Lazuli, Frost*, Pallas, For Absent Friends
14 October 2006
De Boerderij, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands
Dutch non-profit organisation Solution Productions organised their second Prog-Passion festival on 14 October 2006. After the first edition of the festival contained solely bands from the organisation's own stable (S.O.T.E., Lady Lake, Plackband and others) the second edition conveniently used the double-bill tour of Pallas and Frost* to complete a four-band line-up. This resulted in one of the nicest festivals I have ever visited, with a well-balanced offering of music. Often prog-festivals (or any festival for that matter) have the tendency of being overlong, yet with four bands the line-up was very digestable and a great afternoon and evening out.
The attendance numbers were somewhat on the low side, with journalists and people who had won their tickets through various competitions (like the one on DPRP) nearly outnumbering the amount of paying attendants, but this did not hurt the atmosphere of the festival at all.
The surprise of the festival were openers Lazuli. A band from Southern France with a very interesting line-up: Filling the back of the stage were two percussionists, one of which plays the rhythms standing behind an adapted drum kit, rather than sitting behind it, the second playing a range of percussion as well as marimbas and vibes.
At the front of the stage were two guitarists, a bass-player which played a device which can best be described as a cross between a conventional bass-guitar and a Chapman stick. It was shaped like a guitar, but had 15 (!!) strings!
The real eye catcher of the band is however "La Léode". This is a device created by Claude Leonetti after he lost the use of his left arm in a motorcycle accident. The device works more or less in the same way as Jordan Rudess' Continuum - sounds are created by sliding a finger over a pad, only this device is more shaped like a Chapman stick, instead of Rudess' keyboard style device. Not entirely surprisingly, the instruments sound quite similar too!
As it is an electronic device, Leonetti could use any type of samples sounds for his instrument, but largely restricts to sounds that range from synth string sounds, to something that could pass as a guitar, to the sound of a 'singing saw'. These weird melodic noises only add to the enjoyment of Lazuli.
They played a very refreshing set. Prog in a way I have never heard before. Odd rhythms, odd melodies, odd... well, everything, but all was done really effectively. Their music really works. Despite the strange set-up of the drum kit, the drummer could rock when needed, and also play very delicate and melocid when the music required.
Singer Dominique Leonetti is a bit like a French Geddy Lee, but with a wider range. My French is not quite what it used to be, so I could not understand a word of what he was singing, but this did not distract at all. Because of the expressive way of singing you can easily regard his vocals as an extended instrument.
The band was (deservedly) allowed to come back for an encore, which was a great fun instrumental piece which saw all seven bandmembers gather around the marimbas to play a great sounding percussive piece.
En Avant Doute
Mal De Chien
Le Repas De L'Ogre
NS VX Se Mélangent
After Lazuli the stage was being changed for the next bands to come. Meanwhile Legendary Brainbox singer Kaz Lux entertained the people in the bar with an acoustic set.
Not familiar with his work, I was quite interested in hearing what was voted "the best Dutch singer ever" by our colleagues from Oor Magazine. Well, best I wouldn't call it, but he certainly has a very distinct voice.
He played some of his own tunes from his solo career as well as his time with Brainbox, and alternated these with some familiar covers like Van Morrison's Gloria and The Animals' House Of The Rising Sun.
Recently Dutch prog band For Absent Friends released their first studio album in five years. The new album Square 1 was officially launched and sold for the first time at the gig.
It was a bit odd to see the band coming onstage receiving the first copies of the album, and then leaving again as they were not due to play for another four hours.
Then Pallas and Frost got to do their soundchecks in front of the waiting audience. As the band were already an hour late, many people thought Pallas had actually started their gig already. However, they left 10 to 15 minutes later, to make room for Frost*, who then did their soundcheck before leaving the stage for all but 10 minutes
So it was a bit of a guess which band would be playing first, as many people believed Pallas would actually get to play before Frost*.
Not so, it was Frost* who took the stage after a 15 minute break - by now they were already an hour behind schedule.
When the album Milliontown came out I was somewhat underwhelmed by it. I like it, but it is too much "Kino with more keyboards". Live the band was in a completely different league though. Wow, what a performance!
Front man Jem Godfrey is a great entertainer. Standing behind a single keyboard frontstage, sporting a hilarious "mellotron sucks" T-shirt he pulls more funny faces than Andy Latimer on speed. There was also great interplay with the other two showmen of the band: John Mitchell and the always happily bouncing John Jowitt.
They played only three tracks, but made sure these were the three longest tracks on the album, including the 25-minute title track of the album. This highlight of the album may have been the highlight of the entire festival too. The band gave 110%, and played all the intricate parts of the different passages perfectly.
