Thursday, June 27, 2019

Prog Contest: Round 1, Match 7

There are only two first-round matches left to go. So here is Match 7:

Evership II

"They say you can't judge a book by it's cover, but apparently that doesn't hold true for records. This 2018 release contains the classic 70s inspired prog that you would expect from a cover like that. The production is up to date, but the music is classic (including a seven part, 27 minute long, closing number)... It's a testament to how long Friday's been running this tourney that I find myself rummaging through 2018 releases for obscure prog." - TwigTW




2973 La Nemica Dei Ricordi

"A band born in the 60s but that only managed to get published in the 2010s. 2973 (published in 2015) is a concept album that begins right after the end of the previous album: unhappy with our society, the protagonist talks with the dead to search for answers but ends up losing his mind; now, in this second album, he sails on a ghostly ship that will bring him closer to his inner self. The music sounds like Black Sabbath doing rpi, with a constant haunted house vibe (complete with sax) throughout and lots of keyboards. The singer isn't very gifted, but definitely fits the Halloween feel." - Sabrutin


So here, we have a modern American prog album (2018) vs. an Italian prog album that was recorded more than forty years ago, but only released in 2015. (It's as if we found it in a time capsule). Should be in interesting matchup.

Prog Contest: Round 1 Match 6 Results

Well, this one was so close that it took an extra two days to get a result.

Once again, I was the first to vote. Here's what I said:

OK, I'm ready to vote. I suspect I'm going to surprise my friend Jethro with this one.

On first listen, I really didn't like the Trettioariga Kriget album at all. It's grown on me some with repeated listens -- I do like that second song. But there are some parts of it I just hate -- I tend to like my prog melodic, and there are times when both the vocalist and the music itself wander far from that pleasant pasture. (And this was one of those albums when my wife gave me one of those looks, and asked "Why are you listening to THIS?") I really wanted to like it, but it's just not my thing.

The Embryo was a whole different trip. I've mentioned at various times that I don't really like jazz, but that's because jazz can all too often be harsh and dissonant. (I used to know a local folk singer named Kathy Fleischmann. And any time she'd accidentally hit a clunker chord on her guitar, she'd smile and say, "Jazz!") For the most part, this music goes down smoothly, especially the third track, the aptly named "Warm Canto" -- they're right, here. It IS a warm canto.

So while I appreciated the Trettioariga Kriget a little more each time I listened to it, I still had a clear preference for the Embryo.

My vote is for Embryo.

Unfortunately, my streak of putting the curse of the cat people on the albums I vote for continued. Trettioariga Kriget roared out to an early lead in the vote. Then Embryo caught up. However, the final result was:

Final Result: Trettioariga Kriget 9 votes, Embryo 7 votes

This has the unfortunate result of meaning that Trettioarriga Kriget will be around for at least one more round. I don't mind listening to the album again. But it means that I'll have to spell the damned band name in this blog again! "Trettioarriga" indeed!

Oh well. On to Match 7.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Prog Contest: Round 1, Match 6

Moving right along, here are this week's two contestants in the Summer of Prog Contest:

Trettioariga Kriget

"- stellar guitar playing, Mellotron, some acoustic guitars, prominent bass lines etc
- kinda "heavy" and "dark" ( as to be expected from scandinavians)
- sung in swedish for an öhh.... exotic flavor
- they go both ways ...short and long. (usually around 4 min. + a 17 min. track to close it out.
In one sentence: Young (well at the time) swedish prog rock band emulating the sounds of the "foreign greats" like King Crimson, Rush and Yes with some hard rock." - hansoloshotfirst



Embryo (GER)

"Embryo is a german krautrock musical act known for their distinct brand of jazz-rock music. Of their albums I find this one to be their most sonically interesting. It mainly is a jazz-rock album like their others, but is filled with odd sounds and influences, from marimbas to violins and a bunch of other things I can't identify because I suck at describing music
tl;dr: it's a sonically weird instrumental krautrock jazz-prog record." - SharkTooth


So it's Sweden vs. Germany. Sort of like a World Cup match.

Prog Contest: Round 1 Match 5 Results

This was a close round, although my pick stayed constant throughout three listens of each album. I was the first one to vote in this round. I wrote:

I think I'm as ready to vote as I'm ever going to be. This was a difficult round.

As I mentioned before, I had listened to the Wobbler album extensively when it came out in 2017. I liked it then, and I liked it even more now. It's definitely a throwback to classic prog, with all of the strengths and weaknesses that implies. It's biggest drawback is that it does, at times, fall into what I sometimes think of as the classic prog rock conundrum - develop some melodic themes, usually around the vocal parts, then play a bunch of complicated shit until the next theme develops around the next vocal part. (It's like the difference between the arias and the recitative parts in opera.) But the themes here are nicely developed, and grew on me with repeated listens.

When I first realized who Fish was, I had some mixed feelings. I'm not a big Marillion fan, beyond Misplaced Childhood, and even on that one, there are some songs I like a lot and others I can do without. What I've heard of Fish's work with Marillion can be a little over the top, in the same way that I feel a lot of Peter Gabriel's work with Genesis could go over the top.

However, I was very pleasantly surprised here to hear how understated Fish is on this album, and how accessible the music is. Yes, many of the lyrical themes have been done before, but I feel that they were done very well here. (I notice that this album also fills the vacuum that Friday had pointed out in this year's contest re/something more in the folk-prog vein.)

Wobbler is definitely the proggier album, but I don't concern myself with that. Once Friday rules that an album is proggy enough to include in the contest, I vote almost solely on which album I like better. And while I liked them both a lot, the one I liked slightly better is the Fish album.

So much to my own surprise, my vote is for Fish.

Nevertheless, I knew from the get-go that of the two, Wobbler was the proggier album. So I wasn't surprised at the final vote count.

