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Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) - Progfest '97 CD (album) cover

PROGFEST '97

Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations)

 

Various Genres

3.07 | 8 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Prog Rock festivals are always a great way to hear new bands or become reacquainted with old ones, and the International Progressive Music Festival was, for many years, a perfect case in point. After taking a year off to reorganize in 1996, the 4th annual Progfest put together an attractive mix of past and future stars, along with a few groups lucky to get the chance of wider public exposure.

Seven bands from four countries are featured on the twin-disc retrospective CD: a pair each from England, America and (of course) Sweden, plus the return of a legend from Italy, always an active Prog hot-spot. Not the widest geographic mix, perhaps, but the scope of the music itself covers a lot more territory.

Kicking off Disc One is old pro JOHN WETTON, performing a trio of songs from his late '70s creative peak (no ASIA tunes, thank goodness). It's thrilling to hear the meaty thump of his bass guitar again, but he's strictly a nostalgia act here, and his back-up band is exactly that: hired hands who should never have been allowed near the KING CRIMSON classic "Red".

Next on stage, making an all-too rare stateside appearance, is LE ORME, fresh from recording their comeback album "Il Fiume" and sounding better than ever. The ace Italian proggers play almost half the new album, plus a generous medley from their popular "Felona & Serona" (sung in English and Italian). It's no exaggeration to call their set the high spot of the entire festival, at least on the evidence recorded here: 33-captivating minutes of old school Italian symphonic rock.

The Neo-Proggers of ARENA round out the first disc, with a pair of songs from the band's then-current album "Pride". The epic 14+ minute "Sirens" is a concert highlight, moving from a long, mesmerizing introduction to a loud, melodramatic climax. The music, like a lot of Marillion-influenced Neo-Prog, can be florid to an almost garish degree, but here the emotional pitch of each song is at least matched by an equally vivid performance.

THE FLOWER KINGS certainly need no introduction these days, but in May of 1997 the band was still fairly new and relatively unknown. Not for long, however, and Disc Two opens with two distinctive attention- getters: the long, energetic title track off their (at the time) recent album "Retropolis", and the "Humanizzimo" suite from guitarist Roine Stolt's 1994 solo album (presciently titled "The Flower King").

Both songs are delivered with customary skill and instrumental bravado; notice for example the subliminal nod to Monty Norman's "James Bond Theme" during the drifting ambient middle section of "Retropolis". But the set is unfairly abbreviated with a somewhat brutal edit during "Humanizzimo", and just when the band was entering a particularly cool groove.

But there's a silver lining: the cut leads directly to SPOCK'S BEARD, kindred spirits making their second consecutive Progfest appearance. Included from their set is the GENTLE GIANT homage "Thoughts" (yes, it rhymes with "Knots", off the classic GG album "Octopus") and the early Beard epic "Go the Way You Go", showing more of the dynamic range the band aspired to.

The same can't be said for BIG ELF, another So-Cal outfit with a silly name, but unlike Spock's Beard these guys are strictly filler in the otherwise impressive line-up of international talent. Pardon my bias, but the brief excerpts from their set (less than 12-minutes total, including a hard-rocking "Schizoid Man" rip-off: "Neuropsychopathic Eye") is something of a let-down after the vigorous music of the previous bands.

It's too bad more disc space wasn't devoted instead to the pleasant reto-'70s prog of SINKADUS, another Swedish ensemble but sounding more authentic than their compatriots in The Flower Kings (singing in their native tongue, for example). The relaxed symphonic sound of the band, laced with an undercurrent of Scandinavian folk music, is represented here by only a single track, the last song of a longer set I would have liked to hear more of. Thankfully their performance would be released in its entirety on the "Live at Progfest" CD the following year.

Together, both "Progfest '97" discs are filled to the digital brim with 142 total minutes of (mostly) quality music. But the entire package still sounds as if it only skimmed the surface of a much deeper musical pond. It may not complete anyone's music collection, but even for those of us who didn't attend the actual event a live sampler like this can still evoke a lot of golden memories, or better yet jump- start some new ones. Just ignore the awful cover art.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |

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