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ConcertsROSfest 2009 - The Best Yet?

Posted on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 01:18:04 CDT by Duncan Glenday
Progressive Rock

In its sixth year, the Rites Of Spring festival (ROSfest) still seems to have enough surprises to impress jaded, long-standing prog fans. Sea Of Tranquility's Terry Connolly was a first time attendee, and reports. (Duncan Glenday provided pictures, and contributed impressions of the few bands Terry was not able to see.)

Terry Connolly reports:

I had high expectations for ROSfest. Unlike most things in life, my expectations were actually exceeded by the performers - in fact the whole festival exceeded my expectations. What a terrific time I really had, massive props to George and the rest of his team for putting this event together. It was great to meet so many friends there, and I do hope to meet the rest of you at ROSfest 2010.

The setting was just perfect for an event like this. I know this location was "routine" for some of you ROSfest vets, but it was my first time and I was pretty impressed. Nice theater, sound was fine in row HH left side, and the sight line was great. The vendor setup was nice, and the folks there very cheerfully helped me find quite a few of the bands I had on my wish list, even though I sometimes had only song titles and band names. The tavern across the street was a hoot, and the coffee shop was also a cool place to meet up in between shows.

Of course I am concerned that the show was not sold out, but I would blame that on the economy more than anything else. I was very lucky to be able to attend myself, but considered the investment well worth it.



Duncan Glenday reports:

FRIDAY

In a wonderfully organized weekend, there was one area where George and Tom failed miserably. They forgot to order decent weather, and the weekend went from just overcast, all the way to torrential. But the bright spirits that emanated from the Keswick theater was excellent compensation - and as long as you could brave the rain, overcome the Philly-suburban Friday evening rush hour, and get to the Keswick on time, you wouldn't care about the dismal climate.

Iluvatar

I'll confess to being biased because Iluvatar's keyboard player Jim is a friend. I had missed Iluvatar the last two times they played, thinking I'l pick them up "next time". Well I did - but who knew I'd be six years older when the "next time" rolled around.



Iluvatar

With Iluvatar being the first up, the soundboard staff were obviously still settling in - so it helped if you knew the music. The sound improved as the set progressed, allowing the band's musicianship to shine through. Jim Rezek's classic 'Trons and Synths were a treat, and Chris Mack's drumming was stellar. Glenn McLaughlin's unconventional vocals seemed to have selective appeal, but again, if you were familiar with the band's catalog, you'd appreciate his pure delivery of the energetic, elegant tracks that elevated Iluvatar to lofty heights in the symphonic prog rock world in the 1990s.

Songs like "Sojourn" and "Final Stroke" were crowd pleasers, and left hundreds of attendees asking the question that fans have been raising for years: "When on earth will Iluvatar produce another record?"

The Syn

Another confession: I'm barely familiar with The Syn's catalog - and because we'd just arrived, we ended up socializing in the lobby through about a third of their set. It's a tough decision - go and learn the songs of a classic act first hand, or spend time with friends I hadn't seen for two years.

What I saw of the show told me that the pieces were very well performed, the song structures were solid and very pleasing, Francis Dunnery's (formerly of It Bites) acoustic guitar work was a treat, and Tom Brislin (Yes, Camel, Spiraling) was flawless on keys. Steve Nardelli's stage presence was pleasing and relaxed, and his brief stories led to a positive audience rapport. His vocal lines are somewhat pastoral, characteristic of many English bands of that era.

Nektar

This is my day for confessions: I've seen Nektar a number of times, I have every record they've released, and I've come to know the band members - past and present. So I suppose I may have been favorably biased to start with. But that also means that I know every note of every song, and that could also make me the band's harshest critic.

Despite a lineup that's been rather fluid over the past several years, this performance was excellent. You'd appreciate it better if you had a set of good quality earplugs because the volume was hovering around eleven, but the quartet hit all the right spots with a powerful fluidity that has always been a Nektar trademark, and Roye's vocals were in great form - and certainly better than at the big 2003 NEARfest reunion.

They opened with a long segment from Tab In The Ocean, then moved to Remember The Future - side two ... and worked through the classics, to huge applause. The three tracks from Book Of Days weren't as well known, and the set soon moved back to the band's golden '70s era. At that time Nektar was well known for their powerful melodies, unconventional song structures and a style that changed significantly from one album to the next over the course of their significant catalog - and that catalog scales a long time. As Roye said "Forty years of doing this. Bloody hell!" - and of course their recently released live-compilation CD is called Fortyfied.

