The tenth annual NEARFest, NEARFest 2008, has come and gone, leaving in it’s wake 1002 very happy progressive rock fans and, given the circumstances, some seriously bittersweet memories.
Why bittersweet? This was the last NEARFest produced by Robert LaDuca and Chad Hutchinson. The proceedings were filled with smiles and tears. True to form, they organized a hell of a show. I had an excellent time, listening to great music, reconnecting with old friends, making a few new ones. It was a beautiful time in a charming city. Chad and Rob have much, much, much to be proud of and I’m sure I’m not going out on a limb by stating that the prog world wishes them all the best in their new endeavors. Of course, they’ll still be around, though. It will be interesting to see them at a festival without everything riding on their shoulders.
It was also the last NEARFest, at least for a while, which will have a Roger Dean designed logo (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008). He will be taking a break, focusing on his many, many other projects. I’d love to see that animated project he has in the works come to fruition.
So, what actually took place at NEARFest? Well, I found out that is that Alan & Eric Baillargeon and Keith Reedy have started a new organization, BostonProg.com, focusing on the Boston prog scene.
How were the performances? I’m no rock reviewer by any stretch of the imagination, I’m much more comfortable writing about science fiction, written or cinematic, than I am writing about music. I’d say it comes down to familiarity and depth of knowledge. I’ve plumbed the depths of SF for years, while with prog, I’m still skimming the surface, making note of the shoals, skirting the rocks.
That being said, here are my recollections (made without notes, nor set lists) of this year’s NEARFest, after just under a week of gnawing on the memories.
- Synergy – Larry Fast: synthesizers, sequencers, computers.
- I remember listening to Larry Fast’s one man electronic music project, Synergy, (along with Tangerine Dream and Jean Michel Jarre) as a young man, in the wilds of Canoga Park, in the garage of my friend Chris, along with Joe and Dave, playing video games, programming Atari 800’s. Our dreams of the future bopped along to an electronic beat, fueled by polyphonic synthesized sounds. 20 years later, I’m sitting in a darkened auditorium, listening to Synergy performed live and I’m a very happy man. Normally, I’m not that thrilled by experiencing electronic music being performed live (see my thoughts on another group below), but, this was an experience powerfully primed with nostalgia. I believe Fast played pieces from Sequencer, Chords, Audion and Games, amongst others, accompanied by video loops, with commentary between pieces about how he creates his works. It was particularly interesting to hear him talk about how, until recently, it was impossible for him to perform live, but now, thanks to the onward march of technology, he can bring his magic to the stage. It was heavenly. I could have easily retired for the evening at the end of the Synergy performance a happy and sated man, but, because one of my reasons for attending NEARFest is to fill in the gaps in my prog education, I stuck it out for the next act…
- Fish– Fish: lead vocals; Frank Usher: guitar; Chris Johnson: guitar; Steve Vantsis: bass guitar; Foss Paterson: keyboards; Gavin John Griffiths: drums and percussion
- Derek William Dick, better known as Fish (because of his affinity for bathing), performed pieces from his years as Marillion’s front man and from his solo career. I’m not very familiar with Marillion’s body of work, save for cuts I’ve heard through internet radio like The Dividing Line, Aural Moon and Morow. I was seeing and hearing him without the weight of historical reference.Fish stalked the stage like a very large shark, his obvious enthusiasm for the gig adding to his imposing stage presence. He and his band performed Marillion classics and Fish solo works with the proficiency one is accustomed to for any NEARFest performance, interspersed with stories of love, life and personal history. As is always the case at NEARFest, there was a portion of the audience for whom this particular performance was their primary reason for attendance. He obviously held them transfixed, but, as you would expect for a master showman, he held the entire audience with his voice. I’m glad I witnessed this event and went off to bed satisfied.
- Koenji Hyakkei – Yoshida Tatsuya: drums, vocals; Sakamoto Kengo: bass, voice; Komori Keiko: reeds; Kubota Aki: vocal; Yabuki Taku: keyboards.
