Sweden's finest modern progressive rock band The Flower Kings made a stop on their short North American tour at The NJ Proghouse on May 28th for a full day of music, meet and greets, and general fun. In an all-day event put together by Jim Robinson, InsideOut Music, and Roine Stolt, the band played one afternoon set and one evening set, which was wrapped around a nice question and answer session between the fans and the band. It was almost like a Flower Kings festival or mini fan convention, and Sea of Tranquility's Pete Pardo and Grant Kikkert were on hand for the festivities. In addition, the guys had a chance to chat with The Flower Kings keyboard player Tomas Bodin regarding the tour and his new solo album I AM.
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Driving up to the NJ Proghouse at the Forum Theater in Metuchen, NJ at just about Noon on May 28th, you could already see the line forming all the way around the corner of the building, which was a very good sign that the day would be a major success for Jim Robinson and his series of prog shows at the venue. Saturday afternoon is an unusual time for a prog rock concert, but for many fans this is a great time to get away from family and job responsibilities and take in a full days worth of music, and as evident by the close to 300 people who showed up for the event maybe Jim Robinson should think about more afternoon shows for the future.
The NJ Proghouse
According to Tomas Bodin, keyboard player for The Flower Kings, this was the third gig of the tour. "Most of the shows will be in normal clubs, but the decision to have an all day event like this I think was a joint decision between Jim Pitulski from InsideOut and Roine. The first gig we did with Jim was at the Bodine Metlar House which was quite a success, as we did a lengthy jam which was totally not rehearsed, and the Bodine Metlar House was like sitting in a living room playing for an exclusively small amount of people, I think maybe 50 people" states Tomas. When I asked how many more shows were scheduled for the tour, Tomas replied "I think six more, which includes Los Angeles, Quebec, Montreal, Lowell, and a few others."
"The first set is actually not the regular Flower Kings set. We will play a few songs from the Circus Brimstone group, which is the instrumental version of The Flower Kings. We don't just play Flower Kings songs, but we play songs from Roine's solo albums, my solo albums, Jonas' solo albums, and a few surprises, like a few Beatles songs." Tomas was spot on with his prediction of the 2:00 PM afternoon set, which kicked off with a few loose instrumentals like "Astral Dog", "Man Who Walked With Kings", "Circus Brimstone", and "Always Grumpy", plus some fusiony jamming, before the band played a few Beatles covers. "Across the Universe" saw Tomas come out from behind the keyboards to sing lead vocals for the first time, and the band also covered "Day Tripper" and a scorching version of "A Little Help From My Friend" that also saw tour manager and long time InsideOut associate Bob Snyder contribute some powerful backing vocals. The best was saved for last however, as the band then launched into "Soon" from the Yes classic "Gates of Delerium", which brought the crowd to its feet. With Hasse Froberg's soaring vocals perfectly playing the Jon Anderson part, Roine Stolt's biting slide guitar, and Bodin's symphonic keyboards, this was a great end to an otherwise un-characteristic set from The Flower Kings. Here, the band showed off their improvisational talents more than they normally would in their regular set, adding in tons of jazz and fusion chops to their heavy prog repertoire. New drummer Markus Liliequist fit right in with his nimble yet muscular style, and Stolt seemed to really enjoy having the extra time to really stretch out with some virtuoso guitar solos. Bassist Jonas Reingold, an avid fusion fan, also seemed to really be in his element. Missing however was Pain of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlow, who has been a regular member of TFK's the last few years but had to skip the tour due to an illness. After about a 75 minute set, the band took a quick break and then assembled out on stage on stools and took part in a fun Q&A session with the fans, answering all sorts of questions pertaining to writing of the lyrics, influences, the state of prog music, favorite songs, and many other topics. The whole discussion was very light, thanks to the very humorous and upbeat attitude of the band, and it seemed that the fans and the group had a lot of fun with this. Tomas Bodin also talked a little bit about his new solo album with the fans, and we had a chance to get more info from him during our interview.
The Flower Kings
One of the first things you will notice when listening to the new Bodin solo album, is how different it is from his part efforts like Pinup Guru or Sonic Boulevard. "It's totally different" says Tomas. "I've been thinking over two years about this project actually. I felt that I needed to go over to the lyrics because nowadays I feel that I have something that I need to say. There's not just the need to have a vocalist, the lyrics are very import for me on this one".
