Nearfest 2009 Recap
Okay, here it is, the rundown of this year’s Nearfest. Only a week late, but I did have to go right to work when I got back.
Before I get to the actual festival, I want to say a bit about my trip. I went to New York first to visit my oldest friend. While there I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex, and saw the John Lennon exhibit. It was very moving. I recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity. John and Colleen had me meet their friend Antonio, who is also a prog head. We met at the Louden Wainwright III concert in the park, and spent the whole time talking music. It’s always great to make a new friend, and I know we will be continuing our discussions even if we aren’t physically in the same place. Then in Pennsylvania I finally got to see two of my dear friends from Prog Archives face to face. It was great to spend the weekend with Michael and Raffaella, and it proves that online friendships are real.
The added bonus was meeting David, or “Plankowner” from Prog Archives. I left P.A. before I had a chance to get to know him, but am very glad to know him now.
Now on to the shows.
Dammit! I left my camera at the hotel on Friday. So I will include someone elses photos. It’s probably not such a bad thing since mine aren’t that great. I promise I will get a better camera for next year.
VDGG was very good. Jackson was missed, but they still have a full sound as a trio. Hammill was probably more energetic and emotive than musicians half his age. Banton and Evans are still on top of their game. Older yes, but this is still a vital group. They played quite a bit from “Trisector.” Yes, we all wanted to hear our favorite classics, but as Peter Hammill said, “We didn’t come here to be holograms.” I love it when classic musicians show that there is more to them than just being a ‘greatest hits’ factory. It is also just astounding to me that this was only the second time they have ever played in the U.S. VDGG is legendary (at least to prog fans). I can’t believe it hadn’t been demanded before now.
Steve Hillage was pretty much the opposite of Van Der Graaf. He does have some really good tunes, and plays the hell out of a guitar. However, the band, especially the drummer, seemed a little out of sink. Even the lighting guy was lost (maybe it wouldn’t have been as noticeable had I not been sitting behind him), The biggest problem was that Steve can’t sing. He was either flat, off key, or straining for notes he couldn’t hit. After some discussion amongst the other fans, the consensus seems to be that they were under rehearsed. The show was entertaining, but seemed pretty amateurish. He should have been the Friday opener, instead of the closer.
Opening the festivities on Saturday was an amazing band Called Cabezas de Cera. This is what prog should be. They have to be the most original band around. Blending Mexican folk, jazz, rock, and even creating their own instruments. The electric oboe (or whatever it was) was used at times like a keyboard. The metal thing, called a Tricordio, was perhaps the most amazing thing I have ever seen in a concert.
This is what is really great about Nearfest. Every year there is a band that will take you by surprise, and just blow you away. Actually, this happened more than once this year, but Cabezas de Cera take the prize. Every fan of original, avant garde, jazz, folk, latin, and progressive music should get one of their CDs. If you are lucky enough to see them live, go. Don’t hesitate, just go. All of these guys are virtuosos, and extremely nice.
Oblivion Sun is a very talented group, and are very likeable people. Stan is especially good interacting with the audience. I just wish the music was as engaging as the personalities. Technically everything was perfect (except maybe the candy ass keyboards), but it just lacked soul. I started to figure out that when anything was introduced as Frank’s song, I would be especially bored. I cringed when they said he had written an epic, and it would now be performed. I really hate to say anything bad (I know fans of Happy the Man will be especially offended, and will most likely crucify me). The talent is there, but I was just bored silly.
D.F.A. was quite good. Jazz fusion at its best. The set up is more like a rock power trio, and the drummer reminded me of young Bill Bruford. The music is quite dynamic, but yet very easy to get lost in. Perhaps this is why I don’t have that much to write about this show. I just sat back and let it flow through me.
Gong worried me just a bit. Everything I’ve heard didn’t generate much enthusiasm. I was pleasantly surprised. The show was extremely enjoyable. The first half consisted of music that I would definitely listen to at home. The second half, probably not, but it worked very well in a live setting. If I was 19, I might be into the whole “Pot Head Pixie” thing on CD, but not so much these days. The performers were also much more together than they were with Steve Hillage (which was pretty much everyone except Daevid Allen, Gilli Smythe, and the sax player). It is amazing that a man in seventies (Allen) can pull of that trippy cosmic act so well. He jams out on guitar too. The singing was better than the Hillage show, but not much. It’s a good thing that this was more performance art than music recital.
Quantum Fantay was the Sunday opener, and I had no idea what to expect. WOW! They were great. Rockin’ band, almost metal at times, with a flute. The lead guitar was very energetic, all over the stage, and had a great sense of humor. In my research, they were most often compared to Ozric Tentacles. I can see that, but I think it is more misleading than accurate. There is a jam band aspect, but the compositions were much tighter than that. There is also much more of an edge than the Ozrics have. I would have been happy with the initial surprise of Cabezas de Cera this year, but I was blessed with another “eureka” moment. I Had to rush out and get a CD after the show. Even got it signed.
Beardfish was better than anticipated (The Sane Day didn’t do much for me). However, it soon wore thin. They are a talented bunch, and the bass player is full of energy (or something). Actually, his sliding jellyfish antics were overstated, and most of the time unwarranted. They seem to have pastiched generic versions of other artist’s styles, without imbuing them with their own personalities. A lot of people are nuts about this band, but I just don’t see it. They finally did grab me with the last song, but it was too little, too late.
Trettioåriga Kriget was another surprise. I had heard afew songs, but didn’t really know what to expect. They seemed a little stiff at first. It may have been nerves, but I almost had a sense of arrogance on their part. After the first couple of numbers, which were quite good, they started to loosen up. The show just got better from there. The lead singer has terrific pipes, and even joined in for a tandem keyboard part. The bass player is outstanding, as well as the lead guitarist. However, he does need a costuming note. I dig the shades, but exposing your chest is not sexy at that age, especially when you have that much of a paunch. They are recording again, so once more we have veterans that are still vital. Why hadn’t I heard of them before? I think Super Sister’s cancellation may have actually improved Nearfest ’09.
PFM was absolutely amazing. Energy, amazing bass solo, masterful guitar work, tandem drumming, blues, classics, excellent new material with multimedia show, working the crowd. These guys could put the best young bands to shame. I really enjoyed Banco last year. Francesco’s voice can bring you to tears, and Nocenzi is still a master of the keys. But it was obvious that their best days were behind them, and can’t hold a candle to PFM. Even if the vocals aren’t as powerful, PFM still plays the old numbers with precision and excitement. The energy level was every bit as high as Beardfish’s manic bass player. The real knock your socks off parts (for me anyway) were the numbers from Stati di imaginatione. The new material may be subtler, but it couldn’t have been any better. The films running on the screen were a brilliant idea as well. This music doesn’t call for onstage antics, so they created a wonderful compliment. What a way to end the weekend, and what an honor to have been there to experience it.
And as I mentioned in the preview, it’s not all about the concerts. Of course there are the stacks of CDs, but sometimes it’s also about who you see. Who should I happen to run into right after entering the building, but Mr. Matthew Parmenter. Actually, I should have expected it. He is a big Van Der Graaf Generator and Peter Hammill fan. Of course, that is why he was there. So, he and his wife decided to get a table and promote his music. It was nice to see other Michiganders (we may have been the only ones), and hopefully they will come visit me at the restaurant. Annie Haslam was there with her paintings, and they were really cool. She is an absolute gem. She asked me about my Mala beads, and we ended up talking about cats (don’t ask how, but it was fun).
So, another great Nearfest, complimented by a trip to New York. A great and much needed vacation, that will be repeated. Feel free to ask questions, discuss, or share your stories if you attended.