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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


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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.

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Send comments to Neu!mann (BETA) | Report this review (#210513)
Posted Sunday, April 05, 2009 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars After taking 1996 off to re-organize Progfest was back in 1997 with production responsibilities being handed from Greg Walker and his Synphonic label over to Pangea Music. Another steller lineup but this doesn't measure up to Progfest '95 in my opinion. Still we get some really amazing performances captured on audio here on this double disc. First up is THE JOHN WETTON BAND who offer up three tracks, the first two of which are from his UK days."In The Dead Of The Night" and "Rendezvous 602" are both good tracks with the first being fairly bombastic and the second being laid back. "Starless" is really stepping into hallowed territory isn't it ? The band do a good job but it doesn't compare to KING CRIMSON of course and John's vocals crack at one point which doesn't help. Not a bad performance overall I suppose. LE ORME come in with 5 tracks 2 of which are combined.Their album "Il Flume" is where pretty much all of the material comes from unfortunately. Not exactly a favourite of mine. On the other hand the rendition of "Felona E Serona" is a top three track from this double disc. Simply amazing as it goes on for 15 1/2 minutes. So moving and powerful at times and incredibly beautiful at others.This is the highlight of disc one easily. ARENA finishes disc one with two tracks. Nothing too special here although I do like the guitar on "Medusa" a lot. Disc two starts with THE FLOWER KINGS and they don't disappoint. "Retropolis" is my fourth favourite tune on here. I like the energy and prominant bass to start and end this tune with the middle being very laid back. Just a great sounding track. "Humanizzimo" isn't as impressive but it's still very enjoyable. SPOCK'S BEARD opens with "Thoughts" a GENTLE GIANT tribute of sorts but it's their "Go The Way You Go" that blows me away. A top three track on this double disc.The emotion and beauty cannot be understated. Fantastic ! BIG ELF is just a waste of space in my opnion. I just never liked their studio albums or when I saw them live and this is no different. SINKADUS is another story. "Altestupin" is the final top three track for me.The mellotron and the melancholic mood is priceless not to mention the chunky bass. Love this band and this song. I do have their whole set from this concert and they were amazing. 3.5 stars but it's worth checking out for the performances of LE ORME, SINKADUS, SPOCK'S BEARD and THE FLOWER KINGS.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#446833)
Posted Thursday, May 12, 2011 | Review Permalink

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