Prog-King and Queen for 2005
Erik Norlander and Lana Lane
Steamers, Fullerton, CA, USA
Written by Lorraine Kay
Progressive Rock is alive and well in Southern California as was witnessed at Steamers in Fullerton just prior to leaving on tour to promote Lana Lane’s latest CD, Lady Macbeth. Erik Norlander and Friends delivered a lethal dose of PROG-ROCK in varying forms, from blinding symphonic rock to more melodic tunes, featuring powerful vocals by Norlander’s wife Lana Lane and Kelly Keeling.
A Southern California based band, Erik Norlander and Friends was a gathering of members of Norlander’s band, Rocket Scientists, and Lane’s band and friends. They perform primarily originals written by Norlander. In addition to the originals, the band performed impressive covers of their fave tunes, including a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir with Lane at the front on vocals. Another cover that really cooked was The Court Of The Crimson King by King Crimson with Lane on vocals and Norlander on keys. A nice touch was added when Norlander jumped into an exciting version of the signature part of Grieg's The Hall Of The Mountain King.
A master keyboardist for sure, Norlander’s performance could stand on its own but it was complimented by the vocals of Lane, McCrite and Keeling and expertly supported by a great team of musicians. But it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that it was Norlander that was responsible for the thunder coming from the stage laced with a masterly created melodic flow. The music is strong and powerful but does not overshadow or stray in the least from the melody and provocative lyrics, always supporting the vocalist.
Lane is among the best of vocalists and not just in terms as a female vocal. Her voice has the range and clarity of tone that could be compared to Ann Wilson or Pat Benatar, but very much an individual artist in her own right, her performance exceeds that of those fine ladies not only vocally but with her enchanting stage presence, which matches so perfectly the mystical storytelling of her lyrics. Powerfully belting out a hard driving rock number well above the instruments she can also smooth it out to deliver a moving and sensitive ballad lyric with out losing any of the energy or dynamics as she switches from mood to mood and register to register.
Adding to the mix, the instrumentation was surprising at the Orange County gig with a combination of instruments not usually seen on mainstream rock stages. Norlander, most visible on stage and quite obviously the creative muscle behind this group, is surrounded by a variety of keyboards, an Apple Notebook computer, and upstaged by what is endearingly referred to as “The Wall Of Doom” – a multi-modular system standing close to 7 ft by 8 ft in the tradition of Keith Emerson. Norlander’s “friends” on stage were a competent mix of musicians from various generations of Norlander and Lane’s recordings and stage performances. On N.S. Stick was Don Schiff, who performed an incredible solo – a preview of his soon to be released solo album. On guitar and vocals was Mark McCrite, who was joined by Michael Alvarez on cello. Vinny Appice rounded off the solid rhythm section on drums.
Norlander is a synthesist of first rank. Whatever label you want to put on it -progressive rock, symphonic rock, epic rock, instrumental music with electronic instruments or just good rock and roll – Norlander knows how to deliver a crisp, melodic synth solo with a powerful rhythm section knitting everything together brilliantly. It is his leadership that brings such a cohesive sound to life. Just one sample of this was evident when the group performed a medley of tunes from a 2003 double CD release - a rock opera concept album - called Music Machine about the dramatic rise and fall of a genetically engineered rock star. Norlander’s creative licks were center stage, but not so much that it diminished the musicianship of the other musicians on stage.
Norlander is known for utilizing a wide range of keyboards. His mastery as a musician/technician runs the gamut of keyboard history, not limiting his playing to the most exciting new keyboard gear both digital and
analogue, He still incorporates such old gems as a Hammond Model D, a Mellotron 400, even Keith Emerson's famous Yamaha GX-1, which he spent many hours getting restored, and several vintage Moog pieces of gear in the mix just for starters. Even keyboard God/Synthesizer pioneer Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) said it himself in the liner notes in Norlander’s 2004 CD Threshold, "New life flows through the veins, oscillators and circuitry of Erik Norlander".
For this performance Norlander was on fire as if possessed by the spirits of his keyboardist heroes of the past 30 years. His evocative synthesizer technique is reminiscent of the legendary Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Jon Lord while still very unique and innovative on its own. The easily recognizable styles of all the greats is there but with Norlander’s improvements and his own personal style mixed together. He has taken what is the best of the best and has magically combined it with his own touches. Kind of like taking a family recipe from Aunt Matilda, Aunt Emma, Mother and Grandma and taking the best parts and stirring them together and then adding your own personal touches to come up with a masterpiece. Yeah, Norlander knows how to really cook on stage and in the studio. A master producer as well as a musician/songwriter he makes it all work together.
Indeed a world class act, it seems these days that it is a rare treat to be able to see the group here in Southern California. The couple just recently returned from a four-month tour of Europe that completed in St. Petersburg, Russia. They will be back on tour again in Japan, and possibly Europe, to promote Lane’s new CD, Lady Macbeth released in April. “It’s a concept album about the happenings of Lady Macbeth, says Lane. U.S. fans will just have to wait until they return for a live concert, but fans worldwide should check their website for tour dates in their corner of the planet.