Ron Howden's powerful percussion and Roye's guitar work and vocals carried the set, but the relatively recent additions to the band - Klaus Henatsch (Keyboards / Vocals) and Peter Pichl (say it like "Michael" - Bass / Vocals) - put in powerful performances. It seemed that Henatsch needed a few songs to warm up - but his performance sounded strong from about half way through the set.

I heard comments after the show from many people who were unfamiliar with the band - and the common theme among them was "how could I have missed these guys, for all these years?"

Silver Pipe

I'll keep the thread going with a final confession: I don't like cover songs, and thing they're often a cop out for people who can't - or won't - be creative. Similarly, cover bands are often for people who have the chops but not the creativity that makes a good artist.

But damn, I ate my words on Friday night - when Silverpipe blew the roof off the local Holiday Inn!

A "silver pipe" is slang for a flute, and the Silver Pipe quintet is a Jethro Tull cover band. I expected my friend Dale Stubitsch to be good on guitar, and I knew Luis Nasser would be good on bass because I've seen and heard a lot of his music. So they get no props for being good. But that performance was beyond good. Dale channels Martin Barre, and the Frontman Steve Royce sings and pipes up a very convincing Ian Anderson, and the energy and enthusiasm pas palpable. Part way through, another friend Steve Kessler guested for one song - and put on one hell of a performance singing "Aqualung". And I'm not just saying that because I like the guy - hats off to Steve for a very impressive delivery - right down to the trench coat. He should do it more often.

SATURDAY

Terry Connolly reports:

Three bands attracted me to ROSfest in the first place: Frost*, Abigail's Ghost and Moth Vellum. So Saturday was the day for me...

Moth Vellum

I've been hearing and liking these guys on net radio for the past year or so. When they came out on stage, I got a nice chuckle out of the "ice cream uniforms", but I also understand where the boys are coming from here. Their approach is to present a positive "clean" image, a Zen kind of feel, which is just fine by me. (I think we could all use some good karma these days) I loved the harmonized vocals, the bass player's voice is very unique and combined with the drummers voice, I thought Moth Vellum music presents something quite different than just another band so obviously inspired by Yes.

I got to speak with these dudes for a bit at the rest of the festival, they were all really cool. I was talking to Johanes the guitar player about his sound. I mentioned I really enjoyed the tone he got out of his Les Paul. He told me he was playing through a Fender amp to achieve his clear tone. I really liked the Howe-like "singing" sounds he squeezed out of his mounted guitar as well.

I also had quite a long conversation with the keyboard player who gave me some of the history and geography on these guys. One dude in LA, one in Portland and the rest in the SF area, which means they are a long distance affair. This was their first appearance on the East coast, so sadly, I get the feeling they may not be out this way again soon, so I am so glad to have seen them.

So cool to have two "lead singers" in a band, and I am always so thrilled to see a drummer that is so involved with vocal chores. An impressive feat for sure, but if there was one small complaint, it would be for some reason, the drummer's vocals seemed 2-3 notches low, he should have been louder in the mix.

Abigail's Ghost

I've been keeping an eye on these guys ever since reading good reviews and comparisons to Porcupine Tree some time ago. I've heard them quite a bit on MySpace, and I had a few of their songs downloaded. (Legally!) I was really anticipating a great performance. I thought they were very very good, but unfortunately, they are not yet at the level of a Porcupine Tree. Of course, that may be too high a standard to live up to. After all, Ghost is a young band, they have only just released their 2nd album, and I got the feeling in talking to them that ROSfest is by far the biggest thing that has ever happened to them.

But just like in Porcupine Tree, its pretty clear the lead singer and guitar player is the driving force here. I think Joshua is an impressive song writer, a very good singer and one hell of a guitar player. I also loved the drummer, very heavy but with plenty of variation and cool little drum rolls. I thought the keyboard player added that great "lush" feel that we all seem to enjoy.

About the rhythm guitarist. My first reaction when I saw him was to nearly laugh out loud - he seemed to think he was at OZZFest, not ROSfest. But I ended up having a long conversation with the young dude later on. Randy is new to the band, along with one of the other guys, they were not on the first album. When I found out they were from a town 100 miles from New Orleans, I was a little surprised, the backwoods of Lousiana would be about the last place I would expect a prog band to be from. I asked Randy if there was much of a prog scene in New Orleans. He said he knows of maybe 1 other band in the area that plays prog. Randy is still in college, so I think we can afford to give him a little bit of a break. I got the feeling he has not really been exposed to the prog scene all that much. He was having the time of his life out there, and why not.

