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Archive for the category “Musings: Music – Prog Rock Generally”

The Persistence of Prog Rock

Critics think that the genre was an embarrassing dead end. So why do fans and musicians still love it?

Virtuosos such as the keyboardist Keith Emerson made fans feel like connoisseurs.  In April, 1971, Rolling Stone reviewed the début album by a band with a name better suited to a law firm: Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The reviewer liked what he heard, although he couldn’t quite define it. “I suppose that your local newspaper might call it ‘jazz-influenced classical-rock,’ ” he wrote. In fact, a term was being adopted for this hybrid of highbrow and lowbrow. People called it progressive rock, or prog rock: a genre intent on proving that rock and roll didn’t have to be simple and silly—it could be complicated and silly instead. In the early nineteen-seventies, E.L.P., alongside several more or less like-minded British groups—King Crimson, Yes, and Genesis, as well as Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd—went, in the space of a few years, from curiosities to rock stars. This was especially true in America, where arenas filled up with crowds shouting for more, which was precisely what these bands were designed to deliver. The prog-rock pioneers embraced extravagance: odd instruments and fantastical lyrics, complex compositions and abstruse concept albums, flashy solos and flashier live shows. Concertgoers could savor a new electronic keyboard called a Mellotron, a singer dressed as a batlike alien commander, an allusion to a John Keats poem, and a philosophical allegory about humankind’s demise—all in a single song (“Watcher of the Skies,” by Genesis). In place of a guitarist, E.L.P. had Keith Emerson, a keyboard virtuoso who liked to wrestle with his customized Hammond organ onstage, and didn’t always win: during one particularly energetic performance, he was pinned beneath the massive instrument, and had to be rescued by roadies. Perhaps this, too, was an allegory.

Most of these musicians took seriously the “progressive” in “progressive rock,” and believed that they were helping to hurry along an ineluctable process: the development of rock music into what Jon Anderson, of Yes, once called “a higher art form.” Even more than most musicians, the prog rockers aimed for immortality. “We want our albums to last,” Robert Fripp, the austere guitar scientist behind King Crimson, said. In a literal sense, he got his wish: although the progressive-rock boom was effectively over by the end of the seventies, it left behind a vast quantity of surplus LPs, which filled the bins in used-record stores for decades. (Many people who have never heard this music would nonetheless recognize some of the album covers.) Progressive rock was repudiated by what came next: disco, punk, and the disco-punk genre known as New Wave. Unlike prog rock, this music was, respectively, danceable, concise, and catchy. In the story of popular music, as conventionally told, progressive rock was at best a dead end, and at worst an embarrassment, and a warning to future musical generations: don’t get carried away.

In place of a guitarist, Emerson, Lake & Palmer had Keith Emerson, a keyboard virtuoso who liked to wrestle with his Hammond organ onstage, and didn’t always win: during one performance, he was pinned beneath the massive instrument, and had to be rescued by roadies.

The genre’s bad reputation has been remarkably durable, even though its musical legacy keeps growing. Twenty years ago, Radiohead released “OK Computer,” a landmark album that was profoundly prog: grand and dystopian, with a lead single that was more than six minutes long. But when a reporter asked one of the members whether Radiohead had been influenced by Genesis and Pink Floyd, the answer was swift and categorical: “No. We all hateprogressive rock music.”

It is common to read about some band that worked in obscurity, only to be discovered decades later. In the case of progressive rock, the sequence has unfolded in reverse: these bands were once celebrated, and then people began to reconsider. The collapse of prog helped reaffirm the dominant narrative of rock and roll: that pretension was the enemy; that virtuosity could be an impediment to honest self-expression; that “self-taught” was generally preferable to “classically trained.”

In the past twenty years, though, a number of critics and historians have argued that prog rock was more interesting and more thoughtful than the caricature would suggest. The latest is David Weigel, a savvy political reporter for the Washington Post who also happens to be an unabashed fan—or, more accurately, a semi-abashed fan. His new history of prog rock is called “The Show That Never Ends,” and it begins with its author embarking on a cruise for fans, starring some of the great prog-rock bands of yore, or what remains of them. “We are the most uncool people in Miami,” Weigel writes, “and we can hardly control our bliss.”

