the second act so there were now six bands under a tremendous amount of pressure. I would like to say more but there are no words. The music has to be heard. After the show I raced over the their table and bought the remaining albums not already in my collection.

Kotebel

Kotebel

It was about this point that the realization of how far south North Carolina actually is sunk in. The sun blazed in the afternoon sky at a toasty 90 degrees. I started out in my spot as The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra began but it wouldn’t last very long. This was a fun band that “borrowed” a bit of shtick from Goober and the Peas. The first number was rollicking bluegrass just to throw you off and then settled into more progressive territory. They could have sold the deception better if everyone was dressed the part. The guitarist had the look but the other two guys were just in jeans and t-shirts. Lead singer and violinist Lisi Wright’s sexy blue dress worked no matter what the intention was. They were good and entertaining but a combination of the heat and following Kotebel probably influenced my perception. I made a retreat to the cover of the pavilion and soon lost interest in the music. I did notice that the musical styles represented were dependent whether or not vocals were written into the piece. The vocal numbers were very much toward mainstream while the instrumentals allowed more diversity. My mind may have wandered but I can still say it was a solid performance.

Galactic Cowboy Orchestra

Galactic Cowboy Orchestra

The Saturday closer was Sensations Fix There was some pre-show hype offered that this was a classic Italian band from the ‘70s but I had never heard of them. Truth be told, Franco Falsini is Sensations Fix with whatever musicians he happens to be playing with. Right now the lineup is rounded out by New York Americans. Spacey ambient electronic has never really been my bag. After a few minutes of what amounted to be mellow Gong without the goofiness, I lost interest and got up. Fortunately there were enough fans of the sound to support the show and they really enjoyed it. The biggest thrill for me was seeing David Jackson stretch out in the grass just about where I had been. Yep, he was just hanging out like any other fan there.

Franco Falsini

Franco Falsini

David Jackson Chillin'

David Jackson Chillin’

Sunday morning was when the vibe of the experience took hold. Breakfast at the hotel was not about the food but community. Once again the musicians were mixed in with my old friends but the best part was conversations with people I had seen many times in the NEARfest crowd but never spoken with. This was turning out to be more family reunion than music festival.

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Deep Cuts Gang

David and Franco

David and Franco

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Mattias and David

I learned a lesson from the previous day and stopped to procure sweat mops and a large amount of water before arriving at the farm. With renewed confidence I plopped down in the same spot and awaited Backhand. This was another band with a dichotomy much like Galactic Cowboy Orchestra. Vocals = mainstream and instrumental = complexity. There was one number where the two sides were successfully integrated. The singer was a walking stereotype of a 70s rocker still active in the 80s (think Robert Plant or David Coverdale), complete with the flowing mane and a BIG belt buckle. He was good but leaned very heavily on past heroes, which gave him the sound of Plant melded with Geddy Lee. In the end though Backhand was another act that overcame the surety of their albums probably never gracing my collection and left me very entertained.

Backhand

Backhand

Necromonkey had created a big question mark. The bona fides of Mattias Olsson and David Ludberg notwithstanding, it is primarily an experimental studio project. So what was a live performance of this band going to be? In a word, spectacular! They brought along bassist Kringle Harmonist and Gösta Berlings Saga’s Einar Baldursson on guitar. Witnessing a group this tight you would have thought these guys had been playing together for years, well David and Einar have been. The tension and flow of the music was riveting. Even though Baldursson had recorded with Necromonkey his guitar was not as emphasized in the studio. He almost stole the thunder of the banner name performers at Storybook Farm. Hopefully the band will continue to tour because they were the pinnacle of Prog Day.

Necromonkey

Necromonkey

Another unfamiliar element was The Travis Larson band. The name evokes more of a long lost high school friend than progressive rock. Rock they did. Not the proggiest of the lot but very talented. Travis is an excellent guitarist and bassist Jennifer young is proof of the “good things come in small packages” cliché. Their sound derives from classic hard rock trio but has enough complexity to fit into prog. Or as Travis put it, “non-commercial music.” Great performance but once again the heat took its toll and the music did not hold my attention. Taking cover however allowed me to hobnob with some of the other attendees and musicians. It was especially fun to watch Franco Falsini pal around with everybody. He may have looked like one of the oldest cats there but he sure didn’t act like it.

