• Three Rivers Prog Rock Festival - August 23-24, 2008

    29. Aug. 2008, 23:54

    I have not written a music review in quite a long time, but the events of the past weekend in western Pennsylvania have made me consider coming out of blogging retirement. So there goes my extensive review of the first edition of the Three Rivers Progressive Rock Festival (a.k.a 3RP) which was held near Pittsburgh, PA on August 23 and 24, 2008.

    August 23-24, 2008 – 3 Rivers Prog (3RP) Festival

    While I have attended many prog festivals in California, mostly CalProg down in Whittier, I had never really considered flying out to one of the bigger prog fests on the East coast, like NEARFest or ROSFest. That is, until I heard of 3RP a couple of months ago. Looking at the line-up, I felt an immediate urge to reach for my credit card and book plane tickets, hotel room and VIP tickets to the show.

    And the line-up was definitely impressive for any fans of Spock's Beard like myself: not only would SB get a two-hour co-headlining slot on the first day of the show, they would be immediately be followed by Neal Morse, the founding member of Spock's Beard who left the band back in 2002 to pursue his solo career. No doubt that the evening would be eventful for that reason alone, as a reunion of sorts seemed inevitable! Spock's Beard has been touring the US very sparsely lately, as their last appearance on the West Coast was at last year's BARFest in San Francisco - which was up till now the furthest I had travelled to watch these guys perform live.

    To top this off, there were many of my other favorite prog artists lined up for the second day of festivities: namely IZZ, the Rocket Scientists, the California Guitar Trio, and The Flower Kings. I would have flown across the country even if just half of these guys were playing! Even better, VIP tickets were available for sale, giving access to an exclusive after-show party with all the bands at the end of the first day. From that point on, the decision to make this my first cross-country concert experience was a no-brainer. Tickets were purchased and travel arrangements were made, at a rather high cost, but in hindsight it was worth every single penny...

    However, drama preceded the festival. A couple of weeks before Spock's Beard was scheduled to appear, there was a report that their keyboardist Ryo Okumoto had his jaw broken in Japan and was stuck in the hospital. Preparations were made to find a suitable replacement by the band, although in more ways than one his flamboyant theatrics are a staple of the current incarnation of the band. Knowing Ryo personally, we were also worried about him. A few days later, an announcement on the Spock's Beard website stated that Ryo would be released from the hospital in time to make it to Pittsburgh - albeit with just a couple of days of lead time. Worries were alleviated, but we were glad we would get to see Ryo after all.

    Fast forward to August 22, when our plane left Los Angeles for Pittsburgh. By a happy coincidence, we ended up sharing our flight with "Papa" Jim Harrel, a fixture of the California prog scene, and organizer extraordinaire of the annual CalProg festival, which I have been attending since its very beginning in 2004. I guess my Spock's Beard T-shirt made me stand out from the other passengers! :) After our plane landed, we headed to our hotel across the state border in western Ohio, and we were ready for a promising weekend of prog!

    We got to the venue on Saturday morning in time for the first act of the festival. The Pepsi-cola Road House is a fairly small venue in the middle of rural western Pennsylvania, which apparently typically houses mostly country music events. In hindsight, the venue was ideal for the first edition of this festival, as it was just the right size for the audience, had a great sound system and acoustics, working air conditioning and provided the intimate feel sought after by prog fans. Each band had its own vendor table on one side, and other vendors were sharing the other side of the venue. Outside, a tent was setup with chairs and tables, and food and drinks were available throughout the weekend. The staff was always very friendly and easy-going.

    We got to our seats at the fifth row in the center section, and waited for the show to get started.


    The first band of the day was Manifesto, a local instrumental trio. Their music was very guitar-oriented, and was a fitting first act for the first morning. They were very talented musicians, and their drummer seemed to be in a leadership position as he would be coming from behind his kit to speak to the audience. Their set was rather short at 45 minutes long but it was enjoyable.

    Mandrake Project

    After a short break, the second band came on, named The Mandrake Project. Compared to the minimalist Manifesto, they had a much bigger line-up of musicians. Another instrumental band, they had almost every instrument in duplicate: two drum kits, two keyboard players, two guitars, a cello, violin, not to mention some home-grown percussive instruments! Their music was probably the most eclectic of the day, if not the whole festival. They were mixing genres from classical to disco, jazz fusion.... Truly a very progressive sound! After the show I bought their CD A Favor To The Music and had it autographed by the band.