But I think the vocal harmonies that I hear on the studio Ghost seemed to be lacking at this performance. I am not sure if the keyboard player is also new, but I think his mike was low and he did not really contribute enough backup vocals. Perhaps this is something the band will consider beefing up as they move forward. I think Abigail's Ghost has loads of potential, and I picked up their first CD at the show.

Frost*

I've had Milliontown for about a year now, it was stuck in my CD player for quite a while there. To see them perform most of that album and their new one was fantastic. 10 out of 10, truly far better then I expected. Jem was an absolute hoot, and I was laughing at all his one liners. The talent level in this band is nearly unfair, every single player was just superb.

Jem's keyboards were so lush and clean, and both guitar players were stunning, John Mitchell is so precise and letter perfect. I loved Declan's very expressive style of playing and singing, he truly is a superior musician. John Jowitt's bass groove was so measured and in the pocket, his vocals also added so much to the entire package.



Frost*

But Nick D'Virgilio (Spock's Beard, Genesis) stole the show for me! Holy crap he was so good. (I wished I was stage right so I could see him sing better, one cymbal blocked his face from my point of view, though I did catch him on camera occasionally.) I am not particularly familiar with Spock's Beard, but I will soon be joining that bandwagon after hearing this monster talent. Nick was so engaged with the crowd and the rest of the band, his sound elevated this band to a level far, far beyond what I've heard on Milliontown.

A wonderful performance, which was certainly acknowledged by the ROSfest crowd. Without question there were more folks in the hall for them, there was a girl behind me who came all the way from Texas just to see Frost*. She sure got her $ worth. We were all so happy to stand and hoot and holler through a standing ovation for an encore. I was then rewarded with "The Other Me" for the encore, one of my favorite songs from Milliontown. That song along with "Black Light Machine" were my two favorite songs for the entire festival, and both were performed at such a high level by everyone involved. I just loved the band when all the members were singing together with such lovely harmonized vocals throughout.

If there were any justice in the music world, Frost* would be a huge smash. They were all such great fun at the after shows as well, what a great bunch of dudes. Made me proud to be a prog fan...

Lazuli

Before Moth Vellum hit the stage I commented to George's sister (who was selling ROSfest posters) that I thought the band order was wrong. I thought Frost* should have been the Saturday night headliner, and just who are these French dudes anyway? So as the day went by I started finding out just who this Lazuli might be. "They cook", "I have their DVD, I love em" , was the kind of thing I was starting to hear.

If you told me a week ago, that I would be standing up and yelling for an encore from a French band who barely speaks a word of English and sings entirely in French, I would have told you that you're frigging nuts! How nice it is to be wrong about something. They deserved their headline status no doubt. (Despite the amazing Frost* performance.) How nice it is to pleasantly surprised by a French band that makes music I'm not even sure I completely understand.

I had heard the two songs that were linked on the ROSfest site, sounded nice, but the French lyrics? Man, what a revelation to learn the lyrics did not matter, somehow I understood what they meant anyway. I laughed at and with these guys all night long. The lead singer was an absolute side-slapping wonder! That hair! That 2 foot long braided goatee! Those pants! That Skirt thing! Is that a frigging belt he has attached between his legs?!?!

But his act was just so smooth and natural, as enthralling as a performer from Cirque du Soleil, and he had the entire hall in the palm of his hand throughout the show. Speaking of the palm of his hand, how about that astonishingly simple yet completely unique little trick of a personal spotlight in the "palm of his hand"?! I thought this was just such a slick and effective move, it was so dramatic and funny, he used the light like an expert for great emotional impact. Yet he did not overdo it, he used it for parts of one song, than he was on to other creative antics.

The rest of the band was endlessly entertaining as well, I loved the sound the Warr player got out of his amazing instrument, astonishing bass tones that I felt rattling my gut, I don't recall ever hearing bass sounds quite like the ones he coaxed out of the 10-inch wide neck of that amazing looking instrument.

I also enjoyed the drummer (the only "normal" looking dude) as he roamed around stage, with flailing drum sticks and mallets, adjusting his midi device (is that where the bass drum sounds came from?) and bashing cymbals and tom toms. Later on he even laid down some amazing guitar licks. Rounding out the rhythm section was a xylophone player who had 3 sets of "Xylos" and an electronic drum kit. Adding those extra bell tones and polyrythmns that to me were reminiscent of something Ruth Underwood might do with Zappa. Meanwhile, the lead guitarist is creating some wild chords and leads out of his instrument, the tame (in comparison) Parker Fly guitar. Encircling the sound like a luscious, luminous cloud is the dude with the custom made instrument which is emanating this singing guitar tone that was quite unlike anything else I've ever heard. As the whole band gathered at the xylos for a drum circle at the end I was thinking how universal music really is, and how little our differences really are in the long run. Very sublime and thought-provoking music, it was a welcoming feeling that seemed warm and accessible yet so utterly progressive and unique.

