Monday, July 29, 2019

Prog Contest Winner

The Wobbler album went into these finals as the heavy favorite, considering how easy it had coasted to victory over the last two rounds.

The actual contest, though, was much closer than had been anticipated. I was one of those who voted for Wobbler early on. However, for most of the week, the two albums were neck and neck, and it looked for awhile as though Pulsar was actually going to pull off the upset.

All of the late voting went to Wobbler, though, so in the end, it was the Wobbler album that prevailed.

The final vote count: Pulsar 7 votes, Wobbler 10 votes.

The winner of the 2019 Prog On Tourny: Wobbler - From Silence to Somewhere

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Favorite Artists, Part 6: About Procol Harum

Of all of the bands and artists that I write about in this series, I'm pretty sure that Procol Harum is the one I experienced first.

I've written before about my grammar school friend Bob, and how I learned a lot about music from him and (by extension) his two older brothers. Procol Harum was probably the first band they taught me about. And the first track they taught me about was the masterful suite, "In Held 'Twas in I".

I was probably in 5th or 6th grade at the time, still into The Monkees and AM radio. But that was about to change.

"In Held 'Twas in I" is basically a mini epic fantasy. I'm not sure of exactly what story the band was trying to tell with the song. The one I learned was made up by one of Bob's older brothers. I don't remember all of it, but it involved a daring hero with a magic carpet who rescues a beautiful woman from a one-eyed giant, only to discover that she is, in fact, a hideous shape-shifting demon. In the end, the hero does penance in the land of the dead for his pride and his arrogance.

I never knew that music could tell a story like that. Soon thereafter, I'd be exposed to The Who's Tommy, and I would really learn just how full a story rock music could actually tell. I'd also be exposed to another epic (albeit shorter) Procol musical saga, "Whaling Stories".

Procol Harum was the perfect  band for me at that time of my life, for a variety of reasons. They featured a vocalist with a distinctive and (for me, anyway) engaging voice, in Gary Brooker. They also featured a lot of piano (again, thanks to Brooker), an instrument I've always found especially beautiful. They showcased one of the best guitarists in the business, who later went on to have a pretty distinguished solo career of his own, Robin Trower. They featured a second vocalist that I liked who regularly took the lead on one or two songs an album, in Matthew Fisher. And possibly most importantly, they included as a regular band member a poet whose imaginative lyrics featured daring adventures taking place in strange and exotic places, in Keith Reid. Is it any wonder they quickly became my favorite band for the next five or so years, or that they still hold a special place in my heart today?

Procol Harum originally formed in the early 1960s in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England. They played mostly covers of blues, soul and pop songs, and had a hit with their version of the Leiber and Stoller classic, "Poison Ivy". Brooker, Trower and drummer B.J. Wilson then recruited Reid, Fisher and bass player David Knight to form Procol Harum. In 1967, they had a huge international hit with the iconic "A Whiter Shade of Pale", and followed it up with a more modest hit, "Homburg". They released their eponymous first album in 1967, and followed it up with a more adventurous second effort, Shine on Brightly. This one featured the title track, which seemed to be the fever dreamed ramblings of a psychotic baby Jesus (or maybe it was just somebody who thought they were baby Jesus), as well as their aforementioned 17-plus-minute opus "In Held 'Twas in Eye".

Reid's lyrics were amazing. Whether it was the deranged revenge fantasy "Still There'll Be More", (wherein the singer threatens to blacken his enemy's Christmas and piss on his door, and that's not nearly the worst of it), the fanciful sea tale "A Salty Dog" (which seems to have been inspired in equal part by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", and any number of pirate stories), or the deranged tale of gleeful sibling spite "Simple Sister", Reid's lyrics could always be counted on to take you to another world. There were tales of ancient gods, anecdotes of maggots who dreamed they were men, conquered slave women who compared stories of which one's husband had died the most horrific death, and later, songs about grand hotels, fallen idols and winged horses. This was so far beyond "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah" that my adolescent brain could barely wrap itself around it.

Procol recorded regularly between 1967 and 1977, by which time I'd moved on somewhat to more musically complex bands like The Who and Jethro Tull. They later reunited to record new studio albums in 1991, 2003 and 2017. The later albums have some worthwhile tunes, although by 1991, Reid had put aside his more fanciful material to write lyrics about social ills and other more mundane topics. (And for 2017's Novum, Reid was blasphemously replaced by lyricist Pete Brown.)

I still consider Procol Harum to be one of my favorite bands. I admire Trower's guitar, and although he only lasted for the first five albums, then reunited with the band in 1991 for The Prodigal Stranger, Procol has always had strong Trower-like guitarists to replace him. I like Fisher's organ, his few vocals, the songs that he wrote, and his spoken word appearance on "In Held 'Twas in I". ("Held close by that which some despise..."). I love Brooker, for his songwriting, his distinctive voice, and that often-exquisite piano. But if I'm honest with myself, I think the Procol member I admire the most is Keith Reid. He sparked my imagination as a teenager, and prepared me for literary works such as Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which became important in my life.

So while I can't say that they're still my absolute favorite band, for me, Procol Harum is still right up there.

Jon Anderson

I was looking forward to this one. I actually think I became aware of it while I was up on the Patchogue Theatre's website, although they send me regular email updates, so it could have been through one of those as well. In any event, Jon Anderson, beloved lead singer of Yes, was coming to my own home town of Patchogue. Now I figured if Mr. Anderson was coming all the way out here to Patchogue, the least I could do was go and see him, right? It would have been rude not to.

I was also excited because I'd already bought Anderson's new 1000 Hands: Chapter One album, and it's excellent. I don't think it's going to make my Top Ten list for 2019, but if it misses, it's going to be narrowly. The album was created from a project that Anderson first began back in 1990, and it has a ton of guest musicians on it, including Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Chic Correa, and Anderson's Yes band mates Chris Squire and Alan White (some of the recordings Jon Anderson was working from were thirty years old, from long before Squire passed away.) It's obviously less proggy than an actual Yes album -- the concentration is on Anderson's voice. But there are a lot good tracks on this one, and several of those songs where Anderson tracks his vocals over vocals, for multiple Anderson goodness.

I didn't actually buy the tickets right away -- I couldn't. My job had to do an across-the-board salary reduction this year, which is temporary, but hasn't yet been restored. And even though Denise buys a lot of our tickets, I've still probably bought more than I should have this year. So I had to wait a couple of paychecks before I purchased here, carefully watching the website all the while to make sure it wasn't getting close to selling out. Luckily for me, it took awhile for people to realize this show was coming, so by the time I paid for my admission, the show was still only maybe 50% sold.

Actually, for awhile, I was a little concerned they were going to cancel the show. This theater burned me like that a few years ago, cancelling the Celtic band Runa a few weeks before the show because they hadn't sold enough tickets. And the worst part is, they notified us ticket holders of the cancellation before they told the band. I contacted the band myself immediately after learning of the cancellation, and they were like, "What?! We've been cancelled?" Runa has never played the area since (even though I tried to steer them to the Boulton Center), and I've never fully trusted the Patchogue Theatre again not to cancel a show.

Parking was a zoo last night. I left my house at 7:20 (the theater is only ten or fifteen minutes away), but after cruising the parking lot twice and coming up empty, I actually left the lot and drove around the corner to my old ophthalmologist's lot. Lucky I know the area. (And it would have made my Weight Watcher leader happy -- I definitely got my steps in for the day by walking from there.) I guess Patchogue Village is doing pretty well these days on a Saturday night.

