First night: Forgotten Suns (Portugal) and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic (United States)
Second night: The SymphOnyx (Portugal), Pain of Salvation (Sweden) and The Flower Kings (Sweden)
A dream come true. That's how I saw it, from the first chords of Portuguese prog rockers Forgotten Suns.
Carlos Tavares, the promotor managed to get a great five-band set, with lots of variety, ranging a large scale of progressive music styles, from free-jazz-prog to metal.
Portuguese proggers, recently united through the Prog-Pt mailing list, waited eagerly for this festival. After months and months of discussion and fair talk on the net, everyone showed up at the University Campus.
The night was dark cloudy, as if portuguese famous sun (and moon) had suddenly abandoned us. So it was, for our little misfortune. Forgotten Suns and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic played their whole set... in the rain. Well, actually, we didn't care.
A very difficult performance for the guys who had to open the festival. While outside the stage it was raining, inside, some final hour technical problems emerged and the band couldn't play what they intended. So, almost all of their beautiful instrumental pieces from the debut Fiction Edge I (ascent) were turned down, and general atmosphere was a little bit too heavy in the beginning. But Forgotten Suns stood for it with guts and musicianship. All in all, they played wonderfully, even surprising a lot of fans with two cover versions of Marillion's Emerald Lies and Metalica's Master of Puppets. I must admit I prefer the first one to the latter, but, anyway, they played both very well. From their own material, after a difficult but after a little while powerful start with Creation Point, they went directly for their other more-towards-metal song Wartime and then, the live tour-de-force, another amazing A Journey (see Forgotten Suns last DPRP concert review). Once again, Forgotten Suns managed to play it very tight, in a way only great progressive bands can. And once again, I simply loved it. After this one, a great one indeed (more than 20 minutes of an instrumental trip through the ages of the world), the audience had been already conquered, and people (about 500 at that time) started to forget all the rain in their heads just to let music flow. So, it was easy to take the next step: the wonderful Routine, the "surprise cover versions", and finally, the simple but truthfully beautiful from the live and studio point of view, Betrayed.
Well, I have to say I would rather prefer them to play their whole concept Fiction Edge I as they did so well last time, but since it wasn't possible, I think they delivered a very good concert. A great beggining for Guimarães Art Rock Festival.
Forgotten Suns' line-up:
Linx - vocals
Ricardo Falcão - guitars
Miguel Valadares - keyboards
Johnny - bass guitar
NelSun Caetano - drums and percussion
BIRDSONGS OF THE MESOZOIC
I must confess I've never heard of these four nice guys from Boston, USA until last June they were scheduled to play in NEARfest 2001. Now, I can tell you, they are awesome! With a 20 year career it is quite incredible this was their first time ever in Europe... Did you know that?
Raining a lot then, many people prefered to leave the place. Only the trully lucky ones remained. I was one of them. Birdsong's music is almost similar to their own image as individuals: four great american musicians, always with a smile on their faces, always taking you by surprise through an incredible charm and smooth style. They combine influences from classical progressive music, to free-jazz, contemporary music, and so on. Almost everything can be heard. So, of course they delivered a memorable concert!
Birdsongs played mainly their most recent material, from 1995's Dancing on A'A and 2000's fabulous Petrophonics. From a live point of view, one can think that if a band is using mainly electronic programmed drums it can be uninteresting. But it isn't, believe me. For two reasons: their programming is great and their almost mathematical music is always able to draw its own rhythms. Besides that, the whole band works as a real ensemble, not only because while they play they're reading from the music sheet, but because it is as simple as that: they play as a contemporary chamber music orchestra.
All in all, a wonderful evening (forget about the rain!) with a wonderful bunch of nice guys who stayed and we hope, enjoyed, the whole weekend in Portugal. Thanks and see ya, Birdsongs!
P.S.: After this wonderful concert, although playing for no more than 50-75 people in the end of their show, they reached number one in the festival record sales. A top hit for the first time, hmmm?
Birdsongs of the Mesozoic's line up:
Erik Lindgren - keyboards
Michael Bierylo - guitar
Rick Scott - keyboards
Ken Field - saxophones, flute, keyboards, acoustic percussion
THE SECOND NIGHT:
First of all... portuguese sun and moon exist! (end of statement)
Well, to be honest, these trio are not a progressive rock band, but remember, this is an Art Rock festival, so, if you consider gothic rock with classical elements somewhat "arty", then we can arrange some room to this local band that opened for about 45 minutes the festival's second day. I wasn't able to see them from start, but what I saw was pretty good, from the instrumental and general stage performance point of view. They have some catchy melodies and a very good guitar player, but their music as a whole hardly fulfills the needs for prog rock hardcore fans.
