026: Cruise to the Edge 2015 – 2015-11-15 to 2015-11-19
025: RoSfest 2015 – 2015-05-01 to 2015-05-03
024: Progressive Nation at Sea – 2014-02-18 to 2014-02-22
023: RoSfest – 2013-05-03 to 2013-05-05
022: Rush – 2012-09-07
021: Adrenaline Mob – 2011-06-24
020: Rush – 2011-04-15
019: Porcupine Tree – 2010-09-24
018: Shadow Gallery – 2010-09-05
017: Iron Maiden and Dream Theater – 2010-07-20
016: Rush – 2010-07-21
015: Transatlantic – 2010-04-23
014: Trans-Siberian Orchestra – 2010-04-09
013: Kansas – 2010-02-21
012: Awaken (Lazarus) – 2009-11-21
011: Tesla – 2009-10-30
010: Stratovarius and Pagan’s Mind – 2009-09-23
009: Primal Fear – 2009-09-12
008: King’s X – 2009-08-16
007: Muse – 2010-03-02
006: Porcupine Tree and King’s X – 2009-09-26
005: Progressive Nation 2009 – 2009-08-07
004: Yes and Asia – 2009-08-02
003: Progressive Nation 2009 – 2009-08-01
002: Progressive Nation 2009 – 2009-07-31
001: Beardfish – 2009-06-21
Band(s): Cruise to the Edge 2015
Date: 2015-11-15 to 2015-11-19
Venue: Norwegian Pearl
City, State: Miami, FL
This is an audio only review of Cruise to the Edge 2015, the third running of the Yes based festival on water, departing from Miami. Included in the review are songs from the bands whose performances are being discussed, which brings this review to its long running time of just over three hours. Below you will find links for the festival, as well as the individual bands I have talked about should you decide to check them out further.
Cruise to the Edge
Neal Morse Band
Thank You Scientist
Steve Rothery Band
Band(s): Rites of Spring Festival
Date: 2015-05-01 to 2015-05-03
Venue: The Majestic Theater
City, State: Gettysburg, PA
This review is quite a bit different than the norm. Instead of trying to write about over 15+ hours of music that was the RoSfest weekend, as well as the interactions between sets and at the after parties, I’ve decided to go ahead with an audio only review. You will hear a few thoughts on each set, and then for most bands a live song from their performance at RoSfest. Several acts will possibly be releasing their sets officially, and so studio tracks have been used in those instances. Below you can find links to the festival as well as all the bands. Sit back and re-live the weekend with me!
Spock’s Beard Website
Sonus Umbra Website
Abel Ganz Website
Lo-Fi Resistance Website
Glass Hammer Website
Band(s): Progressive Nation at Sea
Date: 2014-02-18 to 2014-02-22
Venue: Norwegian Pearl
City, State: Miami, FL
Let me start by saying this is not a normal review. As of this posting Progressive Nation set sail for the high seas exactly one year ago. I had begun working on a review, that was more of a stream of consciousness recount of the vacation. It was never finished, and has not been edited in any way. However on this anniversary I would like to share the thoughts I had after getting home with everyone, and stress again what a wonderful time I had on the ship.
Well, let’s start right at the beginning of an amazing trip. I arrived in Miami on Feb. 17th, the day before the cruise was to set sail. After wandering around the city for a bit, my experience with the artists who would be on board began early when my roommate for the evening told me that she was friends with some guys in the band Eumeria, and so we went out to the Hard Rock to have dinner with the band sans their singer. Though I was not yet familiar with Eumeria, two of their members had played on an album I love, Thought Chamber’s Angular Perceptions. Knowing the long days ahead, I made fairly short work of the night after that, and spent the following morning just making sure everything was ready for the boat.
By this point I had already come across a half dozen people going on the cruise, as generally they weren’t hard to spot. Either a band T-shirt, the PN14 luggage tags, or in one case a beard dyed blue gave things away, and good conversations quickly arose. Around noon my roommate Jill and I grabbed a cab and headed over to the Norwegian Pearl. Once we arrived our checked luggage was taken, and I quickly became aware of the ships size and the operations surrounding it. As we waited in line for our security screening Sherinian, Sherwood, and MacAlpine could be seen sitting outside the line, chatting with folks as they passed by. Once past the screening Portnoy and other artists could be seen scurrying around with everyone else figuring out how the check in was going to work and checking in with everyone else. Through the process I happened across a couple that I had recently served, and who were apparently friends with the Portnoy’s. It would be one of many connections on the trip. Information was being served up at every corner, and eventually we made our way onto the ship, boarding in what we would come to know as the “Atrium”, one of the stages we would later see so many great acts.
At this point I somehow lost Jill, but found John Wesley! Apparently they had an some extra cabins, so last minute they offered one to John saying to bring a guitar and if he was able to get time to perform, grand, but otherwise just enjoy the cruise. He never did end up performing, but he was, as always, fantastic to talk to and an excellent person to have on board. After that I decided I would hit the ship’s buffet and do some exploring to figure out where I would be heading to for the various shows during the week. Up to deck 12 I went and experienced what would be one of the most widely celebrated happenings amongst the entire ship. Whenever you walked into the buffet a (nearly always) Asian woman would try and spray some hand sanitizer on you while going, “Washy Washie, Happy Happy!”. Lalo would later comment, correctly, that this sounded very “creepy creepy”! Then came the buffet… oh glorious buffet. I had kind of figured that it would be small and crappy, with the cruise line trying to push you to the paid restaurant. Not so, tons of regularly rotating food items, most of which were excellent; even better than any standard buffet in my area. Now, with a full plate I looked around a nearly completely packed dining area (due to everyone just coming on), and one of the only open seats around was next to Roine Stolt. I asked if he minded if I would join him and got to spend the next 20 minutes or so talking about Sweden, his dog, and a range of topics mainly away from the Kings or Transatlantic, and that would certainly be a theme of the cruise.
Later, at 3:00 there was a safety briefing in which groups of cabins had to gather in a certain area and have a quite useless briefing. But the important thing is that aside from about 20 other cruisers, the briefing included Pain of Salvation, Riverside, and The Dear Hunter. And that’s how the entire cruise was. I shared elevators with Ted Leonard, Mariusz Duda, and many others. I ended up on a ride from Great Stirrup Cay back to the ship next to Alan Morse, I walked through the buffet line with Vincent Cavanaugh amongst others, and the artists could regularly be seen enjoying each other’s sets. I’ll get into some more instances in detail later, but in general you could hardly go far without tripping over an idol and amazing musician.
After some searching around the ship, dinner, and getting stuff in my cabin organized I went to the pool deck to get ready for the first act of the cruise, Transatlantic. Outside, with the sun shining, the band took the stage a little after 5:00 and played the Kaleidoscope album from start to finish. Being my 2nd time seeing the songs (sans Beyond the Sun) I knew what to expect and still thoroughly enjoyed the performance. At 7:00 I had been selected to participate in a tattoo contest, but instead decided to go see Animals as Leaders. Unfortunately the band had some issues and the doors weren’t even open when the band was supposed to be playing, so instead I went back down to the pool stage to get front row for Anathema. Not only did I save myself a good spot, but got to hear the guys set up, with Vincent especially lively in his messing around playing various AC/DC song bits. The show itself was everything I had expected it to be. The music was moving and beautiful, I got to stand in front of Lee Douglas who looks and sounded just like the angel she is, and despite the festival atmosphere, there were plenty of big Anathema fans around to sing along. Anathema would be the top act of a still young first night.
After Anathema, and looking back I’m not sure what the hell happened. I had planned to see The Safety Fire at 9:30, but think I just got caught up talking with people and the experience that I ended up happily passing time until Devin Townsend at 10:30. Since he was also on the pool stage this did mean that I got to hear one of the more entertaining sound checks on the trip. Hevy Devy brought the same humor I’d later see on stage to his mic checks. Once the show truly started it was made clear to me why so many people follow him so closely. While the sound wasn’t great, and while song selections certainly weren’t what I would have liked, he made the show entertaining and I definitely enjoyed watching him. And of course, Anneke was absolutely wonderful. It would be neat to see how later her vocal style, look, and mannerisms would change for her solo acoustic sets.
Near the end of Devy’s set I left to head to the Stardust Theater, which at first glance would obviously be the best place to see a show on the ship. Seating had a big vertical lift allowing great sight, a small pit area in front for those who chose it, and was clearly set up for big shows. The 11:30 act I was there to see was The Dear Hunter, whom I had only seen previously in a shorter opening slot for Dredg. Casey as always was a huge presence as a front man and vocalist, and everyone was completely animated on stage. A few days later I would ask guitarist Connor Doyle in the hallway (his room was adjacent to mine) if we could expect any changes in the set for the 2nd show. He told me likely not since they had a temporary drummer with them. I had noticed that drummer Nick Crescenzo was not at the show, but now got to ask him why. He said that Nick was having a baby. When I responded that he meant his wife was having a baby his response was along the lines of, “No, he’s having the baby, he’s literally pooping it out as we speak. It’s a Christmas miracle, and a new religion is actually starting because of it.” The guys were this jovial throughout the cruise, and had equally as fun times with bassist Nick Sollecito in the wee hours of the final morning in the casino. In any case, the show had a good mix of Act stuff, Spectrum stuff, and new stuff, including my favorite from Migrant, “Girl”, and they were just as good as I remembered, and even seemed more together since I had last seen them.
With The Dear Hunter finished, so did my first night of the cruise. I think I hit the buffet for one last snack (that was one hell of an easy habit to get into), talked to some people and went into my sardine can of a room with my 3 roommates. We certainly would get to know each other quite well over this particular trip!
Day #2 was to be the only full day of music, with the final two days having port stops until 6pm. The pool stage alone would feature Haken, Beardfish, Riverside, Spock’s Beard, and The Flower Kings. That alone would be enough to put me happily into a prog coma, but I would also be able to catch parts of Eumeria, Bad Salad, Anneke, Mark Mikel, and PSMS.
The morning was spent eating, talking, and wandering, until prior to noon I headed down to the Atrium to see Eumeria. Enough people had recommended them that I should have been familiar with them, but just reviewing all the artists I already knew on the cruise I had failed to pick up their album. And even though I bought their CD prior to them playing a note, the half hour of their performance I was able to see certainly made me happy I had secured a copy of the disc when I had. But after the first half of the set I had to go out to the stage and secure a spot near the front (2nd row) for Haken. If there was one band I had come on the cruise for, it would be them. Having been a fan since before the first album I had to forego their only other American performance at ProgPower, and was not sure how long it would be till I’d be able to see them again.
After watching a fair amount of soundcheck shenanigans the band went off stage for a few minutes, and I watched as Portnoy came over and talked to the guys until it was time for them to return for the show. Temp bassist Pete Rinaldi and drummer Raymond Hearne showed off a goofy side immediately, dawning Ziltoid hats onstage. The band were every last bit of amazing as I would have hoped, blazing through many tracks from The Mountain, Drowning in the Flood, and finally pausing to tell the audience they had 20 minutes left and were going to be doing one more song. The crowd took the opportunity to scream for either Visions of Celestial Elixir, and eventually the band ripped into the former. The highlight of the song, and the show, didn’t come from the fantastic performance, but rather when, during a drum-less break near the end of the song Raymond Hearne ran off stage, midway back through the crowd, and hopped in a Jacuzzi for a minute before heading back behind the kit to finish off the song. The band even mentioned that my favorite song from The Mountain, “Cockroach King” would be on the Progressive Nation video being produced!
After the excellence of Haken I grabbed some grub (a big recurring theme on the boat, yay free buffet!), and came back out to the pool for a band I had seen twice before, Beardfish. They were every bit as good as I’ve come to expect, and even played a song from their forthcoming album. In the middle of their set they had us “boo” furiously, and recorded it with intentions to use it as a sound bite of that next album. Finally, at the end of their set came some of the most beautiful music to my ears all cruise when Rikard announced that their second set would be 100% different. I quickly hurried to the Atrium after they finished up to catch a band Chad had demanded I see, “Bad Salad”. A Brazilian band that I had never heard of prior to the cruise, Bad Salad was clearly heavily influenced by Dream Theater, but were incredibly tight and may have been the best of the previously unknown artists I saw aboard the ship.
Then it was quickly back up to deck 12 and out to the pool stage, where luckily Riverside had not yet started. Mariusz Duda had microphone troubles during the first song, but that aside the performance was again stellar. As with the previous two times seeing them, it always amuses me how the drummer, and especially guitarist, who looks like he could crush you wish his pinky plays such a beautiful melodic style of guitar. As with when I saw them back in May, 2012, the set was heavily based on their newest album, with only 15 or so minutes of older material. After Riverside I allowed myself to wander again, and of course eat some more before heading to my first show in the Spinnaker Lounge. Anneke was doing an acoustic solo gig, playing material from her past and covers, and unfortunately I could only stay and watch the first 20 minutes. She is no guitar master, but as many already know, she has an absolutely stellar voice.
After a short walk back to the pool stage I waited for another big first time act, Spock’s Beard. I have been a fan of their new vocalist Ted Leonard for many years, and so when he was announced to replace Nick D’Virgilio I was thrilled, and their newest was fantastic. Add to that a great back catalog and I was expecting great things, and I got them. The band was on fire and an absolute delight to watch. The highlight had to be the surprising Alan Morse. Even though I have a Spock’s Beard DVD I didn’t realize how animated he was on stage, and the power with which he presented his solos. I would later get to catch up with drummer Jimmy Keegan during an elevator ride and asked if they would be changing things up for the 2nd set. He told me they were only repeating two songs, and that I definitely would not want to miss the last 15 minutes because of a special guest. Though not officially announced, Ted would comment during that 2nd set that the special guest was the worst kept secret on the boat, and that was certainly the case.
After the show I hurried to the Brazilian steakhouse situated up and around the Atrium venue as my friend Jill had a birthday dinner planned. From there I got to hear a fantastic final 20 minutes of Mark Mikel as the food, which I didn’t think could get any better on a ship, did. Meat after meat, after fantastic savory meat was delivered to the table and I had at least 1 of every single thing they threw at me. Fat and happy I made my way back to the pool stage.
The final act for the main stage was to be The Flower Kings, the only repeat act from RoSfest that had new material out since, which I was excited to hear. The unfortunate part is that the band only played one short new song from Desolation Rose. The good news is they played an absolutely stellar and rather long medley of older material, much of which was instrumental that would have driven any prog-rock lover over the edge. I don’t even know the older albums enough to have identified each and every part, but I loved each and every moment of it. Roine had told me that as of the first day on the boat he had not played any Kings material since December, but you certainly could not tell in the performance. Oh, and a story I almost forgot. At this point in the day my cabin mate Lalo had not been seen for hours. When I came to stand in the crowd for The Flower Kings there was a Canadian girl who was actually on the ground bowing to him. I found out this was the result of a woman’s love of a man who knows Spanish, and perhaps just a bit of alcohol. Okay, perhaps a LOT of alcohol. Either way, time for Spanish 101.
Not sure why I missed half of my final show of the evening, but I eventually headed to the Stardust Theater and caught the final few songs from PSMS. Stood all the way in the back, but enjoyed the short bit I got to see nonetheless. Thus ended another fantastic day in the Caribbean.
Band(s): Rites of Spring Festival
Date: 2013-05-03 to 2013-05-05
Venue: The Majestic Theater
City, State: Gettysburg, PA
It is another spring, so it is time for another Rites of Spring festival, or RoSfest for short. I have made the trip to the beautiful and historic Gettysburg twice before, but only to see one day of the festival. This was my first full RoSfest experience and I found it to be well worth the hype I’ve heard from long time participants and patrons. I unfortunately had to arrive a bit late Friday evening, and as such missed the opener that night, Bolus, though Saturday night they would entertain for awhile at the after party. This meant the festival would open for me with The Flower Kings.
