Alias Eye, Mostly Autumn & The Flower Kings
2nd Eclipsed Festival, October 27th, 2001
Colos-Saal, Aschaffenburg, Germany


By
Andreas Vogel


Just a seven months did it take the makers of German prog rock magazine Eclipsed to set up the sequel to their first, highly successful Festival, which took place in late March and saw Liquid Visions, RPWL, and Porcupine Tree on one stage. This time, Eclipsed had once again succeeded in calling together an equally (if not more) impressive trio, consisting of German newcomers Alias Eye, the British Mostly Autumn, and The Flower Kings from Sweden, who conveniently integrated the Festival in their current Rainmaker tour.

The venue was the same as last time's, Aschaffenburg's Colos-Saal, a place which has grown to be a Progressive Rock stronghold, presenting such acts as IQ, Fish, Pallas and the like. The whole city has become a spring of musical enthusiasm, so it seems, since it serves not only as the Eclipsed headquarters but also houses the magazine's newly opened record store, where you can purchase CDs that only seldom see the light of 'normal' shops.

As for the magazine, it's alive and kicking, and well on its way to even greater success. By now it is already available at newsstands all over the country, the texts are advancing in quality, and the misprints are becoming less conspicuous (although I still wonder what 'Anaroknophobia' is supposed to be…). As soon as Eclipsed shakes off some sloppiness (i.e. the fuzzy pictures) and develops a more cohesive and sophisticated layout, it is bound to make a breakthrough. The name is being spread at any rate, since the magazine is very busy presenting concerts and having its logo emblazoned on tour posters of such venerable acts as Yes or Marillion.

The crowd was let in relatively on time, just some twenty minutes behind schedule. I was one of the first to have my wrist stamped and be pushed into the hall, where the boys of Alias Eye were still occupied with their sound check. As I am told, they got stuck in a traffic jam on their way to Aschaffenburg and went into quite a sweat as they hurried to the Colos-Saal, only to discover that The Flower Kings were indulging in a 2 ½ hour sound check, leaving merely 45 minutes for Mostly Autumn and Alias Eye to share. A case of headliner's arrogance? But funnily enough, it occurred that the sound quality of the individual bands turned out to be inversely proportional to their respective sound check duration - if you get my meaning. But I'll come to that.

Alias Eye, the band from Mannheim whose first work 'Field of Names' has struck the prog rock scene as one of the most astounding debut albums in recent years, embody a new hope as they display a fresh and unaffected approach, full of ideas, vigorous, and exceptionally skilful, too. Consequently, expectations were very high this evening. But the band lived up to them, or maybe even exceeded them. Their performance started with the title track of their album, a fine song indeed which masterfully uses accordion, an instrument seldom heard these days. For me, though, the chorus lines ('Deny it, defile it…') come across a bit weaker than the rest. Be that as it may, the acoustics appeared to be very good, not too loud, with every instrument distinctly audible in the mix.

Initially, the musicians seemed a bit tensed up, but that impression vanished as they got in touch with the audience. Wasteland was next, starting off in a King Crimson kind of way, but turning into an upbeat, driving tune, with a nicely built-in quiet interlude. Hybrid then enchanted with its Bach reminiscences - Vytas Lemke's influence at work here - and its twisted structure. The band's playfulness and their not so dead-serious attitude, both of which are most apparent in Hybrid (notice, for example, the Pop goes the Weasle insert), helped to break the ice completely. Just another tragic Song came across as just another brilliant song - everything works fine here, the arrangement being well-balanced and versatile. Lemke's piano solo enthralled in just the same way that Phil Griffiths' impressive vocals did.

Driven, the longest track in the set, focused attention on Frank Fischer for a time, as it is built upon a prominent bass line. In the middle part then, Matthias Richter came to shine with a well performed, lengthy guitar solo before the band made a funny excursion, playing some verses of Pink's Lady Marmelade. Such cover inserts do not only exhibit a band's further musical interest, they also bear witness of their self-confidence. That given, Alias Eye appear to be open-minded and sufficiently poised - they're best equipped to successfully pursue their way in the business, and to try out many avenues. Mystery supplies evidence that they even feel comfortable in a more jazzy vein. The subsequent song, The Readiness is all, originally saw Philip Griffiths and his father, Beggar's Opera singer Martin Griffiths, take turns on vocals. As the latter wasn't present, Phil jumped in for his father while keyboarder Lemke took Philip's place. And it worked very well; I especially liked the instrumental break with its splendid keys and guitar work. To top it all, the band suddenly departed for a rendition of Beggar's Opera's Time Machine. After that, Griffiths announced their (theoretically) last song, Premortal Dance.

