The Bodhisattva Beat
Music and Life

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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Feb
19

Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow: 1995

There is a bit of guilt involved in writing a biography for a band when you’ve never heard the music. In a perfect world it would never happen, but I used to have the job of filling in information for some very obscure artists. The research piqued my interest yet there was no audio available at the time. A chance for redemption came in a message from Chris Bond. Stealing the Fire is reforming and he asked if I would like to review the only album in existence (for now). A copy was supplied and my conscience may now be at ease.

It is really too bad “Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow” hasn’t reached much of an audience. It would be hard to not to argue that this one of the most interesting albums to come out of the ‘90s prog renaissance. On face value it is Neo-prog. Not a surprise since the majority of ‘90s prog was. Digging just a bit deeper may cause a head to be scratched. Is that a hint of psychedelia? Now I hear electronica and then Eastern rhythms. Most Neo bands took their cues from Marillion, who took theirs from Genesis. The influence does exist with Stealing the Fire, but loosely.

Stealing the Fire broke down boundaries in their version of progressive rock. While Änglagård and Discipline were going classic, this band went eclectic long before it became popular. Oddly however the sounds seem to be pulled from the ‘80s. The synths especially reek of the Regan / Thatcher era. The difference is that nothing sounded like this then. An album from 1995 that sounds like 1985 but probably couldn’t have been made then. A conundrum for sure, defying my best definitions.

Not retro nor exactly ‘90s makes “Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow” a collection of music out of time. Though it could have been the natural evolution of prog ten years earlier. That is to say if prog had been allowed to evolve. Bands like Yes, Moody Blues and Rush went a more conventional direction. Should they have stayed on the path perhaps this is where they would have gone. Synths were still powerful and Kraftwerk was hot again, so why not incorporate electronica. Then we have the world beat of “The Moriarty Cube.” This tune could have been at home on a Talking Heads or King Crimson album (probably really talking about Adrian Belew in this case).  Don’t forget that Gabriel was heavily into world music as well. Okay so other artists were doing similar things. What they weren’t doing was epic composition. Marillion was about the only band still doing that. Then come the Neo-proggers of the ‘90s who were basically riding Marillion’s wave after Fish just jumped off the board. This is what makes Stealing the Fire so unusual.

It’s a talented group of musicians as well with obviously diverse tastes. Chris Bond is the synth man and brings those unique electronic elements. Tim Lane can tear it up on guitar whether he is picking out a syncopated tempo or flat out rocking. Chris Phillips only played on a few of the tracks but he had a larger overall presence. Saff Edye is the tough one to peg. I know it’s a woman but the vocals on “Sirius Rising” and “Unknowing Angel” bring to mind what would spring from an unholy union between Geddy Lee and Roger Hodgson. “Spitfire Eros” is where she shows her real power. Singing deep and full from the diaphragm with a more than slight evocation of Nico.

“Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow” is worthy of a listen just because of how it stands out from the crowd. Aside from that it is also a very satisfying album. Oh, there is nothing earth shattering here and a few times the line of cheese gets dangerously close to being crossed. Nonetheless, anyone seeking truly creative progressive rock needs to give this album a listen. Why pass up something cool? Far too many similar bands out there anyway. I am also very curious to see what will follow up, now almost 20 years in the making. One can only hope they kept that oddball flame burning.

Chris Bond – keyboards, drums
Saff Edye – vocals
Tim Lane – guitar, keyboards, bass, percussion
Chris Phillips – bass on tracks 1,2 & 4

GET STEALING THE FIRE AT BANDCAMP (link)

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Feb
12

STF

Stealing the Fire began as the brainchild of keyboardist / drummer Chris Bond. It should not however be seen a solo project with a backing band. Guitarist / keyboardist Tim Lane played a prominent role. Bass Player Chris Phillips, whom Bond had worked with in Earthstone, was enlisted into the fold, and the unique vocals of Saff Edye added much to the signature sound.