This was a performance that simply had to be seen to be understood within a proper context, I don't think even an audio recording of the live show is enough for someone to understand Lazuli. A DVD might come close, but I think I can safely say that anyone who saw Lazuli will say that it was a performance they will never forget. George was right on when he said "Lazuli is about to blow your minds."

Indeed.

SUNDAY

After a very enjoyable evening at the Holiday Inn bar - it was ROSfestivus!

I really arrived with no expectations and an open mind for the Sunday acts. I had heard a few clips of each of the bands in various places. But what I love so much about the progressive music we all enjoy, it is the live performance that will tell the real tale on any of these bands. What I had heard before Sunday from these bands was enough to suggest to me that Sunday should be telling my ears some great progressive tales . But like Saturday's show, my expectations were about to be exceeded.

The only slight drag was knowing we had to book out of ROSfestville after the second act. I know I would have enjoyed seeing both Mangala Vallis and Barclay James Harvest, but will happily rely on those who were there to fill me in.

Touchstone

Right off the bat I could tell that these guys had brought the rock with them. The guitar player rips out some great riffs and chops and off we go with an ultra-tight rhythm section in a wicked groove. Then out struts the show stealing red-headed knockout performer of ROSfest! Every red blooded male had to agree, the ROSfestival Queen had arrived. I did see quite a few ladies scattered through the audience, clearly enjoying Kim's performance as well.

So the crowd seemed to readily welcome Kim Seviour to the stage, her appearance was timed like only a true rock goddess vamp knows how to arrive. I think Kim's arrival on the scene captured the inner caveman in all of us "prog-magnon men". And then she blew our minds when she started belting out some of the best lead vocals I heard all weekend.

Kim was the only performer I saw at ROSfest who was a pure lead singer, someone who walked out on to that stage like she owned it. From where I sat she owned that entire theater. And it was all in perfect harmony with the impressive keyboard player's vocals, who sure sounded great.

Touchstone all sounded great to these ears. The guitar player played tasteful yet intricate and shred-worthy line after line, in and out of finely syncopated riffs. I thought the drummer was terrific and inventive as expected. I mean it seems there are a few things you can always rely on at shows like these. The players are almost always going to be top notch, especially the rhythm sections. Touchstone was no exception to this rule, these guys cooked together tightly, as if they'd been together for years and years, rather than the rather new creation I believe they actually are.

As was said earlier, Touchstone blew the roof off of ROSfest on Sunday. As my new favorite female vocalist Kim said at the show, "Welcome to Prog Church on a Sunday morning! How's your hangover?" Mine was certainly a dim memory after this vamp of a singer teased each of the other players with a playful little wiggle and some air-guitar/drums/keys/bass, all delivered with a twinkle in her eyes. To be honest, that was the only time I actually saw the other guys, She had my attention the entire rest of the show. (And I know the rest of you prog-magnon men were just as gaga as I was you bastards! )

Moon Safari

God it must have been tough for a band of guys (young guys, but still dudes) to follow Kim's "rock goddess" act at ROSfest. Luckily for Moon Safari, me and the rest of the crew had rolled across the street to retoxify after Touchstone's seriously sensuous wakeup call of an 11AM set.

So we returned to our seats around 2PM after some refreshments at the well-stocked tavern across the street. As I mentioned earlier, I had heard a few tunes from Moon Safari at the ROSfest site and on net radio. But their live sound was just so startlingly different from their recorded work that I had listened to. I just thought that the sound of Moon Safari was so perfectly timed, for anyone with that "after-lunch want-nap" feeling, the Safari vocals delivered high energy and good cheer from note one.

Once again, the ROSfest crowd is treated to truly spectacular harmonized vocals. As my knowledge and understanding of the vast prog music world increases, thanks to festivals like this, net radio and of course fantastic webzines like Sea Of Tranquility, I find more and more I love melodic prog with harmonized vocals. I found Moon Safari to be a near perfect version of this kind of melodic harmonized style I seem to enjoy more and more.

Of course, not only were Moon Safari amazing on vocals, they were just as equally expert at all their instruments. Tight, tight rhythms galore, lush keyboard sounds, ever changing beats, and great, great guitar work. I was so pleased to finally hear a plain old acoustic guitar after 5 bands! Not only was there great rhythm guitar work, but the lead guitarist actually showed quite a bit of bite to this old metal head. I thought he displayed plenty of chops throughout his no doubt thrilling 23rd birthday debut on a US stage.