    Ryo Okumoto and the fans (I'm on the left)

    During the break, while hanging out in the tent outside the venue, Ryo Okumoto showed up and started talking to the fans. He was visibly pleased to see us and I wasn't expecting to see him so early in the day. A fan had a custom T-shirt made especially for him with a picture of the CT scan of his broken jaw, as well as the "Ryo is Rock'N'Roll" line. Priceless! I learned later that he had missed his flight from Japan twice because he passed out at the airport! As a result, he arrived in Pittsburgh only late the night before the show and was at the venue early in the morning to go through the songs before the festival started !


    Next up was Gongzilla, the first band so far to feature some vocals, though they had some long instrumental jams as well. They felt a lot like a jam band at times, and featured two guitarists. They also had a keyboard set up on the side, that wasn't used for a while. During the sound check we thought we had recognized Ryo playing on it but it seemed a bit far fetched to me... I was soon proved wrong as the band brought him in as a special guest on a couple of songs! I guess Ryo couldn't wait to show that he was in top form to perform at this festival... In any case, this was a very nice surprise! I heard that they had met a while ago while the band was touring Japan and had talked of jamming together at some point. Glad it happened then!

    Spock's Beard

    As the evening loomed, the band which was our main motivation for flying across the country to attend 3RP was getting ready to set up. It was nice to see them finally play on a decent size stage again, as the last time we had seen them live was on the very cramped stage of the Independent club in San Francisco. Their gear has become more consequent with the years, as Nick D'Virgilio now uses his own keyboard, in addition to his guitar and drum kit, and in addition to Ryo's already massive keyboard rig.

    They were slated for a two hour long show, which included songs from most of their albums. Highlights from their set for me included Thoughts Part 2 and the long epic The Great Nothing which I had not seen performed in its entirety in a very long time!

    The band was great and full of energy as usual. NDV was being a great frontman, Alan Morse on guitar was running all over the stage, and Ryo was being completely over the top, considering his medical condition. At one point he even jumped on his keyboards, having feet and hands on each side of his rig! People had to come on stage to make sure the whole thing didn't collapse and he didn't hurt himself more... That was rather scary. It looked like there was something wrong with him at some point, but that would only become clear later.

    Ryo being crazy!

    To be fair, at times it felt to me that the band was not as tight as they used to be. I spotted what seemed to be some obvious mistakes here and there, but then again it is a part of the live experience. Also it's understandable considering the limited time of rehearsing they had together for this show, and Ryo's late entry and bad health status. Overall, it was still a very impressive performance by any reasonable measure.

    There were solo spots for Ryo, as well as the obligatory drum duel between NDV and Jimmy, where Alan actually joined in at some point.

    Ryo's solo

    Drum Duel

    And then the much anticipated moment came... For the encore, Nick came back on stage and announced that they had a special "surprise" in store for the audience (wonder what that could be?). They actually took a while to set up the stage to accomodate Neal's gear - apparently he needed his own keyboard and guitar gear. To fill the time, Ryo came back on stage for one of his trademark jokes, but instead did a bit of Japanese karaoke! :)

    Ryo's Karaoke Minute

    And then it happened: Neal Morse came back on the stage, hugged his old bandmates, and they started their performance of the original epic The Light in its entirety! Nick was back on drums like good old times, Ryo and Neal were again sharing keyboard duties, Jimmy Keegan was also still on his drum kit.... And Neal. Wow. There are no words to express how powerful this performance was. It was a very emotional moment for myself, and I am sure for many other people in the audience, remembering the first time I saw this band at the Troubadour back in 2001. These 20 minutes of magic alone were worth every penny of the price of the plane tickets.

    The Light with a reunited Spock's Beard

    Funny thing: apparently Neal was not comfortable with some of his original lyrics in the song, dropping a "fucking", and even an entire line about "not needing no savior". Hardly surprising considering his strong Christian position now, but I always thought that this would be a cheesy thing to do. Why pretend it never happened? Words have no magic powers.