In the beginning Stealing the Fire was a keyboard only band, formed by Bond and friend Chris Hylton (what is it with all the guys named Chris?). They played around with ambient electronic, and experimental jazz, before settling into progressive rock. The evolution came through the various musicians that were added to the mix. Chris Bond described it as a collective based around his small recording studio. Eventually, Tim Lane came aboard, and old friend Chris Phillips was called in.

Even though Stealing the Fire and Earthsone were two different projects, the involvement of Bond and Phillips in both initiate comparisons. The overall musical view was similar, and once again the “pagan” aspect was prevalent. Just as before, only one album was recorded. “Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow” was released in 1999, and that was it. Most accounts say that it was an improvement on Earthstone’s “Seed.” Saff Edye’s full folky vocals were a welcome addition and the presence of acoustic drums brought sighs of relief. At first glance one might think this is a standard Neo band cut from the template created in the ‘80s. It is the other varying influences that set Stealing the Fire apart. The band includes Pink Floyd, Camel, Hawkwind, Kraftwerk and folk music on the list. In Combining modern sounds with a classic sensibility, “Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow” became a worthy, albeit obscure, addition to many prog collections.

Stealing the Fire was one of the more eclectic groups of Neo-Prog and sadly fell under the one album wonder category. Work began on a follow up titled “King of Shadows,” but the realities of everyday life got in the way. As Tim Lane put it, “…we’re not pro musicians and we have jobs and families and various difficulties resulted in the project getting shelved.” Rarely do musicians put down their instruments for good. Chris Phillips and Chris Hylton are in a space rock band called Iron Sun. Chris bond has been involved with various projects, most notably the electronic/space/ trip hop band Army of Mice. Tim has definitely kept busy with other bands, solo projects, writing a musical, and becoming a music and technology teacher.

In 2012 they decided to try one more time and embarked on the task of bringing “King of Shadows” to completion. For the long awaited sophomore effort the lineup will consist of Tim Lane, Chris Bond, Saffron Paffron (yes, the same Saff), and Gary Wortley on drums. Phillips and Hylton have chosen to bow out and continue on their current trajectory. There is no release date set as yet, but it should be sometime in 2013.

 

GET STEALING THE FIRE AT BANDCAMP (link)

 

 

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Jan
08

2011-TheFallofBliss

One of my goals has always been to favor promotion of more obscure artists over those that get vast amounts of publicity. That is why I am grateful for the willingness of people like Nikitas Kissonas to make direct contact. It is guarantee not every CD sent is going to be gem. So far the majority has turned out to be something worth talking about like Methexis.

Nikitas has been contributing to the progosphere as a member of Verbal Delerium. Even though two additional musicians do appear on “The Fall of Bliss,” Methexis is essentially Nikitas Kissonas on his own. Music originating in Greece is also a point interest. Outside of the classic Aphrodite’s Child you don’t hear much about Greek prog. An accent in the vocal and geography however are all that reflect the country of origin.

Dark, gloomy and undeniably infectious, “The Fall of Bliss” owes to the classic sound but rests more comfortably in the modern realm. The strongest influence heard may be Discipline/Matthew Parmenter. Certainly Nikitas must be a fan of the vocal style, especially in the more seething passages. The symphonic title suite holds its own identity but travels in somewhat familiar territory. The first few tracks are where something a bit more unique takes place. Imagine once again the aforementioned influences and apply them on a jazz foundation. Disillusioned singers are not exactly scarce but how often do you have a jazzy little shuffle to go along with the depression? Not enough for you? Try some Manhattan Transfer-esque harmonies just for good measure. Throw in grooves, well placed keyboards, a hint of psychedelia, quality composition, excellent guitar work and Methexis is off and running. Of course because this is modern prog the obligatory metal licks are included as well.