Special mention must go to Jem Godfrey who could play all the countless keyboardsolos and passages on just the one keyboard. Flipping switches and pressing buttons as he went along. There is one bit however towards the end of Milliontown where he is one hand short to be able to play both the piano and the flute sound, so John Mitchell gave him a helping hand, playing the flute part on the right-hand side of the keyboard. As the two were standing there behind the keyboard they looked the picture perfect couple, so John Mitchell added a little extra to that by giving Godfrey a gentle kiss on the cheek at the end this ditty. This cause Godfrey to burst out in laughing that he nearly screwed up singing the next bit. It is always good to see a band that doesn't play themselves too seriously and allows to have a dose of fun onstage.
What a pity that less than a month later Frost* announced that the band was put on permanent hiatus. It is the loss of a great live-band.
Black Light Machine
The main reason why I came to the festival was Pallas. I had only once seen them at the Progeny festival in 2003, where they were criminally under-appreciated by being allowed only a 45 minute set. At this festival they were valued somewhat more, and were allowed to play a full 90 minute set, plus encore.
Even though their set was considerably shorter than their headlining set in Helmond the night before, this was a good consolidation. I was glad I went to this gig instead of the one in Helmond. I certainly would not have wanted to miss Lazuli, that is for sure.
The band surprised me by starting with two tracks from The Cross And The Crucible. The same two songs they opened with at every gig since releasing that album, it seems.
Not that I would complain, as the album's title track and For The Great Glory are amongst the best tracks they have ever released.
Plenty was played from their latest album Dreams Of Men though, including Ghostdancers, the menacing Invincible, and interestingly the mellow instrumental Northern Star, which has just Niall Matthewson and Ronnie Brown onstage. Incidentally this was also the only song under 8 minutes they would play that night.
The real treat was however the inclusion of so many 'old' songs were included in the set. Crown Of Thorns (a personal favourite of mine), Queen Of The Deep and Cut and Run, which was the only song they played from The Sentinel.
Frontman Alan Reed played his usual self bouncing about around the stage, singing with great expression and giving all his heart. Graeme Murray also did a lot of singing, and I had never realised just how much of the vocals are sung by him. The band played three songs in a row, which all featured a large chunk of his vocals (Crown Of Thorns, Midas Touch, Invincible).
The audience response was somewhat tame to all this. Frost* had attracted the general Arena and IQ audience, which apparently could not care less for Pallas, as many of them retreated to the bar during Pallas' set. I was surprised by this, as four years ago Pallas had filmed their splendid DVD The Blinding Darkness at the very same venue, for a much larger audience. Not to mention the fact that Pallas and Frost* visited this festival as part of their joint tour around Europe, which was announced as a Pallas tour with Frost* as special guest.
The organisers of ProgPassion would blame the low number of Pallas fans and low attendance of the festival in general on lack of promotion the gig had gotten. For some reason this gig had not been included on the tour flyers and on initial press releases.
Pallas could not care less, or so it seemed, as they poured their heart and soul in the performance, mixed with a healthy dose of fooling around and some dry humour. During the final encore one John Jowitt of Frost* fame could be seen jumping about in the audience near the front of the stage, which prompted Alan Reed to invite him on the stage to show some of his dancing skills. This to great hilarity of the audience.
The Cross And The Crucible
For The Greater Glory
Queen Of The Deep
Crown Of Thorns
Cut And Run
For Absent Friends
The closing act were Dutch For Absent Friends, returning to the prog scene after a hiatus of five years. I have two albums of this band, both with their previous singer Alex Toonen, which I quite like. This was my first introduction to the 'new boy' Hans van Lint.
Not familiar with any of the band's more recent output I was quite eager to hear what For Absent Friends anno 2006 has to offer. Their set promised to be mostly new material (this was the album launch of their new album Square 1 after all), mixed with some older material. I hate to say that the material didn't give me a particular hot feeling. It was luke-warm at best. Not so much that the band's abilities lacked, it was mainly the compositions which simply did not grab.
It simply wasn't my cup of tea, which is not to say anything, really, as so far most of the reviews of Square 1 have been generally positive.
The rather static performance of the band did not contribute to the unexciting live experience either. Only bassplayer René Bacchus did some attempt to portray himself as rock star character, with a black vinyl jacket with fluerescent seams and a cigarette permanently placed between the strings of his bass.
So far the gig was ok-ish, just simply not my cup of tea.
However, when the band launched into my favourite twosome of Boy and Father, the limitationsof Van Lint became painstakingly clear. Boy was ok-ish, but the beautiful Father was a cringeworthy experience due to his flat and emotionless vocals.
I wish it were differently, but I decided the best way to enjoy the rest of the gig was in the bar, where I bumped into a surprisingly large number of people, including the various members of the other three bands. While enjoying of a couple of beers, with the gig next door reduced to background music, it was much better digestable.
The ProgPassion showed once again how much fun prog festivals can be. Prog artists are generally nice people, who don't mind showing themselves in the audience before or after the gig, always willing to have chat, give an autograph or pose for a photo.
Let's hope the attendance was enough to warrant another ProgPassion next year.
Setlist For Absent Friends
We Can Not
The Big Room
Call It Chance