    Neal Morse

    After the spectacular reunion, the venue was cleared once more so that Neal's band could set up. This turned out to take considerably longer than expected, and by the time their set started they were over an hour behind schedule. As a result, Neal announced that they had to cut one of the songs from their set, the only song from his upcoming album Lifeline. Fortunately, he will probably perform it at the show in Downey which I will also be attending.

    Neal's set included only music from his post-Spock's Beard Christian albums; he only played epic songs, especially a really long epic from his latest album, Sola Scriptura. His band, while very good musicians, didn't quite have the stage presence of Spock's Beard. Neal could definitely hold his own and that made up for it somewhat, but to me it was palpable that the audience was not as enthusiastic as during Spock's Beard's set. Despite the very high quality of the music, the heavy amounts of Christian dogma being shoveled through the lyrics was sometimes hard to digest. Since last seeing him live in 2003 on the Testimony tour, his material has become increasingly preachy. I try to tune it out when listening - and it never stopped me from buying all of his albums... but I felt it really had a negative effect on the performance. Also his Testimony-era band I thought was really better, with big name musicians like Mike Portnoy and Randy George, it just wasn't the same kind of show. And the theology was more subtle and personal, and thus more palatable.

    After his regular set ended still rather later than scheduled, I really didn't think the rumored Transatlantic reunion would happen on that day: my pet theory was that Neal would show up the next day during the Flower Kings' set. But I was proven wrong! The encore started with the Transatlantic song, We All Need Some Light, that Neal frequently performs at the encore of his shows... However he was joined by Roine Stolt on guitar. To top it off, Mike Portnoy jumped in on the drums in the middle of the song! The reunion wasn't complete without Pete Trewavas on bass, but it was still the closest we could hope to get.

    We All Need Some Light

    They continued on to play the 25-minute epic, Stranger in Your Soul, in its entirety. Again Neal showed his showmanship by hopping all over the place and even walking in the audience at some point. He even took over drums from Mike Portnoy while he was still playing! The audience was going wild, just like for the Spock's Beard reunion! And that was the conclusion of an absolutely incredible first day of music. There was no longer any lingering doubts that this trip was money well spent... And we were only halfway through!

    Stranger In Your Soul

    I couldn't help but think of the contrast there was between Neal Morse performing his solo material with his band, and performing what was essentially his own material with his old friends in Spock's Beard and Transatlantic. Setting aside the emotional aspect of the reunions for a moment - it was very clear that everybody was just having a lot more fun: the audience, the bands, and even Neal himself. I am not saying that Neal wasn't having fun - his performance was obviously very emotional on a more personal level... but I am not sure it was as communicative.

    In short, I wish that Neal would learn from the experience of these reunions and realize that reconnecting with his real-life friends is more enjoyable and fulfilling for everybody than trying so hard to connect with an invisible friend. Maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part, but I really would like to see more of these reunions... and so would all the other fans!

    VIP Party

    But the evening wasn't over, as we had access to the after-show VIP party in the Pittsburgh Holiday Inn Express & Suites hotel. Because of the various delays and the distance from the venue, most people didn't get there until 2am. They were serving food and drinks, and most of the people involved in the festival were present, especially the bands.

    Being among the first batch of people there, we grabbed some food and sat down at one of the vacant tables. As more people came in, we were eventually joined by several members of the Flower Kings, including Roine Stolt himself!! Later walking through the halls, I would bump into Mike Portnoy, and all other members of Spock's Beard except for Ryo. We got pictures with almost everybody, got autographs, got to hang out... It was just great to be in the same room as all these talented musicians.

    Mike Portnoy and me!

    When chatting with Dave Meros, we learned why Ryo wasn't at the party. It turned out that he passed out during Neal's set, and was unresponsive. An ambulance was called, CPR was performed on him by somebody in the audience, he was revived and sent to the hospital for the night. Ryo literally gave his best on that evening, and he almost paid for it with his life. He is a true prog hero - reckless, but doing what he loves at any price. :)

    We left the party and were back at our hotel somewhere around 4am. It was becoming clear that we would likely miss at least the first band on Sunday at this point, as we badly needed rest from an eventful day.


    As predicted, we missed the entire set of Kalon so I can not comment on their performance. To make up for it, we bought a copy of their CD and had a quick chat with this local band at their table.


