Happy The Man, 29 August 2002
State Theater, Falls Church, Virginia, USA

By Will Stewart

Happy the Man has undergone a Phoenix-like artistic death (late 70s) and resurrection (turn of the century) that lays tribute to their stalwart admirers and their own love of truly creative musical forms. Last night at the State theater, HTM showed the world they indeed had returned, winging on the winds of a new day. The group has polished their works like an expansive, gleaming marble hall full of intergalactic curios. Based on the rebirth and a couple of new titles, this tour could be labeled, The Muse Awakens, and Steps Through Time.

The new pieces vary in style, dynamics, and direction. The title track The Muse Awakens will be the kind of accessible, yet stunningly daring tune for this CD that Service with a Smile was for Crafty Hands. I was floored to say the least, sometimes with chin on chest, closing my eyes, inhaling deeply, and giving my head a little turn to maneuver the note and rhythm relationships into my sentience; I have truly learned the meaning of the word, 'agog'.

There is no mystery why they share a knowing smile in various passages of most tunes. And as the music unravels before you, you share in that knowing...

The legacy tunes shone forth with energy and light, almost exactly like the original recordings, except here and there a delightful variation pops up (after mulling their tunes for 2 decades, interesting changes were invariably forthcoming). I was hoping to hear While Chrome Yellow Shine and perhaps New York Dream Suite, but am not at all disappointed with the legacy tunes presented. There was no material from Death's Crown or earlier, unless you count Open Book. All in all, a full evening of the highest pinnacle of the art form.

>From where I was sitting on the side, Stan's guitar tended to dominate a tad at the expense of Dave's keyboards, though when I moved to the balcony partway through, the mix seemed more balanced. The lightshow equipment was modest with respect to the world's finest, but the performance was superbly planned and executed. Just the right effects at the right time for each of the respective aural landscapes.

I must admit that I wondered if Dave Rosenthal (or anyone) was going to be able to fill Kit's shoes. Well, he could have filled Kit's hip waders, and he did so by retaining Kit's masterful (insert dozens of adjectives here) style. But shining through with his own light in the new material, Dave provides us with the best of both worlds. Here's a toast and a hearty "Welcome Aboard", Dave (I didn't see the earlier State or Nearfest performances).

Rick established a foundation one could have built the Great Wall on. His playing on the new material explored even farther realms than before. I almost didn't recognize him with his new look.

Frank continues to provide a wide range of talents, both as musician on 4 different instruments (primarily), as well as a composer. His song to his daughter is magnificent. His role in the new material continues to expand his presence and his versatility. It's like having a player that can play Shortstop, CenterField, and Catcher.

Ron's performance can best be described by as "a focused, sustained, enthusiastic intensity driven by an irresistable force". Repeat that twice to fully understand what I am trying to convey. I can see why even Jonathon Mover would have taken a year to learn the part; I also see why Ron is in such good shape. There are very few drummers of his par in the world. With such an abbreviated tour preparation period, there was only one mis-start, and Stan got a laugh by accusing Ron of trying to sneak a look the Redskins game score on a miniature TV behind a tom-tom (a handful of people were doing just that in the upstairs lobby during the performance!)

Stan's playing somehow managed to meet my very high expectations; as a guitarist myself, I know the challenge Stan faced with simply achieving a solid performance on the fast, intricate, earlier material. Yet he breezed through it like he was eating an apple while practicing scales. The newer guitar work retains some of the prior whimsy at times that was evident on the first album, but continues to move in the direction started by Crafty Hands. I tried to watch his fingering and positioning to perhaps try it myself later; but really, WHO AM I KIDDING!? I gave up, but still enjoyed watching his technique. He showed obvious admiration to Charles Wright, the warmup band guitarist, during the warmup act by bowing deeply to him during a particulary impressive riff. That's what I like about Stan; his simple modesty. He will gladly chat with you one-on-one without pretension and has no airs that one could reasonably expect with a person of his talents. I'm assuming the others are as well, though I haven't taken the opportunity to chat them up.

There appeared to be 4 video cameras on tripods, and 2 or 3 "floaters". I can't wait until the video of this show comes out, and am glad they undertook this effort to support their distant fans who could not travel to see them in person. There appeared to be around 250 people there (hard to get an accurate count with all the tables, the two bars, and the balcony).

The applause throughout the evening was enthusiastic and gusty. The final piece performed was Stumpy. By this time, the fans were packed up front and on their feet. During the quick pauses in the song, I couldn't help but scream "YAH!", and it caught on, with many people also throwing their hands up at those times. Like many, many others there, I left with a hoarse voice.

So the show was a resounding success. I wished I would have seen the Orion show the night before. If I didn't have 2 small children, a wife, company in town, and the prospect of mind-numbing Labor Day beach traffic congestion, I would head off now to the next show tonight. And I'm still toying with the idea....

The warmup band was the Charles Wright Trio, with a tremendously fast and skillful guitarist of that name. He played like Alan Holdsworth on 7 cups of coffee, though with graceful fluidity; I am convinced that I could not play much of his work even at half speed no matter how long I practiced. They can be found at the website www.killerfusion.com and were worth the price of admission alone.


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