Here's where it starts getting bizarre. I'm (too) used to going to the Paramount in Huntington. It's a little more lax than an airport -- you can keep your belt and your shoes -- but you have to go through metal detectors. So I actually emptied my pockets of change before I left the house, to make my entry easier. I needn't have worried, though. When I got to theater, not only did they not have metal detectors, they didn't even have anyone at the door checking tickets! I just cruised right into the lobby. (If you're a terrorist, I'm only kidding about that last part. They have very tight security -- metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs, the whole lot.) (I had to write that last part because my statistical breakdown shows that a lot of my readers are terrorists in their spare time.)

Once inside, I heard someone call my name, and turned to find Hank Stone. He had actually played at the Huntington Folk Festival yesterday afternoon, then passed on seeing Loudon Wainwright to shoot out to Patchogue to see Jon Anderson.

After the long walk from the car, I really wanted a bottle of water. Unfortunately, after standing on the concession line for a few minutes, I gave up -- it wasn't moving at all. I was totally going to make fun of the concessionaires in this review, but I later learned that they and everyone else working the theater are volunteers, so that would be crass, even for me. In any event, I resolved sadly to go through the show thirsty. (I was particularly bummed, because with venue security being what it was, not only could I have brought my own water in from the car, I could have probably dragged in one of those styrofoam coolers full of cold ones.)

I saved myself a few bucks on this show by buying a ticket in the balcony. This made my Weight Watchers leader even happier, as there's no such thing as an elevator in the Patchogue Theatre.

Now, let's talk a little about the balcony, and the crowd that was up there. First, let me say that by showtime, I think the venue overall was pretty full. Because I was in the balcony, I couldn't see the last part of the floor below, but the part I could see looked sold out. As for the balcony itself, it's wide (it's a wide theater), but it only runs six rows deep. I would say that last night, the balcony was half full.

There was a young usher there to show me to my seat. (He was the first one in the venue to even see that I had a ticket.) And the crowd was ... um ... interesting. To start, as you'd expect, the demographic of the audience was largely male, and pretty old. (And obviously mostly white -- Yes never really got very popular in the hood.) And this was a nickel-and-dime crowd -- we could have bought better seats, but we didn't.

Seated next to me was an oddly dressed couple who could well have been homeless. (I take that back -- I suspect that they actually live in the balcony of the Patchogue Theatre.) They seemed almost asleep at times, but then when something happened during the show that would make the guy excited, he'd let out these weird little bird-like noises, chirping in approval. Another guy, sitting across the aisle from me, thought it would be good to walk down the stairs to the first row of the balcony and lean his body all the way over the rail for a better look. Now I suffer from severe acrophobia. Not just for myself, but for other people. If I see anybody standing anywhere near a height that they could possibly fall from, I experience this electric-like bolt that shoots from the soles of my feet all the way up my body. So I had to avert my eyes until the man on the flying trapeze was satisfied with whatever he'd been looking for and retook his seat.

In all, our little balcony was basically the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest fifty years later. When Anderson was playing, they rocked back and forth, emitted inappropriate and ear-splitting whistles, clapped at off times, and generally acted like it had been years since they'd been out of the asylum. But the one thing they didn't do was stand up in front of me and block my view. (There was ample room for those who wanted to dance in the back, behind the seats.) So for the most part, I was good.

Anyway, as I entered the balcony (at about 7:50), there was music coming from an unannounced opening act. A band of five nicely dressed young people (three guys and two girls) were pulling off a pretty good version of King Crimson's "Three of a Perfect Pair." This won me over immediately, as I've always thought that King Crimson's Adrian Belew days are sadly underrated. Then, at the end of the song, to my surprise, half of the band shuffled off and was replaced by another group of equally well-dressed young musicians for a cover of the Janis Joplin arrangement of "Summertime". This went on for a few more songs, with an ever-changing lineup shifting on and off of the stage, performing a fine version of Heart's "Barricuda," then coming out en-masse (nine of them, at least) to cover Yes's "South Side of the Sky", which naturally went over big-time with this crowd. (Truth be told, this one they were a little off on, but what the hell.) From where I sat, they seemed to be mostly high-school seniors/college students, and for the last number, a large man came out and sort of "conducted" them. This was the Paul Green Rock Academy, of which Anderson is a big supporter (as well as other famous musicians such as Eddie Vedder, Alice Cooper and Peter Frampton), and the large man was Paul Green himself. I enjoyed their performance, and if I would have known they'd be playing, I'd have gotten there earlier.

In between sets, I looked at my theater program, and discovered they're doing a movie night there in a week and a half, showing Monty Python and the Holy Grail, maybe the greatest film of all time. (I'm not even kidding.) So I texted my daughter (who loves Monty Python), and we made plans to go.

A few minutes later, the manager of the Patchogue Theatre came out. He explained that it was a non-profit theater, and that everyone working there were volunteers. He hyped a few upcoming shows (Asia featuring John Payne next week, Don Felder later in the year), then practically shook with disbelief at the notion that Jon Anderson was playing at his venue. He introduced the band, and we were off.

Anderson came out, backed by an eight-piece band. (He was the ninth piece for those few numbers where he played his acoustic guitar). It featured two drummers and two keyboard players, a female violinist from Taiwan, and a bunch of guys who ran back and forth a lot and kept changing up between various brass and woodwind instruments (as well as the requisite bass player and two guitarists). I had printed up the setlist from earlier in the day, so I knew what to expect.

Before I even get into the music, I want to say that I really liked the stage setup. There were five thin, vertical video screens spaced out against a black curtain behind them, on which various visual effects were played, mostly composed of patterns with rich shades of blues and greens. There were also four podiums spaced around the stage that were lit up with small lights. They were always in synch with one another, so whatever color was chosen for a given song, it was the same color on all of them. It wasn't the most expansive set I'd ever seen, but it was tasteful and effective.

The show was broken up into two sets with a tea break (as Anderson explained) in between. It comprised five songs from the new album, a pair of songs from his 1976 Olias of Sunhillow album, a song from the Jon and Vangelis The Friends of Mr Cairo album, and a generous helping of Yes songs, mostly from the band's various Tony Kaye periods. (Because, I assume, even an eight-piece band isn't enough to credibly stand in for Rick Wakeman.)

Now I've got to be honest here. There were ups and downs throughout the show, although I think I might have been the only one hearing them. (I would characterize the crowd as "wildly enthusiastic" throughout the night.)

For starters, Jon wasn't in the best vocal shape I've ever heard him. He wasn't bad by any means, and let's face it, he was about a hundred times better than any 74-year-old man has the right to be. But his voice didn't have the full volume and richness that we've all come to expect from him. I'm not even sure it was age -- singers have on and off nights over the course of touring, and I think this might have just been a slightly off night. The song he had the most trouble with was "Wonderous Stories" in the second set, for some reason, which was sad, as it's a song I like a lot. On the other hand, he sounded quite strong on all of the new material, and passibly good on most of the other Yes and solo material.

The band was another issue. They opened with "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and "Yours Is No Disgrace", which were both pretty good. And they were sharp on Anderson's new stuff. But as I listened, at first, I thought they were a little off on some of the Yes material, like "Your Move" and "I've Seen All Good People". Then, as I listened further, I decided that the problem wasn't so much with the musicians as with the arrangements. But later in the night, during the second set (which was significantly weaker musically than the first), I decided it was a combination -- at times, there were too many musicians doing too many things, which sounded like a muddle. And I really wasn't thrilled with the lead guitarist. I guess it's just not that easy trying to cover Steve Howe.