Almost no one hated progressive rock as much, or as memorably, as Lester Bangs, the dyspeptic critic who saw himself as a rock-and-roll warrior, doing battle against the forces of fussiness and phoniness. In 1974, he took in an E.L.P. performance and came away appalled by the arsenal of instruments (including “two Arthurian-table-sized gongs” and “the world’s first synthesized drum kits”), by Emerson’s preening performance, and by the band’s apparent determination to smarten up rock and roll by borrowing from more respectable sources. E.L.P. had reached the Top Ten, in both Britain and America, with a live album based on its bombastic rendition of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Bangs wanted to believe that the band members thought of themselves as vandals, gleefully desecrating the classics. Instead, Carl Palmer, the drummer, told him, “We hope, if anything, we’re encouraging the kids to listen to music that has more quality”—and “quality” was precisely the quality that Bangs loathed. He reported that the members of E.L.P. were soulless sellouts, participating in “the insidious befoulment of all that was gutter pure inrock.” Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed “dean of American rock critics,” was, if anything, more dismissive: “These guys are as stupid as their most pretentious fans.”

The story of this reviled genre starts, though, with the most acclaimed popular music ever made. “If you don’t like progressive rock, blame it on the Beatles,” a philosophy professor named Bill Martin wrote, in his 1998 book, “Listening to the Future,” a wonderfully argumentative defense of the genre. Martin is, in his own estimation, “somewhat Marxist,” and he saw progressive rock as an “emancipatory and utopian” movement—not a betrayal of the sixties counterculture but an extension of it. Martin identified a musical “turning point” in 1966 and 1967, when the Beach Boys released “Pet Sounds” and the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which together inspired a generation of bands to create albums that were more unified in theme but more diverse in sound. Using orchestration and studio trickery, these albums summoned the immersive pleasure of watching a movie, rather than the kicky thrill of listening to the radio.

When bands set out to make hit albums, rather than hit singles, some of them abandoned short, sharp love songs and began to experiment with intricate compositions and mythopoetic lyrics. By the dawn of the seventies, the term “progressive rock” was being applied to a cohort of rock-and-roll groups that thought they might be outgrowing rock and roll. In 1973, Columbia Records released a double-album compilation called “The Progressives.” The liner notes informed listeners that “the boundaries between styles and categories continue to blur and disappear.”

But this inclusive musical movement was also, as Weigel emphasizes, a parochial one. “American and British youth music had grown together from the moment the Beatles landed at J.F.K.,” he writes. “In 1969, the two sounds finally started to grow apart.” Weigel quotes an interview with Lee Jackson, the lead singer of a British rock band called the Nice—Keith Emerson’s previous band. “The basic policy of the group is that we’re a European group,” Jackson said. “We’re not American Negroes, so we can’t really improvise and feel the way they can.” (Ironically, the Nice’s biggest hit was an instrumental version of Leonard Bernstein’s “America.”) In a thoughtful 2009 autobiography, Bill Bruford, a drummer who was central to the development of prog rock, noted that many of the music’s pioneers were “nice middle-class English boys,” singing songs that were “self-consciously British.” Genesis, for instance, was formed at Charterhouse, a venerable boarding school in Surrey; the band’s album “Selling England by the Pound” was an arch and whimsical meditation on national identity. Bruford pointed out that even Pink Floyd, known for free-form jam sessions and, later, cosmic rock epics, found time to record songs like “Grantchester Meadows,” a gentle ode to the East Anglian countryside.