I knew the music would be worth checking out after hearing the website samples. The unexpected part was finding how much I liked “The Fall of Bliss” once the disc was in hand. Nikitas Kissonas is a talented musician and composer. But talent does not always translate into anything people want to hear. Methexis is a project with great appeal. Well, let me qualify that last statement. If you only like sunny happy tunes perhaps you might want to pass. I am a positive person, but good music is good music. I’ll take it in any mood. The effective blending of styles and top-notch musicianship are what makes the aficionado take notice. The alluring song craft is what keeps you coming back.

“The Fall of Bliss’ was released in 2011, but I was only recently introduced. I certainly hope this project and its creator continue to make compelling music. As the rant frequently pops up here, prog must progress. Nikitas Kissonas is doing his part and deserves support.

Nikitas Kissonas – vocals, guitars, bass, mandolin, keys, programming
Nikos Miras – drums
Jargon – piano on “Lines on a Bust”

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Jan
02
Shadow-Circus-On-a-Dark-and-Stormy-Night

On a Dark and Stormy Night: 2012

Many a music fan can relate to arriving too late it a band’s career. Sure all that wonderful music is still available, but there is always that nagging desire to have been there at the beginning. That is why it is such a treat to have been with favorite from the get-go.  Shadow Circus pulled me in immediately with their infectious debut “Welcome to the Freakroom.” It was an extremely enjoyable album showcasing a promising band. “Whispers and Screams” raised the bar, increased the prog quotient and featured the first epic “Project Blue.” The second time out also saw the band spreading their creative wings and possibly finding their niche. That niche is literary inspiration.  The success of basing “Project Blue” on Stephen King’s “The Stand” led them to create an entire album based on Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.

The epic concept album may be a staple of prog but is also a tightrope walk. If you nail it fans perform prostrations in your honor. Waver just a bit and the epithets of pretention, overreaching and pomposity get flung your way. It is a bold move for any artist and especially so for a group still vying for recognition by the prog community at large. Add this to the expectations raised by the first two albums thus creating one mighty high bar to grasp.

“On a Dark and Stormy Night” is not only the album that both Shadow Circus and their fans were looking for, it is more. As I implied in a message to the band, the prog muse hit John, Dave, David, Matt and Jason collectively upside the head on this one. This is their first, and hopefully not last, classic. It is destined to be one of my favorite albums. I know because I love it more each time it plays. Yeah, no BS, no exaggeration, this is a freaking great album! Go to the website and listen to “Overture.” All you really need to know is there. Obviously and overture is a sampling of what is to come but the subtleties and scope are also captured in the opening number. It is also the most deliciously grandiose track on the album.

John Fontana had been commenting about all the work put into this project and it shows. Nothing is half-assed or even hints at a tired bunch of musicians saying, “Okay, okay, that’s good enough.” From the touching “Daddy’s Gone,” to the heavy jamming of “Tesseract” and the anthemic “Uriel” every note has a specific place. There are even some new twists such as strings and female backing vocals a la “Dark Side of the Moon.” Grand piano plays a major role with gorgeous intros on “Make Way for the Big Show” and “Uriel,” along with some pretty spiffy interludes as well. Of course you have the expected keyboards and yes… Mellotron. David Bobick’s vocals continues to improve album by album. He now has more strength and confidence, especially on softer numbers.

More than anything the band seems to have truly found itself. Shadow Circus always had its own sound but now it is clear. There is no muddiness of musical vision. The path has been laid out and the course is set. The band is essentially the baby of John Fontana and David Bobick, but Matt, Dave and Jason deserve applause as well. No tunes for the timid in existence here and these guys had to be up to the task. Matt Masek has been around since the first album even though he only got a supporting credit on “Whispers and Screams. Jason Brower and David Silver are true newcomers. You don’t make music like this unless all the members are in sync. All indications of a revolving door scenario aside, a cohesive band most certainly does exist.