In any event, Anderson and the band played most of my favorites off of the new album, including "Makes Me Happy" (which is a nice, poppy little ditty), "Ramalama" (which is one of those numbers where Anderson tracks over himself and uses that beautiful voice of his to excellent effect), and "WDMCF" (which stands for "Where does music come from?"). They played ten songs in the first set, ending with an instrumental number that allowed Anderson to leave the stage early for his tea. (Previous setlists on called this song "Chicken", but Anderson introduced it first as "Duck Soup", and then changed it to "Chicken Pot Pie".) It was disrespectful I know, but I took advantage of this number to run downstairs and finally buy my bottle of water before the crowd surged out for intermission. (I also bought those Monty Python tickets.)

Up until this point, I still felt like this was a very good show. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the second set was significantly more uneven than the first. The band opened up gearing more towards the acoustic, with Anderson brandishing his acoustic guitar. They opened with that pair of songs from Olias of Sunhillow ("To the Runner" and "Flight of the Moorglade") sandwiching a cover of Yes' "Sweet Dreams". As often happens during an acoustic interlude, the energy level in the building seemed lower here than it previously had been. They then launched into a fuller band sound for "Long Distance Runaround", which sounded a little off here and there, especially in the guitar parts. I already told you about Anderson's vocal problems on "Wonderous Stories", the following song, which was a shame, as I actually liked the new arrangement they gave this one.

At this point, Anderson amused the crowd by pulling out a cheat sheet for "First Born Leaders" (from the new album) by explaining that although he wrote the song, he could never for the life of him remember the damned lyrics!

After finishing this number, he then launched into the title track from the new album, and here's where it began to get really dicey. For starters, the song itself is one of my least favorites from the LP, although they did a good enough job on it. But instead of ending the song, they tried to launch right into "Starship Troopers". Unfortunately, it sounded like they all went into it at different times, some of them holding onto the old song for a number of beats, the rest galloping straight into the new one. And to me, "Starship Trooper" sounded like a mess throughout. It was at this point that I really started to feel that there were just too many musicians here, trying to do too many things at the same time, resulting in periods of total cacophony. But maybe I'm just insane, because towards the end of the song, three quarters of the room jumped to their feet to give the band a standing ovation! I'll grant you, they were all playing their asses off. But to me, it sounded like they weren't all playing the same song. And the parts I could recognize, the guitarist was flubbing all too frequently.

In any event, they finished up, and everyone came up to the front of the stage to thunderous applause. Then, (and wisely, in my opinion), without ever leaving the stage, they retook their places and went straight into the encore. This consisted of "Roundabout" (which featured an interesting, and vaguely Caribbean arrangement), and a quiet acoustic version of "Soon", (that beautiful last movement from "Gates of Delirium").

I kind of wanted to talk to Hank on the way out to get a musician's perspective on what had happened during "Starship Trooper" (or find out if I was just out of my mind). However, I wanted even more to get out ahead of the crowd, get to my car, and get to Wendy's for a Baconator. (Shhh! Don't tell my Weight Watcher's leader.) So that's what I did.

As I walked to my car, some of the guys walking behind me were talking about how amazing Anderson's voice still is, and how they thought this was so much better than the Steve Howe version of Yes that's touring these days. (They were also trashing the hell out of Jon Davison). Now I don't hate Jon Davison -- I think he does as good a job of subbing for Anderson as anyone reasonably could -- but I'll be the first to say that I'd love it if Anderson and Howe (and Wakeman) were all playing together again. But while I mostly enjoyed this show, it wasn't as good as Steve Howe's Yes had been at Bald Hill a couple of weeks ago. And even with Howe older and slowed down a little, this guitarist was no substitute for him. (Probably just as well I couldn't a listing for Anderson's band anywhere online, considering the drubbing I'm giving this poor bastard.)

Anyway, The 1000 Hands Tour will be in Jersey for the next few days, playing Ocean City on Monday and Asbury Park on August 2nd, so check it out if you have a mind too. And definitely check out the new 1000 Hands: Chapter One album. It's really good. And Rick Wakeman will be in town in a few weeks playing the Paramount in Huntington, so if you're a Yes fan, you'll probably want to attend that show as well. (I do, but I can't.)

Meanwhile, I'll be back at the Patchogue Theatre next weekend to experience the other Asia (Asia featuring John Payne), so I'll tell you all about. (I don't think I'm in the balcony next week, though -- their tickets were cheaper.) And you know I'll tell you all about it.

For a complete setlist from last night's show, see

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Prog Contest: Final Round

So it comes down to this: two albums enter, one album leaves.

Here are our two finalists:


"Pulsar was one of the finest symphonic progressive rock bands from France, 'Halloween' was their masterpiece, and benefited from a much better production than the previous albums. The music was a bit less spacey and instead more symphonic in a more traditional way. It's a concept album divided into two parts, divided into several songs with individual titles. This is one of the best French prog releases in the 70's." - e210013

Youtube (see track listing -- the actual album kicks in at the 1:23:06 mark):


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


Good luck, and may the best proggers win!

Prog Contest: Semifinal Round Results

Well, we're getting down to the nitty gritty here. This summer's prog journey is almost done.

The semifinal round featured one matchup that was brutally close right up until the last moment, and one that was a complete slaughter.

Here's what I had to say when I cast my vote:

The first matchup might have been the toughest vote I've ever taken in one of these prog contests. I kept listening and changing my mind, depending on which one I listened to last. 

But my vote is Unreal City (by the slightest edge) and Wobbler.

The Pulsar/Unreal City decision went back and forth to the last minute. But in the end, a clear decision was reached.

The Final votes were:

Pulsar 9 votes, Unreal City 7 votes
Wobbler 15 votes, Evership 1 vote

The winners, and the finalists in 2019 Prog Contest, were Pulsar and Wobbler.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Prog Contest: Semifinal Round

So now we're down to the Final Four, with only a few days to decide. (Friday is hoping to complete the vote by Tuesday).

Here are our two matchups:



"Pulsar was one of the finest symphonic progressive rock bands from France, 'Halloween' was their masterpiece, and benefited from a much better production than the previous albums. The music was a bit less spacey and instead more symphonic in a more traditional way. It's a concept album divided into two parts, divided into several songs with individual titles. This is one of the best French prog releases in the 70's." - e210013

Youtube (see track listing -- the actual album kicks in at the 1:23:06 mark):


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


# 2

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



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



Breaking it down further, the first contest pits a French band against an Italian one, while the second sends a British band up against an American one. Interestingly enough, three of the four remaining champions are modern prog bands, with only Pulsar hailing from what most consider to be prog's golden age, the seventies.

Usually, by this time in a prog contest, I know which is my favorite of the four remaining bands. This time, three of the bands are very close to being tied in my eyes. So it's going to be a brutal, and very proggy, final!

Prog Contest Elimination Round Results

From this point on, a prog contest always seem to fly by until it reaches its conclusion. For each of the eight first round match-ups, we were given a week in which to give each album multiple listens. But by the time of the Elimination Round, Friday assumes that we are now already familiar with each of the contestants. So where up until now, we've been getting a full week to decide on one contest, here we received half a week to decide on four contests.

Although I gave each album another listen anyway, three of the four contests were pretty clear to me.

