After a 4.5 hour drive up from Cincinnati, I arrived just as the first band was starting their set and met up with good friend and colleague Cedric Hendrix, who has written for Proglodytes for the last year or so and has been a valuable member of our team since day one. These events are always better with friends.
Source opened the night with a heavy-as-hell blend of modern metal, grunge, and djent. Think Pearl Jam, Tool, Tesseract, and Gojira in a blender- and served extra chunky. Cedric kept on looking back at me, saying “I can’t believe these guys are the opening act!” They had a heavy, tight sound and put on a great show.
New Jersey based No More Pain had a really diverse and wild set that featured some blistering instrumental passages, rhythmic shouting, tender, piano-driven ballads, and Porcupine Tree-esque grooves- the whole 9 yards. Their set had one of my favorite prog festival quotes- the lead singer said, “We have one more song for you tonight” and an audience member said “but you have thirty minutes left!” There was a bit of a pause, and the lead singer just said, “Yep.” We are definitely at a progressive music festival!
Brooklyn-based Escaper played some pretty wild jazz fusion, described by Cedric as “slinky, AND groovy.” They played gorgeous, kaleidoscopic melodies over groovy bass lines and solid drums. While they were mostly instrumental, a few songs had minimal vocals. A particular highlight for me was their set closer, “Apotheosis”, which started with almost meditative undertones, and crescendoed to an epic finish.
Inner Ear Brigade, hailing all the way from San Francisco/Oakland, were a bit more on the avant garde side. Featuring a terrific ensemble of musicians and some haunting, siren-esque vocals that were manipulated live through a sound board, Inner Ear Brigade were there to blow our minds and freak us out, with dissonant passages and wild time signature changes. I wasn’t totally shocked to find out that members of this band had collaborated with Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and were involved with the more experimental California/Pacific Northwest music scene.
The Knells featured some really interesting composition. The band features 3 female lead singers that sing dissonant, pure SSA parts over quirky, ever shifting soundscapes. Some of their blends were just gorgeous. While many of the bands reminded me of other groups, I can honestly say that Knells are truly one of a kind, although the highly composed ensemble did remind me and others a bit of Magma.
Compared to the previous acts of the night, Témpano was a little more traditional prog fare. Big, catchy melodies, spacey synth laden breaks, and solid choruses made for an enjoyable set. Though they seemed to pay tribute to classic prog bands such as Yes and Rush, they brought a modern sound and edge to it. Témpano has been around in some form since 1978, and the group seemed to play with a surprising level of trust and comfort for a band that, according to the lead singer and guitarist, corresponds mostly digitally! These guys put on a great show, and played a really solid, entertaining set.
Screaming Headless Torsos took the stage next. I’m not sure yet, but I think I could confidently bet that they will be the funkiest, most danceable group of all weekend. They had an awesome blend of jazz, fusion, Latin rhythms, blues, and just enough experimental edge to keep everyone in the crowd on their toes. Lead vocalist Sofia Ramos managed some incredibly impressive vocal acrobatics throughout the show- from overtone pitches to operatic tones to screaming to yodeling, she truly was the star of the stage. I couldn’t believe that she was a recent addition because her stage presence and David Fiuczynski, the lead guitarist, also had some mind-bending solos throughout the show. I loved that this group was on the bill, and will definitely be checking out their music.
Nick D’Virgilio Project announces its actual name at the event- Billy Baroo! Nick has assembled a group of incredible instrumentalists to play some mind-blowing instrumental fusion covers, ranging from Jeff Beck to Genesis to Spock’s Beard to the Dixie Dregs.
They even treated us to an incredible Rush Medley, that played just enough for all the prog fans to frustratedly stop their air drumming and shift to the next song. It was clear that they were having a great time, and we all were too! The highlight for me was a heavier, faster rendition of “In That Quiet Earth'” from Genesis’s Wind and Wuthering album. Nick has been one of my favorite drummers for years, and seeing him is always a treat.
The last act of the night was one of the most impressive tribute acts I have ever seen. The Ultimate Queen Celebration, ft. Marc Martel, was a freakishly accurate rendering of some of Queen’s biggest hits. Marc Martel was able to do things with his voice that very few humans can, and sounded so much like Freddie at times that I wondered whether he wasn’t some sort of clone or unclaimed Mercury love child. Ending the night jamming to Queen was delightful, and the crowd felt very united in our love for Queen, and especially for King Freddie.
Day 1 was tame compared to what is to come- we are bracing ourselves for the whirlwind that will be Saturday. With 16 acts in total, we will do our best to review all of the bands that we can. Prog on!