I’m sitting in an airport terminal finishing this post up, totally bummed that I’m not still in the lovely UCPAC, listening to brilliant music among wonderful friends. My brain is completely on musical overload, and I’m still processing the immensity of the weekend! Prog is not for the weak minded, and this weekend was a marathon run. But, we’ll all have to see if my poor, pulverized brain works well enough for me to review Sunday’s shows.
The first band of the day was Cell15. This band really, really impressed me. I had spoken with two of the members yesterday, who begged me to write them a terrible, scathing review of their show. So, I’ll say they suck for not giving me enough material to criticize them. Jared’s criticism was that the keyboard setup was not nearly large enough for a prog show, only occupying about 80% of the stage. (How was that? Ok, that was a pretty lame roast. Sorry dudes). This festival has leaned generally to the progressive rock side of things, which means less heavy distortion. Cell15 was a bit heavier, but I think in a way that was palatable for those fans in between prog rock and prog metal. Conceptually, Cell15 has a really unique thing going. Lead vocalist/keyboardist Robert Richardson wanted to tell a powerful personal story about his own life trials, which include time as a prisoner in jail. The words tell a tale of redemption and hard-earned clarity, and the personal, emotional depth of the music is obvious. This band was truly enjoyable to watch, but definitely one that will require some subsequent listens to fully grasp.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the occasional escapist prog about space aliens or manticore battles. But most of the time, I am more interested when prog deals with challenging, urgent social themes or emotional stories, so I was really drawn in by that concept as an illuminating topic. Musically, these guys remind me a little bit of an edgier version of early 80s (Think Duke-era) Genesis at times, with Alice Cooper singing lead. There were some really memorable musical passages, but the strength of these guys is the hooks they have for their songs. They write interesting, catchy, unique prog music that is reminiscent of many bands I love, but also completely their own. I think Cell15 brought an edge and grittiness to the festival that was a breath of fresh air, and very welcome.
The next group, 3RDegree, rivaled Circuline for the most fun act. They framed the entire concert around their latest albums, which deal with a fictional corporation that transfers your consciousness into a cloud, with “a success rate of greater than 78%”. They had several voice overs and skits between songs, which included the removal of a “non compliant audience member”. I love their new album, and I think “The Gravity” is one of the catchiest songs of all the bands that have performed. This band was tight, had great harmonies and melodies, and were a really solid band all around. 3RDegree were an obvious crowd favorite, and had a large group of loyal fans in attendance, but I am sure they have won some new fans from this performance.
The next act was highly anticipated. Randy McStine had committed to doing a Kevin Gilbert tribute set, but had to back out of the festival due to some commitments he had. Dave Kerzner, who played with Kevin on both Thud and his famed performance of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway at Progfest 94, agreed last minute to take over the spot, and do a dual tribute to both Genesis and Kevin Gilbert. Brief aside for context- I am a massive Kevin Gilbert fan, and I was extremely excited to hear Kevin Gilbert live. Dave started off the set with a few of his own pieces that had a Kevin Gilbert connection, including “Not Coming Down” by Sound of Contact. A few songs on, Kerzner played the beginning of “Joytown”, which made me jump. I think Thud is a pretty terrific prog tinged pop album, so I was grateful to hear those songs in a live context.
After Kerzner played a few more Kevin pieces (“Tea for One” and “Ballad of Jenny Ledge”), Peter Jones took the stage. None of us were prepared for his cover of “Long Day’s Life”, which can be found on the ProgStock Facebook page. I had chills all over my body for the whole song, and shed more than a few tears. It was definitely one of the festival’s high points.
Soon after that, Francis Dunnery took the stage and did a reprise of “The Musical Box” with Peter Jones, which was great, along with a sing along version of “Back In N.Y.C.” that was a lot of fun. When the Kerzner band took the stage, they did a version of “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” that was just about perfect. Apparently, Francis had worked with Dave on a project called Sonic Elements, where they did covers and reworkings of tunes from The Lamb. The concert was overall a fun excursion through the artist’s catalogue, but the obvious highlights for me were Peter’s “Long Day’s Life” cover and Dunnery+ Kerzner band doing “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”.
The last two bands of the night, The Tangent and Karmakanic, combined forces and called themselves TangeKanic. The Tangent, led by Andy Tillson, has been an ever creative, controversial, and brilliant musical presence on the prog scene since the early 00s, and Karmakanic, led by the incredibly talented Jonas Reingold, has also been on the prog scene for around the same amount of time. Musically, these guys were MIND-BLOWINGLY good. Special credit must be given to Luke Machin, who melted faces with some of his solos. (Seriously… Jared was in the fourth row and barely survived.) This lineup is so jam-packed with talent, that you’d be doing yourself a major disservice to miss their show if they’re coming around.
TangeKanic played some music from both bands, and had some of the best stage banter of any of the bands. Andy was delightfully self-depricating and funny, and Jonas had some one liners that had the room in stitches. But I have to point out one of the performances that most touched my soul. Andy wrote a song very recently in the wake of the shootings in Las Vegas, in which he processed his feelings on the matter. He sang about how music was his “sanctuary” growing up. Everyone in the room cared about music on a very deep level, and I feel like most that were in attendance viewed music in the same way. So as he sang about what an offense it is to enter into someone’s sanctuary and violate it in such a violent way, many of us in the audience were overcome with emotion. Midway through the song, he had a moment of silence for those who had passed. It was a powerful reminder of the preciousness of life, and the power of music, and I truly hope this song can be heard on a record or single, as it helped me and others process the heartless events we’ve seen lately as well.
The festival ended, and the after-party began. As I mingled among attendees and artists, I noticed that people could not stop talking about new bands they had discovered, or acts that most impressed them. Artists and fans all partied together until very late into the night. Jared and I both agreed with the general vibe, and really enjoyed ourselves at the first ever ProgStock Festival.
Also, one of the best and most important announcements of the show: There definitely WILL be a ProgStock 2018! And as of now, 4 bands have been officially announced: Evership, Orpheus 9, Mystery, and Enchant! The lineup is already looking great, so if you are reading this, PLEASE start planning for next year. It’s only going to get better as more bands are announced. ProgStock managed to exceed my already high expectations, and I’m sure next year will be even better. PROG ON!