    Unfortunately we also missed the entire set from IZZ. I had seen them a number of times at past CalProg festivals, and I know they are a great band. Knowing they would be performing at the upcoming CalProg in October, they were rather low on our list of priorities compared to sleep and lunch, I am sorry to say. We still hung out with the band for a bit, got pictures taken, and i bought a copy of their new live album. Great stuff, and looking forward to seeing them again soon!

    Rocket Scientists

    Next up was another band I had seen before at CalProg, the Rocket Scientists. They're a very keyboard-oriented band, their sound incorporating a lot of Erik Norlander's playing. Mark McCrite adds some very nice vocals and guitars, and Don Schiff plays the unusual NS Stick instrument (a prototype of the Chapman stick that seems more geared towards bassists). They played songs from their extensive repertoire, including from their latest, Revolution Road. They were also joined by Erik's wife, Lana Lane, on vocals for the last few songs. She very often - if not always - sings on the records as well as live performances of this band. Likewise, her husband produces and plays keys on her own solo records, which are also pretty good.

    Don Schiff on NS Stick

    California Guitar Trio

    The California Guitar Trio is another favorite of mine, although their connection to prog rock is rather tangential. As their name implies, they are basically three guys on acoustic guitars (with some effects added), no drums. As they explained, they are disciples of prog guitar legend Robert Fripp, having studied with him for a couple of years at his house in England. I have seen them live a number of times, and as a guitarist I always found them to be very good musicians. The first time I saw them live they were opening for the Flower Kings a few years ago in LA, so it is funny that I got to see them again immediately before the Flower Kings at this festival.

    They played some of their original compositions, as well as their usual mix of various covers, from classical to rock. I especially enjoyed their cover of Pink Floyd's Echoes - complete with the psychedelic jams! Of course they had to play their cover of my favorite song of all time, Bohemian Rhapsody. They even pointed the microphone towards the audience, who then started singing the lyrics... The middle chorus part is always a crowd pleaser.

    Bohemian Rhapsody

    The real surprise though came when I noticed the keyboard rig that was setup on the side. The obvious answer was a surprise guest. It looked suspiciously like the keyboards Erik Norlander was using on the previous set, so that was my guess... But again I was proven wrong as Ryo Okumoto, literally back from the dead, was back for yet another guest jam! The man is unstoppable, and obviously was hell-bent on showing it to the prog fans. Before they launched in their spontaneous jam, he made a little speech to thank the woman who saved his life the night before. I captured it all on video below...

    Ryo with the CGT

    After the show, he came out and hung out some more with the fans, having many pictures taken. His son Sage was also here. Thanks to the Flower Kings taking longer than expected to set up, we had the opportunity to talk to him at length about the events that preceded, but I won't get into details here.

    The Flower Kings

    The last band of the festival was another one of my all-time prog favorites, along with Spock's Beard. Having them share the bill at 3RP was one of the things that really made me want to go in the first place. Last time I saw them live was over a year ago in Whittier, at another CalProg special event. They always put together a great show. I hadn't realized that they had a line-up change, since some of the musicians were new, including a new drummer and a new second keyboardist complementing Tomas Bodin, a role once held by Pain of Salvation frontman Daniel Gildenlow.

    They played a very good set to a very enthusiastic audience. They played one new track from their upcoming album. I have to admit my memories are a bit blurry as we had listened to a lot of music by this point. There was no big surprise in stock for their encore. It was a very fitting conclusion to a fantastic couple of days of music!


    This first edition of the Three Rivers Progressive Rock Festival was a resounding success on pretty much every level. I would definitely consider making the trip back again next year, if they manage to get a lineup of bands even remotely as enticing as this one. So many things were done right: the venue was great, the sound was awesome (with a few mic problems here and there but the volume was perfect and never overpowering), the staff and fans were welcoming, there were plenty of opportunities to mingle with the bands, the breaks were adequately managed, and there really was no serious hiccup. A very laudable achievement for a first effort. Kudos to Howard Levy, the organizer of this event!

    There are just a few minor things I think they could improve for the next years: it would be nice to have an ATM within reasonable proximity, as most vendors only took cash and we all ended up spending a lot of money on CDs and shirts. The closest bank was a few miles south near downtown Burgettstown. The on-site food could have used a bit more variety - and off-site options were almost non-existent, short of a drive to nearby West Virginia.