When the band was announced I could tell they were a fan favorite, likely because the members had made regular appearances with other projects at the festival in the years The Flower Kings were dormant. The band opened with the epic, new, opening track “Numbers”, and twenty-five minutes later I had felt that I had already gotten my money’s worth for the evening. Having seen lead guitarist Roine Stolt in several bands previously I was already aware of what a fantastic live soloist he was, but he certainly did a wonderful job reminding me. Even more impressive were his vocals which seemed spot on despite having arrived late to the states due to severe illness. And of course there was lead vocalist Hasse Froberg, whose live power and accuracy was stellar. When the two vocalists came together at parts I would say it was a perfect example of two different voices and vocal styles coming together and making something greater than the parts. New drummer (is there any other kind for The Flower Kings?) Felix Lehrmann performed both old and new material very well, and of course Tomas Bodin brought all of his wonderful sounds forth from the keyboards, and shone especially bright during an excerpt from “Stardust We Are”. Other favorites from the evening included “What If God is Alone?”, “Last Minute on Earth”, and “In the Eyes of the World”.
After the Kings wrapped up their show I set off to my hotel recuperate after the exhaustion of a long day decided to skip the after party which included a performance of Kingcrow, a move I’d come to regret after the next two nights.
The first act of Saturday was Jolly, a relatively local act hailing out of New York City. Midway through their set drummer Louis Abramson would recall the story of how Jolly came to the RoSfest stage. During hurricane Sandy his apartment, and the band’s rehearsal space where destroyed along with most of their equipment, but thanks to donations from fans, many of which were RoSfest patrons the band was able to rebuild and had toured Europe and America with Polish prog stars Riverside. Their performance was top notch, and I think they came across better live than in the studio. The band also had a great rapport with the audience, often cracking jokes between songs, and poking fun at bassist Anthony Rondinone for a guitar strap that would break every song until duct tape was brought into the mix. That said there is a bass heavy, somewhat muddy facet to their sound that will likely always bug me. Past that bias Jolly delivered a fantastic set of well constructed songs that should please most prog fans and could even have some potential to break into some more mainstream success.
Next up was a highly anticipated act, Sweden’s Pain of Salvation. Led by prog-metal icon Daniel Gildenlow, the band has seen a drastic transformation since 2007’s Scarsick album, both in the membership of the band and the direction of the music. Luckily I enjoyed the turn in the music, and have a high regard for the bands new Road Salt albums. Sadly, having a history of great music couldn’t quite make a great show. Daniel announced near the start of the show that 2nd guitarist Ragnar Zolberg’s wife had delivered a child three months early the day before the band was supposed to leave for the states, and as such Ragnar would not be present. And while the loss of a guitarist was bad, it certainly wasn’t the only thing lacking from the show. While the performance was accurate enough it came across as uninspired, and “Ashes” in particular seemed bland. Having later found out that the later dates had to be cancelled due to Daniel being ill could certainly have accounted for part of the deficiency though. Then there was a 3 song semi-acoustic set featuring a very unique version of “Holy Diver” that, while interesting, just didn’t warrant many adjectives past that, and the same could be said for the other songs in the bunch, “Spitfall” and “Stress”. There were highlights, most notably (a sadly abbreviated) “Disco Queen”, and “The Perfect Element”. While Pain of Salvation put on a good show, I can say of the four bands I was familiar with heading into the festival they were the only ones that left me feeling a little disappointed.
Next up was Believe, a Polish act I had not heard a single note from previously, and one I don’t think many readers will be familiar with either. If that is the case, I certainly suggest you look to change that. Believe offered up a form of art-rock flavored with neo-prog full of emotion and a lively performance of vocalist Ragnar Zolberg who, despite an always timid RoSfest audience, managed to go to almost Gabriel-esque lengths to be cinematic as he delivered a solid vocal performance. While the focus on the songs didn’t leave several of the musicians much individual chances to shine, the exceptions were the violin performances of Satomi, and the soloing of Mirek Gil. For those who are familiar with Pendragon, I say that Mirek is similar to Nick Barrett in that his solos are very often memorable, and able draw your complete focus while adding to the song instead of seeming like an outside afterthought or obligation. Several tracks were played from the upcoming June release The Warmest Sun in Winter, and were good enough that I pre-ordered it from my phone at the hotel that night.
The final band on Saturday would be Riverside, another Polish act that managed to create a lot of buzz early on in their career and that seems to be able to build on that with every subsequent album. Having seen them previously on the Out of Myself Tour I had an idea of what to expect from them, but was still blown away by their performance. Mariusz Duda solidified himself as one of my favorite bassist/vocalists, just shy of Geddy Lee, and guitarist Piotr Grudziński was like an optical illusion, a large intimidating figure on stage that played some of the most soulful solos of the day. The band showed their focus on the present and future playing a set that leaned heavily towards their two newest albums. And it is from those albums that “Egoist Hedonist” and “Feel Like Falling”, the two highlights of the evening came from. Also of note was an excellent ending to “Escalator Shrine” where the lights turned off and the outro tape rolled as the band exited the stage in order to give the impression once the lights came back on that the band had disappeared. Thankfully they came back for a long encore to end the evening.
RoSfest is more than just the musical acts on stage, the after parties are not to be missed. Along with many of the festivals patrons the party was attended by Bolus, Jolly, most of Pain of Salvation, Believe, Riverside, and some of Shadow Gallery. It was a unique opportunity to not only celebrate and mingle with fellow fans, but to have an informal experience with many of the acts that were playing the festival. I was able to talk with D.C. Cooper about his various projects and the next nights guest appearance with Shadow Gallery, was able to talk with Mariusz Duda about touring the states and the differences in touring different places, was able to talk with the rest of Riverside as they passed a bottle of vodka around with the members of Believe and recalled funny stories about the tour thus far, and was able to get a few more good stories from Jolly after they had consumed a bit of jolly juice!
It’s at this point I must give a general glowing endorsement to the organizers of RoSfest. The show takes place at a beautiful theater, the sound has ranged from good to fantastic every show I’ve seen there, they bring acts in from all over the world that would otherwise not be able to play the US or that couldn’t tour the US without the initial festival support. In addition the light show for all the bands was amazing, especially considering the work that went into it for what was, for many, a one off affair. The vendors the festival attracts and everyone associated with it is pleasant and they make the weekend an incredible experience. Now… onto Sunday!
Sunday began again at 11:00am with another unknown band for me, Dream the Electric Sleep. The Kentucky three-piece started with a soft intro that built into a wonderful song that was the perfect way to shake off the prior night’s festivities and start the day. From there on the band amazed me, playing songs from their debut album, Lost and Gone Forever, and an album due out sometime this year. For the most part drummer Joey Waters was never flashy or overly complicated, but had a nice bag of different rhythms and patterns that I loved to follow along with, and bassist Chris Tackett played with a very clean Chris Squire-esque bass tone that made picking out his fantastic work easy. It was a very easy decision to pick up their album immediately following their set. Unfortunately I did have to miss MoeTar and Electric Astrurias. However the latter, an instrumental outfit from Japan, did end up garnishing gushing reviews from friends and patrons I would talk to later in the day.
The final act of the festival was Pennsylvania’s own, Shadow Gallery. Sadly the band’s in ear monitor system went out as the band was setting up, which caused delays as a monitor system had to be hooked up, and as is often the case with such last minute problems the band commented that night after the show about not being able to hear one another. That didn’t stop the band from putting on a fantastic show. A good start was the one-two punch of “Room V” and “Andromeda Strain”. With far more energy and metal infused excitement than any other band at the festival that year, or probably ever, the band either seemed to either invigorate or estrange the crowd. You could see parts of the crowd get more animated than during any other point in the festival, and you could also see a few old school prog-rockers thinking “these damn kids and their metal!” Despite the sound problems Shadow Gallery stayed tight for most of the night, and on my third time seeing them they brought themselves to a new high as D.C. Cooper came on stage to perform “New World Order”. Despite never having rehearsed the song with the band (sound check cut due to problems) they performed it flawlessly, while D.C. and Shadow Gallery vocalist Brian Ashland acted out a perfect performance of their respective characters in the song. And as if the 4 part vocal lines performed throughout Shadow Gallery’s set weren’t enough, D.C. managed to take things to a new level with his fifth part. Although an intro, and part of drummer Joe Nevolo’s amazing solo were cut due to time concerns, “Crystalline Dreams” managed to be saved when at the very end of “Gold Dust” bassist Carl Cadden-James looked at the clock and got everyone to start the song in time to finish just a minute or two shy of curfew.
After another after party spent mixing with friends and talking with Shadow Gallery about their future plans RoSfest came to a close for me just after 3am on Monday morning. My only major complaints came from what was missed. Missing Kingcrow Friday night and the two acts Sunday, and missing a full band for Pain of Salvation. Pretty much every other bit of the festival met or exceeded my expectations and I would recommend anyone in the Northeast check it out if they ever need a progcation.
Venue: Verizon Wireless Arena
City, State: Manchester, NH
“It’s gotta be fake!”
That’s what I would have said if Rush’s Clockwork Angels Tour started in a similar manner to all the others I’ve seen. However instead of waiting online on opening night for a setlist to be posted, this time I was actually in the arena were months of touring would start. My sister and best friend made the 370 mile trek from Allentown to Manchester to be a part of something totally new. History has shown that Rush and Dream Theater are the two bands which I can’t keep myself from spoiling. And it’s not just the setlists, it’s pictures of the stage, watching intro videos in advance, and all in all half experiencing the show before it’s ever happened. This tour would be different, in a big way, because if any setlist was going to shock a Rush fan, it was going to be this one.
While the fans waited for the show to start, every time a light as much as flickered, the crowd went nuts. Of course this happened at least a dozen times before the band would eventually take the stage. Once the lights went down and the curtains hiding this rounds stage setup were lifted the crowd was on fire. True to their words the band had gone for their best steampunk interpretations for the tour. As the intro video rolled I browsed the stage to see what Geddy and Alex brought with them this time. Geddy, who had previously sported dryers and chicken rotisseries this time decided to have a popcorn popper running during the show, and Alex’s usual amp spot on stage was taken over by three circular monitors to be used throughout the show.
As the intro video wrapped up the band took the stage and the already boisterous crowd grew louder, and as is typical for a Rush show I could barely hear the opening synth tones of “Subdivisions”, a song that was not only a great opener, but which ended up foreshadowing what was going to follow. For many Subdivisions marked the death of the Rush they loved. It was the first song Geddy Lee ever wrote on keyboards, and it was the song that kicked off what would become known as the “synth era”. I can simply advise that the fans that disliked the era might want to skip ahead a bit, as well as skip this tour.
What followed “Subdivisions” was a first set that left me in a greater and greater sense of disbelief. “The Big Money” and “Force 10” hadn’t been played in a little while, but both were singles and the lead tracks from their respective albums. Of course after that I expected something more mainstream, but was instead treated to “Grand Designs”. Of course after that Power Windows powerhouse it was time to go back to a classic… or you know, “The Body Electric” which hasn’t been played live since 1983. At this point you could already note a sense of shock that washed over die hard Rush fans, followed by a more reserved atmosphere during the song, finished by thunderous applause for these songs few expected to hear that night. What followed continued the trend as a third gem from Power Windows, and a personal favorite of mine, “Territories” was played.
After that the band finally ripped into what the radio addicted mob had been waiting for… oh wait, that didn’t happen for over an hour yet. Next up was “Analog Kid”, an upbeat and energetic number that got some mid-song spark out of the crowd the previous songs had missed. On the eighth song the band finally decided to leave the 80’s, but still not for earlier material. Instead they serenaded the crowd with the always beautiful “Bravado”. What came next was a curveball wrapped in a surprise. Not only did the band play “Where’s My Thing?” for the first time since the Roll the Bones tour, but it included a short drum solo from Neil Peart, which differed greatly from much of what he’s done in the past few tours. Even the closer of the first set wasn’t an old classic, but instead the newer hit “Far Cry”, which still seems to be going over great with fans. Overall I was honestly expecting to hear a fair amount of complaints about the synth heavy set as I wondered the halls during intermission, but was instead greeted with a range of middle of the road awe and those like me who took to the set hook, line and sinker.
For those without a penchant for statistics, skip this paragraph! To recap, Rush bookmarked the first set with songs played the last two tours, but other than that, here are the rest of the songs with the last year they were played (in a full tour) in parenthesis. The Big Money (02), Force Ten (04), Grand Designs (86), The Body Electric (84), Territories (88), The Analog Kid (94), Bravado (04), and Where’s My Thing? (92). Like I said, I would have thought this setlist was fake.
If the rarity filled first set wasn’t enough, Rush doubled down on their recent purchase of a giant set of cajones in the second set by going through nearly an hour of material from the Clockwork Angels album. The awe and wow factors stayed in full effect for the second set for several reasons, but more on that in a bit…
If there wasn’t already enough about this night to make it incredibly special, the opening of the second set featured something that will probably only be seen at an opening night for a band as big as Rush. The intro for “Caravan” started and the band started to play… well, most of the band at least. Neil wasn’t ready yet when it came time for his part and they had to redo the first fifteen seconds or so of the song. Oh, did I mention an eight piece string section had gone up behind Neil at this point? No? Just so happens that for the first time in the band’s history guest musicians were accompanying the boys on stage. These highly trained and very dignified players set the tone for the set in the first minute of “Caravan”. During the soft intro they sat and played their parts, but then as the song explodes they jumped out of their seats and attacked their instruments, and would continue to rock out while they played the rest of the set. I spent most of “Caravan” admiring the string section and how good they sounded with the music, and it was made immediately clear that the decision to bring them on tour was a great one.
The second set rolled on with the title track, one that has grown on me probably more than any others from the new album, and one that had half the stadium “raise their hand” when the song lyrics prompted. Through the next song, “The Anarchist”, I started to fully appreciate how much time the band had spent re-vamping the video/light setup for the new material. There is a completely new design for the lighting and some special video screens that gives the Clockwork portion of the set a whole new gear, which those who may not care as much for the new material will especially appreciate. The rest of the Clockwork tracks were a roller coaster of different energies, with some of the beats from “Carnies” really getting bodies moving, with a pyrotechnic filled finale that completely wowed the entire arena. Following that was the emotional “The Wreckers”, which featured one of the coolest video/lighting combo effects I’ve ever seen. The vibe went back to full rock with “Headlong Flight”, which everyone seemed to dig. The song even featured a breakdown in the middle that has to be heard to be fully appreciated. “Halo Effect”, with a guitar intro from Alex again brought things down a notch, and “Wish Them Well” picked them back up. At this point Geddy thanked the crowd for letting them indulge in new material, and again I was surprised by how positive the reaction to a long block of new material was. As Geddy continued talking I turned to my sister and best friend repeating “we have one more for you”, hoping Geddy would eventually say those words and introduce my favorite track from the new album. As luck would have it that’s exactly what Geddy did, and the band went into what I consider the best song they’ve done this millennia, “The Garden”. A song of pure beauty on the album, it’s only magnified by the live string section, and offered a stunningly angelic end to the evening’s new material.
At this point the band has already played twenty songs, with only the opening track, “Subdivisions” really being a premier hit from the band, so clearly “Freewill” or the like was going to come next… but we wouldn’t find out immediately, because Geddy’s keyboards failed to make any noise to start the next song! After about thirty seconds of silence Alex finally wandered to the mic and told a long joke, another once in a blue moon event that made this show all the more worth it. Then I thought I had died and was carried to heaven by the Clockwork Angels, because instead of a hit the band went into another favorite of mine, “Manhattan Project”, still accompanied by the strings. A celebrated staple came after that, the drum solo. Shortened likely due to the partial solo in the first set, this tours solo is completely different from anything Neil has done on recent tours, and was a big step in the right direction. I had felt that since R30 the solo has gotten progressively less interesting, and he brought it up to a peak level this time. The solo lead into a song I thought I had grew tired of, “Red Sector A”. The strings really helped elevate this song to a point where I welcomed its return to the live set. Then the dam finally broke free as the band, over two hours after playing their last big hit, ripped into “YYZ”, which set the crowd on fire. The main synth line of the song was yet another part elevated by the string section, and assuming the band eventually releases this tour in video form I think this version might actually be able to compete with the crazy crowd in Rio.
