by Cedric Hendrix
CHICAGO — After two days of wall-to-wall music, I wondered as I went to bed Saturday night if I would have the same level of enthusiasm for more of the same on Sunday.
Turns out I was fine.
After a great breakfast, it was back to the south side and back to Reggie’s for the grand finale of Progtoberfest III. I had to hit the ground running, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
After a chat with festival coordinator Kevin Pollack, I made my way to the Rock Club for a performance from NEW!, a band playing the music of German krautrockers NEU! I was unfamiliar with either band, and I’m glad I got to hear this group. Their style has a cool, industrial vibe. I could hear myself improvising guitar parts over what was being played. Completely unsolicited, a man standing next to me leaned into my ear and said, “They sound spot-on!” Clearly, he was a NEU! fan, and I took him at his word. When I got back home, I bought my first NEU! album. So I guess I liked them, too!
Back in the Music Joint, EYE was livening up the room with their brand of sweeping prog, with more than a touch of post-rock sensibility. The Columbus, Ohio, act was capable of hard-driving metallic stomps, and ethereal motifs that reminded me of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.” It was psychedelic prog straight out of the late 60s.
Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Kinetic Element was probably one of the “proggiest” of all the prog bands at the festival. Their sound is influenced by the masters of the genre, like Genesis, Yes, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The band promised and delivered songs so epic in nature, they assured the audience the band would play a total of three songs! The audience was in on the joke, and gladly went along for the ride.
When I saw Amalgam Effect frontman Matt Spivack playing a flute as he and his quartet tore through their set, I (naturally) thought I’d be hearing something similar to Jethro Tull. I was way off base! Spivack and guitarist Kody Little put on a true rock and roll-filled performance, fully of dynamic interplay between the flute and guitar, backed by a rock-solid rhythm section. This Denver-based band has its own voice, which was being used to promote their second album, As We Were. I must enjoy it, because I wound up buying both of their CDs.
Apparently, I hadn’t learned anything about making assumptions yet, because I just knew Detroit’s Discipline would be some offshoot of the 80s King Crimson. Where else could they have gotten their name from? So imagine my surprise when I was greeted by a lead vocalist (Matthew Parmenter) who looked a LOT more like Peter Gabriel or Alice Cooper than Adrian Belew! Discipline’s metallic sound seemed heavily influenced by vintage Genesis and Pink Floyd. Crimson was hardly a factor. The music was dark and mysterious with a wonderfully heavy groove. I plan to explore a lot more of this band’s music.
As I strolled back into the Music Joint, I was greeted by the soulful, jazzy, even Latin-like sound of Agori Tribe, who hail from Memphis, Tennessee. This band had a deeply grounded rhythm formation that made me think of Sound Tribe Sector Nine. But they had their own thing going over the top of this groove, freeform and frantic. The guitars sounded like they came out of my head, leaving me to wonder where I would fit in should I be allowed to go on stage. They are a very interesting group, indeed. Keep an eye out for them!
I’m the parent of a teenager, so I was firmly in touch with my inner Dad as I proudly watched students of the Chicago School of Rock tear through the classic Yes album, Fragile. I could only marvel as I watched children a third my age roar through material I continually struggle to figure out. I was particularly impressed by the way they handled Bill Bruford’s “Five Per Cent for Nothing.” I mean, damn! If these kids are this good now, imagine what they can do as adults!
I was so gobsmacked by School of Rock, I very nearly forgot to head back over to the Music Joint, where the Lost World Band was pleasantly grooving along, bringing a true World Music feel to progressive rock. The band’s interesting mix of pennywhistle, violin, guitar, bass, and drums made for the most unique sound of the weekend. It truly became interesting late in the set, when the band seemed to truly find its groove.
Back in the Rock Club, the Chicago Zappa Collective was delighting a near-capacity crowd with its performance of Frank Zappa’s “Billy the Mountain.” The group performed the song beautifully, complete with stage props and the perfect attitude. After that, they took on Zappa classics like “Catholic Girls” and “When the Lie’s So Big.” The highlight for me was during “Keep it Greasy,” when guitarist Chris Siebold positively laid waste to the room with a guitar solo that will echo for ages to come. The only thing that made it better was having Zappa alum Mike Keneally standing right in front of me, grooving along with the music with immense enthusiasm. That will be a hard moment to top.
I would like to offer my sincere apologies to Progger, who’s set I missed in order to have a conversation with Mike Keneally. I owe you guys one, and I will pay it back as soon as I possibly can.
Next up was New Jersey’s Thank You Scientist, a band I’d heard a great deal about, but had never been able to catch. Turns out I was in for a treat. Salvatore Marrano sang with a voice that had no business coming out of his body, with the rest of the band keeping pace with a brand of uptempo music that was not quite jazz and not quite rock. But it was definitely prog, a true hybrid full of accessible but precise grooves and melodies. I’m looking forward to going deeper into this band’s repertoire.
Meanwhile, Moulder, Gray & Wertico brought the Music Joint audience beautifully back to jazz, trio-style. Guitarist John Moulder was locked in, using both clean and processed sounds to express serious groove and melody. Bassist Larry Gray and drummer Paul Wertico were right there with him, swinging hard and taking advantage of any and all solo opportunities. Speaking of bands I wish I could be a part of …
Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre had the final say in the Rock Club. The bill promised an evening of Tull’s music, but Barre went in a slightly different direction, offering up bluesy, classic-rock oriented chops that not only his remarkable band to play what was expected, but to offer up some surprises from the Beatles and his solo catalog as well. If the audience was upset by the deviation from the expected, they did a terrible job of showing it, cheering Barre wildly at every turn. But just to make sure he fulfilled his obligation, Barre closed his set with the Jethro Tull classic, “Aqualung.”
All good things must come to an end, they say. And so Progtoberfest III saw its end in the Music Joint, where a packed house enjoyed The Don (Preston) & Bunk (Gardner) Show. As two of the earliest members of the Mothers of Invention, Don & Bunk (along with drummer Nick D’Virgillio) delighted the crowd with their enthusiastic interpretations of Frank Zappa’s music, using keyboards (Preston), saxophone, and flute (Gardner). Not bad for a couple of guys in their eighties! The two were later joined by Zappa alums Keneally and Ike Willis, who put a wonderful cap on a spectacular weekend of music, closing things out with the legendary “King Kong.” It didn’t seem fair to favor one original Mother over the other, so they are the only act to merit two photos.
And so ended an incredible weekend of music. The weather, sunny and warm on Friday, was now rainy and cold as I left Reggie’s for the final time. That seemed appropriate, as I had been living the entire weekend in an elaborate musical fantasy, and now the night air was dragging me suddenly and viscously back to reality. It was time to go home. How poetic.
Progtoberfest IV is schedule for October 19-21, 2018. If you’re reading this, I already know you enjoy the music I’ve been talking about. I highly recommend you be there, at Reggie’s, next year.
I know I will be.