- Koenji Hyakkei’s performance started off NEARFest proper with cerebral fireworks. Like other Zeuhl type bands (even though they do not sing in Kobaïan) their performance was intensely poly rhythmic, peppered with atonality, and delivered with manic intensity. Because they sing in a nonsensical language, there is no meaning to focus upon. Instead, your comprehension of the vocals center upon tone, style, technique and delivery; aspects of voice as a fine musical instrument. Kubota Aki’s performance of those vocals was pitch perfect, polished and beautiful. I don’t know if she has had classical training, but, I would not be surprised if she has. The other standout performance (for me, at least) was Komori Keiko on, I believe, soprano sax. Her performance was the perfect compliment to Aki’s, as they performed Yoshida Tatsuya’s compositions. In essence, Koenji Hyakkei had two lead instruments, voice and sax. I also have to mention Tatsuya’s flawless drumming. Like Christian Vander of Magma, he’s the composer and the syncopated heartbeat of the band. By the end of their performance, my mindset was perfectly prepared for a weekend of prog. Following the twists and turns of Koenji Hyakkei forced me to leave the mundane world of work and standard pop behind and reset my perspective. Funny how I feel the previous night’s performances hadn’t done so.
- Discipline – Matthew Parmenter: vocals, keyboards, guitar; Jon Preston Bouda: guitar; Mathew Kennedy: bass; Paul Dzendzel: drums.
- Discipline is another of those prog bands with a very specific audience and for many in attendance, their reformation and performance was their primary reason for attending the festival. Musically, the set was beautiful, with finely crafted compositions and prog standard perfect performances. Lyrically, I found it hard to get past Parmenter’s brand of dark, tortured symphonic rock. I know the man must write what he feels, but for me, it was a bit much.
- Peter Hammill – Peter Hammill: vocals, guitar, piano.
- This was quite a change of pace stylistically from the previous band, Discipline, but a continuation thematically. Peter Hammill’s solo cabaret style performance was downbeat with raw emotion pouring forth in his voice. This was performance as therapy. I’m glad I saw him, considering his place in prog history as a member of Van Der Graf Generator, but I don’t think I’d like to see him again. Once was enough. I don’t know if I would have had Hammill and Discipline on the same bill, certainly not one right after another. Together, they left me a bit downbeat for dinner. I had to clear my head so I could enjoy my excellent dining company.
- Liquid Tension Experiment – Mike Portnoy: drums; John Petrucci: guitar; Jordan Rudess: keyboards; Tony Levin: Chapman Stick, bass.
- Virtuosity. The hallmark of progressive rock. Exemplified by any group Tony Levin participates in. Of course, Liquid Tension Experiment was the Saturday headliner. There was no other proper place for them. Is there anything I can say to make it clear just how good this was? Everyone was on top of their game. The entire set sparkled. They even pulled out their own variation of “Rhapsody in Blue”. Not an excerpt, but the whole thing. Just something they threw together in the previous couple of weeks. Really. Simply jaw dropping, I’m serious.
- Mörglbl – Christophe Godin: guitar; Ivan Rougny: bass; Jean Pierre Frelezeau Aurelien Ouzoulias (corrected courtesy Blue Mouth Promotions (THANKS!)): drums.
- Sunday morning. The traditional slot for bands who kick out the jams. This year, Chad and Rob came up with an exemplar, Mörglbl. They kicked off Sunday morning with a joyful, masterful performance, guaranteed to blast away the mental cobwebs. If Koenji Hyakkei was all head, these guys were all heart, pumping furiously. If NEARFest gave out awards for “most fun”, then, in my humble opinion, Mörglbl would have won it hands down. Godin was a madman on the guitar, displaying complete mastery of the instrument, and an easy, happy, goofy and amiable rapport with the audience. He had us eating out of his crafty hands. Some folks have compared him to Zappa, I’d compare him to Zappa protege, Mike Kennealy. He’s that good. In some ways, I feel it’s unfair to single out Godin, the entire band rocked our world that Sunday morning. So much so, that, they got two encores. So much so, that, minutes after their performance ended, their discs were gone from the vendors. I need to pick up their recordings for myself. If the recordings are half as fun as they are live, then they’d be welcome additions to anyone’s prog library. Can you tell I liked them?