Travis Larson Band

Travis Larson Band

The main reason I wanted to see the Alex Carpani Band was because legendary musician David Jackson was joining them. I have a copy of “Waterline” and it rarely gets played. The absence of Jackson would have significantly diminished my enthusiasm along with many others in the audience. Expectations exceeded! David may have been the star but the band knew how to close out a festival. They are one hell of a live act. Sure we all loved the VDGG covers and the band crushed them. It was however the showmanship of singer Joe Sal that brought the house down especially when he ventured into the audience during the closing number.

Alex Carpani Band with David Jackson

Alex Carpani Band with David Jackson

Joe Working the Crowd

Joe Working the Crowd

It was a fantastic weekend with great music. In the end what really sold it was the group as a whole. It was a special time with special people. Aside from hanging out with musicians (which was great), spending time my friends Ian Carss, Ian Beabout, Billy Salvatori, new friends Lew Fisher, Deb Byrd and Paul Sears, many others and of course my old friends Michael and Rafaella Berry was priceless. We were all in it together and happy every single person was there. A larger event would not have allowed such a connection. Prog Day may not be flashy but it now has a very special place in my heart. IMG_0968IMG_0979IMG_1005IMG_1020

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Mar
05
BOJ-prisoner-LR-vierkant-500x500

Prisoner: 2014

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens

Sweet Hammond organ grooves and rough guitar strings

These are a few of my favorite things

Yes we have heard the classic organ and metal guitar combo before. It began in the era of Deep Purple and Atomic Rooster. Modern day standard bearers like Bigelf and Cosmic Nomads have kept it alive. I was really into Cosmic Nomads when I first heard “Vultress” and assisted in getting them added to Prog Archives. But it was nothing compared to how Birth of Joy grabbed me when “Prisoner” hit the speakers.

“H.T.,” you may ask, “what’s so special about this one? You said we have heard it before.” True, all the classic elements, including an infusion of the psychedelic and prog rock excess remains intact. A case like this deserves to be broken down. First, can the band even pull off an acceptable copy of the masters? Check. Next, can they write a good song? Check. Finally, can they rock your socks off? Hells yeah!!! Sounds good enough already right? Sure if a band wants to be nothing more than a good retro act. This trio from the Netherlands decided to thrown in some Hives attitude, INXS swagger and are surely fans of ‘90s Seattle grunge.

One description reads “dirty organ rock” and the band’s own tag is “Sixties on Steroids.” Both accurate but neither encompasses all of what Birth of Joy accomplishes on “Prisoner.” Oh yes there is balls to wall rockin’ and that will suck you in. Initially lulled into a false sense of no nonsense security until a light bulb clicks on, along with your brain. Damn, it’s intelligent too! The awakening will take no longer than “Three Day Road” as it courses through a gloom cloud laden, spacy journey. The title track is unexpectedly an experimental dirge, and “Holding On” plays like jazzy hippy jam. Three very different songs and all definitely belong on the same album. Other tracks take supernatural control of your hand forcing it to independently turn the volume higher and higher. Rock that is a load of fun… and stimulates the intellect… hmmm.

I didn’t mention the proficiency of the musicians yet either, did I? Honestly there is no need. Sometimes you hear individual musicians do amazing things and there is a desire to prostrations in their honor. Birth of Joy is about totality of sound. I could take out the scalpel and did even make an attempt. It was to no avail. The whole refuses to be taken as anything less. Thus it’s a given that these guys are no amateurs.

I hear many things that hit me just right but don’t always believe many others will be along for the ride. I have eclectic (some would say odd or weird) tastes. “Prisoner” satisfies on many levels. You’re covered if you just wanna’ jam, only like classic rock, keeping it hip or need to maintain your cred as a discerning musical connoisseur (i.e. snob). The only way to lose is if your idea of great music is restricted to Kanye West, or (gulp) Justin Bieber.