After “YYZ” Geddy thanked and dismissed the strings from the stage, commenting that the band would again be a simple trio, and launched into the last song of the set, “Working Man”. Always a crowd favorite the song again featured the reggae intro and was abbreviated, but Alex’s solo during the song was clearly one of the most anticipated and appreciated of the evening. The band then thanked the crowd and left the stage, but eventually a single armed man returned…
Standing behind the drum kit spectators could on see the silhouette of a man with a large barrel slung against his shoulder. Neil then turns around to reveal himself holding a t-shirt cannon! After several tours of Ged and Al tossing out shirts to the crowd before the encore it seemed overdue that Neil get a piece of the action, and he did so in style. After many shirts had been jumped for the almost mandatory set of classics got played for an encore. “Tom Sawyer” and “Spirit of Radio” were, as always, played to a cheering crowd. While I enjoy the latter much more than the former, after a night like this there was no way I would even begin to begrudge them for playing the former. Even so, when Alex flubbed the start of the “Tom Sawyer” solo I’d like to believe it was because they were revolting against playing the song again!
When the dust had settled and the final outro video had played my only complaint with the show were the pre/post-set videos. Through both legs of the Snakes tour and the Time Machine tour myself and other Rush fans I know all found the videos hilarious, but this time around the videos were less humorous videos conforming to the steampunk theme of the evening and just didn’t have any special magic to them. This was easily offset however by the in-song Clockwork Angels video and lighting show.
If you’re a casual Rush fan, skip this show. If you hate the new album or synth era, skip this show. If you’re a diehard Rush fan who has been waiting a decade or decades for the set to take a sharp turn in a new direction, then this is the tour for you. If I had seen this set online I would have thought it to be fake, but it’s true, and it has to be seen to be believed. Geddy’s voice held up incredibly well, most likely due to the fact that they focused on material he can more easily sing. The strings took great things and made them even greater, and the band once again upped their game in the lighting and video departments. I know die-hard Rush fans that have stopped going to shows because of boring setlists, and this will be the tour that brings many of them back into the fold. And while I only talked to hardcore fans after the show, not a single one was anything less than ecstatic about the setlist and the string section. If you’ve read this you’ll know whether the set is for you or not, and if it is I suggest you do whatever is necessary to see it, because it will likely be the best Rush show you ever see, or at least it was for me.
Band(s): Adrenaline Mob
Venue: The Hiro Ballroom
City, State: New York City, NY
It’s not often that I will get excited for a show in which I know I’ll be hearing 11 songs live that I’ve never heard before, but Adrenaline Mob was certainly an exception. The new band formed around a core of drumming legend Mike Portnoy, Symphony X vocal great Russell Allen, and the lesser known Sonic Stomp guitarist Mike Orlando, and they decided to road test their new material by playing a special show in New York City. The show was to take place at the intimate and beautiful Hiro Ballroom, which is not exactly a prog or metal haven and as such was not a venue I had ever been to before. I can only hope that this show prompts them to book a few more bands I am interested in. The staff was friendly, informative (even telling you where you could find a bathroom in NYC), and they dealt with the large number of will call customers (nearly all off the attendees) in a fantastic fashion.
Once inside the venue I was able to walk within 2 feet of the stage, and instead of a huge metal barricade I was up against a velvet rope, only increasing the intimacy of the show. When the band walked on stage around 8:15 the excitement of the evening was easily shown on their faces, and it didn’t take many songs to show why these guys were deserving of the name Adrenaline Mob. In a fitting tribute to Dio and a nod to the band’s name they kicked off the show with Sabbath classic “Mob Rules”, and from note #1 the venue was absolutely on fire. The size of the stage was barely able to contain the energy of the band as they started to play through their original material. As for the material itself, it was high-octane for sure, but at times swerved into nu-metal influences that I found tough to stomach. Lyrics were simple and to the point like you’d expect from AC/DC or a hair band, and while I might laugh at such things on a record, Russell Allen brought them to life live. The man is an amazing front man and I truly believe he could get me into a show if he were singing the lyrics to “twinkle twinkle little star”.
One difference between this show and a show of Allen’s main band, Symphony X, is that the other 4 guys on stage were just as active as Russell was. Mike Portnoy especially seemed energetic and used the more simplistic drumming the music called for as a reason to truly just pound the shit out of the drums with a pure intensity I haven’t seen from him in quite awhile. Mike Orlando, rhythm guitarist Rich Ward, and bassist Paul DiLeo weren’t far behind Portnoy and Allen as they bounced around the stage. As the band continued through original material I was truly taken by some of it, and at very least entertained by the rest. That said I can’t see the debut album from Adrenaline Mob getting too many spins from me once it is released, but I can definitely see myself at one of their concerts again in the future.
After the mob finished with their original material and a very metal and quite awesome Duran Duran cover they ended the night in a fashion that seemed to win over anyone in the crowd who wasn’t already on board. First came a cover of Dio’s “Stand Up and Shout”, and then the band finished the night with another Sabbath cover, “War Pigs”. Both songs had the audience going absolutely nuts, and the latter got quite a nice sing-along going. At the end of it all Portnoy tossed part of his Tama prototype kit off the drum riser, Keith Moon style, and hopped over what remained to come forward with the rest of the band to shake hands with some of the fans up front before bowing and heading off.
The show was a great one, with a ton of energy in an intimate setting, making it tough not to get into the show. Portnoy and Allen gave the excellent performances I’ve come to expect from them having seen them perform over 20 times before, but the real treat of the night was discovering the abilities of the other three musicians. Mike Orlando was a beast all night. While I might not end up being a fan of a chunk of the music he has helped to write for the band I think I will always enjoy hearing it live. And make no mistake about it; he can play the guitar. If you have any interest in shreddy solos you will absolutely love Mike Orlando. The highlight of many songs were seeing him play 6 trillion notes a second right in front of me. Finally, while not as crucial as Portnoy, Allen or Orlando, DiLeo and Ward earned their keep by simply keeping up with and magnifying the energy being displayed by the rest of the band. To top it all off the band sounded fantastic. I don’t know if it was excellent work by the venue or simply the stripped back setup, but the sound on the night was better than any time I’ve seen Symphony X in other comparably sized venues.
Adrenaline Mob have claimed they will be touring the world soon enough, and if you’re into any sort of metal and expect metal to come with an energetic show then this is one band you will not want to pass up.
Venue: Quicken Loans Arena
City, State: Cleveland, OH
The farthest I have ever traveled for a show was 450 miles, one way. That trip was to see what was then the final show of Rush’s Snakes and Arrows tour on the shores of Lake Ontario in hometown Toronto. After two more shows on the later announced second leg of the tour, and then three shows on the first leg of the band’s recent Time Machine tour I had decided to forego any shows when the band announced a return to America in 2011. That all changed one day in early December. Rush announced they would be filming a live DVD at their Cleveland show, and it happened that it would be the first full length concert ever recorded in America, which seems odd since over 35 years of success for the band has been due mostly to the American audience. In any case I decided that even though I would miss the Hershey and New York City shows which were less than 80 miles away, I would do whatever it took to be in Cleveland, a city 425 miles away in a state I had never before visited, and stand in awe of another great lake during another amazing Rush experience.
Although not a basketball fan it’s tough not to know that Rush would be playing an arena with some recent love gone bad as LeBron James no longer played in the Quicken Arena as a Cavalier. However, in an arena full of people wearing Cleveland sports apparel any heartaches were not apparent as soon as Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen took the stage to announce that the Rush show that night would be filmed, and that they would be directing. Although already known by most in attendance the audience roared once the pair of filmmakers challenged the crowd to exceed those on R30, Snakes and Arrows Live, and perhaps even Rush in Rio. Though I knew no American crowd could even come close to the last in that list I was hoping they’d at least make a go of it.
About 15 minutes after the duo left the stage the intro tape started and the trio that had drawn a crowd from across the country took the stage. As per usual the opening guitar riff to “The Spirit of Radio” was completely drowned out by the crowd, but eventually the professor’s drums ripped through the crowd and gave the song audible cohesion. As the first set progressed I became impressed as always with Rush, but somewhat disappointed in the crowd. Songs like “Freewill” and “Subdivisions” got their fair share of support, but the crowd seemed to simmer over anything less than a top 10 hit. On par for a Rush shows these days I suppose, but I guess for the occasion I expected more. Since this was my fourth show on the tour it’s tough to continue critiquing the same show, but I will say that Geddy, Alex, and Neil were definitely on top of their game, and they were delivering the best performance of the tour for me. Highlights of the first set included “Presto”, the groove filled instrumental “Leave That Thing Alone”, newcomer “BU2B”, and amazing synth era cut “Marathon”.
The second set of the night opened with the much publicized playing of Rush’s four times platinum album, Moving Pictures. As a hardcore fan this didn’t mean much to me at face value, because as recently as last tour five of the album’s seven songs were being played live. However the band has said they love playing songs from the album live, and the truth is that crowds still go nuts for it. I’ve seen songs like “Tom Sawyer”, “YYZ”, and “Limelight” ten times now, and at least with the latter two I can still get as into the songs as I did the first time I heard them. The real treat came with the start of the second half of the album as this tour a re-worked “The Camera Eye” had made its way into a set for the first time in nearly thirty years. The song is a good one and seemed to please all those that have wanted to hear it over the past three decades. For me the most powerful part of the Moving Pictures set was the end of it, the prophetic “Vital Signs”.
After the nostalgia trip of Moving Pictures Geddy announced they’d be moving to the future, playing a track off the forthcoming album Clockwork Angels, and a few moments later “Caravan” started. On the last leg of the tour I had avoided the song on radio to hear it for the first time when I saw them live on that leg. I was then blown away by the power the two new songs had live. I of course than began listening to the single and came to appreciate the intricacy of the songs. Now, being fully accustomed to “Caravan” and hearing it live I will say I prefer it to anything made in the reunion era, and perhaps even in the 90’s and so I have great hope for the new album. Then came perhaps the longest running staple of Rush’s live set, Neil Peart’s drum solo. Though it contains some stellar sections as always there is still a section or two that I can’t get behind and so I still stand behind my statement from last leg that this is his weakest drum solo in some time. The rest of the set included several songs which were re-worked to some degree. “Working Man” and “La Villa Strangiato” was a rocking pair for the encore and both featured new starts to the song, and “Closer to the Heart” saw a lot of changes made to it to keep it fresh for the band. “2112” was amazing as always and holds the best chance I have at being on a Rush recording as there was a camera aimed straight up my row while I was rocking out during the songs famous overture.
Two tours in a row now I’ve seen four shows, and really I think that is about the right amount for the future. Rush is my favorite band, amazing musicians, and every tour they seem to up their game to a new level, but I can’t help but get the feeling of many fans older than myself that the same songs seem to be there every tour and that there needs to be a little diversity within each show. Something as simple as changing when Geddy chatters with the crowd from night to night would go a long way towards keeping things fresh and interesting. Had this been my first show of the tour it would have glowed even brighter than my Camden review, and I still feel that this was an amazing show, it’s just one I’ve already seen three times.
Band(s): Porcupine Tree
Venue: Radio City Music Hall
City, State: New York City, NY
While Porcupine Tree has their heavier moments, especially in recent years I think classifying them as a metal band is a bit of a stretch, due in part to what that implies about the show they would put on. While metal and hard rock bands are expected to jump around the stage and pump the crowd up Porcupine Tree certainly seem to be a band in the classic prog-rock sense in that at their shows the music should stand alone, and that craftsmanship overrules showmanship.
The reason I am off on a tangent to start a review is to make a point, which is that if you intend for the music to be the sole focus of a live performance it better sound damn good, and Porcupine Tree certainly delivered in that aspect. The three previous times I’ve seen Porcupine Tree I would say were three of the best sounding shows I had ever seen, and at this show the attention to sonic detail combined with the historic and acoustically designed Radio City Music Hall made for the best sounding show I have ever heard. Considering the many shows I’ve seen with absolutely horrid sound it is an amazing experience when every single drum and instrument can be picked out and heard as clear as if it was being played by itself. Combine that with clarity of each instrument and the added vibrancy of a live performance I can say that sitting in my seat a few feet in front of the soundboard was probably as close to sonic bliss as I will ever come.
But the sound wasn’t the only thing special about this show; it would prove to be Porcupine Tree’s longest show to date featuring three sets of material including some very rare cuts thrown in amongst fan favorites. The show started modestly with the band walking out to a very limited setup that included a small drum/percussion set, an upright bass, and a stripped down rig for keyboardist Richard Barbieri. The band kicked off the show with a five song acoustic set during which Steven Wilson referred to the configuration on stage as the “opening act”. The acoustic set had old classics such as “Pure Narcotic”, a big rarity in “Small Fish”, a new song, “Black Dahlia” and a bit of surprise when the band stripped down the normally heavy “futile” for what Steven called, “the least sensible song we can play with an acoustic setup”. Those mentioned along with “Stranger by the Minute” which opened the set all got strong reactions from the nearly full but not sold out crowd in the heart of New York City.
Through most of the ten minute break to remove the “opening act” equipment the intro tones to “Even Less” could be heard through the PA, and despite myself and others expecting to hear The Incident in full when the band came back onstage they instead ended up actually going into “Even Less” and actually played the full fourteen minute version instead of the much shorter track that eventually made its way onto Stupid Dream. After that came a modern era one-two punch in the forum of the aggressive “Open Car” followed by the mellow and enchanting “Lazarus”. Next up was an oldie one-two punch that would be the highlight of the show for me, the groovy “Tinto Brass” which featured amazing bass work by Colin Edwin followed by the first half of “The Sky Moves Sideways”. The latter song featured an instrumental section that blew me away live. I must say that perhaps the greatest part of Porcupine Tree live is how much room the keyboards have to breathe, and how a thick and lush atmosphere in a song like “The Sky Moves Sideways” can become even better live. Then came a little bit of a shocking announcement as Steven told the crowd they would not be playing The Incident in full as they wanted to play as much old material as possible, but he did assure the crowd they would get to hear a good chunk of the album before going into one of my favorite tracks from the disc, “I Drive the Hearse”. A beautiful and haunting end to the album I personally find the track does quite well standing on its own in concert. “Bonnie the Cat” would be the last song in the first set, but it would be the first to utilize the full sized screen behind the band that was hidden until that point. The video for “Bonnie” did not do the gigantic screen much justice, but later of songs would use it to its full potential.
The second set would see the band starting with “Occam’s Razor” and play through The Incident until a very high powered “Drawing the Line” which was certainly one of the best newer tracks played and one that had people singing and clapping along. The band then made one of the final two scheduled trips back in time to pull out “Dislocated Day” before coming back to the present for a very well received rendition of “Time Flies”. At this point in the show the crowd had a little bit of everything, the old, the new, the rare, the popular, the heavy, and the acoustic, but the next track would end up blowing everything before and after out of the water as far as the Radio City crowd was concerned. Excitement could be felt all around when the middle of “Anesthetize” began and the amount of head banging during the instrumental section of that song would only be seen one other time in the night, later during the encore. After the roar of praise died down for “Anesthetize” drummer Gavin Harrison faced his final major challenge of the night, playing a final song that like many earlier in the set he had never played live before. The song in question was “Up the Downstair” and it was a fabulous choice for a final treat of the night. To end the set the band pulled out “Sleep Together” which I figured wouldn’t be bothered which at the show, but it seemed to end the set somewhat well.
The band left the stage without saying a word but didn’t take long to return, and then Steven said something that had the hair on the back of my neck standing straight up. “We only have time for one more song, but it’s a fucking long one!” Considering half of “The Sky Moves Sideways”, a movement from “Anesthetize”, and the full version of “Even Less” were already played there was one obvious song that seemed to be on the horizon. My favorite Porcupine Tree song, “Arriving Somewhere” received a warm ovation during the soft intro and would have fans singing along in no time, and have them rocking out as hard as they had all night for the guitar solo and instrumental brick to the face that followed it. As the song ended I felt complete finally having seen it and I cannot think of a better way to have ended the night.