When this dance was over, the band left the stage, but the frenzied applause quickly lured them back and they went on to perform a rather poppy song (To be or not to be) that didn't make it onto 'Field of Names' - well, frankly spoken, I don't really regret that. As the final encore, the album closer An end in itself was played, a gentle ballad that had the performance end on a leisurely note - which didn't prevent the crowd from bursting into thunderous applause. All in all, Alias Eye delivered an inspiring show that made one hungry for more, and they surely won a whole lot of people who are going to observe the band's future deeds. After RPWL's celebrated debut, Alias Eye solidify the impression that German ground is rather fertile for the Prog seed to sprout.

Set List Alias Eye

Field of Names
Wasteland
Hybrid
Just another tragic Song
Driven
Mystery
The Readiness is all
Premortal Dance

To be or not to be
An End in itself

The hall was revelling in high spirits, and as if to support this atmosphere, the intermission music came up with a number of Yes classics - sure to be approved of by most of the people. While the stage was being prepared for the next act, many fans also took the opportunity to replenish their supplies of beer. It seems to me the intake of alcohol assumed enormous proportions that evening, and although it is beyond my grasp why people are unable to separate the enjoyment of art from the consumption of beverages, I understand that the proceeds from the sale of beer helped keep the ticket price as low as it was. Still, the fellow who kept forcing his way through the crowd, Maglite in his mouth, on the search for empty beer glasses, was pretty annoying. At least, the hall was air-conditioned, so the smoke addicts had only little effect, and what's more, there were no troublemakers in the audience, as far as I know. Though I noticed a constant murmur coming from the chatty left-hand side, especially during the next band's performance.

Mostly Autumn, normally an eight-piece band, didn't bring their violinist this time. Yet they filled the stage anyway; everywhere you looked, there was a musician. And it was worthwhile looking, as far as I am concerned, since the female fraction of the band, Heather Findlay and Angela Goldthorpe, were so ravishing a sight that they suffused the hall with an incredibly pleasant and friendly atmosphere by their sheer presence.

The show commenced with The Night Sky, a well-chosen opener that perfectly set the scene for what was still to come. The gentle first part, with Bryan Josh and Heather Findley's soft singing, led slowly to the stunning moment when the whole band kicks in for an amazing instrumental part. Here, it quickly became apparent that Mostly Autumn's sound developed much more force than their predecessor's; seven musicians, all playing away on their instruments, necessarily produce a considerable volume. It's a pity that during the most powerful parts the individual instruments tended to drown out each other in the mix, creating a big noisy hodgepodge. So, during The Night Sky's usually brilliant guitar duel finale, it became difficult to distinguish the different voices.

Winter Mountain started off with a rocking upbeat, and worked fine all the way, perhaps even better than the original version. The band stayed with the album that Winter Mountain was taken from, and performed its title track, The Spirit of Autumn Past, with its catchy chorus sung by almost all band members. The rousing last part, which came up with keyboards and guitar and flute galore, had on the audience what I call the Pink Floyd effect. In their concerts, people tend to stand mesmerized rather than move to the rhythm, and here, it appeared to be similar: the audience was stunned by the power and the beauty, they stood there, bewitched, amazed, and comfortably numb. They were not to be released soon, as Evergreen, one of my personal favourites, is of the same captivating quality. Starting softly with Heather's heavenly singing, the song slowly gathers strength as it flows along, featuring some great countervoice during the last verse, until it bursts into that long, soaring, orgasmic guitar finale, brilliantly done by Bryan Gilmour, erm sorry, Bryan Josh.

The band continued with a series of more lively, quick-paced pieces of a more folky tradition. Which Wood? from their latest album 'The last bright Light' was first, with its mind-blowing acceleration towards the end. Shindig followed, which then passed into a swirling rendition of Shenanigans. The cheerful power inherent in these songs had the crowd revive and respond accordingly. A couple of chaps right in front of me just couldn't restrain themselves and broke into heavy headbanging. The band seemed to have as much fun while playing.

Shrinking Violet, another song from 'The last bright Light', was delightful in the beginning, but turned a little too loud towards the end (to my liking, that is). After that, Bryan announced the following song, Heroes never die, and he mentioned that he had written it when his father had just passed away. During the quiet opening lines, I found the babble in the audience particularly improper and disturbing. The song itself is a superb piece, again including some excellent guitar work. It concluded Mostly Autumn's performance for the time being, but of course they came back for an encore, which turned out to be Mother Nature. Here, second guitarist Liam Davidson took on some vocal duties, while Angela Goldthorpe placed herself behind a keyboard. Although the song was initially disturbed by some feedback sound, it offered again all the fine ingredients that make up the Mostly Autumn experience, and got the crowd so excited that after the music had finished off with a turbulent ending, they burst into a wild applause, demanding more. But the band had already played for 75 minutes, and The Flower Kings were ready to go. So they bowed to the audience, waved goodbye and vanished.