As was said earlier, the concept function has worked well for Shadow Circus. As good as the individual tracks on the debut were, it is the focus of the concept where things get kicked into high gear. I read “A Wrinkle in Time” when I was kid and had mostly forgotten about it. This musical adaptation has renewed my interest so they must have done something right. Let me clarify, they have done something right because excitement has been created. Cursory research online will show that the film version didn’t have the same effect. Sci-fi and prog do go hand in hand but remember we are talking about what is largely considered a children’s book. The story is strong but the music drives it. The lyrics provide a frame without being narration and the rest is filled in by the instruments. As the sounds carry the action the plot plays out in the mind. Not an easy trick to be sure. Think about that for a minute and realize what a compliment that is to the composers.

To balance out all the fawning I will interject a slight criticism. We all fell in love with the classic prog of the ‘70s and that is why we are all fans now. It is however time that we really look at where this is going. The classic elements can only work for so long until they become tiresome. That is why my favorite moments of “On a Dark and Stormy Night” are either the more modern sounding (Tesseract) or timeless (acoustic grand piano). The way forward is to do exactly that. Move forward. The rock and roll on “Whosit, Whatsit and Which” is a lot of fun, but haven’t we heard it before? The tune is great. I am just making a suggestion about future direction. Shadow Circus is at a new level and can join the ranks of bands that are going to keep prog alive. To do that it must remain fresh and interesting. I have no doubt the band is up to the challenge.

With that out of the way, “On a Dark and Stormy Night” stands as a seminal achievement by one of progressive rock’s best newer groups. I love it and the rest of my kind should as well. Congratulations guys! You’re in the big leagues now. Yeah, I know it’s still an obscure genre, but let’s hope Shadow Circus now gets the recognition they deserve.

David Bobick – lead and background vocals
John Fontana – guitars, orchestral keyboards
David Silver – keyboards
Matt Masek – bass, cellos, background vocals
Jason Brower – drums, percussion, background vocals

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Dec
11

3681201141-1Reviewing genres you don’t enjoy should be avoided as a rule. There is already an implied bias present. Oh sure, arguments could be presented as to why a genre as whole deserves to be dismissed. Eavesdropping on many conversations you would hear commentary bearing out my overall distaste for rap, country and ambient music. It is just one man’s opinion however, and there are always the odd exceptions. Still, subjects such as these should probably be avoided on this blog.

Which brings up the question as to why this review was even considered. I don’t actually hate ambient music or post rock. A little bit included as interlude is fine but an entire album grows tedious very quickly. Still there are voices constantly assuring me bands like Sigur Rós need to be in my rotation. Recognizing that many people are big fans, including some well-respected friends, it was hard to turn my back on a direct recommendation. Against better judgment this favor will be done, with objectivity being operative word.

Being a prog geek, it must have been the artistic qualities of “A walk Through the Ashes” that my buddy thought would have appeal. He was correct in that assumption. Paperplane excels at weaving musical textures. The tempos remain largely consistent which provides the canvas to which other elements are applied. Noise is also a consistent technique as you might expect with post rock. Vocals are used sparsely and kept blended into the mix. It is the guitar that carries each piece along. The strings are played carefully at steady pace with the rest of the mélange. You will never hear an abrupt jam.

It is the placement of elements and structure that indicate the quality of what the band has composed. Even though it is not my cup of tea, talent is hard to obscure. How painstakingly these tracks were put together is obvious. The achievement does not stop at technical success. This is music after all and it must provide a more esoteric satisfaction. Every track on “A walk Through the Ashes” does that as well. The music is subdued to the point of somber, but remains generally uplifting. It touches the imagination, as all good music should. Isn’t that what it’s really for anyway?

I doubt paperplane will be pouring out of my speakers that often, if at all. This is for those of you who really dig post rock and ambient. I think you will find it stands up with some of your favorites.

Duncan Lockie
Alex Lockie
James Woolcock

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Dec
04
Clockwork Angels: 2012

Clockwork Angels: 2012

While I am happy that Rush has been an enduring classic band, my interest was lost after “Moving Pictures.” Each succeeding album just seemed to have less to offer than its predecessor. In many cases (Yes comes to mind) it might be suggested that the band should have hung it up long ago. I never felt that way with Rush. Even though the prog gods from Canada haven’t moved me in decades, their mission has always been sincere. Other bands have just continued to churn it out over the years for the lack of anything better to do. Geddy, Alex and Neil never stopped believing in the music or each other. A lot of it didn’t work for me but it did for them, and I respect that.