Final Results: Wobbler 11 votes, Fish 5 votes

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy, John Lodge, Asia, Yes

A few months ago, Denise started talking about an '80s cruise some of her friends from the WLIR group are going on next March. It has a pretty good lineup, including The B-52s (who are one of her favorite bands), Berlin, Scandal, The Motels, etc. (There are a lot more, but these were some of the ones that intrigued me.) Also, listed among the non-new-wave-'80s bands was Asia, which didn't interest Denise a bit, but interested me a lot. Even though John Wetton passed away not that long ago, I've never seen Asia, and I still wanted to. At first, I said I'd go with her. Then, when I started thinking about the logistics of it, including leaving my son alone for a week, the money (when my finances are kind of a mess), how much I hate to fly (the cruise is leaving out of Florida), etc., I decided it wasn't a great idea. So she's going with her friends, but I'm staying here with my son (and possibly my daughter - her boyfriend is planning to go into the military in November, so it's not clear if she's going where he goes, she's coming back here, etc.) But there was a little pang in my heart about not seeing Asia, even without John Wetton.

Shortly after that, I got an email notice that Yes (the Steve Howe version) was bringing a tour called The Royal Affair Tour, to Long Island in June. (For some reason, I have a mental block about the tour name -- I keep wanting to call it "The Royal We" tour -- but whatever.) The tour would include Yes, John Lodge (of Moody Blues fame), Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy, and, wait for it ... Asia! (You guessed that, didn't you?) I bought myself a pair of tickets almost immediately. I had just seen Yes last year at Westbury, of course, but they're one of my top favorite bands of all time, so even though they're showing their age a little, it's still always fun to see them. As to John Lodge and Carl Palmer's bands, I would never have bought tickets to see them on their own -- I'd seen both The Moody Blues and Emerson Lake & Palmer back in the day -- but it certainly wouldn't hurt to add a little Moodies and ELP music to the show. And as I read more about the tour, it made sense -- it was going to be a musically incestuous thing (maybe that's where they got the "Royal Affair" name), with a lot of the musicians playing in several of the bands over the course of the evening.

Ironically, shortly after I bought the tickets, I learned that there were actually two versions of Asia out there now (shades of Yes!), and that the other version, "Asia featuring John Payne" (who took over Asia's lead singing duties from Wetton in 1992, and went to on to make six studio albums with them) would also be appearing on Long Island this summer at The Patchogue Theater. (I still might get tickets for this show too, although I watched a few clips on YouTube and wasn't blown away by Payne's vocals.)

So this week was one of those weeks where Denise and I each went our own way for music. She went into the city on Thursday night and met up with her WLIR friends to see Howard Jones, Men Without Hats and All Hail the Silence again. (We both just saw the same lineup together last week at the Paramount in Huntington, but Denise reported that the NYC show was twenty times better. Thanks a bunch, Hojo!). And last night, I made my way to Bald Hill for the prog rock show.

First, a few words about the venue. This venue has had like a zillion different names, and about as many different management companies. I always think of them it as The Brookhaven Amphitheater, but as recently as last year, it was the Pennysaver Amphitheater. This year, it's The Long Island Community Hospital Amphitheater. (Ironically, Long Island Community Hospital also changed their name this year. As Brookhaven Hospital, they always had a lousy reputation. So instead of upgrading the service and improving their reputation, some marketing genius had the idea, "Hey! Making it better would be hard. How about if we just rebrand it!" Don't even get me started on this topic.)

Now I haven't been to this venue for twenty years or so, and largely for two reasons. The first is, their booking has usually sucked! Very seldom in the last twenty years have they booked a show that I was actually tempted to attend. But the second reason is equally important. They call the area that the amphitheater exists on "Bald Hill", and they're not kidding about the "Hill" part. The venue is a pleasant enough outdoor arena at the bottom of Bald Hill. It's a little bit of a trek going from the parking lot to the venue itself, but at least it's all downhill. Getting back to the parking lot after the show, however ... well, suffice it to say that the last time I made this trip, I'm pretty sure I passed Heidi the mountain girl out walking her goat. It's a fairly brutal walk. Which made it an interesting location for this particular show, since the primary audience for bands like Yes, The Moody Blues and ELP is all old people! I'm bad enough, but there were a number of people there last night who were barely ambulatory. I'm hoping maybe they had some kind of prearrangement with the venue to take them back up the hill in golf carts. But even to go from the seating area to the bathrooms is an uphill walk. All I can say is at least the show didn't take place in the heat of August.

Anyway, I got out there about an hour early, and made my way down the hill to my seat. I bought myself a water and a huge pretzel knot about the size of my arm, and I was good to go. I had brought both a jacket and a sweatshirt with me, because it was supposed to be cool and a little windy last night. However, the temperature was comfortable all night, and the only time I really used my jacket was in the beginning of the evening (the show had a 6:30 starting time). This was because my seat (two seats, actually) was right out in the sun, and I didn't want to get sunburned. (I'm sure I looked like the Unabomber with my hood up protecting my ears.)

I watched the crowd for awhile -- I'd say I was about at the 50th percentile as far as age went.

A few minor complaints about the venue. (Because it wouldn't be a Long Island Music Guy write-up without some complaints.) The arena is pleasant enough, but much like the crowd on this particular evening, it's gotten a little long in the tooth. The way it's set up, there are about twenty rows of metal seats in front of the stage. Behind that is a mental floor section/staircase, with another fifteen rows or so. Then there's a wide break between sections for a central floor area that leads over to the bathrooms. (And in the pavilion above the bathrooms, as well as behind the pavilion, there are various food and merch vendors.) Then there's a section of metal bleachers with seats going up. And at the top of the hill (well, the top of the hill near the stage, anyway -- it's still a long walk up from there back up to the parking lot), looking down, is a general admission grassy area, where people bring blankets, lawn chairs, etc., to watch the show.

I was in the third row of the second section of seats, near where the metal stairs begin. And some of parts of the stadium are in disrepair. Right near me, in a narrow space between the last row of the floor area and first row of the area going up, the bottom of the metal staircase had a strip of metal sticking out that was a lawsuit waiting to happen. One of the young usherettes kept warning people to look out for it, but I saw several people trip over it during the course of the night. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt.

The second complaint about the stadium was that in this age, where smoking has mostly become forbidden even in outdoor spaces, this amphitheater (named after a hospital) had as one of its vendors a cigar stand! And there were several groups of idiots ... um, I mean patrons ... puffing out stinky cigar smoke. I wasn't even sitting that close to them -- I was a good ten rows back -- but every so often, a breeze would carry the stench back my way. I can only imagine how miserable it was for the people sitting around them. So boo! to Long Island Community Hospital Amphitheater for that. Whatever the opposite of kudos are, you deserve them.