Moon Safari reminded me somewhat of a proggy Crosby Stills mixed with Beach Boys and maybe a little Queen. Such a fine melodic mix to send this happy ROSfester down the road feeling this ROSfest show was letter perfect start to finish.

Bravo to George, Tom and the rest of the team, all the great performers, venue folks, vendors and of course my fellow ROSfesters. You all were a pleasure to be around all weekend, lets do this again real soon!

Duncan Glenday reports:

Mangala Vallis

Mangala Vallis is a long-standing favorite, and I'm very familiar with their music, particularly their 25-or-so-minute "Werewolf Suite". Emotional and expressive, passionate vocals delivered with an Italian flair for the operatic and a Gabriel-esque progressive tone, songwriting that recalls PFM, excellent melodies, well-layered instrumentation, and plenty of complexity. Many ROSfesters appreciate neo-prog - but Mangala Vallis does not fit that genre, and judging by comments heard in the vending area after the show, the band's on-stage performance seemed to find selective favor.

The theatrics of frontman Bernardo Lanzetti's (PFM & Acqua Fragile) were fully in keeping with the music ("Lycanthrope" is ancient Greek for for werewolf - the concept behind their album of that name), the disturbing wolf image was from the cover art of Lycanthrope, and the spirited performance was as "proggy" as anything I've seen in the past ten years.

Vintage keyboards have always been an integral part of Mangala Vallis' classic sound, and the blistering guitar work interplayed with walls of keyboards were an aural feast.

With strong musicianship, excellent performances of sophisticated structures, long instrumental interludes, deep tempo shifts, - Mangala Vallis's heavy symphonic music is at the leading edge of modern Italian prog.

John Lees's Barclay James Harvest

The first concert I ever saw, as a kid, was Barclay James Harvest. It was 1972, and walking out of that theater - at that young age - I knew I would be hooked on intelligent, artsy music for life. And the third record I ever bought was Early Morning Onward, a UK-Only compilation by the band - and the only BJH record available anywhere in my little town.

Thirty seven years later, two things struck me: First, those skinny kids with big hair from Manchester were now gray-haired sixty-somethings, a few pounds heavier, and the brash young attitudes were gone. The other observation - the music was just as good, the performances were just as smooth, and the whole experience was just as captivating.



John Lees's Barclay James Harvest

John Lees's guitar work was fluid and catchy, and Wooly Wolstenholmes's keyboards (including the 'Tron) laid down a lush tone that was the foundation for very melodic music that is often compared with the Moody Blues, or perhaps the Strawbs. John and Wooly shared the vocals more or less equally, both voices in fine form despite Lees having a bad cold. Exactly what you'd expect from seasoned professionals with a deep back catalog and thousands of performances under their belts.

I know a few people who left after just a few songs, disappointed with the relatively gentle pace of the music. Yet I saw more occupied seats in the Keswick during the BJH set than I'd seen all weekend, and several hundred prog fans appreciated one of the criminally underrated pioneers of progressive music.

I saw them when I was fourteen, and that launched a long sequence of concert attendances. Thirty seven years later, I'm using the Barclay James Harvest concert to launch my second childhood, with plans to continue attending truly memorable events like ROSfest for at least another three and a half decades.

Nektar (Acoustic Set)

There wasn't a sound man mixing the channels to perfection. There was no special lighting, there was no room for tons of expensive equipment, and the surge of appreciation from a large audience was completely absent. Yet Nektar's acoustic set was one of the highlights of a memorable ROSfest - and met with a different sort of appreciation.

Two, then four, members of the band did an (almost) acoustic set in a small conference room in the Hilton to an audience of maybe a hundred. It was intimate, it was informal, and it was insightful to hear the familiar classics rearranged and delivered with just as much enthusiasm and fluid musicianship as Friday's performance in the main theater. Albrighton's fluid fretboard work is just as impressive on an (amplified) acoustic guitar and his voice was in excellent form, and Howden's skill on the drums shone through despite the tiny kit squeezed into the room. Add electric keys and bass, route all tracks through a small PA system, sit just a few feet from the band, and let it soak in.



Nektar's Acoustic Set

It started at midnight, yet after the show there was a sort of impromptu cocktail party and fans took the opportunity to share a drink with the band, friendships were re-established, and the beer and the bonhomie flowed into the wee hours.

And for the third night in a row, the Marriott hotel's receptionist shook his head at my wife and me as we staggered our way to room 320 well after 4:00 in the morning.



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