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Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) - Progfest '94 CD (album) cover

PROGFEST '94

Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations)

Various Genres


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Neu!mann
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars We all had to start somewhere. There must have been a time when you first heard something from what would later become one of your favorite bands, that golden moment when a long-shuttered window to a bright new musical future suddenly opened in your mind. Sorry about the lavender prose, but in retrospect that's pretty close to the impression I remember getting from my first spin of this double- CD set, documenting the Progfest concerts of early November 1994 at the Variety Arts Center in Los Angeles.

Veteran progheads will no doubt recognize most of the names involved, but at first exposure they were all new to me, a connoisseur of classic '70s Progressive Rock out of touch with re-emerging musical trends in the 1990s. At the time I was still in the early stages of re-discovering my own once-extensive Prog Rock roots, and this compilation was an invaluable step in the right aesthetic direction. Never mind the atrocious cover art, a strictly amateur update of every stale counter-culture cliché that ever gave Progressive Rock a black eye (fairies perched on mushrooms playing lutes, and so forth). Concentrate instead on the scope of the presentation: two discs, nine bands, 147 minutes of (then) new and (still) exciting music from the four corners of the globe.

Well, maybe not all four corners. Eight of the nine featured bands were from either Sweden, France, or the United States, with the U.S. accounting for fully half of that number. Keep in mind this was only the second annual Progfest concert, organized by Greg Walker and David Overstreet (of the Syn-Phonic and Art Sublime record labels, respectively), and in hindsight the event shows much of the same, simple grassroots appeal of a do-it-yourself backyard fundraiser.

Notice, for example, all the old, familiar songs, comforting touchstones for long- suffering fans who kept the faith after Progressive Rock fell so far out of mainstream favor. There's even the first of what would later become a busy industry of GENESIS tribute bands: GIRAFFE, a side project of the late Kevin Gilbert, and featuring SPOCK'S BEARD drummer Nick D'Virgilio. Like something out of a long- buried time capsule, Gilbert and company re-create a note-perfect facsimile (only excerpted here) of "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway", complete with props and costume changes, giving fans the uncanny experience of hearing classic GENESIS after a digital face lift.

The long-forgotten San Francisco Bay Area band EPISODE likewise plunders the Prog Rock archives, but it's hard to form an impression of the group from just one song: a pleasant but unessential abbreviation of PINK FLOYD's 1971 epic "Echoes", played with all the undemanding artistry of a weekend cover band.

More original is KALABAN, another now-defunct American outfit, inspired (judging by their song and album titles) by "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and the epic fantasy novels of Stephen R. Donaldson. KALABAN's music works best during the band's longer, more aggressive instrumental workouts (the 11+ minute "Mutants Over Miami" is a concert highlight), but they were never able to forge a musical identity strong enough to make a dent in the monolithic and still resolutely anti- Prog entertainment industry of the 1990s.

The real eye-opener among the local talent, and the only one of the four American bands still active as of this writing, is unquestionably ECHOLYN, kindred spirits to GENTLE GIANT at their most ornate and playful. The Pennsylvania quintet perform three songs here, each of them distinguished by airtight ensemble playing, intricate vocal harmonies, and a disarming sense of humor: listen as they attempt, gamely, to generate an audience sing-a-long while quoting from Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka, in the chorus of "A Little Nonsense".

Meanwhile the Prog hotbed that was Sweden in the mid-1990s is represented by crowd favorites ÄNGLAGÅRD and ANEKDOTEN, as strong a musical one-two knockout punch as ever shared a stage. ÄNGLAGÅRD's LA performance marked the group's untimely swan song, but at least the band went out with a rousing bang. Only one track appears here: the 16-minute instrumental "Hostsejd (Rite of Fall)", a dynamic update of classic '70s symphonic Prog and a particular revelation to this pair of ears, sounding at first like an exercise in arid musical mathematics but revealing depths of unexpected power and emotion with each subsequent listen. (Their full set can be heard on the posthumous "Buried Alive" CD.)