The SymphOnyx played almost all their material, taken from their mini-CD releases Psicofantasia and Utopia.
Not great, but in a way very pleasant for a start.
The SymphOnyx's line up:
Carlos Barros - vocals
Martinho - guitar
Carlos Torres - drums
PAIN OF SALVATION:
I had great expectations concerning swedish metal proggers Pain of Salvation. I really enjoyed their latest studio album The Perfect Element I, and so was waiting for a full live presentation of it. But after the first four-songs set, which technically were not that well played (lacking for example the great vocal melodies and Daniel Gildenlow's guitar solos from the album), they abandoned it, and started to play earlier songs, only picking it up in the end. Playing so, they simply left us without the most beautiful part of the album, the middle part, with the fantastic Her Voices and King of Fools songs. And it simply transformed their performance into the most controversial of the whole festival. Pain of Salvation can be very melodic in the studio but in my opinion they hardly recreate those great moments in the live set. After a while I really started to get bored with too much distortion in my ears. In the sixth or seventh song (from One Hour By the Concrete Lake) I was already wondering "why these guys just don't leave the stage for the next greats?"
A total disappointment to me. But, be aware, this is only my opinion. Some guys in the "prog-pt" mailing list have been discussing PoS' performance and many liked it. But distortion isn't my cup of tea, so... But I still like The Perfect Element I. That's not distortion, that's music with a strong metal edge. Very different from what they played live in Portugal.
Pain of Salvation's line-up:
Daniel Gildenlow - vocals, guitars
Kristoffer Gildenlow - bass, backing vocals
Johann Hallgren - guitars, backing vocals
Fredrik Hermansson - keyboards
Johann Langell - drums
THE FLOWER KINGS:
So different! The Flower Kings performance was just too short for my strong apetite. No one could believe when Roine Stolt reached the microphone and said "we ran out of time, guys, there's a police order to shut up, it's 2 o'clock in the morning, and we have to go. It was nice playing for you all...".
We were simply knocked down. So unfair. But, well, we had such a great time with them...
The Flower Kings started as they finished: top class playing and interacting with the audience, cheerful fine songs, great musicianship, with lots of great improvisation. Along with Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, undoubtedly they were the upper greats of this festival. There is More to This World from Retropolis was as strong as a strong opener can be. After getting bored with Pain of Salvation I just went off my head, and started jumping in the front row. With just one song all of us had won the night. Then came some "classical" technical problems with Roine's guitar. I think it happens almost everywhere doesn't it? Fortunately, it was solved after a minute or so and we had the chance to climb up to heaven with the first half of... the Garden of Dreams. Amazing. Everything in the right place: Roine's and Hans' guitars and voices, Jonas great bass guitar playing, the incredible barefooted Tomas Bodin and his fantastic array of keyboard sounds and melodies... Zoltan's competent performance on drums (just the second time live with the band, after Jaime Salazar's departure!) and... Hasse Bruniunsson's colourful percussions. Yes, after the show, Tomas Bodin told me mr. Bruniunsson came directly from the Algarve in th south of Portugal where he was spending his vacations to the northern city of Guimarães (Portugal's "cradle" city) just to play with the regular Flower Kings! Such a great surprise, indeed.
And so, with such a beautiful party, we could only miss all these guys in the end... They still had the time to play The Sounds of Violence, from Stolt's The Flower King, and then, Roine asked the lightening technicians to give him more light, because of the cold temperature then (what a crazy summer in Portugal, I must tell you...). Spulit, "prog-pt"'s founder then shouted out "I Am The Sun!", and Roine commented "I wish you were...(laughs) it's really cold in here". Then I shouted to him "But I feel very warm, don't worry!", "Oh yes?" he said... "Good!". And then they played their all time beautiful symphonic piece Church of Your Heart. Fantastic. Until the time ran out, we still had the chance to enjoy their great performance of... I am the Sun. And the sun (our sun at 2 o'clock in the morning) suddenly faded. What a great festival! In the end who cared about the first rainy night, or the bands they liked the less? We hope next year we'll have more. In the meantime we just can wish for a comeback soon from guys like Birdsongs of the Mesozoic or The Flower Kings. Against rain or against time, both bands gave us, portuguese and some spanish prog fans the certainty that good progressive music is still ahead of its time. And it's always in progress, against all odds and music press critics.
The Flower Kings' line up:
Roine Stolt - vocals, guitars
Hans Froberg - vocals, second guitar
Tomas Bodin - keyboards and audience enternainment (self-declared winner of "best Flower Kings outfit"!)
Jonas Reingold - bass guitar
Zoltan Czorsz - drums
Hasse Bruniunsson - percussion