Steven Wilson seemed in great spirits all night both musically and when having some banter with the audience, and those good vibes came across in an amazing performance. Steven was also nice enough to note that touring guitarist John Wesley was taking a regular leave of the stage, “Not because he’s incompetent, but because we can do it as a four piece!” Everyone was tight, it was the best sounding show I have ever seen, and there were a ton of special treats to enjoy along with some regular staples in Porcupine Tree’s live diet. New York City is fun, but it is expensive and any trip there is going to include a good deal of stress and so typically I will try and steer clear if possible, however there was no chance of me missing this show and the boys made the trip more than worth my money and effort and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
Band(s): Shadow Gallery
Venue: Barley Creek
City, State: Tannersville, PA
It’s rare that a band can be around for nearly twenty years, put out six studio albums, and never play a note of their music live. Shadow Gallery however, is proof that it can happen. The band put their debut album in 1992 and only recently began announcing live shows, which would include a stop at ProgPower Europe prior to journeying across that continent for the first time. However before that could happen there was something special in the works, a debut show on the band’s home turf to play for friends, family, and Shadow Gallery fans from across the US and Canada.
When Shadow Gallery hit the stage shortly after 9 it seemed the only people happier than the fans in attendance were the band themselves. Their excitement was contagious and as they powered through a trio of tracks from Tyranny to start the show the crowd was enjoying every moment more and more, and each song ending with thunderous applause. Although Carl Cadden-James could be seen having some monitor trouble it didn’t show in his playing as the band was incredibly tight during their first few songs together, and they would remain that way throughout the rest of the evening. One certainly got the feeling the crowd would have been happy no matter what the band had played for this historic show, but that said it seemed the band did a fantastic job picking out a set that would satisfy fans and represent the entire history of the band. After the mini Tyranny set the band went back in time for “Deeper Than Life” and then the guys brought things to the present day and nailed “Pain” from the groups most recent output, Digital Ghosts.
It was at that point I realized how well new singer Brian Ashland was doing as he had seemed as natural with the earlier material as he did now singing “Pain”. By the time “Destination Unknown” rolled around one could really start to appreciate the powerhouse potential that Shadow Gallery has. Along with regular guitarists Gary Wehrkamp and Brendt Allman, singer Brian Ashland and new touring member Eric Diegert had proven their chops with six strings. In addition to the four men on stage that were wielding guitars at one point or another, three of them also showed great proficiency behind a keyboard, and everyone except Eric and Joe Nevolo handled vocal duties. Speaking of which, Shadow Gallery has always been known for a very vibrant vocal approach, and with some songs having more layers than a pack of trident gum it was no secret that reproducing the vocals live might be a bit difficult, but the band was up to the task. Gary, Carl and Brendt all did a fantastic job working with Brian to reproduce the lush melodies that Shadow Gallery fans know and love.
At some point during the show to this point Brian had promised the crowd they’d get something from every album and “Questions at Hand” would end up representing the self-titled debut album for the evening. I think it’s safe to say that Joe out-played the drum machine used on the album and the crowd seemed quite pleased with the deep cut. After that came the softest song of the evening, “Ghost of a Chance” which came across with the same beauty live as it does on the album. After that, to the surprise of many Gary left his position at stage right to get behind the drum kit where the band played a bit of “Digital Ghosts” and the first half or so of “Strong” before the kit was handed back over to Joe who played what was potentially the greatest drum solo I’ve ever seen. And that statement is coming from a die-hard Rush fan. Nothing was safe from Joe as he played at his kit, around his kit, on mic stands, and at a snare and electronic bass pedal setup at the front of the stage. The man showed a technical prowess in several techniques and the long solo alone was worth the price of admission. I will say that Joe’s abilities have gone under the radar a bit, but after the upcoming tour I expect to hear rave reviews about his abilities.
After finishing up “Strong” Gary teased the crowd with a keyboard version of the intro to “Andromeda Strain” before Brendt took charge on his guitar and properly ripped into the song which proved to be one of the most energetic performances of an action packed night. The set would end with perfectly executed versions of “Crystalline Dreams” and “Haunted” at which point the band waved goodbye and exited the stage. A big surprise to me was how unified the crowd was at this point in what they wanted as an encore with a good chunk of the crowd shouting for “Room V” while other songs received hardly any mention. And as luck would happy the band came out and tore into “Room V” which ended up being the most intense and well received song of the evening, and the chorus with the loudest and most involved sing-along as one might expect. To end an amazing night the band played the single/video from the latest album, “Gold Dust” which ended the night on a very headbanging note.
All things considered the very first Shadow Gallery show was a smashing success. The band had some technical troubles throughout the night but they worked through them and put on a killer show that seemed to leave everyone in attendance happy. Fans from Miami, Virginia, Montreal, and Toronto were in attendance and that is only the traveling fans I talked to, so who knows where else people made trips from. After the show the guys showed a lot of class taking the time to talk to every single person at length who wanted to talk to them giving everyone a little extra happy memory of the historic show. The band seems to have warmed up their many instruments and their voices and they now have marching orders to head over to Europe for the first time where you absolutely must support them if you have the chance, I promise you won’t be disappointed!
Band(s): Dream Theater & Iron Maiden
Venue: Jiffy Lube Live
City, State: Bristow, VA
Well, where to begin? I guess this will work out best if I start from the beginning… the very beginning. First of all, if you know me, and you know how I treat concerts, especially for bands I really love – it’s not just a show, it’s an experience – and this was absolutely no exception. There were two shows on Iron Maiden’s “The Final Frontier 2010” Tour that were closer to me than this specific show at Jiffy lube live in Bristow, VA – but I couldn’t get the tickets I wanted for those shows, so my sister and I decided to drop about $105 per ticket on GA Pit tickets for this show. I absolutely detest Iron Maiden’s First to the Barrier competition, and was incredibly happy that they weren’t doing the drawing for this show – not that it would’ve wound up making much of a difference in hindsight. I figured things were golden, and an 11 AM arrival at the venue would’ve secured our spot on the rail. I had no idea what would lie in store for me. But more on that later.
Given that this venue was located about 4 hours from home, my sister and I decided to stay the night with our good friend Scott, but his place was rendered impossible by a storm which left him without running water – so just before we left home at 6 PM on Monday night, we had a change of plans and headed to his friend’s very nice and large house which was very spacious and everything worked out for the best there. We arrived around 10PM, bed around 1, and up at 7 AM on Tuesday. Unfortunately we got lost on the way to the venue (took a wrong turn), and that delayed us a good 45 minutes – so instead of our planned 10:30 arrival it was more like 11:30. We came fairly prepared with drinks and chairs and a few other things. Our general group for the day was about 8 people strong, including a few very cool people from MetalSetlists I really enjoyed meeting up with. As usual the first several hours pretty much flew by, aided by the venue’s close proximity to a 7-11 down the road. Unfortunately it was about 95 degrees and sunny, and we were stranded on black top with virtually no shade. That in mind, I managed to make it out with minimal sunburn. Around 4:30 or 5-ish we took everything back to the car and got in proper “line” mode. We (along with everyone else) were getting incredibly anxious, and there was this anticipation that at 6:30, all hell would break loose. And it did.
Disaster struck Jiffy lube live at 6:30 PM on Tuesday, July 20th. I think everyone had concerns over how Paperless Tickets were going to work with the whole GA Pit experience, and it failed. HARD. With standard tickets, the process would’ve gone off without a hitch, and we would’ve been in quick and simple, probably on the rail. First, when they started letting people in, certain guards frisked people and others didn’t, which resulted in half the lines getting people in a good 20 seconds before everyone else, and chaos just broke out everywhere. A bunch of people operating the receipt-printing machines had absolutely no idea what they were doing, and the machines were malfunctioning. Tickets weren’t found, wrong tickets were printed, people got held up for a good 30 seconds. It was just absolute fucking nonsense, which resulted in all the people we knew (who had been there since 11 AM) getting fucked out of the rail. In the end, I guess it comes down to luck, for if we picked a different line, none of this may have happened. But that doesn’t excuse the absolute incompetence and inconsistency across the board of the venue staff. There is no reason why they couldn’t have had someone bring out one of those machines earlier in the day and print our receipts in a calm, timely fashion, so we were all cleared when gates opened. The 3 minutes between 6:30 and 6:33 were some of the longest and most painful I’ve ever experienced, complete with the brutal run around 60% of the perimeter of the venue to get to the pit entrance. Considering all the bullshit that went on, the fact that I wound up 3rd row, pretty much where I wanted to be in terms of side of the stage was a fucking miracle. But at what a cost. I was DYING when we finally got down into the pit. It was 95 degrees outside, so it was well over 100 down there with everyone pressed up against each other. There was more than one moment during Maiden’s set where I really felt like I was going to pass out. Not to mention the people were just animals, which brings me to my next rant of sorts.
I don’t think I’m ever going to get pit tickets for Maiden again, because I am sick of dealing with the people. Every time I think I have seen the rudest, most idiotic thing someone could possibly do, it quickly gets topped. First off: I don’t care where you came from, how much money you spent, and how many other shows you went to (no offense to those who do that stuff, I went to two shows this tour), if you got to the venue after me, get the fuck behind me. I can’t stand people who show up late and then insist on elbowing and pushing their way through the people to try and get a better spot. I am also tired of getting the impression that apparently 95% of all serious, hardcore Maiden fans know absolute shit about music on the whole. I don’t just mean “music I like”, but those token folks who seem to think metal is simply Maiden, Priest, Sabbath, and Metallica – and everything else sucks. You can love Maiden as much as you want and it’s fine by me, but these people just come off like complete clowns. This also goes for the people shitting on and making fun of Dream Theater. Hey, if you’ve given them an honest shot and don’t like them, that’s cool. But there is absolutely no question that the amount of musical chops must be respected, and that they are without any doubt one of the best opening bands Maiden have had in America in a long, long time. Hell, I’d honestly say one of the best ever. If this wasn’t good enough for you, you will probably never be happy. I hope Maiden actually does bring Kittie on tour next time so people might actually have something to bitch about. Also, it’s very inaccurate to bitch about support in the mindset that “if they weren’t here, Maiden would be playing”. Ummmm, no. Maiden’s headlining shows on a proper tour have never, ever exceeded two hours (approximately). If it wasn’t X support band, it would be Y support band. End of story.
So anyway, onto the sets themselves. Dream Theater was great I thought, to be honest I may have had a slightly better time during their set than Maiden’s, since I could still breathe comfortably. It goes without saying that everything was brilliantly played, and for himself, James sounded pretty good. I would’ve liked to be closer to Petrucci, but second row for Dream Theater in any form is fine by me. In the middle of their set they did a really fun medley of Maiden teasers, at the end of which none other than Adrian Smith walked out on stage, clearly amused. It’s SO rare to see anyone from Maiden pop out before their set, so seeing Adrian just standing up there chuckling was a real treat. They were trying to coax him into an impromptu cover of The Prisoner, but it didn’t happen. Damn. I still feel privileged to have witnessed that really great bit of fun. The crowd in the center was very into DT, but over on my side it was just an OK reaction. I thought they were great, but still probably could’ve assembled a better setlist. Oh well.
Dream Theater setlist:
01.As I Am
02.A Rite of Passage
04.Maiden Teaser Medley:
-Where Eagles Dare
-Run to the Hills
07.Pull Me Under
So, after a half hour wait that seemed liked an eternity in the heat with my already extreme dehydration, Doctor Doctor hit the PA and things started picking up. The Wicker Man was the absolute blast of an opener I always expected, and the set as a whole was great much as I expected. I wish I would’ve had more energy left, but I kept finding little bursts of enthusiasm when I thought it all was gone. My only really out for a disappointment/”lowlight” would’ve been Breeg, which I just think kinda drags live. I quite like the song, it’s just pretty sludgy and doesn’t translate THAT well live aside from the chorus. I have to confess Blood Brothers wasn’t quite the magical experience I had dreamt it would be, but still, seeing one of my absolute favorite Maiden songs live was a treat. For highlights, I’m gonna have to first go with “Brave New World”, which I have been singing the live praises of for years. I absolutely love this track done live, so much power as the song progress, continually picking up. “These Colours Don’t Run” was also fan-fucking-tastic. I think this is absolutely the best live song from the last record, and I would definitely be up for seeing this yet again before Maiden calls it a day. I think that’s probably a legit possibility given the great response it got and the band seem to really enjoy playing it. I also really love Bruce’s intro speech he’s been doing before it. “El Dorado”, again, rocks live much more so than in mp3 form. “Dance of Death was superb as expected, and the clapping bits are a blast. Adrian seemed to be having lots of guitar troubles, and kept coming back with his tried-and-true beautiful gold-top Gibson les Paul. It’s hard to really mention specifics about a Maiden set, for every show is the same in some sense – Maiden doesn’t have a bad night. As usual, there is a certain amount of “holy shit, I am this close to them” going on, and the interaction is so much fun, especially with Steve. I unfortunately didn’t catch anything, so I will have to keep worshiping just my Adrian pick from 2008.
Iron Maiden Setlist:
01.The Wicker Man
02.Ghost of the Navigator
05.Dance of Death
06.The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg
07.These Colours Don’t Run
10.No More lies
11.Brave New World
12.Fear of the Dark
14.Number of the Beast
15.Hallowed Be Thy Name
The show ended on time just prior to 11 PM, and we filed out quickly and just sat in the lot for about an hour afterwards. My sister and I then made our way back up into Maryland and I was in bed by 2 or 2:30-ish. We departed to come back around noon, but unfortunately ran into tons of delays along the way – resulting in not actually getting home until 5:30 PM. To say my ass was sore from all that time in the car (nearly 12 hours out of 48 total away from home) would be a colossal understatement.
And that’s a wrap on The Final Frontour ’10 experience. Was it worth the effort? Yes. Was it worth the money? Eh, maybe not, we spend a lot just to make it all happen. There was a lot of frustration, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to let it bother you much when you bask in the glory that is Maiden live, especially from that close. I’m just not sure I’m willing to do it again. I’ve seen Maiden 4 times from within 10 rows of the stage, that might be enough for me.
A HUGE thanks to everyone I met up with and hung out with that made this whole experience worthwhile and a lot of fun. You guys rock.
Venue: Susquehanna Bank Arts Center
City, State: Camden, NJ
There are few times I can say I’ve gone into a show with such high expectations as I had this past Wednesday, and rarer yet that I can say that all those expectations were either met or surpassed. It won’t surprise many people that the band to accomplish this was Rush, the Canadian power trio that is currently enjoying a wave of popularity due to appearances in the movie “I Love You Man”, the show “The Colbert Report”, and the new documentary “Beyond the Lighted Stage”. For the first time in their 35+ year career the band can truly be considered cool, bringing added success to their current Time Machine tour.
When I got inside the venue I very quickly found myself going onto the floor to find my seat. Despite having an hour till show time I was extremely excited to see how close I would be as the ticket I had pulled would be the best ticket I’ve ever had for a Rush show. I was not disappointed. Fourth row between Alex and Neil… it was going to be a good night. As time went on the inevitable finally happened as four guys, one at each corner of the stage started climbing ladders to their perches among the lighting rigs.
The show started as most Rush fans have come to expect, a crazy and hilarious intro video. Alex could be seen side-stage being just as amused by the video as people in the audience were only seeing it for the first time. The video played well into the theme of the tour, as would most of the videos played throughout the evening, and it teased the audience mercilessly until Alex finally took his place on the stage and ripped into “The Spirit of Radio”. Always a crowd pleaser the song definitely got the crowd excited for the evening. One song in I was already sweating profusely. I had been so excited for the show and after one song the band sounded so good.
The band continued on with the 80’s single “Time Stand Still”, a beautiful piece that featured Alex actually playing some keyboards. After that was the biggest surprise of the evening, “Presto”. Catching many by surprise, and leaving a few scratching their heads the song ended up being one of my favorites from the set, and went over surprisingly well with the crowd, definitely aided by an intense solo near the end by Alex Lifeson. Next came one of the few Rush studio tracks I can honestly say I’m not very fond of, yet “Stick It Out” managed to be a pretty rocking and enjoyable live song. I have often said that Rush could play a set of my 25 least favorite songs and I’d still love it, and after hearing “Stick It Out” I certainly still stand by that statement.
