NEARFest 2007: Photos and Memories
This post is in my series regarding the North East Art Rock Festival (NEARFest), more about which you can find here. You can find all of my posts regarding NEARFest here and I started the series here. You can also learn more about this particular Festival here and here. The information below are just some highlights I remember and photographs I took from the Festival.
The lineup for NEARFest 2007 was (including Friday night):
- Pure Reason Revolution
- La Maschera di Cera
- Robert Rich
- Bob Drake
- Allan Holdsworth
- Secret Oyster
- One Shot
Here is the 2007 logo, as designed by Roger Dean:
This was the ninth NEARFest and my eighth consecutive Festival. This Festival was the sixth Festival, and fourth consecutive Festival, to take place at at the Zoellner Arts Center on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and it remained there until the last Festival.
For me, the take away from this Festival was the debut of a fantastic new band and the Festival’s focus on fusion. The headliners for this Festival were, for me, lack luster. Magma returned to the Festival after having initially appeared at NEARFest 2003 (see here). As I described in this post, as much as Magma is a respected prog rock band, I can only take about twenty minutes of their relentless and driving beats and chants. Hawkwind was, I think, an unusual selection as they are not as stereotypically prog rock as many prior headlining bands. Regardless, they played very well and sounded as good as ever. Their heavy space rock is more rock than space or prog but enjoyable nonetheless with a great colors and displays to accompany their music. Fortunately, their topless dancers like Stacia did not contribute to their performance.
I really enjoyed Indukti. They are another Polish prog-metal band in a similar vein as Riverside who appeared at NEARFest 2006 (see here). In fact, the singer for Riverside sings with Indukti on some of their songs on their albums. Indukti had a very hard and/or metal sound but, like Riverside, was able to adapt their aggressive sound with actual melody, dynamics, and contrasts. They’re really good. Of the newer bands that have ever appeared at a NEARFest, Magenta is one of most, if you will, “stereotypical” and self-aware prog rock bands. They are fronted by the attractive Christina Booth (which helps in terms of stage presence obviously) who is a wonderful singer and their overall sound is one which very obviously and overtly channels Genesis, Yes, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and Renaissance; they clearly want to be a band within the tradition of these bands and have adopted their sonic approach. Robert Rich and Bob Drake were the “solo spots” of the weekend (see here for more on the solo spots).
Friday night was entirely focused on fusion: Alan Holdsworth, Secret Oyster, and One Shot all performed that evening. Secret Oyster and One Shot, while performing well and impressively, were, to me, garden variety fusion bands. I am sure better fans of the genre would have more to say about them. The focus for me, obviously, was Holdsworth who stands tall as a preeminent prog rock fusion guitarist considering his pedigree in U.K., Bruford, and Soft Machine (among others). His playing is fluid and smooth, yet at times muscular and assertive. He can make his guitar sound like other instruments so that keeps the music from becoming too sonically-similar and monotonous. Unlike a lot of fusion guitarists, Holdsworth does not feel the constant need to shred and his virtuosity is not diminished or questionable in the least as a result. In fact, I find fusion relies on shredding way too much to the point where it gets monotonous and boring. Holdsworth does not fall into this trap. He was clearly a master and it really showed. It was fantastic seeing him live.
I think my favorite band of the weekend was Pure Reason Revolution and, I am sad to say, they have since broken up after making only three studio albums. I appreciated their understated pretension with their use of Latin and obscure titles. Their sound was modern, driving, and very melodic. The were fronted by Chloe Alper, who has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes you want to watch and hear her. She provides a good example to other female singers and musicians in that you do not have to be nearly naked or sexually provocative; all one needs is some talent and respect for the art of music. The background singers individually have very average voices but when they sing along with Alper, they sound very soulful and have depth as they sing their very clever and well written lyrics. The music sounds like – if you will – Pink Floyd meets Radiohead with a dash of Porcupine Tree. A lot of old school prog fans dismissed them but I think that is only because the band’s music often has a beat to which someone can move, are more song based, employs some electronica in their sound, and do not veer off into virtuoso playing and soloing. Unlike a lot of prog rock bands, their playing is not flashy or indulgent but always focuses on the melody and the drive of the music. So, needless to say, the band’s sound does not conform to some traditional prog rock standards. I think the criticisms of the old school prog rock fans are short sighted as they, ironically and contrary to the spirit of what prog rock is, try to box in what prog rock is, and miss out on the innovative sound that this band presents.
Finally, this Festival was my seventh time meeting Roger Dean (Yes and Asia cover artist), third time meeting Paul Whitehead (Genesis and Van Der Graaf Generator cover artist), and second time meeting Annie Haslam (Renaissance lead singer), who once again was not there to perform but to hawk her artwork (more on her here).