P.S. I will be seeking out their previous two releases.

Kevin Stunnenberg – vocals & guitar
Bob Hogenelst – drums & backing vocals 
Gertjan Gutman – organ & bass

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Mar
01
GAOM_022_Promo RZ.indd

Wanted: 2014

 

After the name was put in my face countless times a few years back I gave RPWL a try. It left an ‘okay at best’ impression and faded into the reference only section of my library. I always like to give artists another chance so I enthusiastically accepted the assignment of reviewing their latest release “Wanted.”

The techno beginning of ”Revelation” was very encouraging, especially with the entrance of the fuzz guitar and mellotron. Good prog groove all around leading to a more traditional middle and then bookending with the techno and mellotron. Not bad, not bad at all. Second song starts out interestingly with chugging guitar and bass adding a low register chant. Okay looking good… until the chorus. What happened? This cool dark rocker is suddenly invaded by radio friendly pop rock.  Square peg in a round hole anyone? The extended ‘jam’ portion of the song does not play off what was started and only covers typical prog territory. Therein lies the problem. Just when I thought I might change my mind about RPWL, the reason I brushed them aside returns. To be fair quite a bit of “Swords and Guns” did hold my attention, as did sections of other songs. Sadly the mundane tends to overshadow the innovative.

As often seen in other reviews of RPWL the music does contain a heavy David Gilmour influence. When complimented by their more creative elements it works very well. The unfortunate fact is most of the time these ideas fade before they are fully developed. Take for example the closer, “A New Dawn.” Beginning in an intimate, minimalistic and decidedly non-Gilmour approach until then they swell up into the same ol’ same ol’ we have heard many times before by other bands. There are some areas that are satisfying and do work. “The Attack” and the aforementioned “Revelation” are outstanding tracks. “The Attack” utilizes all the strengths of what they are known for and is the best song on the album. Otherwise the music is pretty generic and even at times puts me in the mind of soulless 80’s rock. Not saying that’s what it is but the connotation is there. Hey even some of our heroes, and most likely the band’s, got absorbed into to that (Steve Hackett, Jeff Beck). I think I recall hearing something released by one of those guys back then that sounded a lot like the title track. Which by the way is surprisingly the weakest song on the album.

The preceding lines may be perceived as a slam on this talented group of musicians. To clarify, the music is not bad. The album is very listenable but lacks a distinct personality. To illustrate how subjective musical tastes are, one of my colleagues said the exact opposite in a review. He lauded RPWL for how much personality they have. I had not read his review before that word entered my mind. So like anything else it’s really up to the individual to decide. “Wanted” doesn’t do enough to change my mind on the band or recommend the album very highly. If RPWL’s focus had been on the things I did enjoy you would be reading an entirely different review. As it stands my music dollars would be better spent elsewhere. Who knows though, “Wanted” could be your album of the year.

Yogi Lang – vocals, keyboard 
Kalle Wallner – guitar
Marc Turiaux – drums
Markus Jehle – keyboard, piano
Werner Taus – bass

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Feb
14
cover

Multipurpose Trap: 2013

It’s a happy day in this prog household when a new Dan Britton project is released. Even the cat likes it. Dan Briton has become recognized as one of the most inventive and original composer / musicians in the new generation of prog. Everything he is involved with bears his signature yet maintains a separate identity. Much like Mike Patton, you know it’s him but you can also easily pick out which band you are hearing.

My introduction was with the first Deluge Grander album. Then came the more avant-garde Birds and Buildings with its debut “Bantam to Behemoth.” Another Deluge Grander followed and in the fall of 2013 Birds and Buildings had their next turn with “Multipurpose Trap.”

