Concert Review Archive

 

Syzygy, Intra & Rick Ray Band

May 6th, 2005
The Winchester Tavern, Lakewood, OH, USA

By
David Wimer

I decided to write this review to not only relate my experience of the Syzygy/Intra/Rick Ray Band show, but to also write about the fruitful Cleveland progressive rock scene. Progressive rock and fusion fans in my area (Northeastern Ohio) are lucky to have several highly talented progressive bands right in our back yard. This was never more evident than at the two Cleveland Progressive Rock and Fusion Festival events that took place in September and December of 2004 and featured excellent local bands such as Rare Blend, KMOB, and the Byron Nemeth Group. I should also mention how the venue, The Winchester Tavern, is very supportive of both local and international progressive rock acts as well as an ideal, intimate place to see a show (I had the pleasure of seeing the great Allan Holdsworth there back in January). We need venues that are willing to support progressive rock because, unlike other genres, progressive rock strongly needs support to survive and thrive in the 21st century.

Last night's show featured two of the bands that played at the first CPRFF event back in September, Intra and the Rick Ray Band, as well as a Cleveland-based band making their first live appearance in over 10 years Syzygy. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this excellent band, I will provide a brief overview here: Syzygy used to be known as Witsend, and in 1993 Witsend released a highly acclaimed album called Cosmos and Chaos. The album features a highly diverse collection of 12 songs that range from mellow acoustic ballads to all-out instrumental assaults. They changed their name to Syzygy and released an album back in 2003 called The Allegory of Light, which I consider one of the top progressive rock releases of that year if not THE top release. The album features three epics (The Allegory of Light, In the Age of Mankind, and The Journey of Myrrdin) in addition to two shorter pieces. The core band members are the charismatic Carl Baldassarre on guitars and vocals, Sam Giunta on keyboards, and Paul Mihacevich on drums. In addition, at last night's show they introduced a new official member, Alan Rolik on bass and vocals. During the show, Carl mentioned how Paul and Alan were recently named "best drummer" and "best bass player" in the country by Forbes magazine! After watching them perform last night I can see why!

I should mention here that the ticket cost a mere $5 what a steal! In this era of astronomical concert ticket prices, paying $5 to see 3 top notch bands is a wonderful thing. Now on to the performance after sound check and a short break, Syzygy took the stage accompanied by a classical music piece (which reminded me of how Yes takes the stage to Stravinsky's Firebird Suite) and then began playing a new song called Tracker, which was an intricate, rocking song faithful to their first two releases. I should note that the entire set was comprised of music that will be on their next release. The next song was a longer piece called Dreams, and since it was the first time I heard the song I don't recall enough about it to describe it accurately, but I do remember enjoying it quite a bit.

After Dreams, Carl took the time to thank the audience for attending the show. He said, "Not everything today can be boiled down to 30 seconds sometimes it's nice to sit back and enjoy a good 20 minute progressive rock song!", which triggered applause. He talked about the importance of supporting progressive rock in this day and age, which he described as a "dying art form". I agree with his statement it's important for progressive rock music to be disseminated to the ears of open-minded listeners, especially here in the U.S.A. I'm 28 and I worry about what music will be like when I'm in my 40's and 50's. Most of you who read this web site are from Europe, and I've heard how progressive rock has a much larger audience in Europe. With the exception of the major bands of the past (Yes, Genesis, etc.), here in the U.S. it's extremely rare to find CDs from progressive rock bands actually sold in record stores even the foremost bands like Spock's Beard and The Flower Kings. I hope my compatriots reading this won't take offense but contemporary American culture breeds impatience and laziness, and appreciating progressive rock requires patience and at least some degree of cognitive effort. Progressive rock provides a much-needed respite from the disheartening trends of today.

Anyway, back to the set. Carl introduced the third and final song of the set by announcing that they're playing only one more song... but it's a 25 minute epic! The epic is called The Sea, and after one listen I can tell you that this is one of the best prog epics I've heard in years. It has all of the ingredients of a classic epic distinct and varied sections, deep lyrics, and an intense instrumental build-up toward the end that had the audience cheering. There was also a catchy, recurring chorus ("Every heart, every soul..."). Overall, this was a highly enjoyable set and an enticing preview of their next album.

While Intra was setting up I had the pleasure of meeting the band and having them sign my copy of The Allegory of Light. Paul (the drummer) told me that the next album will probably be out in about a year. Carl described what all of the symbols on the album cover mean, which was interesting. The three symbols on the perimeter from left to right represent a guitar, a drum head, and a keyboard. There's also a "W" and an "E" that represent the former name Witsend.

Intra was the next band. Intra has been making music in one form or another since the 1970's. I'm not that familiar with their catalogue so I cannot relate their set list, but their songs tend to be shorter with fun and/or silly lyrics. Songs that stood out to me were The One Tree Forest and Rules to Live By.

The final band of the evening was the prolific Rick Ray Band. This was the fourth time that I've seen the band because Rick Ray is a frequent opening act for prog bands that play in Cleveland. He recently opened for the Dixie Dregs and Allan Holdsworth, and a few days after the writing of this review he will be opening for Kansas. The Rick Ray Band's music is on the somewhat more straightforward, guitar-oriented rock side of prog.

Overall this was yet another great evening of progressive music at the Winchester Tavern. Syzygy's new songs make me think that their 3rd release will be their strongest ever I'm looking forward to it!

Syzygy Setlist
Tracker
Dreams
The Sea

 


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