The applause did not die down for minutes. When suddenly the drummer reappeared on stage, the crowd cheered hopefully - until they realized that he had only come to dismantle his drums. Bad luck, but hardly a reason to be unhappy about the concert: the performance had been terrific, and the atmosphere just incomparable. Well, the mix could have been better, and the music tended to be unpleasantly loud at times. But the ingenuity of the band had these shortcomings appear less significant, so that Mostly Autumn have surely gained a number of new admirers.

Set List Mostly Autumn

The Night Sky
Winter Mountain
The Spirit of Autumn Past
Evergreen
Which Wood?
Shindig
Shenanigans
Shrinking Violet
Heroes never die

Mother Nature

During the break, some jerk increased the volume of the intermission music to such an extent that you could neither talk to your neighbour without screaming, nor could your ears take a rest from the sonic stress. By that time, I did not know that this was but a mild foretaste of what gush of sound the next act would unleash…

The Flower Kings appeared on stage, awkwardly dressed in glittering shirts and shiny trousers. Without much ado, Thomas Bodin struck his keys, and off they went for Road to Sanctuary, the longest track of their current album 'The Rainmaker'. The performance was awesome, but there was one obstacle that kept the enjoyment within limits: the band were much, much too loud. Those who attended the concert - correct me if I'm wrong, but what came out of the speakers was sometimes nothing but a deafening flood of noise which brought one's eardrum to the verge of being torn to pieces. I don't know how the people in front of me could stand there and survive, but I do know that without my ear plugs I would have died a hero's death.

It was difficult, but I managed to ignore the excessive loudness from time to time and pay heed to the performance - which was flawless and masterly. Each of the five Flower Kings treated his instrument with a striking professionalism. Vocally, the two singers were in good form. Hasse Fröberg enriched his performance with quite some theatrical expressiveness, while Roine Stolt's appearance lacked that completely. His playing and singing seemed to be curiously distanced, but I may be mistaken in that, as I actually saw him for the first time. The benefit of concerts in general is that they alter one's relation to the music in so far as one can focus attention on individual musicians and examine their contribution more closely. Doing so, I came to appreciate Jonas Reingold's bass performance quite a lot, and the drum playing by Zoltan Csörsz also made an exceptionally good impression.

Stolt announced their next song: "This is Garden of Dreams." I thought: 'What do you mean, Garden of Dreams?! All of it?' By then, I hadn't studied any previous set lists, but obviously there exists an abridged version of this massive track, which still clocks in at some 45 minutes. The diversity and multitude of styles and moods herein make Garden of Dreams an impressive summary of what The Flower Kings are all about. The track's magnificence was only disturbed by an awkward break (after the 'Love is the Word' part) and some feedback noises. Not to mention that it was played at full blast…

The band continued with a rendition of Serious Dreamers, again a track from the 'Rainmaker' album, which I am not too crazy about. But the live surrounding multiplied its effect, and it turned very enjoyable. After that, the audience was treated with 'Space Revolver's showpiece I am the Sun. Incorporated into it was an extensive Reingold bass solo, during which the other members left the stage. I thought it lacked some cohesion, but it was impressive at any rate. Bodin joined again after a while, the drummer delivered some extravagances as well, before the whole band finished the song. And with that, the main part of the concert was over.

As an encore, The Flower Kings performed their epic Stardust we are, to the delight of the fans. Stolt's unique voice had another couple of moments to impress, as well as Fröberg's. The show eventually came to its unavoidable end, and a big applause set in. Roine Stolt thanked the crowd and shortly mentioned the names of his colleagues and who had played what. At the end of the list, he addressed the audience and added dryly: "And you - clapped your hands.".

The band left their audience in a somewhat exhausted state. Indeed, after having heard two other bands, it is hard to fully comprehend a Flower Kings set of more than two hours, consisting mainly of extensive and complex epics, performed at an incredible volume. But as strenuous as it was - The Flower Kings proved to be an exceptional band, enormously skilled, creative and versatile. Their music holds an abundance of details, a vast variety of layers and ideas that usually takes a while to digest, but opens up a whole new world. The Flower Kings' live capabilities are extraordinarily convincing in all respects. It only escapes me why they allow deaf people to operate the mixing console...

Set List The Flower Kings

Road to Sanctuary
Garden of Dreams
Serious Dreamers
I am the Sun

Stardust we are

Well, it was some kind of relief to step out into the cool and nightly air of the city of Aschaffenburg, more than six hours after I had entered the Colos-Saal. A solid 4 ½ hours of demanding compositions had devoured all my energy and exhausted me down to the core. The ear-splitting sound had adversely affected my auditory senses, and with that, reduced my overall enjoyment. But all things considered, it certainly was a worthwhile evening; Eclipsed have once again organized a successful event, uniting three splendid bands of contemporary Progressive Rock. And I guess this is something to be grateful for.

I hear the next Eclipsed Festival is already in the works: this time it will coincide with the magazine's tenth anniversary. So, everything is pointing towards yet another Prog Rock treat some time next near (I assume I will have recovered by then). See you…
 

 

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