I asked Tomas to talk a little bit about the three singers who appear on the CD, as well as get into the story behind the album. "One singer is Anders Jansson, a good friend of mine, and my wife Pernilla is also taking part in it, as is another good friend of mine Helene Schonning. I Am, which this album is called, I would say is like a "prog-opera" or "rock-opera". When I started to listen to rock music, I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Jesus Christ Superstar album, which I think is fantastic, and I wanted this album to be in the same tradition as The Wall or Jesus Christ Superstar with a real story that takes you from A to B, so that was my intention. The story is very much the story of my own life, I had it pretty rough when I was younger, but in the end it turned out to be another kind of troubles (laughs). Yeah, I was heavily into drugs and stuff like that, and I quit all that stuff like 18 years ago but it has been a long trip and I've spent a lot of time trying to understand myself and understand people and I feel that now I want to write about it. I Am is just the first part of the trilogy, the second album will be You Are. I Am is the sort of "look at yourself" kind of album. With You Are I will look around myself and see "what do we have here" and I will focus mainly on a very strong institution of power today, the media. The media can affect a person so much that it becomes the second government actually. What do I see when I turn on the TV? I see reality shows where a perfectly normal woman goes onto the show in order to transform herself into a Barbie Doll! I had to ask myself why? And why don't people react on this? I compare today's reality shows to the freak shows that they used to have in the 19th century, but the difference is the deformed part of it today is on the inside rather than on the outside. People don't understand is that they are really being exploited on these shows. So that's what I really want to write about, and I'm going to create a fictitious city where a lot of people live and some of those people take part in some of these shows in different ways. Imagine who the guy is who decides who is going to take part in these shows? That guy is the real freak, and I'm going to use that because that person combined with the girl who wants to be made up into the Barbie doll will create some real conflict-ok, let's bring them together. So that's the second album. The third album will be He She Is, a contribution to love as I see it overriding it all".
Sounds like pretty heavy stuff, and listening to I Am is indeed a different experience compared to his earlier solo albums. Filled with bombastic keyboard and guitar jaunts, not to mention heavy on atmosphere and huge vocal passages, this is the grand opus that Bodin was meant to put together, and fans can feel good that two other parts are forthcoming. Tomas mentions "I hope to be able to release one a year, but I really want to be satisfied with each one, so it's not necessary to rush them".
Tomas Bodin and Pete Pardo
Of course, no conversation with Tomas Bodin would be complete without the discussion of his gear setup or recent additions to his collection of musical toys. "I'm still using Nord, but I've changed platforms and I now record everything on a Macintosh G5 nowadays. I have a long relationship with the man behind The Logic, which was bought by Apple. The head programmer is a huge fan of my style of playing so I use a lot of those plug-ins. On stage I still use the Nord products, actually I just bought a new Roland Phantom. I need a sampler, and with this piece I have a smart media card with 1GB of sound and one half GB in the rack so there's no loading time, which is a problem I had before". What about those Melltron sounds? "Yes, the archives I have been taking the sounds from are from Roland archives, as well as many others" states Tomas. "I also have a friend who actually owns an M400. I think the sounds of the Mellotron sound better in the sampler compared to the actual Mellotron, which I've played live with before. I'd like to buy the new Moog Voyager as well. When traveling like we do, you have to travel light otherwise things get smashed in transit".
Seeing as the new CD I AM will be released on June 27th, and there are two other CD's to follow in the trilogy, I asked Tomas is he has planned to tour at all. "Yes! I have called the group I AM, and Markus & Jonas from The Flower Kings will be in the band, plus JJ Marsh from Glenn Hughes on guitar, and Anders on vocals. So far that's the fundamentals of the band, and we shall see if there is a possibility to get my wife involved as well." Hopefully a small tour of the US will also be in the cards, but as Tomas stated, that will depend on how well the CD's do here and how much interest is generated.
The Flower Kings reconvened after a long dinner break to take the stage once again at around 8:00PM for their normal set of Flower Kings songs. Those who were in attendance to see the band at NEARfest 2003 saw this set a bit longer and certainly more varied, but it was classic Flower Kings all the way, featuring songs like "Last Minute on Earth" the wonderful epic "The Truth Will Set You Free", selections from the recent Adam and Eve, plus a segment from the prog epic Stardust We Are. For a fan of The Flower Kings, or any progressive rock lover in general, this was a day to remember. Sharing a full day with fellow prog fans, and enjoying one of the better bands on the scene in an intimate setting that came across more like a convention that anything else, is really the way to enjoy the music called prog that we all love so dearly. Once again, thanks to Jim Robinson for putting together such a fun event that was very much appreciated by all in attendance. Here's hoping Jim keeps the fires alive and continues on with this great series of live events.