- Radio Massacre International – Steve Dinsdale: keyboards, drums, percussion; Gary Houghton: guitars, synthesizers; Duncan Goddard: keyboards, Mellotron, P3 sequencer.
- As masterful as Radio Massacre International’s performance was, I wish my introduction to them had been through a pair of high end headphones in a comfy chair, instead of through a live performance in an auditorium. Strange but true. I feel the same about other electronic music concerts I’ve attended. Tangerine Dream. Jean Michel Jarre. I love the music, but, it just doesn’t lend itself to live performance. That being said, I appreciate being introduced to them and I look forwards to listening to their works in (what I consider) the proper environment: In my living room, through a great pair of headphones or a great stereo system.
- echolyn – Brett Kull: guitars, lead and backing vocals; Christopher Buzby: keyboards, backing vocals; Paul Ramsey: drums and percussion, backing vocals; Raymond Weston: bass, lead and backing vocals; Thomas Hyatt: bass, backing vocals.
- echolyn (always lower case) is a favorite of mine. I’ve enjoyed them each time they’ve played locally at NewEARS. Until that Sunday, I’d never seen them in a largish venue, only in intimate spaces. They’re a band with a big sound, it was good to see them in a venue that matched. As usual, the band was at ease and playful on stage and they worked through their repertoire. Ray’s vocals ran the gamut, from thrash metal growl through something delicate enough for chamber music. Chris’s fingers flew across the keyboards, not quite knocking them over with his energy. Paul pounded out complex rhythms. Brett and Tom were rocked their guitar and bass with characteristic aplomb and beautiful vocals. Everything they played, I loved, particularly, “The Cheese Stands Alone”. Their a cappella “Never the Same” made me cry. I guess those feelings will be raw and near the surface for some time yet. echolyn never seems to disappoint and this performance was no exception.
- Banco del Mutuo Soccorso – Francesco DiGiacomo: vocals; Vittorio Nocenzi: keyboards; Rodolfo Maltese: guitars; Tiziano Ricci: bass; Maurizio Masi: drums; Alessandro Papotto: winds; Filippo Marcheggiani: guitars.
- I must admit that, by this time I was fairly well tuckered out. What have I been able to retrieve from my tired memory? Broad strokes persist, instead of fine detail. Banco brought NEARFest a dose of classic Italian prog. Big. Operatic. Definitely a band I’ll have to listen to more. From the moment DiGiacomo stepped out onto the stage and his voice filled Zoellner, we were treated to a grand performance. Easily on par with Jimmy Spitaleri of Metamorfosi’s performance in 2004, though perhaps not matching Spitaleri in sheer, breathtaking stage presence. Fair comparison? Perhaps not, but, that’s what came to my mind. I remember exemplary performances, brilliant composition, along with a surprising touch of whimsy. Alessandro Papotto opened up Banco’s encore with the opening strains of “Rhapsody in Blue”, echoing LTE’s performance the night before. More than the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I cannot say. I was running on fumes by the end, my hands were sore from applauding.
Another big part of NEARFest is the annual scouring of the dealer’s bins, searching for the old, the new, the recommended, the serendipitous, the classics and the long shots of progressive rock. I tend to think that prog fans have a strong hunter / gatherer component to their personalities. In any case, as is my wont, I had been making notes for weeks while listening to The Dividing Line, Progressive Positivity, Morow and Aural Moon over the web, so I could attack the bins with some semblance of a plan. What did I score?
- Ayreon – 01011001
- Blackfield – Blackfield II
- echolyn – mei
- echolyn – The End is Beautiful
- Kaos Moon – The Circle of Madness
- Koenji Hyakkei – Angherr Shisspa
- Magellan – Innocent God
- Metamorfosi – Inferno
- Metamorfosi – Paradiso
- RPWL – Stock
- RPWL – World Through My Eyes
- Simon Says – Tardigrade
- Trion – Pilgrim
Over time, I’ll post my impressions of these purchases, but not today. This post is already far too long.
And so, that’s it for this year’s NEARFest. Next year will be different. I was witness to the end of an era. Next year, the festival will be under new management. Next year, a new artist will design the festival’s logo.
Next year, it will be at the same venue, though, along with many of the same friends, plus some new ones.
Next year, I’ll be there.