Hearing the tale Neil Peart’s family tragedies did incline me to check out the band again once they regrouped. “Vapor Trails” was decent and “Snakes and Arrows” was even better. Probably the best Rush had been since 1981. Unfortunately neither album stuck with me after hearing them. Last summer a prog musician I know said that I must check out the new one. It was a pretty lofty endorsement, so I bought a copy of “Clockwork Angels” at NEARfest.

Wow! Saying this is the best thing since “Moving Pictures” does not do the album justice. “Clockwork Angels” will most likely be given classic status along with the aforementioned masterpiece and “2112.” I don’t know where the bolt of lightning came from (perhaps the Colbert Report appearance?) but it hit the trio right in their collective rock and roll asses. When I say rock, I mean ROCK! The band hasn’t smoked like this since… well possibly ever. Geddy isn’t singing excessively high again but he does wail. Neil is… well, Neil. Unbelievably even he sounds better. It is Alex though that really stands out. The dude apparently remembered that he is a guitar monster and went balls out to prove it.

The intensity of the musicianship would be a wonderful treat on it’s own but truly great albums are not made of just this. The songwriting is also superb. There are hooks and catchy melodies that never cross the line of trite cheese. The jams are long enough to enthrall without skirting the realm of tedium. The pieces are loosely held together with a theme and this is where some debate may come in. I think it works, others may disagree, and you know what? It doesn’t matter. There is not a weak moment on this album. I can picture these debates taking place in living rooms while “Clockwork Angels” is blasting to the enjoyment of all the participants. Even if it is happening in an online forum I bet everyone will be typing to the rhythm “Caravan.”

Seriously, this is an excellent album. I know I consistently laud classic artists who seem to miraculously produce a winner long after their supposed expiration date. Call me biased if you want but I was honestly not expecting a resurrection of my Rush fandom. The fact that it comes from beloved bashers of my youthful ears is just an added bonus. Good music is good music and great music needs to be heard. Hear this!

Geddy Lee – bass guitar, bass pedals, keyboards, vocals
Alex Lifeson – guitars, keyboards
Neil Peart – drums, cymbals, tambourine

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Nov
27

Origins: 2012

 

 

On the surface I may seem like a strictly rock and roll guy. Believe it or not there are other things that rattle the speakers in my home. Such is the case with the Django Reinhardt inspired music of Stephane Wrembel. I was fortunate to have stumbled upon him performing at Radegast Hall in Brooklyn a few years back.  He was there again on my visit last summer so this time I picked up a CD.

Stephane is an amazing musician and almost equally talented composer. As thrilling as it is to see his hands turn into blurs over the guitar strings, the studio music remains strong. Woody Allen recognized this as well and commissioned Wrembel to compose the theme for “Midnight in Paris.” Plus the style is right up Woody’s alley. Don’t let this connection fool you into thinking that what I am presenting is mere novelty. Stephane Wrembel is a world-class musician and easily one of the best guitarists I have ever seen.

On “Origins” he showcases every facet of his skill, imagination and moods. He is serious on “Momentum” and “Water is Life,” playful on “The Edge” and “The Selfish Gene” then downright somber on “Vox Populi.” One track is actually a tribute to Carl Sagan. Stephane handles jazz, classical and gypsy styles with ease, while keeping a distinct European flavor throughout. The supporting band is outstanding. Hell they have to be just to keep up. Nonetheless it is the guitar that grabs all the attention. He is just unbelievably good.

With all the manufactured pop, programmed beats, auto-tune and techno garbage out there, real musicians seem to have been pushed aside. Granted there is a place for technology and what it has to offer, but it should not mask authentic creativity. We must not forget what music is and should be. Great musicians need to be rewarded for their talent instead of ignored. It isn’t ‘boring’ kids. Open your ears and listen with your mind. Yes that’s right, you can actually use your brain when music is playing. In fact it’s better that way. So check out “Origins” by Stephane Wrembel. This music is about as authentic as it gets. A whole new world may just open up and you will thank me for leading the way.