“Workin’ Them Angels” came next and got the crowds energy up a bit as it was one of the more popular songs from Snakes and Arrows. “Leave That Thing Alone” came on and managed to rile up the crowd a bit as Rush instrumentals often do, always allowing each member to shine at one point or another. While I had said “Presto” was the biggest surprise of the tour a runner up prize certainly goes to the next song in the set, “Faithless”. I remember criticizing the band for not switching up any of the Snakes and Arrows songs between the legs of that tour so it was really nice to see them give “The Larger Bowl” and “Armor and Sword” a rest (I had expected at least one of the two would make the set) in order for a never before track from the album to be played live.
Following “Faithless” was a very special track for me. Despite the Caravan/BU2B single having been released well before my show, and despite “Caravan” being heard all around the radio I had purposefully avoided listening to either of the tracks, thinking back to the late 70’s and early 80’s when Rush would road test two songs on a break from the studio. Back then people had no way of hearing the songs in advance, and so they got to hear new tracks from their favorite band for the first time performed live for them, and that was an experience I was very interested in recreating. It didn’t take very long through “BU2B” before I was already looking forward to next year when Rush is set to release Clockwork Angels, which the Rush tour book seems to hint might finally be that long sought full length concept album from Rush. (Many casual fans mistakenly believe 2112 to be a concept album, but the conceptual piece is only half the record.)
“BU2B” seemed to ooze of Rush re-inventing themselves once again, adding in new sounds and ideas even after 35+ years of making music, and yet it was still definitively Rush. The crowd reacted so well to the song “Freewill” didn’t really manage to pick things up much despite being one of Rush’s most popular songs. After that came my personal highlight of the evening, “Marathon”. The song pretty much showcases everything that was great about Power Windows and the live presentation of the song was mind-blowing. Then, to complete the best one-two punch to end a set I’ve ever seen Geddy started the opening synth lines of “Subdivisions”, which remains one of my favorite radio hits (along with 2112), and which always comes across with a great amount of power live, and as always it got a fantastic response from the crowd.
During the intermission I started to really appreciate what a spectacular show I was seeing. Geddy sounded like he went back in time (appropriate for the tour I suppose), as his singing was stronger than any tour I’ve seen them on before. Neil seemed to be quite into the show (by his standards), and I’ve never seen the usually animated Alex so playful on stage. The guys really seemed to be enjoying this tour and it showed. As a result the songs came across full of energy and the sound was the best I’ve ever had for Rush. Guitar and bass were in perfect mix, and Neil’s drums sounded nearly as good as on the R30 tour, which to this day remains the best drum sound I’ve ever heard live, from any band. Any band that puts on an energetic show with a strong clarity of sound is on the right path, but when that band is Rush the end result is magnificent!
The second set opened with a video that rivaled the hilarity of the first set’s video, and when the band came on and ripped in “Tom Sawyer” I knew it was time for the much hyped live presentation of the band’s famous Moving Pictures album. Their best selling album, Moving Pictures first side (remember kids, it was originally released on this thing called a record) featured four successful singles, the aforementioned “Tom Sawyer” along with “Red Barchetta”, “YYZ”, and “Limelight”. Although a part of me was trying to say, “Man, I’ve heard these songs sooo many times, can we skip ahead”, you couldn’t hear any of that because another part of me was screaming, “This is so freaking awesome!” Then came the rarer side of Moving Pictures, featuring “The Camera Eye”, “Witch Hunt”, and my personal favorite, “Vital Signs”. All three went over very well with the crowd, and the band had videos for every song on the album themed around the lyrics and often featuring bits from the album cover and tour theme. I have to say the high quality of video footage brought out on this tour is yet another contributing factor in why this was one of the most amazing shows I had ever seen. As always with Rush none of it was overblown, but you sensed that whenever the video screens where being utilized that it added to the songs. I can also say at this point that I’ve never watched Alex more at a Rush show. As much as I love him I’m typically focused on Geddy and Neil, but tonight he stole the show. I had mentioned his stage antics were upped a notch and on top of that he was just nailing solos left and right. The man simply forced your attention at sections of every song.
After the entirety of Moving Pictures the band decided to bring us crashing back into present day as they ripped into “Caravan”, a song I fell in love with more and more with each moment that passed. The verses were great, the chorus was even better, and only repeated listens will allow me to confirm this, but for now I’d say the instrumental section was perhaps the best in any Rush song to date. It was more than worth waiting for. After “Caravan” came an expected and essential part of any Rush show, the drum solo from Neil Peart. The solo for the tour was 95% new, only carrying over a few of the classic crossover moves. Neil even ditched the bell solos he’s had in his solos for quite a long time now. If I am recalling correctly the drum solo was the only time Neil switched over to the primarily electric side of his kit, which was an amazing thing considering I’ve never liked how the electric side sounded in full songs, especially considering how heavenly the acoustic side always sounds. Overall the drum solo was good, but my least favorite of the modern era (Vapor Trails forward), however just being able to watch the man work from such a short distance is always a very special treat.
In the modern era it has been traditional for Neil to get a break after his solo, and my bets were on “Hope” continuing in the set, but instead Alex made up a new acoustic 12-string interlude that eventually meandered into the opening chords of “Closer to the Heart”. The song was retired for many years (aside from a show in Mexico and a few in Brazil on the Vapor Trails tour) because Neil had become bored with playing it, but it seems the boys remedied that this tour by altering or adding several bits to the song to give it a bit of new life. After “Closer to the Heart” came what was recently announced to be the central piece in the new Guitar Hero video game, “2112”. The six minute edit of the song was my favorite of theirs back when I was first getting into Rush, and it still stands today as being perhaps the best six minutes of music they’ve ever done. On top of that the live presentation is always among the most powerful songs of the night and the crowd was really getting into the song. Closing the second set was the lead single for the last album, “Far Cry”. An instant favorite from the moment I first heard it the song translated into a live sensation on the Snakes and Arrows tour and certainly remained a favorite of the crowd on this tour.
When the band came back from a short break sporting shirts to be thrown out into the audience I was again passed by, but soon forgot about it once the band started some sort of funky polka song. That polka song would soon transform into the instrumental by which Rush fans measure all others, “La Villa Strangiato: An Exercise in Self Indulgence”. A stellar performance it actually included the rarest of treats… a Rush mishap! Near the end of the song Alex and Neil got out of sync, but managed to play through it. With another altered intro, “Working Man” closed a fantastic evening, featuring Alex at the very top of his game. After the band left the stage a final hilarious video came on the screens before fans started filing out to a polka version of “Closer to the Heart”.
After the show I was pretty much in awe, as my favorite band had just upped their game on every level. The performance was the best I’ve seen, the videos were the best I’ve seen, the sound was the best I’ve heard, and the stage setup was entertaining as always. From the casual fan to the die-hard this is not a tour to miss as the set includes many of the favorites, a few lesser heard singles, and a few rarer gems, and all are being delivered in the best fashion to date. Leading up to the show I was as excited as I’ve ever been for a show, and now I might even be excited for my next show on the Time Machine Tour at the end of August.
Venue: Theater of Living Arts
City, State: Philadelphia, PA
The wait for this show started at around 3pm and would last over six hours, but of course the wait was worth it as shortly after 9pm the intro tape for “The Whirlwind” started to roll and moments later Transatlantic took the stage. During the instrumental “Overture” I was blown away with how good everything sounded. Normally from the front row the mix and overall quality won’t be perfect, but on this night it was! Very early on from across the stage Portnoy noticed me getting into the song and pointed at me with his drumstick. I responded by giving him a thumbs up to which he nodded in approval, and that started what would be an awesome and intimate evening.
As the band continued through “The Whirlwind” I was blown away by so much of it. If I looked slightly to me left I could occasionally catch Neal Morse looking down at me as I sang along to fantastic vocal melodies that he has such a gift for crafting, and if I looked slightly to my right I could absolutely feel Roine Stolt’s guitar solos. It’s a tough feeling to describe, but between being so close to him and Roine being such an expressive player I could swear I was onstage next to Roine during his solos feeling everything he felt as he played them. As one section of the song flowed into the next I was impressed constantly by the members of Transatlantic, but the unsung hero of the night was perhaps the hired helper for the tour, Daniel Gildenlow. I was constantly amazed with how many different instruments the man had, how often he changed them, and how many times he played two at once! Now having two different shaking instruments going at once may not be a huge feat, but having a drumstick in one hand and using that same hand to strum the guitar between hits all while singing is quite impressive. As the final notes of “The Whirlwind” rang out it was hard not to appreciate that some bands would be taking a short break and coming back for an encore; Transatlantic however would be coming back for another entire set!
After a 25 minute or so break the lights again went down and the intro to All of the Above began and once again the five amazing pieces behind Transatlantic’s live show took the stage. The entire song was excellent, and included some of the best singing along of the night, and it was really during the song I came to appreciate how error free the night had been thus far, both by the band and on the technical side of things, certainly a smoother ride than the previous night in NYC! After that Roine and Neal did a bit of guitar teasing back and forth before going into an altered version of “We All Need Some Light” in which Neal and Roine switched their vocal parts for the song. Although a very cool idea after seeing it twice I wish they had done it the original way as although Roine did a good job taking Neal’s vocals and singing them in his own style, he was reading the lyrics off a paper on the floor and ended up missing the first few words of the second verse, and overall he just didn’t seem to put the kind of emotion into the song that Neal does. Also, the part that Roine normally sings is probably my favorite part of the entire song, and although Neal did a good job of it I would have liked to hear Roine doing it. But it was an interesting idea and overall well done, and really those are my only major complaints about the entire performance.
Then came the highlight of the show for me, “Duel With the Devil”. It has always been my favorite Transatlantic song, but after seeing it from the front row, after nearly losing my voice to it, it might be my favorite song of all time. Each section was moving, exciting, and intense in one way or another. The end of the song made for a perfect set closer, and if I had died at that moment I’d have died a very happy man! Well, luckily I didn’t die, and Transatlantic wasn’t done for the night either. After a short break Neal and Roine came back to perform a very moving version of “Bridge Across Forever”. Then the rest of the band once again found their way to the stage and Portnoy banged out the very recognizable beginning to “Stranger in Your Soul” which probably got the best crowd reaction for the start of a song other than “The Whirlwind” which had a slight advantage starting the show off. “Stranger” had a live performance just as good as “Duel” and included some of the coolest parts of the entire evening. For starters some of the best vocal trade-offs could be found in that song, and then there was the incident that leg to Portnoy crowd surfing…
In the middle of the song Neal wandered over to Portnoy’s kit, picked up two sticks and slowly edged Mike off the drums. In his absence Pete came over and started playing keyboards while Daniel Gildenlow crept up behind him, reached around him and played Pete’s bass! While all that was happening Portnoy was struggling with an obviously prog crowd trying to instruct them what needed to happen for him to be able to crowd surf. Basically even though the TLA was either sold out or very close to it, people actually gave the people around them room to breathe, something missing from even poorly attended metal shows in which trying to rape the people around you almost seems to be the norm anymore. Anyway Portnoy got everyone to come together a little bit, and then he finally turned around and took the leap of faith back into the crowd which sent him back a little bit and then back towards the stage where I got to help throw him back up between Neal and Roine. Everyone then proceeded back to their normal areas and they finished the song with as much zest as they had closed the second set, bringing the night to an end that I will not likely soon forget.
Band(s): Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Venue: FM Kirby Center
City, State: Wilkes-Barre, PA
First I should say that I had very, very high expectations for this show. This was essentially the one thing I had been waiting for as a fan of TSO – that one day they would take the shows back to the more intimate setting of theaters, where they started – and give the Beethoven’s last Night album (my favorite of theirs) the proper staging it deserved. Now that being said, I had my huge reservations due to the fact that I think Paul O’Neill (the “boss” of TSO) has a habit of taking virtually every good thing and fucking it up – not to mention none of the album’s original vocalists would be doing the tour – especially Jon Oliva and Zak Stevens. Nevertheless, I was prepared to have a good time.
We got to the FM Kirby Center around quarter of 7pm, and had surprisingly absolutely no issues with the Paperless Ticketing system, which seemed to work very smoothly. We waited in the lobby until about 7:20, when we made our way down to our seats which were 5th row, on the right side of the left-center section. I was pretty surprised at how great the seats actually were. Around 8pm Chris Caffery came out to present a check to the Red Cross, and about 10 minutes later, the show was under way.
The show began with a fairly “cold” start, not much in the way of intro music or ambiance – the lights dimmed, the opening notes of the “Overture” started up, and everyone walked out. The next 2 hours solid consisted of the entire Beethoven’s last Night album. Now, rather than give a very lengthy track-by-track, I’ll simply hit my highlights and criticisms:
First of all, every track with the mighty Rob Evan (Beethoven) was incredible. I’ve been a huge fan of his voice for a long time, and he is just amazing. Absolutely perfect pitch, and his delivery was excellent – with his Broadway experience giving him the perfect dramatic touch. Moreso than anyone else, you truly felt he WAS the character. And he pointed at me in “This is Who You Are” which was just great.
Other very strong points: Jay Pierce did a great job as “Twist”, nearly perfectly matching the performance on the CD, which I was not expecting. John Brink (Young Beethoven) was probably the best surprise performance of the show, it’s a damn shame this guy (kid, practically, he is no older than his early 20s) only got one song (“Vienna”) because he really ruled. Perfect performance, perfect delivery. The audience loved him. Jeff Scott Soto did a fine job with the Jon Oliva tunes, and had a very devil-ish charm to him. The chorus of “Mephistopheles” was amazingly epic. Also, props to him for really matching Jon note-for-note (and laugh-for-laugh) on “Misery”.
Instrumentally I really can’t fault the show at all except for a few very specific points. First, I’ve always been bothered by how they castrate some of the material by dramatically slowing it down. The songs are fine the way they are, they don’t need to lose 15bpms. It’s not annoying at all on some songs but on others it’s a massive annoyance. Also, “Misery” tended to sound somewhat… watered down. The devilish aggression of the song was somewhat lost to more of a “Creeping”, laid back feel. Aside from that, no complaints about the band, everyone played really well. Instrumental highlights were Mozart and Madness, A last Illusion, Beethoven, and the instrumental section of “The Dark”, during which I truly felt as though I was witnessing a late 90’s Savatage performance. Al Pitrelli absolutely ruled that solo.
Now, onto some of my more legit complaints. First of all, the stupid whorey dancing needs to die. All of it. Now, I am a straight male, I don’t fundamentally hate women dancing – but I do when it completely obstructs the mood and feeling of the story, and seems completely forced just to “sex” up the show. When the girls decided to come out in the second half f “After the Fall”, I had a complete facepalm moment, it just killed the vibe. Other than that it was basically completely confined to instrumentals, mostly the ones in the “encore”. I am not too hot on the decision to make “The Dark” sung by a girl in stead of Zak Stevens, but I understand the decision to want to represent “Muses” with a girl instead of a guy – and it was a solid performance by Valentina Porter, though outshined by her performance on “A Final Dream”. The role of Theresa was taken on by TSO newcomer Chloe lowery, who was a bit of a mixed bag. Overall all her performances were solid, but they weren’t stunning, and her dress was cut a bit too provocatively, making it somewhat hard to concentrate on the “right” things. “Dreams of Candlelight” was her weak point, but the other two were quite good. I’m not convinced they couldn’t have found someone better, but it wasn’t a bad decision.
Finally, we have “Believe”. I have been fundamentally against the decision for TSO to play and rerecorded this song, and that hasn’t changed. I particularly have voiced my disapproval of vocalist Tim Hockenberry’s very processed, psuedo-dramatic vocals, and that too hasn’t changed. However, the song still retained quite a bit of its power in the live element. It didn’t bring me to tears as it did when Jon Oliva (and his “Pain”) performed it, but it was still very much “alive”, especially when seeing Caffery and Pitrelli play the duel solo together. I sang every word, Oliva-isms included, and it still managed to be a great aspect of the show on the whole, even with my negative points about it.