    Our flight back to LA was on the following Monday evening, so we had a day to recuperate and visit the Pittsburgh area. It turned out we also shared our return flight with Papa Jim. :)

    This trip was everything I hoped it would be, and then some. But I have to admit that the star of this festival, as evidenced by his multiple appearances, was Ryo Okumoto. Facing tremendous obstacles, he didn't hesitate to literally put his life on the line for the opportunity to revel in the glory of performing for his fans. I greatly admire his commitment to his craft, however reckless.

    He is a true renaissance artist, a good friend, and Ryo indeed is the incarnation of Rock and Roll!

    Ryo and us
  • New Guitar Trainer!

    11. Okt. 2007, 3:51

    To celebrate the release of the latest version of my Guitar Trainer software for mobile phones (now at version 1.0.9) as well as the updated mobiletutor.org Web site, I am making available a special discount for my last.fm friends!

    If you choose to buy a full copy of my guitar training software, just use Google Checkout to pay with your credit card and use coupon code LASTFM to get 20% off!

    Of course the demo is still available for free. Enjoy!
  • CalProg 2007 at the Whittier Center Theater - May 19, 2007

    16. Jun. 2007, 2:47

    Sat 19 May – CalProg 2007

    Still catching up on my reviews... That fourth edition of the Southern California festival featured four really varied bands this year: Puppet Show, Spiraling, Frogg Cafe and the Rudess Morgenstein Project.

    I have been to every single event since the first CalProg 3 years ago, and in many ways this festival feels like a family affair. This year seemed on a smaller scale than previous years, with no extra act on the patio and a much smaller merchant area (which was rather disappointing). But on to the show, or at least what I still remember about it...

    The first band opening the festivities was Puppet Show.

    Puppet Show

    They were probably the most "typical" prog band in the festival, as far as their sound was concerned. Their show was entertaining, and I bought their album The Tale of Woe. Unfortunately, i couldn't find the band after lunch to have them sign it.

    Next up was Spiraling, a band that played previously on CalProg, and whose lead singer and keyboardist Tom Brislin is well known for his live work with prog giants Yes. It is therefore natural that they chose to cover a Yes song, Tempus Fugit! They are a good band, but I have a hard time otherwise classifying them on the progressive side. They're really more like power pop to me. In any case, they are great guy sand took the time to hang out till the very end! They even had their picture taken with me. :)


    Tempus Fugit cover

    Spiraling with me!

    Next up was Frogg Cafe, which to me was a very good surprise. Their music was like a cross between Frank Zappa (of whom they covered a few of his songs, including Peaches in Regalia) and the Dixie Dregs. They even featured a violinist! Their heavy fusion style was rather different from any of the previous bands.

    Frogg Cafe

    The guys were pretty cool, and we talked with their bassist for a while after the show. I got a copy of their double live album, which they all signed.

    After a long dinner break, the headliner act Rudess Morgenstein Project, featuring the world-famous musicians Jordan Rudess (from Dream Theater, Dixie Dregs) on keyboards and Rod Morgenstein (also from the Dregs) on drums. By far the highest profile musicians of the day...

    The Rudess Morgenstein Project

    As a Dream Theater fan myself, I was of course looking forward to this performance (and the meet and greet that would follow!). Once again, it was very different from all the preceding bands. While Rod's drumming was very enjoyable to watch, Jordan's playing, while impeccable, was harder to discern from the audience. He was just too static and detached , playing almost everything from his synth. They played material from the original album, as well as from Jordan's solo albums. I regretted that he had to resort to using backing tracks on a few of the songs, that almost felt like cheating...

    On the plus side, the highlight of the night was his piano solo medley of prog songs! I captured it on video below. It was much more personal part of the performance.

    Jordan Rudess' solo prog medley

    One of the songs they performed was apparently improvised on the spot! Jordan also gave more details about his upcoming solo album of classic prog covers. Overall, it was a cool performance for musicians, but it could have used more showmanship, in my opinion.

    After the show I had a bunch of stuff signed and got my picture taken with the duo. Woohoo!

    Rod, myself and Jordan!

    This was another great day of intimate prog in Whittier, though I can't help but feel it was on a smaller scale than previous editions. On the plus side, the sound was much better than last year, the schedule was more manageable, and there were no delays
    to speak of. So the organization is getting better.