Stephane Wrembel – acoustic and twelve string guitar
Koran Hasanagic –  rhythm guitar
Dave Speranza – acoustic bass
David Langlois – washboard/percussion
Nick Anderson – drums

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Nov
13

I have always been averse to paying large sums of money for a single concert. I like Rush, but there is no way I was going to shell out $100 + to see them the last two times they came around. When the prices were posted for Peter Gabriel’s Back to Front tour I flinched. But then I remembered that this is the gentleman who never fails to impress and did give me the yet to be topped, greatest concert experience of my life in 1982. In other words he is worth every penny.

Last year was the New Blood concept with the orchestra. It was very cool, but I was looking forward to the return of the rock band. Being that the focus of the show was the “So” album, he reunited the original touring band. David Rhodes on Guitar, David Sancious on keys, Manu Katché on drums, and of course the legendary Tony Levin on bass, stick and camera (for pictures of the audience). For New Blood he had Ane Brun, who also provided vocals for him, open the show. Unfortunately she had to bow out and her friend Jennie Abrahamson filled in accompanied by cellist Linnea Olsson. I very much enjoyed Ane Brun but Jennie is really something special. She is a superb songwriter with a sweet voice. Her piano and Linnea’s strings provided more than enough power. I would say that I wanted the set to be longer but not with Peter in the house. Thankfully we hadn’t seen the last of them.

It was very odd to see Gabriel come on stage with the lights still up. The first instinct is, “Oh no! There’s a problem.” He immediately explained by describing what was to transpire. The first part was to emulate a rehearsal room experience, so the lights were staying on. Then the stage show would commence, and finally the entirety of “So.” Sticking to the plan, the very first song was one that he said was not yet completed. His wife very much wanted that said because the audience might have thought he was drunk when mumbling over over unfinished parts. Tony entered the stage alone, Those of us who knew went nuts, and it was just a duet for “OBUT.” The rest of the band joined for the next three numbers, including a very jazzy version of “Shock the Monkey.” I thought the idea worked quite well. Even though we were in the spacious Palace of Auburn Hills (go Pistons!) it still felt intimate.

Then the house lights went down and the band ripped into a blistering version of “Digging in the Dirt.” There were big rolling light stands on a track that circled the stage, light operators in overhead riggings, and cameras in all sorts of weird positions. He images were being altered when the hit the center and two side screens so it was difficult at first to tell what was up. It was the shot of Tony from the camera at end of his bass neck that really impressed me. Other classics were performed including of course “Solsbury Hill.” I may be getting jaded in my old age but as great as that tune is I am getting a bit tired of it. Licensing to Hollywood was a great business move and they have gotten a lot of mileage out of the first Gabriel solo classic.

The third part was “So” from beginning to end. Each song performed with love and excellence.

Even with more than enough material already offered, the band still came out for an encore. Beginning with “The Tower That Ate People” and ending with “Biko.” That took me right back to my very first Peter Gabriel show as I sang and pumped my arm up to the very end.

The only negative was that I could tell some of the fans were just there to relive their youth. They had probably never heard of Peter Gabriel before “Sledgehammer” was a hit. Constantly playing with their phones and up and down for more beer. Does that make me a snob? No, it makes me and the rest of the serious fans connoisseurs.

Gabriel is definitely older. You won’t hear those old high notes and his stage antics are very much more subdued. Even if he isn’t doing free falls into the audience anymore that doesn’t lessen the power of this performer and the group of musicians surrounding him. Every one of them is a skilled artist and they have no problem proving it. Peter at 62 and Tony at 66 could go up against any current younger musicians and blow them away. Hell they still blow me away and I saw them first over 30 years ago. So as long as they are willing to tour I will be shelling out the bucks for a ticket.

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