(Also, they made most of the young kids working as ushers wear bright yellow shirts with the words "I Heart My Job" on the back. I'm sure some of them do, but I'm also sure those shirts made liars out of the rest of them.)

OK, I've been writing for about an hour now, so I guess I should finally get to part about the actual show, huh?

Now I had gone up on beforehand, and printed out the setlist that each of the four bands had performed in Pennsylvania two nights earlier. My experience has been that especially with some of these older bands, they don't vary their setlists from night to night -- it's easier to keep sharp on the material if you keep your setlist consistent -- and this held true for this show, as each of the four bands performed exactly the same setlist they had done at Wednesday's show in Bethlehem, PA.

At exactly 6:30PM, Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy took the stage for a relatively short five-song set. There were a couple of interesting things about this set. The first was the complete lack of a keyboard player. They used canned keyboards throughout the night. I thought that this was an interesting choice, given that Emerson, Lake & Palmer's music was 99% keyboard driven! But I have to admit, when I thought about it, it made at least some sense. Because barring Rick Wakeman dropping by, a fairly unlikely event, who the hell are you going to get to try to stand in for the late Keith Emerson, one of the two behemoth keyboard players of the seventies! I guess they could have asked poor Geoff Downes, but he's already killing himself trying to play Wakeman's parts for Yes every night. So it was Palmer on drums, a guitarist named Paul Bielaowicz, Simon Fitzpatrick on bass, and a vocalist.

Now bear in mind that at this point, there was bright sunlight glaring in my eyes and I was wearing sunglasses, so it was a little hard to see. (There was a small video screen behind Palmer, but all of the bands just used this to show their own concept video footage -- you never enlarged versions of the bands). But the way the vocalist was dressed as a cross between Elton John (in his wackiest days) and Paul Revere, with one of those big top hats that Slash of Guns & Roses so favors. The band started playing, diving right into "Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Part 2". Now I consider Greg Lake to have been maybe the best vocalist in rock history -- his voice was both rich, and very, very beautiful. So as soon as this freakshow started croaking, "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends!" I had a Beavis and Butt-head moment. ("Uh oh! What's this? ... Can I see your backstage pass, sir?") The guy was terrible! It was fascinating to watch, because of his outfit, but in a horrific kind of way. I will say that the crowd (which was still fairly sparse at this point) was eating it up, for nostalgia reasons. There were large cheers going on. But I was partially confused, still trying to see where the keyboards were coming, partially amused at this guy's attire, and partially aghast at the godawful noises that were coming out of the man's throat.

It soon became clear that this was a guest vocalist, as he left the stage for the second number. This one made me sad, as at the beginning of the song, Carl Palmer announced that he'd gotten mixed up the other night and introduced "Hoedown" as having been on ELP's Trilogy album, when of course, it was actually on Tarkus. Um, no Carl, you were right the first time -- it was on Trilogy. I thought that poor Carl had gone senile. (As it turned out, whether it was senility or just a mental block, the more I watched him throughout the night, the more I realized that he has still has plenty left in the tank as far as drumming goes.) Anyway, this song was done, as it was on the album, as an instrumental, so no harm, no foul (albeit, also no live keyboards.)

As the third song loomed, the aberration made his way back onto the stage. This time he was wearing what my weak eyes perceived as a Hawkman mask, and some kind of metallic space hat. (The guy next to me lent me his binoculars for this one, and I was then able to see that the mask was merely a mask of many colors.) At this point, Palmer introduced him, and cleared up the mystery as to who this buttmunch was and what he was doing there. It was none other than Arthur Brown, of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, which was actually one of Palmer's first bands prior to Atomic Rooster and ELP. This at least explained what this guy was doing there. The song they played was "Knife-Edge" which at least starts in a lower key than "Karn Evil 9", so Brown was slightly less dreadful on this one. As I listened, I wondered if the man's voice was shot, or if maybe he'd never been able to sing, as like most of you (I'm sure), the only song I knew of his was "Fire".

The next song -- surprise, surprise -- was a cover of "Fire!" The band had a cool video of fire going on behind them. (Back to Beavis -- "Yes! Fire! Fire!"). This was probably the highlight of the set, although even here, I felt distracted, watching ushers leading more and more audience members to their seats, and hoping that no one was going to kill themselves on that loose metal strip. The ELP Legacy finished out their set with another instrumental, this time of "Fanfare for the Common Man". (Between this and "Hoedown", it was a big night for Aaron Copland.)

The crowd gave the band a big cheer. And I had to smile. Did the set much please the gods of music? Probably not. But had I been entertained? I had to admit that I had.

Less than five minutes later, the speakers emitted a painful ear-splitting screech. It was a video montage of John Lodge and The Moody Blues, but some sound person had accidentally turned up the volume to about ten times what it should have been. The sound was turned down to a more acceptable level, and a few seconds later, John Lodge and his band took the stage.

The band was a five-piece, which included a keyboard player and a second guitarist who doubled on electric violin for some songs. I'd like to tell you who the musicians were, but I can't find it online, and I didn't shell out the thirty bucks for the Yes Royal Affair Tour Guide (which might have included it, or might have simply focused on Yes. You're welcome to order it on the Yes website. If you do, let me know.)

Here are the key things to know about this set. 1. Lodge's singing was better than Arthur Brown's, but like so many '70s rock vocalists, his voice has taken some hits over the years. 2. They had some colorful hippy-ish videos playing on the screen, which added to their set. 3. They played a seven-song set. I thought that some of the choices were strange for such a short set (for example, "Steppin' in a Slide Zone" and "Gemini Dream"), given the Moodies' extensive catalog. Then I realized that they (naturally) wanted to mostly focus on songs that were written by Lodge. And this led me to another revelation: 4. In spite of some true classics, like "Isn't Life Strange", "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)" and "Ride My See-Saw", Justin Hayward and the rest of the Moodies have obviously been carrying this lazy bastard over the years.

OK, let me stop. I'm obviously exaggerating here. But ironically enough (I think that's the third time I've used that word in this review so far), for me, the highlight of the set was a cover of "Legend of a Mind" (better known to most of you by its first line of lyrics, "Timothy Leary's Dead!"), which was written and sung by Ray Thomas. Oh well.