The first pitted Wallenstein against Pulsar. Wallenstein is, in many ways, traditional prog. It was OK, but the songs didn't really stand out for me, and I never really took to the lead vocalist's voice. Pulsar, on the other hand, I found to be a laid back LP with many subtle charms. I voted for Pulsar.

The second contest found The Mercury Tree facing off against Unreal City. This one wasn't even close for me (although, as you'll see, it was the closest contest in terms of the overall vote.) I didn't really like Mercury Tree at all. It's well done, and clever. However, I just didn't enjoy listening to it. Unreal City, on the other hand, was more a traditional prog album, and had a number of things going in its favor. I voted for Unreal City.

The third match-up was a battle between Wobbler and Trettioariga Kriget. This one was also clear cut to me. I had listened to the Wobbler album when it was first released two years ago, and if anything, I find that it has grown on me. I don't know if it's an album for the ages, like, say, Close to the Edge. It's still too soon to say. It is, however, a fine example of modern prog. The Trettioariga Kriget LP was another one that I just didn't enjoy that much. It had one or two moments, but there were also a couple of moments where I wanted to ask them, "What the hell were you thinking here?" I voted for Wobbler.

The fourth challenge was between Evership and Tako. This, for me, was the closest match. I liked each album somewhat, but neither completely blew me away. In the end, the thing that made the difference was the first song on the Evership LP, "The Serious Room". I felt strongly that it was by far the most memorable song on either album. I therefore voted for Evership.

Unlike the Discovery Round, where I think that my picks triumphed in only two of the eight contests, here, my choices won a clean a sweep.

The Final results were:

Pulsar 13 votes, Wallenstein 4 votes
Unreal City 9 votes, The Mercury Tree 8 votes
Wobbler 17 votes, Trettioariga Kriget 1 vote
Evership 10 votes, Tako 5 votes

The winners: Pulsar, Unreal City, Wobbler and Evership.

On to the semi-finals!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Harry Chapin Tribute Concert

Harry Chapin was a Long Island treasure. A talented singer and songwriter who had a gift for musical character studies, Chapin was also a noted humanitarian, known for his efforts to battle hunger in the United States. He died way too young, at the age of 38, in a tragic automobile accident on the Long Island Expressway.

For the last 15 years now, various forces have come together on the anniversary of Chapin's death to perform a free benefit concert at the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theater in Eisenhower Park. The concert features local Long Island musicians, and collects food for Long Island Cares, the Harry Chapin food bank.

I've never actually attended the event before, largely because it's a bit of a distance away -- the park is in East Meadow, and I'm out in Patchogue -- and because it's usually held during the week. (In fact, I had never attended any shows at this venue until two summers ago when Blondie played there.) And also because, let's face it, I'm usually more inclined to catch artists playing original music than I am to watch them cover another's person's work.

But this year, some friends invited me to attend the concert with them to celebrate one of their birthdays. And a bunch of the musicians who were playing the show were old friends I haven't seen in a long time. So I figured it would be worth the trip.

As I mentioned, my niece is in town for the week, so Denise stayed home with the kids. (And she'd just worked a full day, and was working again the the next day. There are some advantages for me in that I work from home these days.) I headed out solo a little after 5:30.

I got stuck in just about the amount of rush hour traffic I had expected, and made it to the venue with a few minutes to spare. Once there, I located my friends, including Rich Da Drummer, my friends Sue and Bruce, and Bobbi and Sandy Peters, the wife and daughter of keyboard and theremin whiz Chris Peters (who was playing the show as a regular member of the band, MediaCrime).

There were a number of old friends playing in the show, including Chris and the rest of MediaCrime, Robin Eve & Frank Walker, Toby Tobias and Lisa Itts. There were also many musicians I either knew a little, or didn't know personally but whose work I was familiar with, such as Debra Lynne (who I haven't seen since the Zen Den days), Stuart Markus (who was both the organizer and MC of the show, and who played on several of the musical numbers), Martha Trachtenberg and Judith Zweiman (who played as part of the band billed as "Folk Goddesses"), acclaimed Long Island harmonica phenom Ken "The Rocket" Korb, and Pete Mancini (formerly of the band Butchers Blind).

There were also a ton of musicians I knew in attendance who weren't playing the show this year (although many of them have played it in the past). These included Hank Stone, Todd Evans (of He-Bird, She-Bird and The Hank Stone Band), Jessica Upham, Patti Morrone (who I haven't seen in a decade, and now saw twice in the last three days - go figure), Valerie Griggs, and Sal Lazzarino. Apologies to anyone I accidentally left out. (These are the kinds of things that torture me when I write these blog posts.)

The show included 17 songs in all, some of them among Chapin's best-known tracks, others more in the category of obscure gems. At the end of the night, the full cast of the show came together to perform two of Harry's classics as a finale, "Cat's in the Cradle" (which was sung along with a rare tape of Harry himself performing the song live), and "Circle".

It was a beautiful night, both weather-wise and music-wise. There were at least a few hundred people in attendance, although it wasn't so crowded as to make everyone feel crammed in.

Not to in any way disparage anyone's performance, but due to both my relationships with the performers and the excellence of the performances, I'd have to say that I especially enjoyed the Robin Eve & Frank Walker version of "A Better Place to Be", a particularly strong musical treatise on loneliness, and the wild MediaCrime version of "The Rock".

With many thanks to the wonderful lady who came around with the programs (since I remembered to bring a notebook, but forgot to bring a pen), here was the full bill for the show:

Folk Goddesses - Remember When the Music
Debra Lynne - Dancin' Boy (with Cyndi Hazell)
Toby Tobias - Story of a Life
Mike Barry - Mail-Order Annie (with John Cardone)
Lisa Itts - I Wanna Learn a Love Song (with Stuart Markus & Frank Walker)
Jerry DeMeo - Bluesman
Sid Cherry & Helene Schrier Pandal & Emily Pandel - Old College Avenue
Travis McKeveny & Pete Mancini - Mr. Tanner
MediaCrime - The Rock


Chris Solimeno - Old Folkie (with Stuart, Frank, Sue Christian, Vicky Liotta & Ken Korb)
Patricia Shih - Dreams Go By (with Stuart, Frank, Christine & Ken)
Robin Eve & Frank Walker - A Better Place to Be
Robinson Treacher - Empty
Karen Bella - Saturday Morning (with Mara Levine)
Gathering Time - Taxi
Full Cast - Cat's in the Cradle (with 'Harry')
Full Cast & Guests - Circle

Nice job by Stuart Markus and everyone who worked to put this show together.

Prog Contest: Elimination Round

SO Round 1 is complete, and we have come to the quarterfinals, or, as Friday likes to call it, the Elimination Round.