In describing this, or any other progressive music, comparisons to other artists are bandied about as if by necessity. Granted, finding a baseline for context isn’t easy without those kind of references. I do however grow weary of the usual, “It’s a blend of this with a dollop of that, mashed with A and a bit of B thrown in.” or “If X and Y had a baby…” Do you want to know what Birds and Buildings sounds like? It sounds like Birds and Buildings. Okay, some kind of description is warranted. In the band’s words, “We play a mixture of intense jazz-rock (often bordering on zeuhl), more experimental symphonic music, and occasional avant-garde heaviness.” Got it? If you want more the band has posted some track-by-track explanation on their page. http://emkog.com/BirdsandBuildings.html

What needs to be said is this challenging, sometimes dark stuff, that tries not to take itself too seriously. While the music may not as impenetrable as the influences the band drew from, it isn’t exactly easy listening either. That was true of the debut as well. Keeping within the established B&B framework, “Multipurpose Trap” expands on what worked before and explores new ground. A good example is “Horse-Shaped Cloud” which has a bit of a medieval folk groove to it (that’s right, I used groove in reference to medieval folk). Symphonic does not have as much of a presence in deference to emphasis on the avant and at times downright crazy. Take for example “Secret Crevice.”

The first one was immensely enjoyable and would seem very hard to top. Against all odds they did it. There is a kind of well-planned schizophrenia going on. From the aforementioned folk, to lament, funky grooves and full freak-out, there is an even flow. Even in the height of chaos melody is never completely abandoned. Well, almost never. There are moments where the band gets to the speed and energy of a punk band. Much like Cardiacs except for the fact they actually were punks doing prog. The only complaint I had about the last album has also been corrected. That was the vocals being too low in the mix. Okay this vocal style is meant to be more of a subdued kind of barely intelligible chant but I still want to hear it. If you listen very carefully you may discover the bird theme in the lyrics.

The band needs to be recognized for their skill as well. The talent is as good as gets and every bit of it was poured into this recording. I imagine a lot of broken strings and smoking amps during these sessions. Brett d’Anon shines especially brightly as he approaches Jannick Top territory on the bass. The singers also gel quite nicely with Megan Wheatly standing out as usual.

“Multipurpose Trap” created a conundrum. I have a special place in my heart for Deluge Grander because I worked with Dan in getting them added to Prog Archives and “The Form of the Good” was the catalyst for starting this blog. Facts are facts though and with this release I now prefer Birds and Buildings. It’s a fantastic album by a tremendous group. Expand your horizons and listen to something that isn’t easy for a change. The major labels certainly have no interest in it. They gave up over 20 years ago. If you are tired of the same ol’ same ol’ and think you have the ears for it, don’t pass up this album.

Dan Britton – keyboards & guitars
Brett d’Anon – bass & guitars
Brian Falkowski – sax, flute & clarinet
Chris Fyhr – violin
Malcolm McDuffie – drums & Percussion

Vocals – Megan WeatleyCliff PhelpsChris WestMiyuki FurukawaBrett d’AnonDan Britton

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Jan
19

This is a very unusual post and requires some background.

Many times there are comments made about people, like myself, who write about the arts. It usually has something to do with not actually being artists. I have always owned that fact but it does not diminish my passion. At my temple many people offer poems and songs to the rest of the Sangha. All of us are encouraged but I have never felt worthy. Yesterday there was a very special celebration and felt it was time to see what I could come up with. It also seemed appropriate to keep it in line with where I fit in to the grand scheme of things. In a moment of inspiration I composed a haiku that says it all.

 

I don’t create art

Life becomes greatly enriched

By many who do

 

Maji (H.T. Riekels) January, 2014

Nov
23
Laith Al-Saadi - Real.

Real. 2103

Laith Al-Saadi has been wowing audiences in Southeast Michigan for years. The blues based guitar style and incredible interpretations of classic tunes have made him a local legend in Ann Arbor. His abilities far exceed the “big fish in a small pond” assessment usually held for local favorites. Name your guitar heros, be they Clapton, Hendrix, or Beck, and Laith could go up against them any day. This is a singular talent worthy of a national audience.