Near the end of Lodge's set, during the last song, I was distracted again by the crowd, as a middle-aged women was being helped up the stairs by a man, while a worried-looking woman followed behind. The first woman was either drunk off her ass or ill (or maybe both), as she pitched sharply a number of times, and it was all the man could do to keep her from falling. Yes singer Jon Davison joined Lodge for this song ("Ride My See-Saw"), which should have helped to smooth out the vocals. Sadly, however, they had him turned down so low that you could barely hear him. It was a good idea, but a missed opportunity.

Anyway, Lodge and his band finished up and took their bows, again to a nice hand by the crowd. At this point, it was only slightly past 7:30, and I predicted to the couple next to me that we were all going to be out of there by 10, especially since the set changes were happening so fast. I figured that the idea was that the bands and the crowd were all so old, they were trying to get us home and to bed. And sure enough, in less than five minutes, Asia took the stage, and were ready to play.

Now here's where the night changed for me, from a nostalgia night to a good music night. In spite of Wetton's death, Asia still seems to have quite a bit left in the tank. Their new lead vocalist, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal sounded world's better than either Arthur Brown or John Lodge. Mind you, he's not in the same class as a Wetton, or a Greg Lake. But his vocals certainly didn't detract from the music. As for the rest of the lineup, it included Yes bass player Billy Sherwood, Yes keyboard player (and original Asia member) Geoff Downes, and another original band member, an energized Carl Palmer, on drums. And as a special treat for the crowd, the band was joined for the last four songs by another original Asia member, none other than Steve Howe.

This set had a number of highlights. The first was a cover of The Buggles' classic, "Video Killed the Radio Star", which was appropriate because in addition to being a member of Yes and Asia, Downes was also one-half of The Buggles. (I actually texted Denise at this point to tell her I'd had my eighties moment for the night. She texted back that that was cool, and that maybe she'd even go see Asia on the cruise ship if they were going to be doing that one. Unfortunately, while was I was researching this blog entry, I looked up the cruise lineup, and found that it's the John Payne version of Asia that's going to be playing on the boat. Sorry about that, sweetie.) A few songs later, to give Mr. Palmer some respect, they did a cover of ELP's "Lucky Man". And they closed out the set (with Howe's assistance) with four of the best songs off of their classic eponymous 1982 debut album, "Wildest Dreams", "Sole Survivor", "Only Time Will Tell" and "Heat of the Moment". It was an excellent ten-song set.

By this time it was dark. The venue had been about two-thirds full when Asia took the stage. Now it was mostly full in the seated area, except for some open spaces on the sides. This time, there actually was a break between sets, although it was still a reasonably short one of about 15 minutes. (Which thankfully gave me a chance to run the bathroom. This new diabetes medication I'm on has me peeing like a race horse. And I'm sure Howe, Downes and Sherwood were grateful for the short breather as well.)

Then, the chords to the traditional opening of a Yes concert, "The Firebird Suite" started to pour out of the speakers. And a moment later, Yes hit the stage.

Now as I mentioned, I'd seen this rendition of Yes last year in Westbury. The full lineup included Davison on vocals, Howe on guitar, Downes on keyboards, Sherwood on bass, and Jay Schellen (for most of the night) on drums. It's not the best lineup the band has ever had -- it's hard to replace people like Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman and Chris Squire. In comparison to, say King Crimson (as of the end of 2017 when I saw them), I'd say they've lost a step as a band. Even Howe will flub the occasional note nowadays. But they were at such a high level to begin with that even a lesser version of Yes is still pretty great. And for me, on the whole, Yes has more great material in their back catalog to choose from than King Crimson, which also gives them a leg up. So having just enjoyed a fine set from Asia, I was psyched to have Yes close things out.

The setlist the band had chosen for this tour was a little unusual. If I was seeing them for the first (and maybe only) time, I might feel a little cheated that they opted to leave out such staples as "And You and I" and "Heart of the Sunrise". (And "Owner of a Lonely Heart" was right out, as that's a Trevor Rabin song, not a Steve Howe one -- although weirdly enough, they did choose to play "Rhythm of Love"). For someone like me, though, who has seen the band seven times now, it was exciting to see them do a bunch of songs I hadn't seen them perform before. For example, they opened up with "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed" from Howe's first album with the band, Time and a Word (which as it turns out is actually a Richie Haven cover -- who knew?), and went from there into their well-loved cover of Paul Simon's "America". Other oddities included "Going for the One" (from the album of the same name), "Onward" (from Tormato, which they dedicated to Chris Squire), "Tempus Fugit" from Drama, and "Sketches in the Sun," a solo acoustic number from Howe's one album as part of the band GTR. (I thought that "Onward" was especially lovely, although the couple sitting next to me got up "to walk around" at that point, because they said it was putting them to sleep. They never did come back.)

Near the end of the set, Howe announced that for their extended piece for this tour, they were going to perform the entirety of "Gates of Delirium" from the Relayer album (for the first time since 2001). In some ways, this was a difficult choice (as was "Onward") for an outdoor show of this type, with a partially inebriated crowd that was looking to hear the obvious hits. And there were some people who gave up the ghost during this 20-plus minute performance. On the other hand, I thought that the band did a great job on it, much better than when they had performed the full "Close to the Edge" last year, One of the reasons for this, I think, was Geoff Downes.

In some ways, it's hard being Geoff Downes. The man has accomplished a lot in his career. As mentioned earlier, he was one-half of the new-wave duo The Buggles. He was a founding member of Asia. He was a member of Yes for the excellent Drama album, as well as for the underrated (IMHO) Fly From Here and Heaven & Earth albums. But every night, he has to sit down and bust his ass trying to play the Rick Wakeman parts in some of the greatest prog rock songs that were ever created. And he's just not up to it. (Nor would almost any other keyboard player be.) He plays the same notes as Wakeman did, but nowhere near bombastically enough. Where Wakeman's parts blast in over Howe's guitar and shake you to your soul, Downe's notes kind of sneak in, sometimes barely noticeable, so that you feel like part of the song is missing. On "Gates of Delirium", though, he doesn't have play Rick Wakeman parts. He just has to play Patrick Moraz. And while Moraz is himself an excellent keyboard player, he's much more in Downes' range. Unfortunately, if you're playing a Yes show, you just can't leave out the Wakeman songs altogether. But the more you replace Wakeman songs in the setlist with the songs of Moraz, Tony Kaye, and Downes himself, the more you allow Downes to show himself in his best light.