The heavier sound of ANEKDOTEN, on the other end of the Neo-Prog spectrum, is a throwback to "Red" era KING CRIMSON, infused with dark Scandinavian energy. A brief, aimless improvisation leads to the muscular "Wheel" (featuring an evocative trumpet solo over Jan Erik Liljeström's brooding subterranean bass line), and then into a stirring arrangement of the old classical chestnut "Mars", a nod to the first KING CRIMSON, who often used the Holst tune as an apocalyptic encore.

You can draw several parallel lines between the two French bands in attendance: HALLOWEEN and MINIMUM VITAL, both on loan from the esteemed Musea record label, co-sponsors of the event and the folks to thank for the pristine digital sound of these CDs. Both groups follow a similar modern-classical style, and both employ the charms of an expressive female vocalist (Geraldine Le Cocq in HALLOWEEN, and MINIMUM VITAL's Sonia Nedelec). But the difference between the two bands can be heard in the fiery guitar and keyboard attack of MINIMUM VITAL's Payssan brothers, compared to the electric (and electrifying) gypsy violin of HALLOWEEN's Jean-Philippe Brun, who kicks off the first CD with his dramatic intro to "Outsider", a song possibly relating to the eerie H.P. Lovecraft short story, but don't quote me on that.

Closing out the twin-CD set is the single notable exception to the geographic limitations of the guest list: Australia's SEBASTIAN HARDIE, also the only band here active during Prog Rock's mid-1970s Golden Age. SH was the Antipode answer to YES, still proudly wearing the influence like a heart on their sleeve, from the arcane, uplifting lyrics to the sometimes all-too familiar symphonic splendor of their music, complete with the obligatory Rick Wakeman-inspired synthesizer solo. Like ÄNGLAGÅRD, they would later release their entire set separately (on the 1997 "Live in LA" CD), but the selections here, from their 1975 album "Four Moments", offer a welcome thematic and musical condensation of YES' "Tales From Topographic Oceans", ringing down the curtain of Progfest '94 in classic fashion.

This review has already taken up too much space, but even at such length it barely scratches the surface of these two CDs (ouch: not literally, please be reassured). Look again at the line up of talent, and try to imagine them all together on one stage, in a two-day celebration of worldwide musical diversity. Even today, more than ten years later, it's an experience worth re-living, whether by fans of the featured bands wanting to supplement their CD libraries, or (like myself at the time I first heard it) by freshmen students of Neo-Prog looking for new worlds to conquer.

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Send comments to Neu!mann (BETA) | Report this review (#65328)
Posted Wednesday, January 18, 2006 | Review Permalink
NJprogfan
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars I love these type of discs. You get a good taste for bands that are either high on your list or nearso, or totally unknown. And what makes it even better is the fact that it's live with all the burps. First off is HALLOWEEN, a very theatrical band with female and male singers. Violin is a lead instrument and being a French band the style is very much like ANGE and their symphonic counterparts. They're very unique and intriuging. Next up is KALABAN who play fusiony metal-like prog. A bit messy in spots with their third song on the disc containing some cheesy vocals. Sorry, not my cup of tea. Third is the band ANGLAGARD and their masterpiece "Hostead", pure heaven. A highlight for sure. Next is an obscure band, (another reason to buy these type of discs) who play PINK FLOYD's "Echoes". It's very well done, not exceptional, but fine nonetheless. Ending the first disc is an early live appearance of ECHOLYN with their classics "The Cheese Stands Alone" and "A Little Nonsense". If your're not familiar with these American's, they play a somewhat Americanized GENTLE GIANT with some STEELY DAN jazziness thrown in. If not the best prog band from the US in the 90's, you would be hard pressed to find a better one. Starting disc 2 is another song by ECHOLYN, "Here I Am" is a live song you don't find on many other live festival discs by these guys. It's lively and fun! Next is the KING CRIMSON affeceinados ANEKDOTEN, a kind of 'if KING CRIMSON came out in the 90's' band. Very well done dark prog from these northern Europeans. GIRAFFE is next and I must admit, I never heard of them but DAMN!!!, they do an AWESOME GENESIS! The sadly missed Kevin Gilbert does a fantastic Gabriel on two 'Lamb Lies Down On Broadway' songs and a killer version of 'The Musical Box'. You MUST hear them! Next is another French band, MINIMUM VITAL who are very much in the 70's vein of symphonic prog with a phenomenal female lead singer. They are very powerful and one of the many highlights of this album, especially the incredible song " L'Invitastion' with a very French feel with what sounds like an acordian! The album ends with, what for me, is the absolute highlight of this Progfest, the Australian band SEBASTIAN HARDIE who play some mindblowingly beautiful CAMEL and YES-like prog. The only drawback is some numbing guitar feedback during the first song. But if you can past that it'll bring tears to your eyes how their melodies are so strong and memorable. This live two-disc set is a great way to get a taste for some older and newer bands. Not perfect throughout, but it's high points totally outweigh the lows. A must get early look at 90's prog. A time when one would think it was a low point. Wrong! Oh so wrong!

