Various Artists: Progfest ‘97 (2-CD, 141:59); Outer Music OM110CD, 1997 Pangea Music International Ph: (831) 425-0270 Fax: (831) 425-3874 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cyberhome: www.pangeamusic.com After taking a year off in 1996, Shawn Ahearn and crew took the Progfest baton in hand and gave us Progfest ‘97 -- and so we have this double CD as the record. Truly, a massive undertaking this must be. All that said -- what of the CD itself? (Disc One: 71:10) Being an old U.K. adherent and King Crimson admirer I was not impressed at all with the first three tracks by the John Wetton Band. “In the Dead of Night” was muddied soundwise and suffered that too-huge washout. Worse than that Wetton’s voice was weak and strained in all the places where strength was expected. Sad. “Rendezvous 602" was a bit better as the volume and punch was toned down and Wetton handled vox better. Martin Orford tackled keys and very-needful backup vox admirably. Next was “Starless” and finally Wetton was at 90% singing quality with few drop-outs, crack-ups, and off-key drifts. Things went way wrong about three fifths of the way into the big Frippian wall-of-guitar and monster bass climax and crescendo. Billy Leisengang got into a distorted, aimless, banging and noodling that was just simply non- musical and uninspired bluesy rock guitar goofing. Drums were way too upfront and Godzilla- sized, drowning out bass and keys. Result: a bland and sloppy live performance overall on this Crimson classic. Oh bother. Next four cuts by Le Orme were wonderful -- a night-n-day break after the previous weak tracks. Plenty of great bass, strong guitars, cool drums and percussives, kingly keys, mellotron, Hammond B-3, and at last --great vocals and on key with spirited delivery. Le Orme seems a cross between early Yes, PFM, ELP, and Cast. A superb performance. Last two tracks are Arena’s “Medusa” and “Sirens”. I kept hearing that Discipline sound but with a bit of Asia-like guitars by John Mitchell. Paul Wrightson’s voice is strong and Clive Nolan’s keys solid. Frankly, I don’t really enjoy such operatic and theatric vocals and such lost- love-tragic-life pathos in vox and drippy lyrics but the instrumental angst was decent. Too overproduced rock-me-out-baby going on here for my tastes and not enough instrumental art until much later in “Sirens”. If you dig Discipline’s pathos prog then do Arena’s angst rock. (Disc Two: 70:49) In my opinion The Flower Kings can do no wrong. Roine Stolt and the floral gang crank out prog magic track after track, release after release. I saw these guys up close and personal at ProgDay 98. This recording of 12:10, “Retropolis” and 14:49, “Humanizzimo”, is just more of the stellar rockin’ prog you expect of TFK. Even live, they seem better, than the sterility of studio. To hear these two pieces is worth this 2-CD alone. Stolt can do no wrong. He has the prog-Midas touch. Guitars, keys, bass, drums, effects, vox, and soulfire are kickin’ at 110% here! Spock’s Beard is the current fav-rave of many American proggers and they offer two cuts -- “Thoughts” and “Go the Way You Go”. They are slick, rockin’ neoprog with an ear for pop and wade the mainstream at times. Instrumentalism is tight and top notch and extremely accessible. These guys know what they’re doing and how to woo a crowd. I might go as far to say that they are the Boston/Styx/Genesis band of Progfest 97. The instrumental break in “GtWYG” was quite strong. To me though I just don’t see the reason for Beard-mania. They rock, prog, sing but just don’t stand out in the sea of prog rockers out there. I hear no signature sound here. Sorry dudes. For retro-rockers only, needing a late ‘60s fix of fuzzed big and overdriven guitars, classic rock keys, vox, and drums you have three cuts of Big Elf. This is solid unassuming, no fills retro- rock jams. Envision half the Allman Brothers, (no Duane though), get up with Mountain, and Black Sabbath to form a cool band and you have Big Elf. Prog this ain’t folks but it’s fairly tight stuff even if totally predictable and easily served PBnJ sandwich rock. Last 12:21 cut, “Ättestupan” by Sweden’s Sinkadus is a high quality doomy-angst/ introspective prog outro for this glut of international artists. With flute, male and female vox, keys, cello, bass, guitars, and drums how can you miss the art bulls-eye in art rock? They do a fine job of creating vintage ‘70s-feel prog rock that seems mournful and longing for an unattainable rest. Odd modal scales, varied, syncopated rhythms, and tight shifts in feeling add a certain mystery and “hook” for the listener. Well done. Okay, now it’s your turn, buy this double CD and see if you agree with my lengthy attempt at letting you know what Progfest ‘97 sounds like on disc. Lotsa liner note info, band photos, and very well done CD art and graphics design. ~ John W. Patterson
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