As happened in Westbury last year, Alan White only joined the band near the end of their set, since health problems have left him no longer physically capable of playing for full show. White took the stage right after the eighth song of the set, "Tempus Fugit", at which point Howe announced that it was White's birthday. We all sang "Happy Birthday" to him. Then the band played "Rhythm of Love" (possibly at White's request, as he is the only member of the current band who was with Yes when they recorded that song on the Big Generator album.) White then left the stage for the bulk of "Gates of Delirium", returning only for the last part of the song (which is sometimes performed by itself), the ravishing "Soon".

(This made me think about how unappreciated Jay Schellen must feel. He's not an official part of the band, although he carries the bulk of the drumming chores these days. Last year, I was kind of hard on him in my review of the Westbury show for making some of the material a little draggy. However, I've since realized that this was a decision by the whole band, because they really aren't capable of performing some of the more complex songs, like "Close to the Edge", at full speed these days. But at least last year, when White came out for his part of the set, Schellen got to stay on the stage and play hand percussion with the rest of them. Tonight, every time that White came out, Schellen was kicked offstage. I pictured him sitting bitterly at the bar over the bathrooms during White's part the set, muttering to himself, "Get out of here, Jay! You're not really part of Yes! We only you play when Alan isn't here.")

At this point, Yes took a quick bow to a standing ovation from the crowd. They left the stage briefly, then came back for a two-song encore. Howe introduced the first song, reminding the crowd that in his storied career, prior to joining Yes, Alan White had done some drumming for John Lennon. The band then launched into a cover of "Imagine". They finished up the night with a mandatory rendition of "Roundabout", the only song of the night they performed from the Fragile album. (They also performed only one song each from Close to Edge -- "Siberian Khatru", and The Yes Album -- "I've Seen All Good People").

The band then took a long bow to another standing ovation, and the crowd started their long, painful journey back up the hill, yodeling all the way. (Not really, but we should have.) And actually, in a pleasant surprise, I learned that I'm actually in better shape now than I was twenty years earlier -- the climb was less grisly than it used to be. It was a good evening all around.

All of the band's setlists for the evening are available on Just go up on that site and enter the band name, and you'll find the setlists for many of their recent shows, including last night's show.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Prog Contest: Round 1, Match 5

So we're halfway done with the first round, and we're starting to see who will be some of the contenders to win it all. This round includes that rarest of birds, an entry other mine that I am previously familiar with. I listened to the Wobbler album a number of times in 2017, the year of its release. And while I'm not familiar with Fish album, I am familiar with Fish from his days as lead singer of Marillion. Here is the matchup:

From Silence to Somewhere

Seen by many prog fans as a modern classic of the genre, Wobbler's latest record is one of the few modern album that does justice to the genre's older 70's sound. Great production and excellent instrumentation make for a thrilling, energetic and infectious sound that drags only a little bit in very few parts of the record." - MrSirLordGentleman



A Feast Of Consequences

"An album that reveals the many faces of Fish, swinging between progressive and straightforward pop-rock but always keeping a strong balance throughout the album. Far better than anything Marillion has released this century." - TheNotrap

Favourite songs: High Woods, Thistle Alley and The Great Unravelling.


Album is available on Spotify

May the best prog win!

Prog Contest: Round 1 Match 4 Results

Unsurprisingly, I voted for my own contestant in this one. Here's what I wrote:

My vote won't surprise anyone.

You all saw what I wrote in description of the Tangerine Dream album, and maybe you read the original review I wrote of it two years ago as well. I just find the album beautiful and hypnotic, and as I said, I see it as as much of a concept album as a soundtrack, akin to albums such as Rick Wakeman's Six Wives of Henry VIII. I love the way one synthesizer will be playing something soft and lovely, and a second will suddenly come in and cut right through it (and right through me, as well.) And I particularly love the track "Charlie the Kid" as the musical embodiment of the character of Charlie McGee.

As for the Unreal City album, it's as tough a competitor as I would expect. My friend Jethro has always been a connoisseur of prog rock, and I've learned about many great albums from him. This is one of those. I particularly love the synthesizers in this one (especially in that first track), and the keyboards throughout. My only complaint is a minor one - I don't love the vocalist. His voice sounds a little strained and unpleasant at times. But he's certainly serviceable, and not enough to hurt my enjoyment of the album in any way.

Still, I will stick with the partner I brought to the dance. My vote is for Tangerine Dream.

After a little bit of a run that pulled me within one vote of the competition, though, the late votes all broke the other way. 

Final Results: Tangerine Dream 5 votes, Unreal City 10 votes.

However, I have to say that in general, the album was pretty well received, and even several of the people who voted against rated it highly. In the end, though, it was up against a really tough competitor, that has a decent shot of winning the whole tournament. But my goal here was to expose the Firestarter album, which I love, to some more people, and to get it some more ratings on the Sputnik site, which I did. So overall, I feel pretty good about the entry.

On to Match 5.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

All Hail the Silence, Men Without Hats, Howard Jones

I've seen Howard Jones live four times in the last three years, and six times overall. You'd think this would make me a huge Howard Jones fan, but ironically, not really. I like him. I like his music. And in fact, the first time I saw him was as part of one of my favorite concerts of all time (playing with Martha and the Muffins and Eurythmics at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in the '80s). But really, I'm more of a casual fan. I saw him three years ago in Atlantic City as part of a six-band show (that also included Men Without Hats). I saw him at the Paramount the following year with Denise and Rich Da Drummer, and that was the night we had a problem with some belligerent drunks sitting behind us. (That Denise is such a trouble maker, heh heh.) I saw him again at the Boulton Center a few months later. He played solo, and it was an intimate, non-synthesizer show, with Rachael Sage as an opener. (I bought that ticket primarily because the drunken d-heads had spoiled the one at the Paramount.) But he's not one of my very favorite artists. What he is is an enjoyable performer who works hard at doing something a little different every time you see him, and who usually also plays with others artists that I like or whom I'm interested in seeing. (But if I could somehow trade at least one of those shows for a Thomas Dolby show, who I've never seen live, I would in a heartbeat.)

This time, when Denise mentioned that he was playing here this summer with Men Without Hats, I didn't plan to see him. I figured I'd seen him a bunch lately, I'd seen Men Without Hats too, and sometimes, I just want to spend my ticket money on seeing artists I haven't seen perform before.