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Send comments to NJprogfan (BETA) | Report this review (#92764)
Posted Saturday, September 30, 2006 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars 3.5 stars. "Progfest 93" was the first one put on by Greg Walker and David Overstreet and it was perhaps best known for introducing ANGLAGARD to America. The audience who mostly knew nothing of these Swedes were quickly left with their jaws hanging open and then sprinting to the venders to purchase "Hybris" as soon as their show was over. The following year "Progfest 94" proudly boasted SEBASTIAN HARDIE as the headliners.This band had ceased to exist for sometime but reformed for this gig. Of note as well was the return of ANGLAGARD who headlined "Day One", and ANEKDOTEN who would play the U.S. for the first time. After this concert they would do a mini tour with DISCIPLINE to a few select American cities. While ANEKDOTEN and ANGLAGARD are two of my all-time favourite bands I was most impressed with Kevin Gilbert and his band GIRAFFE doing a 20th anniversary tribute to GENESIS' "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway". Nick D'Virgillo would play drums for them. Nick had learned to play drums by playing along to "The Lamb". I should mention as well that Kevin recorded "Progfest 94" on a 16 tracks ADAT, and apparently made his mellotron and mini moog available to any band who wanted to use them.

The "Musea" label helped out with "Progfest 94" financially and also distributed this recording. "Musea" bands MINIMUM VITAL and HALLOWEEN participated in this event as well. I feel fortunate to have an actual program from this event, although I would rather have been there in person. Some excellent bios in this program too.

Highlights for me on disc one are firstly the almost 16 minute "Hostsejd" by ANGLAGARD. Just a fantastic ride with flute, mellotron, organ, chunky bass and guitar standing out. Fantastic ! I did like the almost 15 minute cover of "Echoes" by U.S. band EPISODE. One other highlight from this disc for me is KALABAN's excellent instrumental "Mutants Over Miami". Impressive.

Disc two begins with ECHOLYN's "Here I Am" which is the best of the three tracks on here by this great American band. ANEKDOTEN gets some guest help from Mattias Olsen (ANGLAGARD) on bass-drum and gong, as well as from John Daversa playing trumpet on "Wheel". I'm obviously too big of a fanboy to give a biased opinion of the three tracks on this recording by them. My favourite though is "Mars" which opens with marching styled drums and cello. It gets heavier 3 minutes in, killer track. I've already mentioned how impressed I am with Kevin and his bands covers of GENESIS. Not only a pleasure to listen to but "The Musical Box" is so moving. That song was an encore by the way. Lastly SEBASTIAN HARDIE certainly doesn't disappoint, mellotron and all. Too bad there's some noisy feedback at times though during their set.

I'd love to give this 4 stars and feel bad not doing that but there's too much on here that i'm not thrilled about. An interesting historical reference though with some great performances.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#208443)
Posted Monday, March 23, 2009 | Review Permalink

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