This week, all four matches will be held at once, with the four winners going on to the semi-finals. Our remaining entries are:

1. Wallenstein - Mother Universe vs. Pulsar - Halloween

Mother Universe

“This isn’t an album I’ve got a long history with. I’ve only just discovered it actually, but it did have some of those weirder moments I tend to like and seems relatively unknown here, so maybe y’all will like it too.” - bgillesp

YT link 1:
YT link 2:
YT link 3:

Also on spotify


"Pulsar was one of the finest symphonic progressive rock bands from France, 'Halloween' was their masterpiece, and benefited from a much better production than the previous albums. The music was a bit less spacey and instead more symphonic in a more traditional way. It's a concept album divided into two parts, divided into several songs with individual titles. This is one of the best French prog releases in the 70's." - e210013

Youtube (see track listing):

2. The Mercury Tree - Permutations vs. Unreal City (Italy) - La Crudelta di Aprile

The Mercury Tree

"The common narrative among muso's today is that new prog is retro and even regressive, and they act like they're too cool to like prog anymore. The Mercury Tree is just one band proving the narrative is as bunk as ever. Permutations is a transitional album of alt-math-prog influenced by avant-prog, Larks-SBB-Red era King Crimson and Yes with a unique mix of microtonal sounds akin to avant-garde composer Harry Partch. Heavy, complex, melodic, and all the right kinds of dissonant, this is an astounding accomplishment for three dudes from the U.S., worthy of the highest award in truly progressive rock." - Friday13th


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


3. Wobbler - From Silence to Somewhere vs. Trettioariga Kriget - Krigssang

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


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


4. Evership - Evership II vs. Tako (YUG) - Tako

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



Tako (YUG)

"A favorite of mine from the Yugo-prog scene that has been in regular rotation for quite some time. Don't see a lot of discussion from this particular part of the world when it comes to either progressive rock or jazz fusion so it would most certainly be a worthwhile addition, I think. Perhaps it's not as long as some of the other additions but it makes for a wonderful listen nonetheless." - Casavir


Prog Contest: Round 1, Match 8 Results

I voted early in this one. Here's what I said:

OK, I'm ready to vote. In spite of some of my comments here over the weekend, this was actually a close one.

The Tako album is classic prog rock. I heard things that sounded like ELP, things that sounded like Chick Correa, and flute very much in the style of Ian Anderson. There was also some sweet guitar. The downside is that there were parts that were a little bland. I liked the musicians better than the songs.

The Art Bears was, as expected, pretty out there. I definitely hear the strong Kurt Weill influence. The album had its ups and downs. Being a fan of melodic music, my favorite song was the one that Zig so aptly pointed out in review was modeled somewhat on the music of The Who, from the triumphant guitar to the Keith Moon-like drum parts. On the whole, though, the album was way too atonal for my taste.

The Art Bears album is by no means my least favorite album in the tournament. But I enjoyed the Tako album enough to edge it out slightly.

My vote goes to Tako.

There were a lot of interesting comments here, as the Art Bears album is quite experimental. Some of the contestants were intrigued by this; others not so much. The voting was close for most of the voting, with the winner pulling away in the end.

Final Result: Tako 9 votes, Art Bears 6 votes.

Now it's on to the Quarterfinals

Sunday, July 14, 2019


The last couple of days have been a whirlwind. As I wrote about in my last post, Thursday night we were in the city at Radio City Music Hall, and sadly, my body is still recovering from that. On Friday, I spent the day catching up on all of the work I had in my job work folder from Thursday and Friday, which was more than a full day's worth of work. I also did my write-up on the Chvrches/Charly Bliss show, because I knew I had Arnoldstock coming up on Saturday, and I didn't want to let my blog reviews pile up as well. In a perfect universe, Saturday would have been a day of rest, but I knew that that wasn't going to happen.

As I've mentioned from time to time in this blog, the last year/year-and-a-half has been a stressful period for my family, and we all handle the stress in different ways. It's hard on Denise, because the more anxiety there is in the home, the more she wants to go out to free her mind for a while, and the more I feel too overwhelmed to go out a lot. One of the blessings Denise has found is the WLIR Facebook Group. This is an online group of like-minded '80s music fans who all love the new wave '80s music that Denise holds most dear. They meet up at the concerts of the various '80s bands, and at WLIR dance parties at venues such as Aura and Eleanor's as well. This has given Denise the opportunity to go out, make and meet up with new friends, and dance off some of the pressures of our everyday lives.

Unsurprisingly, a few of these new friends are musicians. One couple that Denise met through the group are a couple named Christine and Marcelo Pena, who play out acoustically at venues such as the Babylon Bean under the name of Melic. Denise has gone to see them several times, and I'm hoping to catch up with them at some point.

A couple of months ago, Denise mentioned that they hold a concert in their backyard every summer where they and a bunch of their musical friends get together for an all-day musical event. They call the event Arnoldstock (presumably because their house is on Arnold Avenue.) They sell tickets and donate the money to charity. She asked if I was interested in going, and I told her absolutely.

As it happened, a few weeks ago, we spoke my kids' uncle to set up a week-long visit at our house with my niece from upstate. After checking our calendars, we decided that this week would be the most convenient week for everyone in which to schedule that. Unfortunately, it meant that the day of her arrival was also the day of Arnoldstock. It wasn't that big a deal, as I knew she'd be spending most of her time with my son and/or my daughter anyway. But it was definitely an overlap.

As it happened, I was so busy with the Radio City show on Thursday and my work on Friday that I wasn't able to get hold of her Dad ahead of time for an ETA. I figured from past experience they'd be at my house at the crack of dawn, as it's much easier to make the trip from upstate during the overnight hours when there's no real traffic. So after getting our house/disaster area as ready as we could, I forced myself to go to bed by 1AM on Friday night (several hours earlier than usual), and dragged my sorry ass up at 5AM. (Which is really an obscene hour, by the way -- to all of you morning people, what is wrong with you guys?!)

After I got up, I learned that the party from upstate wasn't going to be arriving until 9:30 or so. This wasn't the worst thing, as there's a couple I've been working with at my job whose adoption is just about coming to completion. So being up by myself in the very quiet hours gave me the chance to catch up on some details I needed to attend to to prepare for their adoption. But I also knew that I was going to have to try to grab some more sleep sometime during the day before attending Arnoldstock at 5PM or so that night.

My niece and her parents showed up at about 10. Denise woke up shortly thereafter. After exchanging pleasantries with my niece's parents for about an hour, they got themselves together and headed back upstate. (And they must have hit a ton of traffic, because I understand they didn't get back up to the Rome area until 7:30PM.) Denise left the house for our usual Saturday Weight Watcher's meeting (and don't try telling me they call themselves "WW" now because they're WEIGHT WATCHER'S and they always will be, OK? WW! Phooey!). I skipped the meeting this week to take my son and my niece out to breakfast. Well, for me, second breakfast. I'm part hobbit.

Breakfast was vaguely traumatic. It's bad enough that my own kids have grown up so fast, but my niece, who is, in fact, their little sister, has suddenly become a young woman, making plans for college, getting her own place, etc. The Rolling Stones really nailed it -- Time really does wait for no one.

While we were getting breakfast, I got a text from our friend, Rich Da Drummer, who was coming with us to Arnoldstock today, telling me his car had broken down and asking us to pick him up at the Babylon train station instead. I also got a text from one of the parents I'm working with, to coordinate when we could talk about the upcoming adoption Covenant Ceremony. So by the time I got home and worked all of this out, I was fried. Luckily, because the kids are big enough to amuse themselves now, I was able to grab a few hours sleep at this point, so I'd e fresher for the show.

(If you haven't noticed, this is a typical write-up for me -- I've been writing for an hour now, and we still haven't gotten anywhere near showtime.)

Denise and I headed out at a little after 4:30. Then we got up to the corner and realized we didn't have the tickets. So after a quick turnaround, Denise and I headed out a little after 4:40. We picked Rich up at the Babylon railroad station, and headed to the event, which was blessedly nearby.