But then, I started reading about All Hail the Silence. I learned they were a very '80s-sounding modern duo, and that they were protege's of Vince Clark (as are Reed & Caroline, whose album I liked so much last year.) Then I bought their new album.

Let me tell you about the All Hail the Silence album. It's one of those albums like Led Zeppelin IV, by which I mean that nobody really knows what it's called. The cover doesn't have a title on it, just one of the double-dagger symbols. So some places use the symbols to refer to it, some call it Daggers, and some simply call it All Hail the Silence. But whatever you call it, it's great. It's a double album. I have it on CD, and the first disc in particular is outstanding, particularly if you're an '80s fan. Some of it is reminiscent of Depeche Mode, there's maybe a little Kraftwerk and a little Erasure in there. I loved it from the first listen, and Denise did too. (I knew she would.) Denise usually posts my write-ups to her WLIR Facebook friends, so I'm talking to you guys now -- pick up a copy of this album. It will definitely be right up your alley. (I liked Reed & Caroline a lot, but I know a lot of you guys thought they were kind of weird. You won't have that issue here. The style is very new wave dance-pop.)

By the time I heard the album, and decided I wanted to see these guys live, Denise had already bought a ticket to meet up with her friends and see Howard Jones and MWH in the city. But I knew it wouldn't be a tough sell to get her to see HoJo at the Paramount as well, so I went ahead and bought some tickets.

So basically, what I was saying in this whole long-winded intro is that for us, at least, it was All Hail the Silence that caused us to attend this show. (Not that having Howard Jones and MWH on the bill hurt.)

We left our house at 6:30PM, and arrived in Huntington about an hour later. The last couple of times we've been to this club, we got pretty lucky with the parking. However, this time, not so much. (It was a warm, beautiful Thursday night, and people are starting to get into that summer state of mind.) After driving around for ten or fifteen minutes, we wound up parking on the street behind the theater several long blocks away. It was downhill walking to the venue, but we knew it was going to suck walking back up that hill after the show. (Quick, someone get me a rope and a goat!) This is, and always will be, the Paramount's biggest drawback -- the parking situation bites!

We made it through the metal detectors with relative ease, and headed up to the bathrooms. (Long drive!) Then I grabbed us a couple of waters and a couple of pretzels, and we headed up to our seats. They were in the back section on the right side, where we usually sit, three rows from the top. (Yay! more climbing!)

We then settled in for the show. I saw that the stage was layered with equipment. All Hail the Silence's stuff was up front, Men Without Hat's was behind that, and Howard Jones' band's synths were behind MWH's stuff. I also noticed that unlike the last time I'd seen Howard Jones here, the floor level was filled with rows of folding chairs instead of being set up as an open dance floor.

Before long, the lights went down, and AHTS took the stage. This duo comprised Brian Wayne Transeau (aka, BT), an American musician who is apparently pretty well respected within electronic music circles, and British singer Christian Burns. These guys first got together in 2012, but it seems like they're both wrapped up in other projects, and they only play intermittently together. They don't seem to have released any studio music prior to an EP in 2018. Daggers (2019) is their first full-length album.

They pretty much went right for it, playing their best song "Stand Together" (the first song on the album) first. They then played a full set that included most of the best material on the Daggers album.

These guys sounded great. They had some canned harmonies for Burns to sing along with. They really didn't move around much, but then again, there wasn't a lot of room for them to move in -- BT had to stay with his keyboards, and Burns was surrounded by BT on one side and Men Without Hats' equipment behind them.

When they began playing, the venue was only about a third full, but by then end of their set, it was probably 80% full. In any event, I enjoyed their set a lot, especially "Diamond in the Snow", which is another of my favorite songs on the album. And considering most of the people there really weren't familiar with their songs, I thought they got a pretty good response from the audience.

Next up was Men Without Hats. Now the last time I saw them, as part of the 2017 Retro Futura Tour, they only played four songs, and two of them were "Safety Dance". Tonight, they played a full set. They played as a 5-piece, which included two female keyboard players (one of whom was covering the bass notes) and a drummer. Lead singer Ivan Doroschuk wore an understated (yeah, right) sequined shirt, and danced about the stage -- well, "like an imbecile". (And I say that with love and respect.)

Now I'm an '80s music fan, but I'm also a fan of '70s prog rock, folk music, modern alternative, and lots of stuff in between. I think it's fair to say that my musical taste is wider than Denise's. But the '80's is Denise's area of expertise. I can't even begin to touch on her knowledge of the music of that era. So the truth is, beyond "Safety Dance" and "Pop Goes the World", I really don't know a whole lot of MWH songs. (I recognized a song called "Messiah's Die Young" of theirs that we listened to on the way over in the car, but they didn't play that one.) So I wasn't familiar with the majority of MWH's set. But Denise seemed to know all, or at least most, of it. (She told me later that a lot of the set came from the album that "Safety Dance was on originally, and she had owned that one.) So I was a little lost for part of their set.

I did hear a song called "I Like" that I ... well, liked. And I recognized an ABBA cover they threw in of the song "S.O.S." (which is actually in the ABBA musical, Mamma Mia!). And I enjoyed "Pop Goes the World", but I was a little distracted during it. (I'll tell you about that in a minute.) But beyond that, I was a little out of my element. I enjoyed them OK, but really, I liked the AHTS set more. The crowd seemed split. Some people seemed to be like me, only familiar with a couple of the songs. Others were more like Denise. There were probably more of the latter type of person there than the former. So overall, the crowd response was pretty good throughout. (I'll admit, I was also a little distracted during the set when my son texted asking what time we expected to be home. Usually, he only asks this when we're on the way home, 'cause he's hoping we'll pick up food. But tonight, he asked halfway through the second set. And he was home with my car and my car keys, allegedly so he could drive his friend home. So I pictured him cruising without permission all over Suffolk County while Mom and Dad were blissfully unaware at the concert).

Anyway, let's face it -- no matter how good the rest of their set is, for MWH, it's all about "Safety Dance". Really, any sort of sober analysis would tell you it's a stupid effing song. But the damned thing is just so much fun! So of course, they closed with "Safety Dance", and got a deservedly great response from the crowd.