    Big kudos to Papa Jim and the people at CalProg, and I for one am looking forward to CalProg 2008!
  • The Red Elvises at Rusty's Surf Ranch - May 18, 2007

    12. Jun. 2007, 0:49

    Fri 18 May – The Red Elvises

    About time I catch up on my reviews, so I'll keep it short... Almost a month ago I went to my second The Red Elvises show at Rusty's Surf Ranch on the Santa Monica Pier.

    I had seen that band for the first time at that same location for New Year's Eve and they put up a fantastic show. So naturally we went to see them again.

    This time around they had another female member added to their previous lineup, featured on guitar and banjo. This considerably increased the sexiness of the band, which was already set quite high with their hot keyboardist/accordionist/saxophonist red-head.

    The show was very good but we only stuck around for the first half of the show, having to attend CalProg early the next day. Here are a few pictures though!

    On top of it, I captured a video of their drum "solo", when each member of the band gets to participate!

    Hope to catch these guys again soon, they seemed headed for a non-stop tour of the US for the summer!
  • Guitar Trainer for cell phones!

    10. Jun. 2007, 7:35

    I am proud to announce the final release of my Java application for cell phones, Guitar Trainer !

    It took me quite some time to complete the mobiletutor.org Web site on which it is hosted, but everything is now online and open for business.

    Feel free to try out the free demo (that includes unlimited usage of the built-in instrument tuner!), or even purchase the full version.

    This small application for mobile devices is an educational tool for musicians to help deepen their knowledge of the fretboard of their instrument. Here's a quick recap of the features :

    • Learn the location of notes on the fretboard of a guitar or other stringed instrument.
    • Supports a variety of standard and alternate string tunings: guitar, bass, banjo, ukulele, mandolin.
    • Training mode allows to focus learning on particular parts of the fretboard.
    • Game mode provides a fun way to make progress. Work your way through levels of increasing difficulty!
    • Train your ear at the same time as you improve your working knowledge of the instrument.
    • Left-handed and right-handed neck types.
    • Tune your instrument with your cell phone. Open string tones can be produced for any of the supported tunings!
    • Dynamic user interface that works on a wide variety of mobile devices.
    • Support for pointer input (stylus, touch screen, etc).
    • Available in English, French and German languages.

    So if you know anybody interested by this kind of application, please spread the word! This can be an interesting tool for music teachers as well as apprentices, and musicians of all levels. I know I certainly wanted something like this as a guitarist, hence why I ended up writing it myself. :)

  • Porcupine Tree at the Avalon Theater - May 12, 2007

    21. Mai. 2007, 23:38

    Sat 12 May – Porcupine Tree, 3

    I went to see Porcupine Tree once more, this time at Hollywood's Avalon Theater. I've been several times to this theater, and I quite like it, as opposed to the weird dinner-theater setup at the Grove of Anaheim where the band was going to play the next day. So for once I opted to go see them on one of their local dates, instead of both.

    I didn't expect the 7pm posted time to be realistic so we took our time to get there - arriving there after 8pm. Unfortunately, it turned out that we were indeed late for PT, having completely missed the opening act, 3, as well as probably the first couple of songs. :( It seemed that the venue was being reused right after the show for some kind of dance party, hence the earlier-than-usual schedule. Guess I'll be better prepared next time....

    The venue was really packed. It's great to see that they've consistently grown a large fan base. It was hard to get too close to the stage, especially getting there late. It didn't help to take pictures either.

    Porcupine Tree

    It was a pleasure to see Steven Wilson again after his last gig with Blackfield a couple of months ago. This tour is of course to promote their latest album, Fear of a Blank Planet, just recently released. Most of it had been played on their last tour when they were previewing the materials to the audiences.

    This time around everybody had a chance to familiarize themselves to the material, and they played an accompanying video track to the songs. They again had lots of light effects on stage.

    Steven Wilson and Richard Barbieri

    The rest of the band was in top form as well, John Wesley was again featured on backup guitar/vocals. They played a lot of songs from their earlier albums as well. They did an encore with a couple songs, and while I cannot say for sure having gotten there late, it seemed like a fairly short show, at probably around a couple of hours. The whole affair was over by 10pm, which was rather disappointing for a prog band.