Unfortunately, we'd been warned ahead of time that parking in the area was scarce, and they weren't kidding. This wouldn't have been so bad, except that D. and I are that point in life where you're only as happy as your ability to find the next bathroom. We drove around in an increased state of panic, until we thankfully located a nearby Dunkin' Donuts. We used their facilities (I'd give them about a 7.9 -- nothing fancy, but reasonably clean and functional, at least). We bought some ice coffees, in gratitude for the use of their bathroom, and Rich marveled at Denise's Dunkin' Donuts app -- she's a Dunkin' Donuts frequent flyer! We then started our quest for parking for real.

Happily by this time, a spot had opened up right up the block from the show. I volunteered to carry the blue bag, which was a huge mistake on my part, as it was filled with bottles of hard cider, and weighed about four hundred pounds. (At least, that's what it felt like!)

We walked up the block, carrying our chairs and bags of goodies. We could hear the music as we walked. As we entered, Denise met about four hundred or so friends (OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a little), some of whom I knew and some of whom I didn't. As we said our hellos, the frickin' blue bag was exhausting me, as I had to hold it all the way up because I was carrying my Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee in the same hand. (I'm thinking it might be time to think about getting some exercise once in awhile, huh?) We walked around the yard for a little, playing a game of "Here? No, how about here?" until I was ready to collapse. Then, blessedly, we picked a spot and settled in for some music.

So, finally, let me tell you a little about Arnoldstock. This was the fifth consecutive year for the event. It's held every summer in Christine and Marcello's spacious backyard. People buy tickets, with the money going to charity. This year's event was raising money for Camp Loyaltown (I think I've got that right -- I thought they said "Camp Royaltown", but I'm looking around online, because I do some very professional research for this blog, and it looks like Camp Loyaltown is actually the right place.) This is a summer sleep-away camp for special needs kids, which apparently do a really nice job for them. The event was also raising money for the Brookville Center for Children's Services. Christine told us from the stage that both of these organizations have been very helpful to she and Marcelo and their young son.

There were a bunch of nice prizes on display that were donated to raise more money for the charities in question, which were being raffled off at a Chinese Auction. The event supplied free sodas, as well as barbecued hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages. (This warmed my heart. I don't need any of the fancy stuff -- you can keep your ribs, steaks, chicken, etc. -- if you've got hamburgers and hot dogs, I'm a happy camper. The sausages and salads were just a bonus.)

The couple had two separate stages set up in their backyard -- a smaller one (The "Diamond" stage) for duos and solo artists, and a larger one for fuller bands. The flyers advertised six main stage acts and six side stage acts.

I can only imagine how much work went into this event. Happily, the couple has a large group of friends who helped set up for it the day before, and who worked it all day, cooking, doing sound, working the admissions table, etc. It was really nicely done.

They couldn't have had a nicer day. It was sunny, but the trees provided shade for a large portion of the yard, and for most of the evening, there was a lovely, cooling breeze.

The show had started at about four, but by the time we parked and were settling in, it was about six PM.

The band that was playing as we were saying our hellos was called Lost & Found. (I think. There was a huge chalk board with a list of bands, but the show didn't seem to be consistently following the order on the board.) Unfortunately, we were too busy saying our hellos and carrying around that six thousand pound blue bag for me to tell you too much about them. I can tell you that they sounded really good, and that they were covering songs like Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and Madonna's "Borderline". This was just fine for me.

The first act to play once I was settled and was able to concentrate was an excellent 5-piece called Sons of Sanford (as in the old Redd Foxx show -- "I'm coming, Elizabeth!"). They played an energetic brand of funk rock. A few of the songs that they covered which I jotted down included the old Sam & Dean (and Blues Brothers!) tune "Soul Man", Sublime's "Santeria", Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Superstition", and Blur's "The Woo Hoo Song". (Well that's what I call it! I guess technically it's called "Song 2", but that's a stupid name.) I don't know much about all of the covers that this band can play, but something about them makes me think they could totally do justice to a really raucous version of "Mississippi Queen".

As we sat enjoying the evening, various friends from the Facebook group popped over, including Tina Zito, who was doing her photography thing all over the event, and Linda, who was back here this summer all the way from Israel. I also saw Patti Morrone, an old friend (and a damned fine singer) from my LIMC days.

In between sets, I texted back and forth with my son, checking in that things were going OK with him, my niece and his friends. He chose this occasion to causally mention he needed a Triple A card, causing my heart to jump up to my throat as I envisioned that he and my niece had had a car accident. (They hadn't.) I also mentioned that I'd loved to have invited him and my niece to the event, but that I knew that he'd have hated it. (He mostly listens to gangsta hip-hop). I told him my niece might have enjoyed it, as the music was similar to the classic rock that her father plays in his band upstate. My son's one-word response: "Ew."

The next act up on the diamond stage was a fine solo artist named James Gallagher. He played electric acoustic, and ran through a setlist that included Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" (as opposed to CCR's "Who'll Stop the Rain," which I originally jotted down in my notebook and then had to cross out -- those guys really liked rain songs); Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic"; The Doobie Brothers' (who I'm seeing at Jones Beach this summer) "Listen to the Music"; and the old Leiber and Stoller standard, "Stand By Me".

I think it was around this time that I went for some burgers and a dog, which elevated my blood sugar level, and made me very happy. I also encouraged Rich to keep giving away those Apple Cider bottles, so the damned blue bag would be lighter when we left.

(When I look at the stuff that my brain focuses on sometimes for these reviews, I can see it's really sad. I totally identified during the Beavis and Butt-head feature film when they went to the Grand Canyon, but the feature that they were most impressed by were the auto-flush toilets -- "Whoa! This is the coolest thing I've ever seen!).

Next up on the main stage were the heroes of the day, Melic. As I mentioned, normally they play out as an acoustic duo. For this occasion, however, they celebrated by having a couple of their friends join them to play as what was billed as "Electric Melic". They had a nice, smooth sound right from the get-go. Their set included what I will always think of as a Patti Smith song (even though Bruce Springsteen wrote it), "Because the Night"; an earthy version of Elle King's "X's and O's"; Alice Merton's "No Roots"; and a bunch of covers of various 10,000 Maniacs songs, who of course, also recorded "Because the Night". 10,000 Maniacs is obviously a favorite artist of theirs -- I even suggested to Denise that in the future, they should consider changing their name to 10,000 Melics.

(This reminded me of when I grew up in Flushing and used to rent horror movie videos from this little mom and pop video store. One day, I rented out the Herschel Gordon Lewis splatter classic Two Thousand Maniacs! The little Greek man who owned the store looked at the box ponderingly for a moment. Then he looked at me, and softly affirmed, "That's a lot of maniacs.")

Anyway, I'm looking forward to catching Melic in their more typical acoustic form. They have a very pleasant sound.

Now one phenomenon that several of the artists noted from the stage that I haven't mentioned so far is this: for some reason, maybe because the yard was so big, the crowd of people that were there (which was probably in the range of 75 to 100 at any one time) had chosen to set up their lawn chairs relatively far away from the area where the two stages were. I didn't think anything about it when we entered -- I certainly wasn't going to drag the damned blue bag all the way up by the stages if I didn't have to -- but it did make it a little harder to understand some of the artists when they were talking.

By this time, it had gotten dark. The next artist up on the Diamond Stage was a solo artist named Matthew Ponsot. The sound system really wasn't cranked up for him, and there was a lot of socializing and crowd noise going on. This was OK, in that it was fun to talk with friends. But it was also unfortunate, in that it distracted a little from the music. It was doubly unfortunate because what I could hear of this man's music, I really liked. I think he was playing mostly originals, which, of course, is my passion. He opened with something called "Don't Say You Love Him," and followed it with something called "Tell Me What You Know". (I'm guessing on these titles. They were the main lyrics from the choruses.) He soon went into something moody and quiet that I could hear just enough of to be able to tell that it was right up my alley.