In 1969, King Crimson, the most rigorous and avant-garde of the major prog bands, released what is now considered the genre’s first great album, a strange and menacing début called “In the Court of the Crimson King.” The album used precise dissonance and off-kilter rhythms to evoke in listeners a thrilling sensation of ignorance: you got the feeling that the musicians understood something you didn’t. At a career-making concert in Hyde Park, opening for the Rolling Stones, King Crimson played a ferocious set that ended with an acknowledgment of England’s musical heritage: a rendition of “Mars, the Bringer of War,” by the English composer Gustav Holst.

The prog-rock pioneers embraced extravagance. Concertgoers could savor a new electronic keyboard called a Mellotron, a singer dressed as a batlike alien commander, an allusion to a John Keats poem, and a philosophical allegory about humankind’s demise—all in the space of a single song (“Watcher of the Skies,” by Genesis).

From the start, King Crimson was the kind of band that musicians love—as opposed, that is, to the kind of band that non-musicians love. (King Crimson never had a hit single, although “21st Century Schizoid Man,” the first song from its first album, served, in 2010, as the basis for “Power,” by Kanye West.) Bill Bruford, the drummer, was astonished by an early King Crimson performance, and resolved to make equally ambitious music with his own band, a sweetly melodic group called Yes. In its own way, Yes, too, was profoundly English—Jon Anderson, the lead singer, generally eschewed faux-American bluesiness, and the band instead deployed pleasing multipart harmonies that recall the choral tradition of the Anglican Church.

In 1971, Yes released an album called “Fragile,” which included a hummable—and very progressive—song called “Roundabout.” On the album, it lasted more than eight minutes, but unsentimental record executives trimmed it to three and a half, and the edited version found a home on U.S. radio stations. This music, so self-consciously English, sounded different in America, where its rather nerdy creators were greeted as exotic rock stars. That summer, Yes played its first U.S. concert, at an arena in Seattle. A fan who approached Jon Anderson before the show remembered that Anderson was nervous. “I don’t know what is going to happen,” the singer told him. “I’ve never been in a place like this.”

When Anderson sang, “I’ll be the roundabout,” most American listeners surely had no idea that he was referring to the kind of intersection known less euphoniously, in the U.S., as a traffic circle. (The song was inspired by the view from a van window.) Why, then, did this music seduce so many Americans? In 1997, a musician and scholar named Edward Macan published “Rocking the Classics,” in which he offered a provocative explanation. Noting that this artsy music seemed to attract “a greater proportion of blue-collar listeners” in the U.S. than it had in Britain, he proposed that the genre’s Britishness “provided a kind of surrogate ethnic identity to its young white audience”: white music for white people, at a time of growing white anxiety. Bill Martin, the quasi-Marxist, found Macan’s argument “troubling.” In his view, the kids in the bleachers were revolutionaries, drawn to the music because its sensibility, based on “radical spiritual traditions,” offered an alternative to “Western politics, economics, religion, and culture.”

The genre’s primary appeal, though, was not spiritual but technical. The musicians presented themselves as virtuosos, which made it easy for fans to feel like connoisseurs; this was avant-garde music that anyone could appreciate. (Pink Floyd might be the most popular prog-rock band of all time, but Martin argued that, because the members lacked sufficient “technical proficiency,” Pink Floyd was not really prog at all.) In some ways, E.L.P. was the quintessential prog band, dominated by Emerson’s ostentatious technique—he played as fast as he could, and sometimes, it seemed, faster—and given to grand, goofy gestures, like “Tarkus,” a twenty-minute suite that recounted the saga of a giant, weaponized armadillo. The members of E.L.P. betrayed no particular interest in songwriting; the group’s big hit, “Lucky Man,” was a fluke, based on something that Greg Lake wrote when he was twelve. It concluded with a wild electronic solo, played on a state-of-the-art Moog synthesizer, that Emerson considered embarrassingly primitive. An engineer had recorded Emerson warming up, and the rest of the band had to convince him not to replace his squiggles with something more precise—more impressive. In the effortful world of prog, there was not much room for charming naïveté or happy accidents; improvised solos were generally less important than composed instrumental passages.