    On my way out I picked up a T-shirt from their new album. All in all it was a great show, I just wish I had been able to enjoy more of it. They are still certainly among my favorite new prog rock bands...
  • The Abe Lincoln Story at Spaceland - May 8, 2007

    19. Mai. 2007, 1:29

    Tue 8 May – Abe Lincoln Story CD Release Party

    I went to see The Abe Lincoln Story again for the release party of their new CD, Kings of the Soul Punk Swing, at the Spaceland club in Silverlake.

    The parking situation around the club was pretty terrible, so I was only able to stick around for their set, although I did catch a glimpse of the previous band.

    I could go into more details but the band has just released their first video podcast detailing the entire night. Go check it out! :)

    I also snapped quite a few pictures of the event, even catching Steve flying in the air (though at an awkward time) :

    I didn't have any time to hang out afterwards, so didn't get to partake in the traditional celebratory cake. I did get to talk with my friend Kerry, their guitarist, for a little while before they went on.

    It was a very good show as they finally had a stage big enough to fit their whole band, including their two female backup singers and the brass section. I am looking forward to see them again at their next show, probably at the beginning of June!
  • Bay Area Rock Fest at the Independent, SF - May 4-5, 2007

    19. Mai. 2007, 1:13

    Fri 4 May – BAR Fest

    It's about time I wrote about my trip up to the first annual edition of the Bay Area Rock Fest a couple of weeks ago, which ran a couple of evenings up in San Francisco at the Independent, a fairly small club. This new festival seems to focus on progressive music, mostly on the metal side.

    The announced line-up for the festival was rather impressive, and featured my favorite band Spock's Beard, in what appeared to be the only California date on this first leg of their tour. It's always a pleasure to go visit beautiful San Francisco, so I made it a whole weekend gateway. This turned out great as we were treated to exceptional weather over these few days.

    So I flew in from Los Angeles on the Friday. Both nights the shows were starting at 6pm, leaving very little time for dinner and sight-seeing, so I missed all the opening bands on both days, since I didn't care that much about seeing them anyway.

    On Friday evening, I thus missed Timeline and Mob Rules. I got to the club in the middle of the third band, Balance Of Power, of whom I had vaguely heard of before. I can't say there was much too memorable about them, though they were pretty entertaining.

    Balance Of Power

    The following band was another one of the reasons that made me fly up there: Enchant. I own quite a few of their albums, and had already seen them live a couple of times, one of them being at the first CalProg, and the other when they similarly opened for Spock's Beard. They're a very solid progressive metal band from nearby Oakland, and their set was great, featuring music from pretty much all of their albums. I wish they would get to tour more often.


    Following them was the mighty Spock's Beard! I was really looking forward to seeing them perform material from their new self-titled album, Spock's Beard. Plus it's always a pleasure to watch my friend Ryo Okumoto on the keyboards!

    The relatively small stage of the venue was rather unfit to accommodate the massive equipment brought by the band: Ryo's huge keyboard setup (apparently his Mini Moog died on stage and had to be replaced by a backup synth). Had to this the fact that Nick D'Virgilio, already featured on drums and guitars, now had also his own keyboard... as well as his own separate drum kit! That rather restricted the movements of the band members, but I was literally hugging the stage between Ryo and Nick the whole time.

    They played a very good mix of their old and new stuff, and while their performance was plagued by a few technical problems, it was stunning as usual (but I'm a bit biased) ! Highlights of the night include: Ryo's karaoke minute (see video below), jokes about "butt paste", and a special guest appearance by Dc Cooper (from Royal Hunt, among others) on vocals for the final song, a medley of The Water and Go the Way You Go that kicked a gigantic amount of ass!

    Ryo's "karaoke minute"

    DC Cooper on "The Water"

    The band also played a song from guitarist Alan Morse's new album: Return To Whatever, most of which I also captured on video below.

    Return to Whatever

    That Friday show alone was worth the cost of the trip; only downside is that we didn't really get to hang out with the bands, as it all ended so late. Though Ryo took the time to say hello and spend a few minutes talking during the teardown.

    As for the Saturday show, I wasn't as motivated to go, and again missed the first bands: Odin's Court, Eyefear, and Zero Hour. We got to see the last two bands in full however.