After MWH left the stage, the crew cleared off their equipment. What was left were three spots at the back of the stage. Two contained brightly lit synthesizers, and the third had some guitar equipment (with the bright lights on the floor.) They also set a smaller keyboard up in front and to the side of the stage. And there was also something that I assume was a controller module of some kind on the same side as, and behind, the smaller keyboard.

Now, this was the first show on the American leg of the Transform tour, in support of Howard Jones' new Transform album. Jones and his band had played last Saturday in England, then flown to the US for this Thursday's (tonight's) show. And after an interminable amount of time between sets, I became aware that several crew members were huddled around the synth in the back at the far side of the stage. Sometimes they'd press a key, but they obviously didn't like what they were hearing over their headphones. (Or they weren't hearing anything.) Sometimes, one of them would walk over and press a key on the keyboard in the middle for comparison. But it was that other synth that was the main problem. I don't know if something got damaged on the flight over from England, or somebody kicked a plug out after soundcheck, but they were clearly having major problems with that one particular synthesizer.

I was in a pretty mellow mood, and as I said, I'd really come there to see All Hail the Silence. So as far as I was concerned, they could have let MWH come out, play "Safety Dance" again, and then call it a night. Probably the rest of the crowd would have been less OK with this, though.

Eventually, Jones came out to begin the show. He started on the smaller keyboard at the side of the stage (which was set for a piano sound throughout the night), and began playing a slightly disjointed version of one of his most beautiful songs, "Hide and Seek". I wasn't sure if this had been the plan all along, or this was an improvisation because of the equipment problem. (It's kind of a strange song to start a set with, but they were opening with this song a lot in Europe, so maybe it was the plan all along.)

So here are my thoughts about the Howard Jones show. Let me say ahead of time that it's going to sound like I didn't enjoy the show, which isn't the case. But I had complaints ("No! Not you Rich! You're usually so stoic.") I also had some observations. Here they are:

1. The sound was a little muddy all night. It wasn't the worst I've heard, and it wasn't too bad for the music. But when any of the musicians spoke throughout the night, I couldn't understand them very well. And because I'm hard of hearing, I checked in with Denise, who agreed with my assessment.

2. The light show was very aggressive, to the point where it was an annoyance. The lights were pointed right into the crowd for a good part of the night. I don't know know if they blinded the crowd on the dance floor, but they were an assault on the senses in our section. Again, it wasn't just me. I saw the couple in front of me shielding their eyes, and they got and moved (or left) after a couple of songs. Whoever designed the light show should be placed in stocks and assaulted with custard pies.

3. What is it about Howard Jones and drunks? A larger portion of the crowd than you'd expect was pretty liquored up, to the point where you had several kind of annoying drunks at the bar in the back who think it's a great idea to emit those loud, ear-splitting whistles when they really liked something. And during the Men Without Hats set, in the middle of "Pop Goes the World", some well-lubricated middle-aged women who was walking down the stairs with a drink in each hand suddenly lurched violently three steps to her right into the laps of the surprised couple three seats in (the ones who later left when the light show started.) There were also two water buffaloes disguised as men in the balcony VIP box in the corner who got so excited that they formed a two-man chorus line during the middle of Howard's set, and damned near backwards-danced their fool asses off of balcony. And this after the trouble we had with the belligerent drunks heckling Denise during the last HoJo show at this venue. I expect this at Ozzfest, or maybe a monster trucks show, not at a happy little '80s music show.

4. Jones wasn't in his best voice for most of the night. He wasn't terrible, but he wasn't as on as he usually is. And he was compensating by asking the crowd to sing a lot of the more popular songs. It makes me a little crazy when artists do this. I paid to hear you sing, not the numbnuts sitting behind me. (I'm actually kind of sympathetic. I know it's not possible to be in your best voice every night. But I won't lie either -- it did detract from the show.)

5. They had some weird-ass videos playing behind Jones and the band. They included close-ups of a face making disturbing expressions and some kind of freaky dancing devil-guy.

6. I could be wrong about this, possibly because the equipment problems put it in my head. But there times when the instruments (especially the bass notes) seemed ever-so-slightly out of tune with one another.

Anyway, after that first piano number, Howard's band came out. He had two other musicians with him, a guitar player (who played electric-acoustic when Howard played solo piano), and the other synthesist. For his part, Jones split the night between the smaller piano synth at the side of the stage, and the large synth in the middle of the back of the stage between the guitarist and the other keyboard player. There were also a couple of songs where he danced around while he played a keyboard-guitar.

He played a bunch of stuff from the new album, especially early in the set. Now Denise has had this album out in her car for the last couple of weeks, so I've heard it once or maybe twice in passing while I was out with her. But she's obviously way more familiar with it than I am. My impression so far, though, is that the All the Hail the Silence album is much better. (Although apparently BT from AHTS co-wrote and played on three of the songs on Howard's album.) But that may change when I get to know it better. (It goes into my car rotation tomorrow.) In any event, I found the first part of the set to be a little lackluster. (And when I asked Denise after the show, she agreed with me.)

Part way through the set, though, I thought the band found their bearings, and they took it up to another level. There was a song I hadn't been previously familiar with that I really liked, which I later learned was called "The Human Touch" (from the 2015 Engage album.) And I really liked "Tin Man Song" from the new album. (Although just when the song really got cooking, wouldn't you know, that suspect synthesizer cut out entirely for a verse or so.) And it's always fun to hear old favorites like "Like to Get to Know You Well", "What Is Love" and "New Song".

Overall, the show was definitely worth the price of the tickets, in spite of its imperfections. And my guess is if you're seeing this lineup in the city next week, or part of the contingent going down to Asbury Park in a few weeks, you'll a show that's much cleaner. But if you do go to one of those shows, do me a favor and show my boys from All Hail the Silence some love. They deserve it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Prog Contest: Round 1 Match 4

Well gang, looks like my entry is up this week. And it's opponent will be a tough one.