The audience for this stuff was largely male—Bruford writes ruefully that, throughout his career, women “generally and rather stubbornly stayed away” from his performances. The singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding, an obsessive prog-rock fan, suggests that these musicians were “afraid of women,” and that they expressed this fear by shunning love songs. What they provided, instead, was spectacle. As the American crowds got bigger, the stages did, too, which meant more elaborate shows, which in turn drew more fans. Weigel notes that, in one tour program, the members of Genesis promised to “continually feed profits back into the stage show.” (At one point, the show included a stage-wide array of screens displaying a sequence of hundreds of images, and, for the lead singer, a rubbery, tumorous costume with inflatable testicles.) Yes toured with sets designed by Roger Dean, the artist who painted its extraterrestrial album covers. Dean’s innovations included enormous, sac-like pods from which the musicians could dramatically emerge. Inevitably, one of the pods eventually malfunctioned, trapping a musician inside and prefiguring a famous scene from “This Is Spinal Tap.” The competition among bands to create bigger and brighter spectacles was absurd but also irresistible, and quite possibly rational. American arena stages, like LPs, needed to be filled, and so these bands set out to fill them.

Weigel’s book has an unlikely flaw, given its subject: it is too short. Wary, perhaps, of taxing readers’ patience, he finishes his tour in three hundred pages, resisting what must have been an overwhelming urge to interrupt the narrative with disco-graphical digressions. Martin, less diffident, included in his book a list of sixty-two “essential” progressive-rock albums—partly to provide a shopping list for newcomers, and partly, one suspects, because he liked the idea of outraging hard-core fans with his omissions.

So what is the greatest progressive-rock album of all time? One perennial and deserving candidate is “Close to the Edge,” by Yes, from 1972, which consists of three long songs that are, by turns, gently pastoral and gloriously futuristic, responding to the genre’s contradictory impulses: to explore musical history and to leave it behind. Earlier this year, Will Romano published “Close to the Edge: How Yes’s Masterpiece Defined Prog Rock,” a frankly obsessive study that makes no pretense of levelheadedness. Romano notes that he listened to the album “easily over a thousand times” while working on the book, and, when he wonders about a “low pulse that pervades entire sections” of the title track, it seems possible that he has begun to hallucinate. He embarks upon a brave attempt to decode Anderson’s inane lyrics, provides an astute technical description of the way Steve Howe seems to play lead and rhythm guitar at the same time, and identifies the pivotal moment when Rick Wakeman, the keyboard player, met Denise Gandrup, a designer of sparkly capes, which became his signature.

In the United States, British prog rock’s rather nerdy creators were greeted as exotic rock stars. Before Yes played its first U.S. show, at a stadium in Seattle, the singer Jon Anderson said, “I don’t know what is going to happen. I’ve never been in a place like this.”

Romano ends with a note of defiance, pointing out that Yes still hadn’t been accepted by the cultural élitists in charge of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This spring, not long after the book’s publication, Yes was finally inducted—more than two decades after it became eligible. And yet Romano is right: there is something inspiring about the indigestibility of prog, which still hasn’t quite been absorbed into the canon of critically beloved rock and roll, and which therefore retains some of its outsider appeal. Often, we celebrate bygone bands for being influential, hearing in them the seeds of the new; the best prog provides, instead, the shock of the old.

Listeners who wonder what they have been missing should probably ignore E.L.P. entirely and head straight for “Close to the Edge”—or, if they want something a bit more bruising, “Red,” an austere album that a new version of King Crimson (including Bruford) released in 1974. One of the most underappreciated progressive-rock groups was Gentle Giant, but there was a reason for this neglect: none of the band members happened to be a great singer. So they used interlocking instrumental lines, shifting time signatures, and close harmonies to construct songs that seemed to occupy some phantom limb of music’s evolutionary tree.

