Sea of Tranquility's Yves Dube was busy soaking in some exemplary progressive music in his hometown of Montreal, Canada the weekend of October 9th, as on two successive nights the city was host to The Musical Box, playing their Lamb Lies Down on Broadway show, as well as a hot double feature from Miriodor and Frogg Cafe.
If you missed this fun filled weekend of prog rock, fear not, as Yves has the full details in this concert report.
The Musical Box- The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway: Le Spectrum De Montreal- Saturday October 9,2004
The Musical Box have been a fixture on the Montreal local concert scene for about a decade. Seeing them on their home turf is always a unique experience. I have never seen them outside Montreal but from what I'm told they almost always play in reserved seating venues, so people can arrive at just about whatever time suits their schedule. Le Spectrum, however, is a bar, so the seating is general admission. If you want a good seat, better get there at least 5 hours before the doors open. Waiting in line in front of Le Spectrum has thus become a social event all it's own. Let's face it, the progressive community is very small to begin with, so if you're a person that likes to travel abroad to catch live acts, chances are you will run into some of the same people over and over again. The crowd remains the same, only the venue changes. So it was on a gray, chilly , October Saturday as members of Yahoo groups for The Musical Box, Gentle Giant, and Progressive Ears, to name a few, all greeted each other with smiles and handshakes. Many a paper bag could be seen being raised to lips in a less-than-discreet bending of Canadian drinking laws. As the line-up builds, the party atmosphere hangs in the air, like a puff of sweet blue smoke which hangs like a halo around the heads of many of the concert goers. The people are getting psyched by listening to tales of TMB shows past, including reviews of the previous night's affair. The band has once again tweaked it's line-up, and apparently this latest version belts out the tale of Rael like none before it. The doors open and the mob rushes to find choice seats, use the facilities, and wet their whistles. Another Montreal-only aspect of a Musical Box show, is the unfortunate addition of an opening act. More socializing is done outside until the man's 35 minute set is completed.
At around 9:30 PM, the house lights are turned off as a very well known piano line kicks off "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway." The band is very loud, and very tight. The slide show adds great visuals to the lyrics. Describing every track or every visual would not only turn this review into a Tolstoyian affair, it would also ask my cerebral cortex to recall images which are unfortunately buried in a haze of smoke and suds. Let me relate, however, some of my feelings about this particular representation. Although there is not a weak moment in the show, it takes a few tracks for the listener to settle into the reality that the entire disc will be played, in order. For me, this reality usually sinks in when the band starts playing "In The Cage." The sequence of "In The Cage", "The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging" , and "Back In N.Y.C." are what really propel me out of the venue and down in the sewers with Rael. The band then relentlessly throws track after track at you. Now, no band can just rip through a show of this intensity without stopping to catch their collective breath. Denis (Peter Gabriel) uses these breaks to narrate the tale. This is all done with a particularly dry, British humor, which fans of Gabriel's have always found so endearing.
As the last notes of "The Chamber of 32 Doors" hang in the air, you come to realize that this show is merely half over. There's still a lot of choice material to be heard. As stated earlier, the rumor was circulating that this particular line-up was the absolute best one assembled . Tracks like "The Waiting Room", with it's improvisational overtones, validate the rumors. Throughout , one's eye rarely strays from the barrage of slides. Yet the truly magical visuals are just about to begin. "The Lamia" has our protagonists singing while passing through their waters , all lit up in electric blues and greens. "The Colony Of Slippermen" has Denis wearing the famous Slipperman suit, which makes delivering the vocals all the more challenging. Too soon does "The Light Die Down On Broadway" and the audience is brought back to reality as the final tracks wind down. The obligatory sanding ovation gives way to an encore: "The Musical Box" and "Watcher Of The Skies." At this point, the crowd is so primed than you hope they'd just say "screw it, we're playing the entire Selling England By The Pound show as an encore. Alas, the magic fades away and a buoyant crowd floats out of Le Spectrum, without touching the ground.
Miridor/ Frogg Café: Le Lion D'Or – Sunday October 10.
Day 2 of the Montreal progressive weekend had us switching venues. Le Lion D'Or is a gorgeous bar which is still decorated exactly the same as it was in the early 1930s. A very intimate venue, which probably does not hold more than 120 people, most of whom are seated comfortably around a few dozen tables on the main floor. The venue also has a very small balcony area to the left of the stage. This was my vantage point for this very interesting double-header of progressive music. Most of the people who were hanging by the bar or loitering in the lobby all looked very familiar. That's because the vast majority of them were at The Musical Box show the previous night. The entire feel of the evening was like being invited into someone's basement, where the entertainment consisted of live music.
Much to our surprise, Montrealers Miriodor took to the stage first. The band has gone through various personnel changes over the years but have returned to a sextet, which seems to work best for them. The band leaders are undoubtedly Pascal Globensky on keys, and drummer extraordinaire Remi Leclerc; whose metronome-like pounding paves the way for a very unique musical journey. I think the best way to describe Miriodor's music would be say that they sound like a twisted musical box. The tracks build like a Jack-In-The-Box , yet you never know what creature will pop out at the end. It became quite evident after only the first 2 songs that this show was going to be magical. The venue, the impeccable acoustics, and a very appreciative crowd all added up to confirm the feeling. The band was visibly moved as they got ovation after ovation for their impeccable musicianship. It was, quite literally, one of the best concerts I've ever seen in my life. Guitarist became bass player, bass player became keyboardist, soprano sax, alto sax , and violin were woven into the musical tapestry in a scintillating display of chops and imagination. I could not even tell you how long the set ran because time just seemed to freeze . Much too soon, they announced their last track and disappeared off stage to a roar of applause, whistling, and stomping feet. A lot of the material was from their upcoming Cuneiform release, which promises to be their best ever.
OK, so who exactly is Frogg Café ? Our Publisher, Pete Pardo, told me I wouldn't be disappointed. Before even hearing a note, my first impression was :" These guys have got some major kahoonas coming on after Miriodor". I already knew that no matter what they sounded like, they were gonna be good. I was right. Mixing elements of Kansas, with some of Zappa's jazzier stuff ( ie :Peaches In Regalia),and a flair for coherent jams, Frogg Café quickly won over the audience. The band is as tight as spandex on a whore and seem to be a well-oiled machine. Tons of violin swooped in and out of the songs while the jazz guitar, stellar trumpet, and rock-solid rhythm section anchored the songs. All this done by musicians who are really having fun playing music and really appreciative of the audience. My only small criticism ( and I'm really splitting hairs here folks) would have to be the addition of vocals to the tracks. Although sparse and sung on key, I just felt that the band's vibe is so much better when ripping through the many long instrumental passages in their songs. It made perfect sense to me why they came on after Miriodor. Their set was loud. The nearly impeccable acoustics of the hall hid this fact, but it made sense to have the more acoustically inclined band go on first.
Another great night of music, spent in the company of a great group of people. To all of you who shared these 2 nights with me in my hometown. Cheers! A votre santé !
Sidebar: I cannot speak of the evening's festivities without mentioning the efforts of the boys who threw the whole thing together. www.proglands.com was responsible for arranging the evening and they did a magnificent job. Lastly, please make an effort to support local bands in your area.