By this point, though, between the stresses of the last few days and the lack of sleep, my body was starting to shut down. It was probably about 9:30. Denise and Rich looked tired too, although I'm sure if she'd been on her own, Denise would have chosen to stay for awhile longer. But as Mr. Ponsot's set ended, she asked me if I wanted to go, and I had to tell her yes.

I'm going to definitely have to catch Matthew Ponsot again, when I'm in a livelier state of mind. I just checked his Facebook page, and I know more half of the musicians he has listed in his friends section, including Todd Evans, Robin Eve, Toby Tobias, Lori Llyn, Rick Eberle of Iridesense and Liz Smith, so it shouldn't be too hard to track him down again. (Namedrop much? Nah!)

Denise, Rich and I packed up and started saying our goodnights. This time, Rich took the blue bag, which we'd probably reduced to a more manageable two thousand pounds by now. We trudged back to the car, dropped Rich off at the train station and headed home. I was in bed, and fast asleep by 11.

Anyway, kudos to Christine and Marcelo Pena of Melic and their many helpers for pulling off a fun and impressive event. Next year, I hope to attend with a little more energy.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Charly Bliss, Chvrches

If you follow this blog at all, you see that most of the live music shows I attend these days tend to be by older artists. I see a lot of '70s artists (usually by myself), and a lot of '80s artists (mostly with Denise). Occasionally, though, I feel the need to go out and catch some younger bands (bands who started in the current decade), just to remind myself I'm alive. It's nice to go to a show where all of the heads in the crowd aren't as gray as mine, and where the audience feels free to dance a little without the fear of breaking a hip.

Both Denise and I have been fans of the Chvrches, a young electro-pop band from Scotland, for awhile now. (Most people spell their name as CHVRCHES, but you know how I feel about that all-caps stuff.) I liked them when they first came out, and last year, with their Love Is Dead  LP, I felt that they really fully realized their potential. (Mind you, I might be in the minority opinion there. The album didn't sell quite as well as their two previous efforts.) In fact, when I did my Best Of lists for 2018, I named Love Is Dead as my favorite album of the year.

Denise saw them do a mini-set last December at The Barclay Center, as part of the Alt 92.3 Not So Silent Night show, along with five other bands, and she enjoyed them a lot. I missed that show with great regret, as there were a number of bands I'd like to have seen that night, chief among them Chvrches and Foster the People. So when Denise saw that Chvrches was playing at Radio City Music Hall this summer, I swallowed my usual reluctance to deal with Manhattan and asked her to get tickets.

Then one of those happy coincidences happened. I recently picked up the new album by the Brooklyn-based band Charly Bliss, and I've been loving it. (In fact, Young Enough will be a serious contender for my favorite album of this year.) And then, a few weeks ago, I learned that Charly Bliss would be opening for Chvrches at the Radio City show. For me this is like winning the lottery -- buying tickets for a band you want to see, and learning after the fact that another band you want to see will also be playing the show.

Now in fairness, I should say that I know Denise well enough to know she'd be less enthused about Charly Bliss than I am. I tend to love female lead vocals in general, and some of the alternative bands that I like feature female lead singers with quirky and unusual voices. A couple of these include Mariel Loveland of Best Ex (formerly Candy Hearts), and Jessica Knight of Looming. I find myself drawn to unique female voices. Denise, not so much. She's very picky about her vocalists, and I can usually tell when one will turn her off. She wasn't even all that crazy about Hayley Williams of Paramore in the beginning, although I think Williams grew on Denise eventually. (And if they have some kind of a minor speech impediment, forget it! I can't even listen to The Sounds anymore without hearing Maja Ivarsson's lisp, thanks to Denise pointing it out to me. Although interestingly enough, Cyndi Lauper doesn't seem to bother her, in spite of "Twue Cowors." But I digress.)

Charly Bliss's frontperson is a young woman named Eva Hendricks. She's a charismatic, passionate singer. However, she also has voice kind of like a kewpie doll. A tough kewpie doll, but a kewpie doll nonetheless. I like her, because she's not a mean kewpie doll, or a psychotic one, or even a hard one. Just a tough one. Like she wouldn't bother you just walking around the streets, but if you tried to steal her purse, she'd put up a pretty good fight. I also like the band, because they have real talent for crafting well-written pop rock songs, songs that take unexpected turns, but still sound melodic. But I knew that Denise would be less enthused about this band than I am.

In any event, I met Denise at her Mom's house, and we headed into the city together. Our trip reminded me of why I'm not so fond of Manhattan these days, and especially of why I'll never drive there again. (Denise drove.) It was the usual trip uptown, with cars, cabs and bikers darting in and out in front of us, and the occasional pedestrian popping up from out of nowhere to casually walk in front of moving cars, heedless of the fact that human bodies are soft and squishy while cars are hard and very heavy. And as you're trying to avoid all of these fun-filled fellow New Yorkers, you're trying to do the mental math in your head to navigate all of the one-way streets in such a way as to be able to make it onto the block where your pre-paid parking garage is situated. It's a laugh a minute.

We actually timed it pretty well this time, and made it to our rather comfortable aisle seats about ten minutes before show time. We were in the orchestra, maybe ten rows from the stage -- very nice, especially for the opening band's set, while people were still seated.

Charly Bliss took the stage. Now mind you, this is a New York band playing at Radio City Music Hall for the first time. Do you think they were fired up? Oh hell yeah! These guys were psyched out of their gourds. They burst into sound, and from the get-go, they were firing on all cylinders. The room was maybe half full, but remember, this is Radio City Music Hall -- half full is still a lot of people. (At one point between songs, Hendricks admitted that they were so happy to be playing this show, they had cried during the sound check).

Hendricks came out in some of a tutu-like skirt, which I had seen her wear before in a YouTube video of a live performance. I'm pretty sure she wears it because she likes the way it bounces. Because she was bouncing up and down like the Tasmanian Devil on a trampoline. The band played a full set that included all of my favorite songs from the new album -- "Hard to Believe," "Camera," "Young Enough," "Chat Room," "Under You," and "Blown to Bits."

There were also a lot of little things going on that I liked. The band plays as a four-piece, and while they don't have a regular keyboard player, three of the four band members took turns playing the keyboard on the stage (including the drummer, who I think is Hendrick's brother.) Also, each of the three men in the band provided Hendricks with some vocal harmonies, sometimes separately, sometimes combined. (They weren't complicated, but they were nice.) And near the end of the set, Hendricks had her own drum at the front of the stage, which she banged for emphasis when needed -- it turns out, she's a trained drummer herself.

In any event, I enjoyed their set a lot. Their enthusiasm was infectious -- they were so obviously filled with joy about playing this gig that you couldn't help but be happy for them. (I think it was even more of a special occasion for them because it's not like they've been out on tour with Chvrches -- this show was a one-off them. It's just about the end of their own headlining tour, where they've been promoting the new album, but at smaller venues. In fact, they're playing the Bowery Ballroom tonight). Overall, I'd say they went over pretty well with the rest of the crowd as well. They didn't fully win over Denise, but she did admit they had a dynamic stage presence, and that they write really good songs (she liked the lyrics, too). I'm thinking that's about the best I'm going to get out her.