So, that about does it for the show. Oh yes, Jeff Plate threw me a drumstick, which was super cool of him. We waited in the signing line after the show, actually specifically til the very end, so we wouldn’t be rushed through it so much. The performers were a mixed bag, but most of the ones I was specifically looking to meet were very cool. Most of. Unfortunately one of the most highly anticipated, Al Pitrelli, was a dick. And not very subtle about it either. He signed my 3 booklets I brought for him, but I didn’t even dare ask for a picture, because he was just so incredibly cold and downright rude. I was pretty put off by it, and it was probably the rudest I’ve ever been treated by a member of a band I was looking forward to meeting. Thankfully everyone else made up for it. This was the first time I had seen Caffery since playing two shows with him last September, and he was really nice and really cool, seemed happy to see me again. Johnny lee Middleton was super-cool, and apparently already knew who I was thanks to Facebook, as did Rob Evan, who was probably the coolest of the whole bunch. He was very inquisitive about whether or not the show lived up to my expectations and what I specifically thought of his performance. Probably one of the coolest and nicest people I’ve ever met.
After loitering in the lobby for a while, we hit the road around midnight, and got home around 1:30. All in all, a very very good show. Was it amazing? No. Was it great? Yes. Would I go again? Definitely.
04.What Good This Deafness?
06.What is Eternal
07.Mozart and Madness (Savatage)
11.The Dreams of Candlelight
12.Requiem (The Fifth)
13.I’ll Keep Your Secrets
16.After the Fall
17.A last Illusion
18.This Is Who You Are
22.Who is this Child?
23.A Final Dream
24.Toccata – Carpimus Noctem
26.Prelude to Madness / The Mountain
Band(s): Kansas and Native Window
Venue: Sherman Theater
City, State: Stroudsburg, PA
Wow, that’s all I can say. For a bunch of guys their age, Kansas absolutely rule live. Unfortunately, I can’t say quite the same for their audience, who were pretty damn dormant for pretty much the whole show. As usual, I’ll get into all the details in order.
This show was originally supposed to take place two weeks ago, but was postponed due to weather. Fortunately the band didn’t make us wait that long to see them. We got up to Stroudsburg around 7:30. Unfortunately the venue was incredibly slow with getting people into the building, we probably didn’t sit down until nearly 8pm, and about 10 minutes later, the opening act – Native Window hit the stage.
Now, for those who don’t know, Native Window is in fact all current members of Kansas except for Steve Walsh – basically it’s their way of still being able to create the music they want because Walsh wants to do something different. Their music is very melodic, a lot of hooks and catchy chorus with solid playing and great vocals from Billy Greer. Towards the end of their set they rocked it up a bit, but mostly it was mid-tempo melodic rock. I quite enjoyed their stuff – nearly picked up a CD afterwards, but I was a bit short on cash.
02.Still (We Will Go On)
03.The Way You Haunt Me
06.Blood in the Water
07.People of the South Wind (Kansas)
The turn-over was then naturally quite timely due to the fact that most of the guys used the same equipment – just had to uncover Phil Ehart’s real drum kit and Steve Walsh’s keyboards.
Kansas came on right at 9pm, and I was surprised from the very beginning – a cold start. No intro music, no introduction – the lights simply went down and the five guys walked out, and before we knew it, they were under way, choosing to kick off the set with the excellent 1-2-3 punch of Magnum Opus, Musicatto, and Belexes – which were superb and got a huge standing ovation from the crowd. After that it was time for the classic “Point of Know Return”, followed by the SUPERB Miracles Out of Nowhere, which got another great response from the crowd.
At this point the band slowed things down for a while – first with a great rendition of “On the Other Side”, which I thought was one of the highlights of the show overall. After that they had a special surprise (first of 3) – a song which had only been played live for the first time 2 days prior – “Stand Beside Me”, off the In the Spirit of Things record. Not a song I’m terribly familiar with (same went for the crowd), but it was really cool. Next up were classic ballads “Hold On”, and a surprisingly early “Dust in the Wind”.
The remainder of the main set was just fucking rockin’. A godlike rendition of the epic “Song For America” was followed by the next two surprises – which the band had not played live in many years prior to two days ago – “Mysteries and Mayhem” and “Child of Innocence” off the Masque album. These tracks, as well as, in my opinion, the set highlight – “Icarus” showcased this bands amazing chops as well as their complete ability to kick ass with the best of them. These tracks performed live today give you an idea of amazing the Masque record was for 1975. After that the band gave us a great rendition of “Portrait (He Knew)”, before leaving for a short break before the encore.
“Fight Fire With Fire” kicked off the encore on a fun and energetic note, only prolonging the tangible anticipation for the band’s colossal “Carry On Wayward Son” – one of those rare occasions when a band’s biggest hit is actually a fucking great song. At this point everyone rushed the stage and I went from my 8th row seat to standing front row right in front of bassist/vocalist Billy Greer. The next 5 minutes were pure rock n’ roll bliss – showcasing this tune’s power and enduring quality, seeing THREE generations of fans digging it. Sadly this would mean the end of the show, and after their goodbyes, the band took their leave.
So – all in all, a superb show, complete with one of the best sound mixes I’ve ever heard. As I said, for a bunch of guys their age, Kansas still completely fucking rock and the impact their sound had on progressive metal in decades to come is unmistakable. In hindsight they didn’t play some songs I would’ve liked to hear, but the handful of rarities made up for this, and it was still a GREAT show, so mistakes are forgiven.
01.Magnum Opus: Overture/Howling At the Moon
04.Point of Know Return
05.Miracles Out of Nowhere
06.On the Other Side
07.Stand Beside Me
09.Dust in the Wind
10.Song For America
11.Mysteries and Mayhem
12.Child of Innocence
13.Icarus: Borne on Wings of Steel
14.Portrait (He Knew)
15.Fight Fire With Fire
16.Carry On My Wayward Son
Band(s): Awaken (Formerly Lazarus)
Venue: Don Hill’s
City, State: New York City, NY
So, back in November I made a trek into New York City to see my absolute favorite unsigned band, Lazarus. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone to unusual lengths to see and support them.
I gave up my typical “master of my own destiny” attitude and decided to take the train into the city and then the subway pretty much to the venue (Don Hill’s). We got held up a bit on the way in, but wound up getting to the venue around 8:30 or so. We completely missed the first band, and the second band “J Rad” were almost done when we got there. I saw them open for Saxon. They weren’t any better this time. After that it was time for Faith Factor, a Christian-oriented “True Metal Band”, which, despite ridiculous amounts of cheese, were pretty solid.
Around 10:15 Lazarus hit the stage, and for the next 50 minutes or so they blasted through a kickass set of metal tunes, almost all of which are from their still forthcoming album, “Awaken”. I’ve heard these songs a few times now so I’m starting to become familiar with them and enjoy them more. The band’s new guitarist Joe Todaro seems to be better adjusted than he was back in July, as there was a good bit more interaction on stage. The playing was superb as always, with Glenn Dagrossa showing off his excellent presence as a frontman, Artie Dillon shredding away between his excellent bits of backing vocals, and rhythm section of Freddie Villano and Nick D’Allesandro holding everything together nicely. All in all it was a great set, and the crowd response was very nice. Highlights of the set included the melodically catchy “Bones to Dust”, the epic “Awaken”, the technically elaborate “The Inquisitor”, and the super-fun catchy anthem, “Wings of Avalon”, with which the band closed.
After the show we hung around with the guys for a while, in particular I talked to their singer, Glenn about events that have transpired in the past 6 months and when we can finally expect to hear a finished version of “Awaken”.
01.As the Dark So the Light
02.Bones to Dust
03.The Death of Me
04.Beneath the Surface
07.Wings of Avalon
Venue: Penn’s Peak
City, State: Jim Thorpe, PA
My seventh time seeing Tesla, and as expected, they didn’t disappoint. Penn’s Peak is a pretty big venue and I was very surprised with how full it was. I swear Tesla has a bigger crowd every time I see them. The band sounded great and had their usual boat-load of fun on-stage. We were front row, just a bit off of center, and I collected picks from Frank, Brian, and Dave, as well as a set list at the end of the night.
I couldn’t believe how many rarities were in the set this time around. I know they’ve been taking requests throughout the tour, and that probably has a lot to do with the variety in this set. The band only has six studio albums, and yet on my SEVENTH time seeing them, I saw FIVE songs I had never seen before (none of them off the newest album), and I saw a few others I had only seen a time or maybe two. It makes the ticket price that much more worth it. I’d say Shine Away was probably the overall highlight of all the rarer stuff for myself.
Oh, and I figure I should note that this was the very first time Tesla ever played Last Action Hero live!
02.I Wanna Live
03.Modern Day Cowboy
04.Into the Now
05.Too Late For Love
12.Last Action Hero
13.Stir It Up
-Acoustic Guitar Doodle-
17.Comin’ Atcha Live
Band(s): Stratovarius and Pagan’s Mind
City, State: Baltimore, MD
This was an interesting night. First of all, we drove 3 hours each way for this show, which was relatively pain-free but still quite long. Stratovarius have this VIP thing they do where people get in early for a Meet + Greet and such, and it was incredibly disorganized and led to the rest of us getting let in about 45 minutes late, which no one was happy about. Instead of the 7:30 or 8 start-time I expected, the first of two local support bands didn’t come on until 8:30, and they sucked. It was a bunch of kids who sounded incredibly sloppy, like they shouldn’t be playing shows for another couple of years. Wouldn’t have been SO bad if it wasn’t so loud. The second band had their shit together a bit more, but still just weren’t very good.
Eventually, around 10PM, Pagans Mind took the stage to a dismal crowd of no more than 100-150 people, but they fucking ruled. The one thing that struck me as so great about this band is that they are one of the few bands I’ve heard that are able to capture their definitive sound in the live environment. Their performance had a shit-ton of energy, mostly coming from frontman Nils K Rue. The whole band was pretty much spot-on performance-wise, and the crowd loved them. Honestly, they were much better than Stratovarius.
Pagan’s Mind Setlist:
04.Hallo Spaceboy (David Bowie cover)
07.Through Osiris’ Eyes
Stratovarius came on around 11PM to a very small and tired crowd, and I think this really hurt their performance. It kind of seemed to me like the band got out there, so how many people were there, and just kind of half-assed the performance. It almost kind of seemed like we were just watching them rehearse or something. Kotipelto sounded pretty off, Jens fucked around a lot, and the rhythm section just didn’t sound that tight. The new guy, Mattias though, was fantastic. I’m assuming that’s because he feels he needs to play his ass off every night in order to earn the respect of the audience. Song like “Speed of light” never sounded as good with Tolkki playing. The band were at least fun and entertaining, though at times it just seemed like they were dragging stuff out, like the big-endings of songs and such. A few of the shorter, more up-tempo numbers were really enjoyable, but overall it was just kind of a weak performance, the band sounded a bit off, and the crowd was just dismal, as I said. All in all, it wasn’t BAD, and certainly would have come off better had Pagan’s Mind not played before them, but I was expecting a little more.
02.Hunting High and low
03.Speed of light
04.Kiss of Judas
06.A Million lightyears Away
10.Forever Is Today
After the show, we were able to meet, talk to, and take pictures with all the Pagans Mind guys, who were so incredibly cool, and for that, I applaud them.
Band(s): Primal Fear
Venue: Gramercy Theater
City, State: New York City, NY
First of all – Holy fucking shit, this was a great show.
Primal Fear have been one of those bands I have liked for quite a few years now but figured there was no way I was ever going to actually see them without traveling a good bit, so when they announced this show, I knew right away it was one of those absolutely “can’t miss” shows. Due to financial problems the trip came into jeopardy and we didn’t buy our tickets until a few days ago, but still, there was excitement in the air. We left from Allentown, PA around 2pm, and made great time getting into the city despite the shitty rainy weather. We parked about a block away from where we thought the venue was but actually it was about 5 blocks further, but hey, I got some needed exercise. We got down to the venue around 4:30, just in time to see Ralf Scheepers walk by us and inside. I flipped him the horns and he did the same back, I didn’t bother to stop him though. We were the first people there, and remained 3 of the only 10 or so people there until about 45 minutes before doors, when a small line formed. Doors opened around 7:10.
So, people slowly started to file in, and the first band, Martyrd went on around around 8. Not terrible, a bit of old school traditional/thrash worship (really big old Metallica tendencies), but it just sounded so juvenile, like you could tell it was a bunch of kids. After a 30 minute set, they gave way to Arctic Flame, who I’ve seen a few times and played with as well. Not bad, solid but not noteworthy traditional metal, relatively fun stuff, but I could’ve done without a 47-minute set. Fortunately it was only a short changeover before Primal Fear came on.
Following a solid PA intro and some anticipation, the band blasted into “Under the Radar”, from which point they didn’t dare look back. This show is nearly impossible to select highlights, considering nearly every song was absolutely fantastic. The band/venue had really good sound which added to experience, and all the band members have fantastic stage presence, especially hired-gun Alex Beyrodt of Silent Force. I can’t say enough how I underestimated Ralf Scheepers as a live vocalist and front-man. I have never heard someone not only nail every high note and scream, but add them everywhere and just totally command them. Holy shit his voice just pierces the air. The duet version of “Fighting the Darkness” with Pamela Moore was really cool, and the dueling guitar solo between Henny and Alex was fantastic. If I really had to try to nail down highlights, I’d go with “Sign of Fear”, “Nuclear Fire”, ‘Angel in Black”, and “Final Embrace”, but I should also give note to how cool “Hands of Time” was – seeing the band come out for the encore and just strip it down to a mostly acoustic song which just allowed the audience to participate and really gave everyone something remember. They said it was by far their favorite show of the dates in North America, which I can believe as it looked like they were having an absolute blast, and played their fucking asses off. At the end of the show Mat Sinner handed me his wristband and I was able to get a set list as well.
All in all an absolutely fantastic show, a possible contender for my all-time top 10, we’ll see. Fortunately the band promised they’d be back next year, so we’ll get another go and all the people who missed out can see what they missed.
01.Under the Radar
02.Battalions of Hate
05.16.6 (Six Times Dead)
06.Angel In Black
08.Sign of Fear
09.Fighting the Darkness
10.Riding the Eagle
12.Metal Is Forever
13.Hands of Time
Band(s): King’s X
Venue: The Chance
City, State: Poughkeepsie, NY
Well, it had been been a crazy past 36 hours. I’d covered 10 hours’ worth of driving, including playing a show in NYC and seeing a show in NY state. This probably wouldn’t have raped my well-being as bad if I had slept more than 5 hours on Friday night. Nevertheless, I have a review to get to.
To make a long story, well, about as long as it should be: I was originally supposed to go to this show for free due to one of the opening bands getting me on the guest list, so the 3-hour (one way) drive would be justified by saving the extra gas money on free entry and seeing one great support band, but they pulled out of the show. Unfortunately I was not notified until it was too late for me to make either of the two shows closer to me. I’ve been listening to King’s X a lot lately and was really looking forward to this, and following a positively ecstatic review from a friend of mine a few days ago, my sister and I decided to say damn our shitty financial situation and growing fatigue from our own show on Saturday night, we were gonna go and see King’s X.
We left our house at about 4:15pm, and made decent time getting up to Poughkeepsie, parking around 7-7:15-ish. We went into the venue around 7:30 and saw 2 opening bands. One was an actually pretty good instrumental progressive rock/metal band called Mazmyth, and the other was a pretty inappropriate band called Last Perfect Thing.
King’s X came on around 9:40, and fucking rocked. I’ve always found that one of the most tired phrases out there is when radio-listening idiots compliment trios for “putting out a lot of sound for three guys”, when in reality it’s just tons of studio overdubs which can’t be replicated live without massive assistance. That being said, that actual concept is very true of King’s X. Doug’s bass sound is absolutely huge, and the vocal harmonies are spot-on. We were front row right in front of Doug and it was great. There was a ton of band-crowd interaction which always makes for a better show. I can’t compliment the musical and vocal tightness of the band enough, but the thing that made my jaw hit the floor was the absolutely amazing performance of “Over My Head”, which had to be well over 10 minutes long.