Gentle Giant was one of the bands featured on “The Progressives,” the Columbia Records compilation, which turned out to have a hidden agenda: it was, in large part, a jazz album, seemingly designed to help prog fans develop a taste for Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Jazz played an important but disputed role in the story of progressive rock. While some British bands were trying to turn inward, away from American influences, others were finding ways to forge new ties between rock and jazz. Indeed, Mahavishnu Orchestra, a jazz-fusion group led by the English guitarist John McLaughlin (who previously played with Miles Davis), is sometimes considered an honorary prog band—at the time, the distinctions between these genres could be hazy. And in Canterbury, in the southeast of England, a cluster of interconnected bands created their own jazz-inflected hybrids: Soft Machine, Matching Mole, Hatfield & the North. These are the bands most likely to charm—and perhaps convert—listeners who think that they hate progressive rock. Unlike the swashbucklers who conquered arenas, the Canterburians were cheerfully unheroic, pairing adventurous playing with shrugging, self-deprecating lyrics about nothing much. (One Hatfield & the North song goes, “Thank all the mothers who made cups of tea. / If they didn’t care for us, we wouldn’t be / here to sing our songs and entertain. / Plug us in and turn on the mains!”) This is music animated by a spirit of playful exploration—recognizably progressive, you might say, though not terribly prog.

The question of progress bedevilled many of the prog bands: the ethos, which implied constant transformation, was at odds with the sound, which was identifiable, and therefore stuck. Robert Fripp solved this problem by disbanding King Crimson just as “Red” was being released. “The band ceased to exist in 1974, which was when all English bands in that genre should have ceased to exist,” he said later. Once some album-side-long songs had been recorded, and some snippets of classical music appropriated, it was not obvious how further progress might be made, especially since the bands now had big crowds to please. In 1978, E.L.P. released an infamous album called “Love Beach,” which was recorded in the Bahamas, and whose cover depicted something less enticing than a battle-ready armadillo: the three grinning band members, displaying white teeth and varying amounts of chest hair.

Most of the musicians took seriously the “progressive” in “progressive rock,” and believed that they were helping to hurry along an ineluctable process: the development of rock music into what Jon Anderson, of Yes, once called “a higher art form.”

Progressive rock was a stubborn genre, and yet a number of its adepts proved to be surprisingly flexible; it turned out that their considerable musical skill could be put to new uses. In 1980, Steve Howe, the guitarist from Yes, told the Los Angeles Times that his band had been “modernized” and simplified. “Whatever’s been leveled at us in the past, we want to be re-judged,” he said. This kind of desperate ploy isn’t supposed to work, but it did: in 1983, Yes topped the American pop chart with “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” which barely sounded like it had come from the same band. A new group called Asia, made up of refugees from Yes, King Crimson, and E.L.P., released an album that reached No. 1 on the American chart. Genesis did something even more impressive, transforming into a Top Forty band while spawning three successful solo careers. The singer, Peter Gabriel, became a pop star, and so did the drummer, Phil Collins, and the bassist, Mike Rutherford, who led Mike + the Mechanics. For a few of the genre’s biggest stars, the music industry offered an attractive bargain: leave prog behind and you can be bigger than ever.

Some true believers remained, of course. In the seventies, prog-inspired American bands like Kansas and Styx had conquered arenas, and by the end of the decade there was Rush, a Yes-obsessed trio of Canadians who received even worse reviews than their British forebears. One reason was their avowed love of Ayn Rand; an influential and absurd review in New Musical Express, a British magazine, accused them of preaching “proto-fascism.” Another reason was that, by the late seventies, progressive rock was about the most unhip music in existence. “The fans showing up to hear Rush were the wrong kind of fans—the mockable ones, with mockable taste in music,” Weigel writes, holding up this judgment for ridicule without quite dissenting from it. (No doubt he was sorely tempted to use the term “deplorables.”) By the time Rush emerged, progressive rock had entered its never-ending defensive phase; uncoolness is now part of the genre’s identity, and even a devoted fan like Weigel may not be entirely sure whether he wants that to change.