Apparently Jeffrey Weber thought so too. He approached Laith about doing a project and asked him to pick his dream band. With a bit of a “yeah right” attitude a list was made including Lee Sklar, Tom Scott, Larry Goldings, and Jim Keltner. Everyone said yes. They assembled in the studio to record “live” on two tracks. No mixing, editing, overdubbing, etc. was done. This is how “Real.” Came to be.

I have been a Laith Al-Saadi fan since first being indoctrinated during my early days in Ann Arbor. The shows are always amazing. I have also gotten to know the man off-stage and found a human being worthy of support. The only problem ever found was that I never seemed to enjoy his originals as much as the covers. The interpretations are infused with distinct personality and fire, whereas the originals just seemed to lack that energy. Time spent in New Orleans has made a big difference. The five original tracks on this EP / album are gems. Having seen them all performed live at the release event, there is no hesitation in saying they should all be mainstays in future sets.

The blue seems to have been almost forgotten. Without a B.B. King, Buddy Guy or even Eric Clapton at the forefront there is no true champion. Even I have gotten weary of my old recordings. Laith will make you fall in love with the blues again. He performs each song with bona fide soul. His booming vocals roar and resonate like the masters of yore. Then there is the guitar, oh the guitar! Remember when you used to listen to guitar licks like lyrics? Those days are back with strings picked, bent, pulled and strummed in ways that penetrate right to the heart. Laith could do an all instrumental and it would be wonderful if I didn’t already know he was a great singer too.

“Real.” is a classic album in a sense. The music is timeless and has mass appeal. Plus it’s just really, really good!

Laith Al-Saadi– vocals, acoustic & electric guitars
Jim Keltner – drums
Lee Sklar – bass
Larry Goldings  – keyboards
Jimmy Vivino – background vocals, reso-phonic, guitars
Nick Lane – trombone
Lee Thornburg – trumpet
Tom Scott –  saxophone
Brandon Fields – baritone saxophone

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Nov
10

Apologies for my absence. I started a new job and my schedule had been turned inside out. Now that I am getting used to it I will get back to writing. As you might imagine a bit of a backlog has built up. Keep looking, a new review will be here soon.

Jun
16
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The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories): 2013

I am a big Porcupine Tree fan, but in truth the last few albums have failed to inspire me as much as “In Absentia” and all that preceded it. Perhaps that is why I never took the time to investigate Steven Wison’s first two solo recordings.  For some reason “The Raven that Refused to Sing” caught my attention. To be sure it had much to do with the names Guthrie Govan, Marco Minneman and Nick Beggs listed in the credits. Leave out Wilson and that’s still an album I’d like to hear. Whether it was these heavyweight associates, his recent collaboration with Mikael Åkerfeldt, or just being in a good place, something certainly lit the fire of inspiration inside Steven Wilson for this album.

Perhaps not hearing the previous solo albums is what made this one such an unexpected pleasure. No expectation leaves an open mind. Of course there is always the Porcupine Tree comparison. From that alone the Steven Wilson stamp is recognizable, but the music is very different. It’s dense and at the same time extremely accessible. The melodies and grooves are incredibly infectious. Opening with “Luminol” was a wise choice because it is a jam that refuses to be ignored. The band gets to flex its mighty muscles right out of the gate. Nick begs stands out proving what a monster he actually is on the bass. The tune just smokes until, as if to remind the audience that we are in prog land, it moves into a mellow middle. Then the mellotron takes over and guides through instrumentals building to the fire of the close.

Drive home is a captivating, more Porcupine Tree-esque piece. The thoughtful tone and sing-able refrain make for a smooth ride.

In the beginning “The Holy Drinker sounds as if it might be a bit on the unsettling side. That doesn’t go away but as it unfolds into a free form jazz workout curiosity takes over. When the verse kicks in chaos becomes focus. The mood remains ominous over the a slightly metallic groove. Cool stuff.

“The Pin Drop” begins as if it was a lost section from Steve Hackett’s “Please Don’t Touch. Wilson does have many influences. Dreamy harmonies and sax accentuate to give the piece a grand yet easy feel.