Following an extended intro and then the song as usual through the instrumental break, Ty Tabor did an absolutely fantastic extended guitar solo which built on itself perfectly until exploding in sheer brilliance. I’ve always found his playing really cool, but this solo was totally amazing. After that, the band mellowed it down a bit and Doug gave the crowd a speech, a sermon of sorts, about how “It’s a terrible thing to do the thing you hate for the rest of your life”. More or less it was a pretty awesome motivational bit about how you should never give up on your dreams, no matter how crazy they are, no matter how many people doubt you or call you crazy, and that you have the power to make them come true. I think the thing that made the bit about music hit me so hard is that I’ve always found King’s X to be a shining example of artistic integrity creativity over commercial success or anything fake. So hearing this from them was pretty damn inspiring. The best was yet to come, when the band led the audience in a sing-along of the chorus, letting us carry the tempo, melody, and lyrics ourselves while Doug did a totally crazy vocal improv over it, singing so loudly and powerfully he didn’t even need the microphone. It was crazy. One of the coolest performances I’ve ever seen.
Anyway, if I can register one complaint it’s that the band didn’t give us their classic “Goldilox” as a first encore. Apparently since they have the crowd sing the whole song, they only do it at the better shows on the tour, and ours didn’t qualify. Oh well. I still think it’s a cool concept to not do it all the time, I can only hope they do it next time, and there will be a next time.
05.What Is This?
06.Lost in Germany
10.Go Tell Somebody
12.Looking For Love
13.Over My Head
15.We Were Born to Be Loved
Venue: Wachovia Center
City, State: Philadelphia, PA
This was a show that I was on the fence about going to, but after nearly two hours of a fun and engaging show I’m very happy I hopped off the fence on the side that had me traveling to the city of brotherly love. Sitting through the opening act my friends and I speculated on what would happen with the three giant columns on the stage. I thought the sides were drapery, and they’d fall down exposing the band, a friend thought that they would raise up, and another simply hoped they would uncover video screens. Isn’t it nice when you can all be right?
As the intro tape began to role the columns, which must have been at least forty foot high, lit up with video on all four sides, and then during the opening notes of “Uprising” the columns split in the middle introducing Matt, Chris, and Dom to the audience. From that point on I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that I’d be in for a spectacular visual presentation. After two songs the bottom half of the columns lowered to the floor allowing the guys full mobility as they kicked into “New Born”. By the end of that song the lighting and video effects had kicked into full effect and I realized I was seeing a show comparable to Pink Floyd back in ’94. The big difference being that, and I don’t think I’m letting out any secrets here, Muse’s music is a bit more energetic, and the guys in the band are a tad younger than the Floyd boys. Add to that the approximately half a dozen mics set up around the stage allowing Matt to fully play to the crowd and you had a truly entertaining show.
For the most part the setlist was a thing of beauty, including personal favorites “Feeling Good”, “Map of the Problematique”, and “Undisclosed Desires”. The really neat thing was how nearly every song felt like it had to be in the set. So many high energy and well received songs made for a great first time seeing the band, though I can see how it might get a little old for someone seeing Muse on their third or fourth tour. The only major flub I thought was the inclusion of the first part of Exogenesis, which I don’t find a strong song to begin with, but certainly not to open the encore. Though, that was more than made up for when they closed the encore, and the night with “Knights of Cydonia”.
Along with all the great songs being played there were plenty of quick heavy jams, a few song teasers, and a very cool moment where Chris went back-to-back against Dom as Dom’s platform raised from the floor while rotating around for an amazing bass and drums duet.
At the end of the night I definitely left feeling I had seen something special. The band was energetic, and their show was stellar. They did a great job always having interesting videos for the screens, the stage setup was amazing, and the set was killer. You can’t ask for too much more from a show.
Band(s): Porcupine Tree and King’s X
Venue: Electric Factory
City, State: Philadelphia, PA
Although I went into the show mainly as a Porcupine Tree fan, I did have a bit of exposure to King’s X. Despite knowing some of their material I certainly wasn’t prepared for the awesome show they put on. For almost fifty minutes the guys entertained with their own special brand of Rock ‘N’ Roll, and if I had to sum up their performance in one word it would be “inspiring”. Due to the band’s enthusiasm on stage and Doug Pinnick’s performance and talk between songs I really think that everyone felt a lit bit better after their set then they did before the band came on. On top of that the band was getting a tremendous amount of support from the audience, and one could tell what may have been considered by some to be an odd pairing of bands was actually a great one. The only thing that was a little disappointing was the lack of Go Tell Somebody in the set; I figured that would be a live staple for sure! Still, it was a fantastic set and not one I would complain loudly about!
By the time King’s X had finished their set I looked around to see an absolutely packed venue, and I couldn’t believe it. Apparently the show had sold out the day prior to the show, and from the stage to the doors, and on the entire balcony people were packed in as tight as they go. Conservative estimates place the venues capacity at 2,500, which for Porcupine Tree is absolutely fantastic I’d say. It’s nice to see such a good act, which is always standing behind its new material doing so well, even during tough economic times.
Going in I knew that Porcupine Tree would be opening the show with the nearly hour long “The Incident”, and having listened to the album every day since it came about two weeks prior to the show I was very much looking forward to its performance. It did not disappoint. One of the biggest comments I’ve heard about the album, and certainly an observation I’ve made about it is how hard the album is to digest. It’s not a grower in the sense that it necessarily gets better with each listen, however you seem to more fully understand it every time you listen to it. And I would say I’ve never been able to digest it better than when I saw it live. Something about the album just lends itself to a live performance, and I felt that part of it was that a lot of the shorter, more atmospheric pieces and parts were more engaging live. Despite that highlights of the first set were movements like “Drawing the Line” and “Time Flies”, though honorable mention must go out to “I Drive the Hearse”. After that song the band went off for an intermission and did something that should be mandatory for all bands who ever take an intermission, they put a digital clock up on the big screen to count down the time until they would return.
At this point I can tell you how pleased I was once again with the Electric Factory due to the sound. I’ve seen Queensrÿche their twice, and Porcupine Tree there once before, and all those shows, and this one sounded great. This almost makes up for the fact I was practically given a full cavity search at the door to get into the place. The man searching me pretty much grabbed my ass when padding my back pockets, and every square inch on me pretty much got touched except the one place you can probably guess that they thankfully did not go. That does not mean the show was without issue. Just through the first set one could tell that technical difficulties would become commonplace that night. Bass feedback here, weird noises there, broken strings and the wrong guitars at the wrong time. Between his banter on the subject and his lack of appearance at the band’s after-show you could really tell that Steven Wilson was not having as much fun as he could have that night. However the issues were generally corrected in a timely manner and they did not take away from the show much at all.
The second set would consist mainly of material from the band’s back catalog, and having followed the set-lists from the tour to a certain extent I can say that if I were allowed to pick which songs they played at this show based on what they were potentially playing, I would have picked exactly what I got. The set opened with “The Start of Something Beautiful” which was amazing! Then again they could have played pretty much anything from Deadwing and probably have gotten a similar reaction from me. After that came “Russia On Ice” which I have always found to be overrated amongst the band’s fans, but the song featured the most awesome guitar I have ever seen in my life. When the song started the lights were down and all you saw was the middle of this guitar glowing, and throughout the song the color pattern and shapes changed, and it was just one of the trippiest moments of my sober life. However the song did see the return of some more unfortunate technical difficulties. After that, the mellowest part of the second set, the band decided to launch straight into the middle section of “Anesthetize”, which is arguably the most rocking/metal six or so minutes the band has ever done. It also seemed to be a huge crowd pleaser, and I certainly could not be happier with its inclusion.
What came next was another highlight of the show. Having seen the band on the Fear of a Blank Planet and Nil Recurring tours there was only one song from those sessions I had not yet seen live, and it was one of my favorites. So when Steven Wilson switched over to his acoustic guitar, and then said they planned to play a song written for Fear of a Blank Planet, but that later came out on the Nil Recurring EP, I began to ask god for a quick favor. Then he announced “Normal” and I was ready to flip out! It completely lived up to expectations, with the instrumental section being perhaps the best on the entire night, and the end of the song is quite simply one of the most beautiful things the band has ever put on record, and seeing it live was truly a treat. After that the band ripped into one of the many amazing tracks from In Absentia I had not yet seen, “Strip the Soul”. Barbieri’s haunting keyboard work and the rest of the bands performance made this another one to remember. Next the band decided to perform my favorite song off of the second disc of The Incident, “Bonnie the Cat”. The vocal effects and their interplay with the music came across exceptionally well live, and it was another great addition to the second set.
After that the band went off stage, and when they returned they just so happened to play my favorite song from In Absentia, “The Sound of Muzak”. This song gives me chills every time I hear it, and it will always be welcome in their live set. Finally the band closed the night with the greatest performance of “Trains” I have ever heard. They seemed to really enjoy themselves with it, adding in little things here and there to give the song new life, and it really showed through, and the audience ate it up. All an all a fantastic show from the opening act to the final song of the evening. I must say that hearing “The Incident” start to finish was a treat, but the second set was the better half of the show.
Afterwards I was fortunate enough to get to go back and hang out with Colin, Richard, and John and as always they were very nice and hospitable. They seemed to be quite happy about the sellout when I brought it up to them, and I was able to talk to Colin about the forthcoming DVD, taped in Europe on the previous tour, and all I will say is things sound quite promising!
Band(s): Progressive Nation 2009
Venue: Convention Hall
City, State: Asbury Park, NJ
So after having already reviewed two Progressive Nation 2009 shows, could I possibly have anything new and constructive to say? Probably not, but I have a computer and Microsoft Word, so what the fuck.
Coming into town for this show my initial reactions were quite positive, the venue sat right on a beautiful beach, I ran into Jordan Rudess on the boardwalk, and he told me that an issue I had encountered six days earlier in Columbia, MD had been fixed, and there would be re-entry allowed, which is always welcomed, even if only to allow the crowds to spread out between acts and leave a bit of space. However my expectations of the show started to go downhill once I actually got inside the Convention Hall. The place looked like a glorified high school auditorium, but in any case I had sixth row tickets, the closest I have ever been for Dream Theater, so how bad could things be?
Well, Scale the Summit took the stage and I was immediately thrown into a bit of dismay over the very noticeable drop in sound quality compared to the other two shows I had attended on the tour. The boys sounded muddier, louder, and more distorted than before, but it didn’t keep them from having another exciting and well executed set. Unfortunately the reception Scale the Summit got after their final song was practically nothing compared to the other two shows I went to, and later in the show the band told me that the show in general was probably the one with the lowest attendance so far on the tour. In addition, friends who were sitting well off to the left side told me that the sound was even worse over there.
After only about ten minutes of setup Bigelf took the stage and gave a third awesome performance, but unfortunately the sound issues would be more apparent for their set than any other. I have to really give the guys credit at this show, most bands with a half hour opening slot would just go out and play the same set every night, but this was my third time seeing them and it was the third different, albeit only slightly different set list, and it was the first to include one of my favorites from their newest album, “Money, It’s Pure Evil”. After their set the guys from Bigelf and Scale the Summit once again came out to the merch stand to talk with everyone and I really have to compliment both bands on doing their casual meet and greets after every show. It is a great way to build up a solid fan base, the guys from both bands were both super friendly, and it really was a cool experience when Pat from Scale the Summit sees you and says, “Oh, you again!”.
Zappa Plays Zappa’s set ended up being far more entertaining than it was in Columbia, mainly due to the addition of what seemed like a lot of the guys in the band having a lot of extra fun. Dweezil tried out a new game amongst the instrumentals, making them try and mimic his jumping intervals in unison as he bounced around the stage, and although simple, it really was a highlight of the entire show. I was happy to hear “Montana” again, and even though I’m not very familiar with Frank Zappa’s music I can say that at least half the set differed from what I had heard before. So with the exception of Scale the Summit, everyone on the tour was going the extra mile with set list rotation to make things even more interesting for someone like me who attended three different shows.
And now it was time… as I said earlier I have never been so close for Dream Theater before and was not sure how much improved the experience would be from up close, but I was happily about to find out. They show opened once again with the lighting spectacular that is “A Nightmare to Remember”, which then went into “A Rite of Passage” a song which simply rocked live for a third time. After that Dream Theater started “Beyond This Life”, a song I have not seen yet this tour and certainly a welcomed treat. Dream Theater’s heavier songs almost always sit well live with me and this was no exception, it was however at this point I was somewhat losing hope in the crowd near the front with me. With the exception of two fourteenish year olds next to me who insisted on swinging their hair throughout the entire night and in effect having it brush up against me, the crowd up in the front seemed very tame compared to my two previous shows in which I was farther back. After “Beyond This Life” came “Erotomania”, a song I have now become very fond of hearing live. Just seems that all four instrumentalists get really into this one and really push it to the next level in a live setting, and as I’ve said before the animated videos of Robert Medina certainly will help maintain the interest of anyone whose mind would otherwise be meandering after six minutes of notes with no lyrics. As expected “Erotomania” made its transition into “Voices” and ten minutes and an incredible guitar solo later Portnoy was stomping on his base drum, getting the audience to clap along as John Petrucci strapped on his double neck guitar and started “Solitary Shell”.
The song was once again extended to contain a jam between Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci and once again it ended up being one of the more memorable moments of the night, both for the music and the odd antics. It was very odd to see Petrucci, who often plays a billion notes a second take a seat on the drum riser and chill casually as Rudess broke out the Zen Riffer to make his way to the front of the stage, and Portnoy decided to make a trip around his drum set, clicking and clacking on whatever he could to keep the beat during his journey from out behind the massive kit. After that came “In the Name of God”, another song I could never hear enough live. Despite a very tame crowd I got into this song unlike any other during the night, singing along and head banging to every single section. I even tried to get a back and forth wave going towards the end of the song ala Live at Budokan, but the failing crowd only gave me about five short lived supporters. Finally the show concluded with “The Count of Tuscany” the new nineteen minute winding epic which awed yet another crowd.
All four acts were once again entertaining, and Dream Theater was, as always, exceptional, but this show certainly sits below the other two I had seen due to inferior sound and a sterile crowd.
Band(s): Yes & Asia
City, State: Bethlehem, PA
This show came after back to back Progressive Nation shows in the Baltimore and Philadelphia areas, and although the closeness of the show was a welcomed reprieve, Dream Theater two nights in a row is a hard act to follow.
Asia’s set was pretty much what you’d expect, the four most popular songs off of the debut album, a few classic covers from the respective members past, the two ballads from the band’s second album, and only one song from the new album, Phoenix. I find it quite sad that the phoenix is a mystical creature, known for rising from the ashes and pushing forward anew, while the reformed Asia seems to be a commercial whore playing the same exact songs since they’ve reformed and playing things as safe as possible. Even though I would have liked to hear more from the new album the set the guys did play was very entertaining. My personal favorite “Only Time Will Tell” was played as expected, and it’s always nice to hear songs like “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “In the Court of the Crimson King”. On the other hand Carl Palmer’s performance on the night seemed off a bit, and his small drum solo was considerably worse than when I saw the band headline awhile back. It also doesn’t help that the band started while it was still light out, and I had lawn tickets, so with no video screens to aide me the visual aspect of the show practically was not there.
However, darkness eventually crept in and the main event of the evening was ready to begin. Having never seen Yes before I was really quite excited, but at the same time was not sure what to expect since Oliver Wakeman had taken over on keys and Jon Anderson was not with the band. The band was only a few minutes through the opening number, “Siberian Khatru” when I was able to drop any worries about that night’s performance. The new vocalist, Benoit David sounds so much like Jon Anderson it’s actually quite scary, and Oliver Wakeman would certainly have made his father proud by the end of the night. With so many classic songs Yes really could not have gone wrong with their song selection, but they really exceeded my expectations by visiting the Drama album twice, playing “Tempus Fugit” and “Machine Messiah”, certainly a major positive result of Jon Anderson not being present. Steve Howe, who was pulling double duty this tour, managed to play all of his complex and interesting parts quite flawlessly, and one of the highlights of the entire Yes set was his simple yet classic “Intersection Blues”. Chris Squire… what can be said about the leader of Yes, the man was a beast on stage. The presence the very tall man has on the stage can only be topped by the magnitude of his bass playing. Yes certainly was one of the top two or three bands I’ve ever seen as far as bass in the mix is concerned, it was really a treat to see a band where the bass was used so effectively to move songs. And of course Alan White managed pieces he had originally played on, or had not, with equal effectiveness.