Tangerine Dream
Firestarter OST

"Most of you are probably familiar with the German synthesizer band Tangerine Dream. This soundtrack, from the 1984 film Firestarter (based on the Stephen King novel of the same name) was my first exposure to them. I saw Firestarter in the theater, and while the film was a bit of a mixed bag (primarily because poor little Drew Barrymore was probably too young to do the leading role justice), I fell in love with the hypnotic score, and went out of my way to find the soundtrack album. I'm not usually a lover of all-instrumental albums, but I just find this one to be beautiful. (Which is why I reviewed it on this site a couple of years ago). Even all these years later, this is still my favorite Tangerine Dream LP." - Divaman



Unreal City (Italy)
La Crudelta Di Aprile

"Unreal City is a relatively new symphonic prog band coming from Italy. Centered around a keyboardist who masterfully uses piano, organ, moog, mellotron - etc - , the man is also a gifted singer. Rhythm section is tight and guitar complements the keys very well. Band revives some of the Italian prog majesty of the 70's. They incorporate all the classic RPI traditions of clever melodies, artful presentation, impeccable delivery and dramatic touches. They are backed by Fabio Zuffanti, who is compared to an Italian version of Steven Wilson, so the group can have immense future appeal." - Jethro42


Prog Contest: Round 1 Match 3 Results

I took a few days to vote in this one. (We also got started a little late because it took a while to get all the votes in on the previous match.) After one listen, I really couldn't state a preference one way or the other. However, by the second listen, I pretty much knew which way I was going to vote, although as always, I still gave them three listens each to be sure. Here's what I posted:

I'm ready to vote.

At first listen, I felt somewhat positive about both of these albums, but with repeated listens, I found my enjoyment went down a little, probably because both albums feel too long for my tiny ADHD brain.

The Mercury Tree isn't really my kind of music at all. I definitely hear the King Crimson influences here, although the band this album made me think of most is Gentle Giant, which isn't one of my favorites. The music is well played and very clever, but it's just not that enjoyable for me, because a lot of it is what sounds to me like inside-out music.

The Powerized is stylistically more up my alley. I didn't really like the vocalist that much - I hear him as very Geddy Lee, and while I've come to appreciate Lee over the years, he was an acquired taste for me. I don't feel that his voice is interesting enough to carry a full album of this length. On the other hand, at least the music sounded right-side-out to me, and I particularly liked some of the piano work, and the orchestral parts. I don't listen to enough of this style of music to have a really good frame of comparison - the closest I can come is Dream Theater if you replaced James LaBrie with a Geddy Lee style vocalist. (But I know that doesn't really cover it).

In any event, my vote is for Powerized.

My vote wasn't nearly enough to help Powerized, though.

Final Results: The Mercury Tree 11 votes, Powerized 2 votes.

(Wasn't shocked, as I've noticed that Progressive Metal bands haven't done particularly well in the previous Prog Rock tournaments. The majority of participants tend to lean much more towards classic progressive rock than progressive metal. Nevertheless, this was a pretty decisive victory.)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Rent - School Edition

****Spoilers for Rent ahead.

I'm not going to give this as full (or as critical) a review as I usually give my musical theater reviews, and full disclosure -- I was there because my niece (who I've usually referred to as "the little show kid" in this blog) was appearing in this production. (But she's not so little anymore, and she's become a teen, not a kid.)

In any event, on Saturday night, a little expedition from my family, including my wife, myself, my daughter and my daughter's boyfriend, headed out to The Stagelight Academy at Studio Theatre in Lindenhurst to see my niece perform in a School Edition production of Rent. Rent isn't my daughter's usual kind of show -- as I've mentioned before, she really likes happy endings, and while technically Rent does have a happy ending, it's a little heartbreaking before you get there. But it's also full of many likable counter-culture characters who are really well drawn, and the music is quite good. So I knew this would help with her enjoyment of the play. She also loves her younger cousin, so I knew she'd like cheering her on, too.

As we drove to the theater, I gave my daughter and her boyfriend a little history on the musical, along with a synopsis of the great Puccini opera La Boheme on which it's based. I never would have been able to get my daughter to sit still and listen to me on this (or, let's face it, pretty much anything else.) But her boyfriend is a lot hungrier to learn about things like this (or he's at least willing to pretend he is in order to make me feel good, which is just as good!) I did this deliberately, because I know my daughter well enough to understand that she was going to be pretty devastated by Angel's death during the show. But I figured that this way, when Mimi doesn't die in the end, it would help to send her out on a happier note.

The venue turned out to be a nice, but small (only six rows deep) theater, on the second floor of a building in the commercial district of Lindenhurst (just blocks away from where Rich the drummer and I had seen the Hank Stone Band play a month or two back). The show was a complete sellout, filled, I'm sure, with the family members of the show's young cast.

The set was pretty impressive for a small little theater company, and the five-piece band was really good. As for the show's young cast, they were a group of very talented and enthusiastic teenagers. This goes for the seven leads (the young bohemians), Quinn Ryan as Mark Cohen, Boyd Langdon as Roger Davis, Jesse Safuto as Tom Collins, Mikey Kiely as Angel Schunard, Hannah Cianciotto as Mimi Marquez, Gaia Tini as Joanne Jefferson, and Ajia Moraitakis as Maureen Johnson, along with Michael Riggi as Benjamin Coffin III (Benny, the lovable and misunderstood young yuppie who is much-put-upon by the other characters, even as they mostly live off of his dime. Oh, I could write a whole essay on the tragedy of Benny!). It also goes for the rest of the highly energetic ensemble cast. (I won't tell you which character my niece played, in case I've made some enemies here from previous blog posts, heh heh. But she was great!)

I won't say the performance was 100% perfect -- this is teen theater, after all. (I heard through the grapevine that there was a bit of a wig mishap at the Friday night show that I'd have loved to have seen.) What I can say honestly is that this production did a terrific job of capturing and the presenting the spirit of the show, to the point where I teared up several times (and I wasn't even close to being the only one in the audience who did that). In fact, when I compare it to the last time I saw Rent, which was a very strong professional production at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport a few years back, I had more of an emotional reaction to this likable young cast's production than I did to that one.

Although Rent finished up this weekend, The Stagelight Academy has some productions coming up in the months to come, including a high school edition of Chicago, a junior edition of Guys and Dolls, and a grammar school version of a A Midsummer Night's Dream. But besides those, I'd like to say that almost every theater on Long Island has a kids' or teens' group putting on productions all the time. All of these theater groups help young people to develop their talents, keep them doing something positive and productive, and help to showcase just how much talent we have here on Long Island. The stars of tomorrow are here learning the ropes today, and giving them some encouragement and support is a good thing to do. 'Nuff said.