Even more Hackett-like is The Watchmaker. Acoustic and flute were definitely trademarks of his early material. The vocals however are much better here. Further in Steven jams on guitar and then grand piano takes over. Did I mention the vocals? The harmonies are just superb.

The title track is a big emotional lament. At this point you might think that more power was needed to close. Guess what, you don’t always need thunder to drive a point home.

There has been quite a bit of high praise for “The Raven That Refused To Sing,” including statements such as ‘an instant classic.’ I don’t know if I would go that far. Only time will bear out the truth in such grand opinions. What can be said is that it is a superb album. Prog fans will delight in the complexity, others will focus on the excellence of the high caliber musicians and the casual listener will be taken in by easy to like hooks. Mass appeal may not be a hallmark of prog rock’s elite, but Wilson and his well-chosen band have pulled it off. “Lminol” is the one that will grab you. The rest will keep you coming back for repeated listening as the charms are revealed over time.

It is a shame that such quality music as this goes largely unnoticed by the general public. Okay, it’s not for everyone and there isn’t machinery to get it front of the masses. One thing for sure is that millions of music fans out there are aching for substance. That is why classic rock is one of the last viable broadcast radio formats. Here is an opportunity to hear something you may feel like you have been missing. There is no 100% guarantee that you will like it, but the probability is high. Take a chance, step outside of the box and we might just create enough of an audience to bring high quality music back. The majority of musicians performing on this level have to have day jobs. Wouldn’t it be great if they had enough support to focus all their energy on what they love? Let this album be the gateway to the revolution!

Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, keyboards
Guthrie Govan – lead guitar
Nick Beggs – bass guitar
Marco Minnemann – drums
Adam Holzman – keyboards
Theo Travis – saxophone, flute

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Apr
16

yes-tour-2013

I was hesitant to buy a ticket for Yes when they came rolling through my area. In a review of their 2011 album “Fly From Here,” I drew heat for insinuating that the band should have hung it up long ago. Now they are touring with another former tribute band singer and two-album keyboardist Geoff Downes. Some friends pointed out that it might be one of the last opportunities to see Steve Howe play live and the performance would be three classic albums in entirety. That’s a pretty good sales pitch.

It was worth it. The band put on a great show. The material contained in “The Yes Album” and “Close to the Edge” performed by any group of talented musicians would probably be enough to guarantee a positive experience. But this is not just a random assembly. Howe and Squire are still two of the best musicians on the planet and White is the second most consistent member of Yes. I was even taken by the performance of “Going for the One” which has never been one of my favorite studio albums. The encore was as expected “Roundabout.”

Jon Davison has a great voice and is a worthy Jon Anderson substitute. He doesn’t bring anything new to the stage but he covers all the bases for nostalgia’s sake. I guess what band truly wants is that classic Jon Anderson sound. Which begs the question, why isn’t Anderson there? Everything that has been written about Yes’ personnel politics suggests it’s a can of worms best left unopened. Davison is a superb performer who handles the task with passion and great front-man style. It may not really be his band (see Glass Hammer) but he never shows otherwise.

Squire is still master of the bass. He flows around in his signature bubbly style as if it was still 1972. It is Howe that especially amazes. Over the years he has increasingly morphed into the appearance of skeletal ghoul from a B horror movie. One look and you might think those arthritic fingers might barely be able to pick up a guitar, let alone bend into chord positions. It is only a façade. Steve Howe is absolutely incredible and one of the last classic guitar gods that is still a must see. Rightly so the concert was mostly a spotlight on him. Instead of “An Evening With Yes” the show could have been called, “Guitar Genius With All The Chops In Tact, Playing His Most Beloved Pieces With The Band.”

What surprised me was how Alan White was mostly pushed to the side. Even Geoff Banks got a few moments in the spotlight. White is a very good drummer and has been a member of the band since Bill Bruford left in 1972. Only Chris Squire has a better membership record. He did play his ass off but I wanted him to be given a chance to go a little nuts. Perhaps he doesn’t have it in him anymore. At least he hasn’t hung up the sticks yet.