    Crimson Glory I had vaguely heard of before, and they were more of a power metal band. The cool thing about them was the fact that they had two drummers on stage, one of them not even sitting but standing all the time! That was rather unusual.

    The most interesting band of the day for me was the last one, Jon Oliva's Pain, featuring Jon Oliva, veteran keyboardist and the voice of another band I really like, Savatage. I had actually seen Savatage live once several years ago back at the House of Blues in Hollywood.

    They played a lot of Savatage material, mostly from the Streets, on which his late brother criss oliva did a lot of the writing. Filling in for Criss was the equally corpulent but shredtastically proficient Matt LaPorte. Jon spent a lot of time playing on the piano while performing. They ended their long set with a performance of the Savatage classic Hall Of The Mountain King, for which they were joined by Metal Church's frontman, Ronny Munroe as well as Wade Black from Crimson Glory. A very fitting end for a great festival of progressive metal!

    I have to say I was very impressed with the way the whole festival went through, considering it was their first edition. It was very professionally run and every single band was right on time... even a little bit ahead of schedule sometimes! The staff at the club was very friendly and it was just a great experience overall. It was just very exhausting after spending the day visiting the city mostly on foot...

    The event was also profiting a charity, "Guitars Not Guns", for which they had a raffle. I bought a few tickets on the last night of the festival and won an autographed BAR Fest T-shirt that was handed to me by Dc Cooper! :) I was shooting for the big prize (the guitar), but I still got my money's worth.

    All in all, it was a great trip punctuated by some really awesome music. I will definitely consider going back up there next year if the line-up is worth it.
  • Nu Alliance at the Baked Potato - April 19, 2007

    24. Apr. 2007, 1:59

    Thu 19 Apr – Nu Alliance

    I went back to the Baked Potato on Thursday, for a show by Steve Weingart's band, Nu Alliance, featuring the great Frank Gambale on guitar.

    I went in not really knowing what to expect, having heard very little about this band except for the fact that Frank would be playing in it. I got to the venue more than an hour before the start of the show, managing to be the first one in and thus getting to pick the best seat in the house.

    The other featured musicians were Tom Brechtlein on drums and Carlitos Del Puerto on bass.

    They ended up playing mostly material from Steve Weingart's solo work, some tunes from Frank's, and of course from Nu Alliance's upcoming album. This was all some very high-grade jazz-fusion, with Steve playing on a vintage Rhodes electric piano.

    The first set was rather short but the second one more than made up for it. I bought a copy of Steve's 2006 CD Dark Blue Dream and had it autographed.

    All in all, it was another evening of amazing music performed by some of the best fusion musicians to be found. Unfortunately, I didn't get many pictures taken this time around as they seemed to frown upon it.
  • Mike Keneally at the Tomorrow Show - March 31, 2007

    7. Apr. 2007, 1:27

    Sat 31 Mar – The Tomorrow Show

    I should mention that I went to the Steve Allen theater last Saturday night, where guitar hero and Frank Zappa alumnus Mike Keneally made an appearance on the Tomorrow Show, a weekly comedy show.

    The Steve Allen theater is a small seated theater hosted inside the CFI West building on the east side of Hollywood Blvd.

    Mike had announced on his blog that he would be performing at this show, so having nothing else planned for that day I opted to go check it out. The show starts at midnight (thus technically on April 1!), but they ran a bit late.

    When the doors of the theater opened, Mike was already on stage playing with the band, who turned out to be the comedians hosting the show: Craig Anton, Brendon Small, and Ron Lynch.

    Brendon was also playing guitar. He is better known for his work on Cartoon Network, his latest show being Metalocalypse (on which Keneally apparently guest voices). He is a pretty talented guitarist and had some pretty cool duels with Mike!

    Mike himself performed a long Zappa song, Jazz Discharge Party Hats, half spoken word and half guitar. That was pretty cool, though I wasn't familiar with it.

    Quick excerpt of the duel with Brendon

    While there were more musical breaks during the whole show, that was the only Keneally appearance. The rest of the show was unevenly funny and lasted way past 2am, making it a very long night of music and comedy.

    I ran into Mike on the way out and told him we'd see him at his next show at the Baked Potato on April 27. That will definitely be fun, as always!