Progressive rock, broadly defined, can never disappear, because there will always be musicians who want to experiment with long songs, big concepts, complex structures, and fantastical lyrics. You can hear a trace of the genre in the fearless compositions of Joanna Newsom or, equally, in “Pyramids,” an epic Frank Ocean slow jam that blends Afrocentric mythology with a narrative about sexwork. At Coachella this year, one of the breakout stars was Hans Zimmer, the German composer, who performed excerpts from his film scores with an orchestra and a rock band. (Anyone who cheered him on has forever lost the right to make snarky jokes about bands like Yes.) Plenty of revivalist bands play what might, paradoxically, be called retro-prog. And there have been latter-day innovators. Tool emerged, a quarter century ago, as an awesome new kind of prog band: precise but unremittingly heavy, all rumbles and hums. In Sweden, Meshuggah, in the nineties, built roaring, ferocious songs atop fiendish riffs in prime-number time signatures; Opeth, in the aughts, found a connection between death-metal fury and Pink Floydian reverie.

What can disappear—what long ago disappeared, in fact, at least among rock bands—is the ideology of progress in pop music: the optimistic sense, shared by all those early-seventies pioneers, that the form was evolving and improving, and that prog rock offered a sneak peek at our future. The bands thought that the arc of the musical universe bent toward keyboard solos. This is part of what drove Lester Bangs crazy—he couldn’t understand why these musicians thought they had improved upon old-fashioned rock and roll. But contemporary listeners might find the genre’s optimistic spirit more exotic, and therefore more endearing, than it once seemed. Of course, prog rock was not the future—at least, not more than anything else was. Nowadays, it seems clear that rock history is not linear but cyclical. There is no grand evolution, just an endless process of rediscovery and reappraisal, as various styles and poses go in and out of fashion. We no longer, many of us, believe in the idea of musical progress. All the more reason, perhaps, to savor the music of those who did.

By Kelefa Sanneh and published on June 12, 2017 in The New Yorker and can be found here.

My Life in Concerts: the Complete List

[Updated: August 16, 2019]

Over the course of the last 23 plus years, I have enjoyed the opportunity to go and see many bands in a live setting.  As my readers know, I have seen Yes by far the most, but, contrary to popular belief, Yes (and their openers) is/are not the only band(s) I have ever seen live.

After so many years and shows, I thought it would be fun to try and list and catalogue all the shows I have seen.  I think the list below is about as comprehensive as I can create, and it does not, obviously, include live bands in bars and community festivals and such.

I have also, over the course of this blog, put up numerous posts of tour programs, tickets, reviews, and other things I have collected over the years at concerts.  Here they are below:

Here is, what I think, is my complete list of concerts (232):

Yes (26):

Porcupine Tree (8):

  • 6/23/01: NEARFest 2001
  • 7/26/02: Theater of the Living Arts (with Tim Reynolds)
  • 11/8/02: Tower Theater (with Yes)
  • 7/20/03: Trocadero Theater (with Opeth)
  • 5/21/05: Trocadero Theater (with Tunnels)
  • 9/27/05: Keswick Theater (with Robert Fripp)
  • 10/7/06: Keswick Theater (with ProjeKCt Six)
  • 9/26/09: Electric Factory (with King’s X)

The Musical Box (7):

  • 2/26/04: Keswick Theater
  • 7/9/04: NEARFest 2004
  • 12/17/04: Keswick Theater
  • 12/10/05: Tower Theater
  • 10/20/06: Tower Theater
  • 12/15/07: Tower Theater
  • 8/3/13: Camden Tweeter Center (with Yestival)

Renaissance (3):

  • 10/11/09: Keswick Theater
  • 6/23/12: NEARFest 2012
  • 8/3/13: Camden Tweeter Center (with Yestival)

Philadelphia Orchestra (3):

  • 4/5/05: Verizon Hall
  • 9/24/05: Verizon Hall
  • Another date: Mann Music Center

Änglagård (2):

  • 6/29/03 NEARFest 2003
  • 6/23/12 NEARFest 2012

Asia (2):

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (2):

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones (2):