It really was a wonderful experience to see so many 10+ minute masterworks come to life in their full brilliance. Favorites of mine such as “Roundabout”, “And You and I”, “Heart of the Sunrise”, and “Starship Trooper” were all performed. In fact the only real disappointment with the set list was the lack of “Close to the Edge”, and the exclusion of anything from Magnification, which I consider to be a marvelous return to form for the band. With video screens working I could actually see the headliners, unlike with Asia, and the sound from the far away land of the lawn, which at this venue is even further back than usual, was surprisingly good. The next time Yes tours, hopefully with this lineup, I suggest you go check it out!
Band(s): Progressive Nation 2009
Venue: Merriweather Post Pavilion
City, State: Columbia, MD
If I take off of work, then get up before 10am on a day off, and then travel nearly three hours to Maryland, there better be a damn good reason for it. On the first day of August I had that reason, a special outing of Dream Theater’s Progressive Nation tour that would be the only show to feature Queensrÿche as an additional act to the festival’s usual lineup. Due to an 11pm curfew, and the then five bands playing that night, the festivities were to kick off at 4:30, and I did not want to miss any of it. So after a long journey and some tailgating I made my way to my seats just after 4:00.
Scale the Summit came on at 4:30 sharp and for half an hour they took the audience by storm. Thanking the fans that came early, the band, including drummer Pat Skeffington who was celebrating his 23rd birthday at the show knew how to throw the right kind of party; complete with intense drum patterns, amazing guitar tapping melodies, and a lot of intense grooves. Although it was quite early for a show to start, the boys still managed to receive a standing ovation from a more than half full pavilion. After Scale left the stage, a pair of vintage organs were brought center stage, and Bigelf stepped out into the bright light of the early evening. Opening as they did the day prior with “The Evils of Rock & Roll” the band told the crowd afterwards that the song was being filmed to be turned into a video, and it will certainly be a performance I would like to see again! If Scale the Summit was a fresh face on the instrumental progressive metal market, Bigelf were a big reminder of what a lot of prog fans loved about the heavier prog coming out of the 1970’s. A lot of heavy, yet easy rockin’ riffs with fantastic organ work that you could bang your head to. Although for this set the band dropped my favorite song from the previous night, “Blackball”, their set was still fantastic, and made me remember that I need to pick up more than just their newest album, which is all I currently own.
Next, the special event of this particular show, Queensrÿche would take the stage. Unfortunately they took an overly long time to set up, and near the end we saw roadies come out to scratch songs of their set list due to the delay, but for now let’s focus on what did get played. The band opened with “Neue Regal”, and now after seeing them open with it twice I still can’t decide whether or not it is a fantastic of a horrible opener. I can’t help but feel that a more straight forward rocker like “Walk in the Shadows”, which was played later in the Rage For Order suite would serve as a better opener. “Screaming in Digital” and “The Whisper” rounded out the Rage suite, the former of which was a very good choice considering the progressive tendencies of the crowd. Now before I go into the American Soldier suite of Queensrÿche set, I feel there is a little back story I need to tell. About a month before this show I was forced to sell a ticket I had bought for a friend and it ended up going via ebay to a Marine based down in Virginia who I found out at the show was a casual Queensrÿche fan, but was not familiar with the new album. I can safely say that by the end of the suite Queensrÿche had made a new hardcore fan. From the opening scream of, “ON YOUR FEET SOLDIER!” to the final notes of “Home Again” you could see that the band did a fantastic job in connecting with this particular member of our armed services. The connection seemed strongest when vocalist Geoff Tate explained the story behind “A Dead Man’s Words”. Also played during the set was “Man Down”, the only Ryche song of the night I hadn’t seen before and honestly I wasn’t really blown away with its live performance, nor was it ever one of my favorites on the album. Although it was being played at every other show in America, I have to say I was a bit surprised to see “Home Again” in the set, simply because Tate’s young daughter was on tour to sing the duet with her father, and it would be one of the largest audiences she would sing to, but the really important factor is that it would be the first time she would be singing to an audience that was not primarily Ryche fans. But she did well and received the biggest ovation of the night aside from two songs later when the band would leave the stage. The set would end with two songs that were easily the two to get the best initial response, “Best I Can” and “Empire. Although I have to say it was sad this time around not to see Queensrÿche from under ten feet away, it was made up for by the fact that at this particular amphitheater the sound was about a billion times better than when I last saw Queensrÿche at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ. It seems that Queensrÿche pumps out enough sound to play for an amphitheater every night, unfortunately that doesn’t work to well when all that sound is placed into a small club. In any case the band put on a short, but strong show that seemed to make the hardcore Ryche fans and a lot of guys wearing Dream Theater and Zappa shirts very happy.
Next up was Zappa, a band I had skipped the night before in Upper Darby, a decision I’d come to regret on this night. After a nice introduction into what Zappa Plays Zappa is by Dweezil Zappa, the band kicked into what would be over an hour of eclectic goodness. While I cannot see myself becoming a huge Zappa fan, I could very much appreciate both the amazing musicians up on the stage, and the obvious influence Zappa had on many contemporary bands I love, especially Beardfish, who were originally supposed to be on the festival. It’s also refreshing to someone like me, who doesn’t really factor lyrics into his rating of music to hear songs about moving to Montana to raise dental floss and become a dental floss tycoon. It is really fascinating how the music of Frank Zappa can be so carefree, and yet many people see it as defining the word “progressive”, and after sitting through the nights set I can really see why.
After Zappa cleared off the stage the setup for Dream Theater began, and as advertised the intro music began to play at 9:20 sharp. As with the previous night the band tore into “A Nightmare to Remember”, and unlike the previous night, this time the curtain came down as planned, and John Myung and John Petrucci strode forward to a frantic and excited crowd. For the second night in a row the song proved to be an energetic opener. After that the band went straight into “Prophets of War”, and I must say that despite how much I enjoy this song, up until the chorus kicks in you can truly feel a lull in the crowd reaction. Kind of the same vibe fans gave last tour to “I Walk Beside You”, even though they eventually get into it a bit for the first while they really give the impression that it certainly is not a favorite song of the masses. In any case this is my review and I found the song to be great live once again, and I really hope this isn’t the last tour we see it in the set. Next up was “Sacrificed Sons”, a song which I really enjoy on the album, but I found myself having somewhat of a problem with it. The video component to the song really helps drive home the lyrics and the feel of the song, but the instrumental section seems overly long and pointless live and it seemed to take away from the emotion of the song a bit.
Band(s): Progressive Nation 2009
Venue: The Tower Theater
City, State: Upper Darby, PA
There are so few band and venue combinations nowadays that I can honestly say give me a complete package, a full bang for my buck, but when Dream Theater brought their Progressive Nation tour to the Tower Theater I was pretty much given more than I could ask for.
At this point I’m so very used to either seeing shows at tiny clubs or huge amphitheaters that a nice midsized theater like the Tower is such a welcome stop. Beautiful lobbies, comfortable lobby furniture, and security that is there to be helpful as opposed to searching up your ass at every opportunity. Combine that with comfy and roomy seating inside the actual theater and you really have a prime set up for an excellent concert experience.
So now that I’ve given my official endorsement to the venue, let us go to our nearly dead center seats on the 2nd row of the balcony and enjoy the show. Scale the Summit was the first band up, and even though they only played to a less than half packed house you could tell they would walk away from the show with a lot of new fans. An instrumental quartet out of Houston, Scale the Summit looked as though they should be doing back to school shopping as opposed to being up on stage, but their live performance put any doubts about their young age to rest very early on in the show. While they were pounding out some of the most interesting dual axe instrumental work I’ve ever heard I was already astounded at how good the sound in the theater was. It speaks volumes for the place when the first act on sounds far better than many headliners I’ve seen elsewhere.
After receiving their standing ovation, Scale the Summit headed offstage and the setup for Bigelf began. When the band stepped out of the 70’s and onto the stage they too seemed to win over a few fans. A good mix of Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd influences Bigelf offered a nice retro feel. A tight performance had the crowd head banging along at times, and I was very happy to hear one of my favorite tracks off their newest album, Blackball. So after two great performances my woman, my friend and I headed downstairs and got a chance to talk with two of the Bigelf guys and all the Scale the Summit guys and everyone was incredibly friendly, a nice added bonus to an already awesome show. That, combined with bathroom breaks and a few other things led into the beginning of Zappa Plays Zappa’s set, and so we decided to make use of the nice lobby couches for the remainder of their set, something I’d come to regret the following night.
After all this we finally come to the main event of the night… progressive metal legends Dream Theater. The show started off with a bang and a laugh as the band tore into “A Nightmare to Remember” as one end of the otherwise dropping curtain got caught up and what was supposed to be a dramatic and epic entrance by John Myung and John Petrucci got delayed for about 15 seconds! As is often the case live, the best parts of the song seemed to be even better live, and certain sections of the song I’m not crazy about worked a lot better with some live energy behind it, however the one part of the song that still did not seemed to be helped live was the lengthy and somewhat choppy instrumental section. Overall though the song had a lot of energy and was a natural and good choice of opener. Also the band seemed to go to a new level with their light show during this song, very intense and always appropriate for the point in the song. After that came “A Rite of Passage”, a song that I think will do a fine job of replacing “The Dark Eternal Night” as a metal head-banging staple of this tour’s set-lists. The crowd seemed really into the song, head-banging and singing along, and I really enjoyed it live.
So after a solid twenty-five minutes of new material the band decided to turn back the clock a little bit, and after an extended guitar and keyboard introduction went back to the Falling Into Infinity era and pulled out the demo version of “Hollow Years”. One of my favorite DT ballads, “Hollow Years” is a song I’ve wanted to see live for a long time, and it did not disappoint. The chorus had everyone singing along and John Petrucci’s guitar solo was the first of several for the night that would have my jaw dropping to the floor. A perfect mix of melodic and shred the solo really shows what the man can do. After that the clock was turned back a little more and the thick organ sounds of “Erotomania” were heard. Although his videos could be seen during parts of songs prior, this is where the work of the somewhat new Dream Theater video boy Robert Medina was really effective. Along with a fantastic performance by the guys on stage a beautiful 3D animated video gave the song an added dimension, allowing fans to fully engage their eyes as well as their ears. As one would hope, “Erotomania” went straight into “Voices”, a piece which featured soaring vocals, another perfect guitar solo, and one of the best overall performances on the night.
What happened next was a shocker. During what was my eighth time seeing Dream Theater, I was finally able to witness a major screw up by the band. Sure, at my second Dream Theater show I was able to see John Petrucci’s guitar come unplugged for fifteen seconds, but this show would be the first time I saw the guys make a major performance mistake. During the transition into the next song in the set, “Prophets of War”, James LaBrie sang the first song of the line early, had to wait a moment, and then sang it again. And yes, for Dream Theater that is a major fuck up, which really is a compliment to their normal abilities. In any case I was really excited to see “Prophets of War”. I am one of the few who seems to consider it one of the best on Systematic Chaos, and it was the only song off the album I had yet to see live. In addition the chorus, which originally featured fans shouting parts in studio, was an expectedly vibrant live bit. The main set then closed with “The Count of Tuscany”, the longest of several epics from the new album. Not much can be said except it worked as well as a set closer as it did as an album ender, perfect. Fans were into it, it’s a nineteen minute musical orgasm, and the build up at the end proved to be even more haunting live than it was in the studio. Then, after a very short break, an intro began that is known around the world of progressive metal, and “Metropolis Pt. 1” began. A song I will never tire of the performance of it was nothing short of amazing, featuring an extended soloing bit in the instrumental section with Jordan Rudess coming up front on the Zen Riffer to prove his chops aside John Petrucci. What a way to end the night.
In the end this was my first show since the release of Black Clouds and Silver Linings, and I came away with many positive things to say about Dream Theater, as always. Robert Medina’s videos added a whole new video aspect of the band, as they were used in a much larger scale than on the previous tour. The light show has been upped a notch since last year, and even though there was a screw up with the curtain, the new intro to the show managed to top the stoplight from the Systematic Chaos tours. John Petrucci, John Myung, Mike Portnoy, and Jordan Rudess range from great to amazing live, and this show was no exception, everyone was playing to the best of their abilities. On the other hand we have the great live variable, James LaBrie. I can say I saw something at this show that I really never noticed at my previous seven shows. Usually, whatever I can say about James at the beginning of a show, I can say about him at the end, however at this show he seemed to start very strong, and by the end of the show was a bit off. Not a major complaint, he really didn’t get that far off, but if I had to put down one complaint about the Dream Theater set it would be his vocals for the latter half of the show or so.
All in all an excellent night, fantastic sound for all the acts, especially Dream Theater, a very comfortable atmosphere, great set-lists, and I even got to meet Scale the Summit and half of Bigelf. If you read this prior to Progressive Nation coming to your town, and you haven’t bought tickets yet, I really suggest you pony up the cash and check this bill out.
Venue: Zoellner Arts Center
City, State: Bethlehem, PA
After attending all of last year’s North-East Art Rock Festival (NEARfest), I was certainly happy to be heading back to the Zoellner Arts Center to see a single act this time around, namely Sweden’s Beardfish. Thanks to seeing the festival last year, I could tell that as they were coming on, and during their set Beardfish were certainly getting an overly warm reception, and it showed how much the bands popularity has been increasing since the release of Sleeping in Traffic, parts 1 and 2.
After walking on stage and doing some brief tuning the band surged right into “Roulette” and quickly showed their prog chops on the NEARfest stage. It was a very good choice for opening song, seemed to go over well both with fans of the bands and the many there who were hearing their very first track from the band. Throughout the set the band played a healthy mix of songs from their now five album deep career, if you include the forthcoming Destined Solitaire. The band treated the audience to the performance of its title track, along with another song to close out the main set which was a live premier! Throughout the show keyboardist, guitarist, and vocalist Rikard Sjoblom did a fantastic job in conversing with the audience. Quirky humor had the audience in full on laughter between pretty much every song, and he would mention song meanings, the previous state-side appearing at Prog Day 06, or find something else that was somewhat more serious to inform the audience of. Although Rikard had the full attention of the NEARfest audience between songs, there is no doubt that bassist and backing vocalist Robert Hansen was the star during the songs. The man moved liked he was picked off a disco floor and placed in the center of the stage, and the man was one hell of a bass player to boot! Always entertaining I noticed he didn’t wear shoes on stage, surely to make all the shuffling around he did easier. In all everyone was quite solid in their performances, with only the vocals seeming to stray from the albums from time to time, possibly due to illness as Rikard consumed an usually large amount of water between each and every song.
As this is my first review of a live show, I will note now that sound quality from the band and venue can make or break a show for me, and for this show, it certainly helped make it. The bass sounded better than I’ve heard in quite some time, probably best compared to that of Mariusz Duda from Riverside. Such a strong perfect tone that allows for the bass to go way up in the mix without distorting or disturbing anything else, while pick playing allowed for it not to sound twangy. Keyboard tones were phenomenal and came across clear, which was very important. Although Rikard only played keys on about half the songs, in the songs he does, especially the newer ones they are essential. My only real complaint, and it is minor, was the drums. Snare could have been lower while the toms could have been higher. As with the entire festival last year overall sound was near perfect!
After performing for an hour and a half and taking a bow Beardfish left the stage to an ovation that quickly became a standing ovation. This continued for about a minute when you saw one of the festival organizers step on the stage and motion for the band to come back out. Last year I only remember the headliners of each night getting encores, so I think this was something truly special! So the band ripped through “Sunset” before heading offstage once more to another powerful standing ovation. All-in-all a fantastic show, one which I was very happy to attend as I procured my ticket about 15 minutes prior to the band going on! These guys will be opening Dream Theater’s Progressive Nation 2009, and I truly recommend you go check them out; their music is a strong mix of 70’s prog influence mixed with all the best of today’s Swedish eclectic prog scene, and these guys will not disappoint live.
Update, 2009-06-22: Only 29 hours after Beardfish finished their set at NEARfest it was announced by Mike Portnoy that the band, along with Pain of Salvation will not be along for Progressive Nation 2009 due to their shared label, InsideOut’s owner, SPV filing for bankruptcy.