What followed was a very long break between bands. And whoever programmed the canned music playlist was deranged. It alternated between eighties artists like Cyndi Lauper and 'Til Tuesday, and some of the most god-awful female-voiced hip-hop you've ever heard, complete with very liberal use of the n-word, mixed with a copious amount of "mf-ers!" And at various points, the sound would move from one of the huge overhead speakers to the other and back again, as if there was a bored 9-year-old at the sound board, chewing gum and absentmindedly moving the switch back and forth while they gaped around the room.

As Chvrches later made clear, the reason for the over-long break between sets was that the venue was having trouble with the PA system. Apparently, the band was waiting nervously in the wings, feeling guilty about going on late. This might have been the reason for ... well, we'll get to that in a moment.

Now some of what I'm going to say will make it sound as if I didn't enjoy Chvrches' set, and I want to make it clear from the outset that that isn't so. I liked their set, and I was glad to have caught them live. But I did have some critiques.

First off, though, I'll give you something I was concerned about beforehand that I was pleased about. From a couple of things I've seen, I know that Chvrches sees themselves as a politically progressive band, and I was hoping they weren't going to be pushing that at the show in an obnoxious way.

They recently got themselves into a controversy with, of all people, the hip-hop singer Chris Brown due to this "progressivism." As it happens, they recently cut a song with someone who calls himself "Marshmello", a DJ/electronic artist. I'm not familiar with the song, but apparently all went well with this collaboration. Shortly thereafter, Marshmello decided to record with both Chris Brown and Tyga, each of whom has been accused of physically abusing women. For whatever reason, Chvches decided that it would be a great idea to issue a public statement expressing their "disappointment" with Marshmellow's decision to work with "predators and abusers." (Marshmellow probably didn't realize that by recording with them, it meant that he would need to submit all of his potential future collaborations to them for their approval.)

What happened next (somewhat predictably, if you've followed Brown's career), was that Brown replied by saying that he hoped they walked in front of a speeding bus filled with mental patients. His fan base then upped the ante by issuing death threats against the band, and rape threats against lead singer Lauren Mayberry, forcing Chvrches to lay out for a lot of extra security to protect themselves. Now I obviously don't endorse this kind of behavior by Brown's fans, but it makes me want to ask this band in a gentle, fatherly fashion, "What the HELL were you dumbasses thinking?" It would be one thing if he'd attacked them first. But I guarantee that this man didn't even know they existed until they decided that their sense of social justice necessitated their publicly scolding him. If they were a sports team, this would be called an "unforced error."

In any event, maybe they've learned not to go out of their way looking for a fight, because they were very pleasant and well-behaved throughout the concert. Their between-song patter was uncontroversial and actually quite amusing. They did what I hoped they would do -- just played their music.

There were two negatives to their set, though. Over the years, I've discovered that sometimes, seeing a band live can bring songs that you might not have previously been impressed with to life. This happened to me a number of times with Aimee Mann, and songs such as "King of the Jailhouse" and "Little Tornado." It even happened seeing The Good Rats do the live version of "Geno." In this case, though, I almost felt as though Chvrches' songs shrunk a little while hearing them in person. They were still nice, but I liked them live more than I loved them.

There were two possible reasons for this. The first is that as much as I appreciate Love Is Dead, I noted when I reviewed it that the album consisted almost entirely of slow-to-mid-tempo songs. Having one or two slower sings sprinkled throughout a concert can spice it up. Having a full set of slower songs can sap the energy out of a crowd.

The second possible reason for this phenomenon at the show has to do with my second negative. For some reason, the sound for Chvrches was muddy throughout the night. This might well have been because of the problems with the PA. However, the sound for Charly Bliss was pretty crisp. So maybe it was because some sound guys have trouble doing sound for bands that use multiple synthesizers.

Denise had another explanation, though, and as usual, she's probably right. It might be just that they were turned up too damned loud. The music for much of the set was what I'd describe as a "wall of sound." It was distorting all over the place. It might be that if they'd turned down just a little, the sound would have been much clearer.

This was a shame, because many other aspects of the show were excellent. They played all of the songs that I'd hoped they would play. And Mayberry was in excellent voice throughout the night. I've seen video clips of her where her voice was a little uncontrolled. Last night, her singing was both powerful and accurate.

Again, don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the show, and the crowd obviously did too -- they stood up when the band took the stage, and they never sat down again. Denise really couldn't see the show at all, because she was sitting behind taller people. I mostly sat (as usual), but for most of the show, I could see Mayberry through a spot under the elbow of the guy in front of me. (Denise said that the venue actually had video screens, but they weren't turned on. Go figure.)

In any event, Denise said that because of the volume, she thought Chvrches had actually sounded better during the brief set she saw them do last December. But she still enjoyed last night's show, and was glad we'd gone. I actually might have enjoyed Charly Bliss a little more than Chvrches, but I found Chvrches entertaining as well.

In closing off, here are two contrasts I noted between the two bands.
1. While both Eva Hendricks and Lauren Mayberry are energetic front women, they're a contrast in styles. Hendricks likes to jump up and down even more than my blood sugar. Mayberry, on the other hand, likes to glide across the stage and spin -- I don't know how she doesn't make herself dizzy. She reminds me a little of Shirley Manson of Garbage in that respect, another famed Scottish singer (and maybe Mayberry's role model? Who knows?)
2. In general, the two bands seem to favor a different style of song structure. Chvrches seems to like regular-length verses and simple choruses, ones with few words that are simple to sing along with. Charly Bliss, on the other hand, makes use of regular-sized verses, then speeds up some of their choruses and allows Hendricks to stuff them full of words. For example, here's the chorus for "Camera". Sing along if you dare.

Everything is coming
Not sure what I should be learning from it
How can I convince you not to stay?
Always either running or I'm always overflowing from it
If you think it's bad today, just wait.

Hope you took a few deep breaths before you started.

Anyway, it was nice to get out and see a couple of newer bands, one of whom is up-and-coming, and the other of whom is probably just now hitting their prime.

Manhattan still sucks, though.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Prog Contest: Round 1, Match 8

This will be the final match of the first round. Here are our contestants:

Tako (YUG)

"A favorite of mine from the Yugo-prog scene that has been in regular rotation for quite some time. Don't see a lot of discussion from this particular part of the world when it comes to either progressive rock or jazz fusion so it would most certainly be a worthwhile addition, I think. Perhaps it's not as long as some of the other additions but it makes for a wonderful listen nonetheless." - Casavir



Art Bears
Hopes and Fears

"There are obviously a lot of common points between the music of Henry Cow and Art Bears, the political-philosophical lyrics, the abstract compositions mixed with jazz or free improvisations, but on the whole album is a more stripped down affair, the songs are shorter and more focused. Cutler's lyrics were indebted to Bertolt Brecht and informed by an interest in the middle ages, mythology and left wing politics; Frith's music reflected his interest in assorted arcane folk traditions and rock music, which would also influence his solo career; and Dagmar interpreted their vision like an updated version of Lotte Lenya." - Zig


This one matches up two extremely different albums from 1978. 

Tako is a more traditional prog band, although the and is from a country not usually associated with progressive rock, Yugoslavia (which ceased to be a country in 1992. Instead, it broke up into what is currently six nations: Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Kosovo. (Who says this blog isn't educational.)

Art Bears, on the other hand, is way more experimental and avant-garde. They're a British band with a German female singer who sounds a little like the noted sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

So strap in. This one could be a bumpy ride.