As much as I enjoyed the concert, the question still remains… was that actually Yes? The answer is no. Geoff Downes did record with the band but they were the only two studio albums without Jon Anderson. Most of his time for the last three decades has been spent with Asia. Benoit David was a tribute vocalist but became an actual Yes singer when he recorded “Fly From Here.”  Jon Davison’s role is nothing more than Yes tribute singer.  This lineup is more akin to Gary Green’s Three Friends. He understands that it is not Gentle Giant, thus the different name. Howe, Squire and White are paying homage to past glories. It is not a viable band in the same way Van Der Graaf Generator or Magma still are. The current Yes is about seeing some classic musicians playing classic music. There is nothing wrong with that and it is worth buying a ticket for. Just know what you are getting into before you go.

Chris Squire – bass guitar, vocals
Steve Howe – guitars, vocals
Alan White – drums
Geoff Downes – keyboards
Jon Davison – lead vocals

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Mar
26
Shrine of New Generation Slaves: 2013

Shrine of New Generation Slaves: 2013

People who became fans of Riverside with “Anno Domini High Definition” may be disappointed with “Shrine of the New Generation Slaves,” then again maybe not. Objective listeners just want good musicians to make good music. If the sonic attack of “Hyperactive” is what you are longing for, you will have to go back to the well. The first instinct may be to assume that the band has gone back to the sounds of “Reality Dream,” but it is more a follow up on the tease of the “Memories In My Head” EP. The reflective maturity has been expanded and infused with an edge.

The talent of Mariusz, Michal, Piotr, and Piotr has never been in in question. What makes them one of the best bands out there is amount of growth involved. The initial trilogy was promising, the right turn into very heavy metal was surprising, then the reigns got pulled back leading to balance and depth. Riverside has been refined into heavy metal artists.

In truth the metal moniker doesn’t particularly fit anymore. The music is still heavy but not any more than most modern prog bands. “Deprived” walks the line of smooth jazz (in a good way) and Mariusz has gotten extremely good at emoting. The passion in his voice just oozes out over the instrumentals. In fact “We Got Used To Us” is sincerely touching. And yes, there is head bobbing material too. Not that it is a deal breaker, but I would miss rocking out with these guys.

Getting in touch with our feelings (in a non-cheesy sense) is not the only new eye opener. They have also composed melodies that will stick with you. Oh there have been hooks before but have you ever caught yourself singing an entire Riverside chorus out of the blue before? That is going to happen with “Feel Like Falling.” Before the grimacing starts, let me assure you that writing a catchy tune is not always selling out. There is no shortage of layers. The magic formula of complexity and accessibility has been found.

The band is also at peak form. Once again, the fans already know these guys are good. They just sound better than ever. Michal Lapaj is especially impressive when he is on acoustic piano. He also found plenty of opportunities to channel his inner John Lord on a classic Hammond. There are other retro devices as well, which may lead you to think this album is homage heavy. That’s what I thought at first but it is only what might be skimmed off the surface. “Shrine of the New Generation Slaves” is a grower. New discoveries will be found with each spin as it eventually becomes a favorite album.

The deluxe edition has a bonus disc with the two-part “Night Session” piece. This is a Riverside experiment into the world of ambient music. It is done their way so I still find it listenable (not really a fan of ambient). Other than being in the same case it doesn’t have much to do with the main CD. It is probably only worthwhile for collectors or as a possible guide to future musical paths.

An album likes this bodes well for the future of prog, or at least one arm of it. Intricately formed music with a fair amount of mass appeal is a potent cocktail. What’s not to love? If progressive rock is to have a future, Riverside will be one of the bands to carry the banner. I will be one of the happy hordes marching behind them.

Mariusz Duda – vocals, bass, acoustic guitar, ukulele
Piotr Grudzinski – guitars
Michal Lapaj – keyboards, hammond organ
Piotr Kozieradzki – drums

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