  • 8/1/96: Keswick Theater
  • 8/5/08: Mann Music Center (with Return to Forever)

DFA (2):

  • 6/17/00: NEARFest 2001
  • 6/20/09: NEARFest 2009

Echolyn (2):

  • 6/29/02: NEARFest 2002
  • 6/22/08: NEARFest 2008

Steve Hackett (2):

King Crimson (2):

Magma (2):

Mike Keneally Band (2):

  • 7/10/04: NEARFest 2004
  • 6/24/12: NEARFest 2012

PFM (2):

Riverside (2):

Tunnels (2):

  •  6/28/03: NEARFest 2003
  • 5/21/05: Trocadero Theater (with Porcupine Tree)

Van Der Graaf Generator (2):

  • 6/19/09: NEARFest 2009
  • 6/22/12: NEARFest 2012

Carl Palmer ELP Legacy Band (2):

  • 8/3/13 Camden Tweeter Center (with Yestival)
  • 8/15/17: Hershey Theater – Yestival Tour

Other (155):

  • Acoustic Trio (Stanley Clarke, Bela Fleck, Jean Luc Ponty): 8/12/05 Mann Music Center
  • After Crying: 6/24/01 NEARFest 2001
  • Alamaailman Vasarat: 6/28/03 NEARFest 2003
  • Alan Parsons Project: 6/27/98 Camden Blockbuster Center (with Yes)
  • Anderson/Ponty: 10/27/15 Keswick Theater
  • Anekdoten: 6/17/00 NEARFest 2000
  • Ange: 6/25/06 NEARFest 2006
  • Aranis: 6/22/12 NEARFest 2012
  • Astra: 6/19/10 NEARFest 2010
  • Beardfish: 6/21/09 NEARFest 2009
  • Bird Songs of the Mesozoic: 6/23/01 NEARFest 2001
  • The Black Eyed Peas (with Rita Marley and Stephen Marley): 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Bon Jovi: 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Cabezas de Cera: 6/20/09 NEARFest 2009
  • California Guitar Trio with Tony Levin: 6/24/01 NEARFest 2001
  • Camel: 6/29/03 NEARFest 2003
  • Canned Heat: 1/21/05 Keswick Theater (with Mountain and Vanilla Fudge)
  • Caravan: 6/30/02 NEARFest 2002
  • Dave Matthews Band: 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Def Leppard: 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Destiny’s Child: 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Deus Ex Machina: 6/23/01 NEARFest 2001
  • Diplo: 8/15/19 Citizens Bank Park
  • Discipline: 6/21/08 NEARFest 2008
  • Dixie Dregs: 4/7/05 Theater of the Living Arts (with Steve Morse Band)
  • Djam Karet: 6/24/10: NEARFest 2001
  • DJ Green Lantern: 7/2/05 Live 8
  • DJ Jazzy Jeff (with Will Smith): 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Bob Drake: 6/23/07: NEARFest 2007
  • Dream Theater: 9/3/04 Allentown Fairgrounds (with Yes)
  • KBB: 6/24/06 NEARFest 2006
  • Keith Emerson: 6/25/06 NEARFest 2006
  • Enchant: 6/30/02 NEARFest 2002
  • The Enid: 6/20/10 NEARFest 2010
  • Fish: 6/20/08 NEARFest 2008
  • The Flower Kings: 6/28/03 NEARFest 2003
  • FM: 6/24/06 NEARFest 2006
  • Forgas Band Phenomena: 6/19/10 NEARFest 2010
  • Peter Frampton: 6/15/10 Tower Theater (with Yes)
  • Robert Fripp: 9/27/05 Keswick Theater (with Porcupine Tree)
  • Frogg Cafe: 7/9/05 NEARFest 2005
  • Gerard: 6/30/02 NEARFest 2002
  • Glass Hammer: 6/29/03 NEARFest 2003
  • Gong: 6/20/09 NEARFest 2009
  • Gosta Berlings Saga: 6/24/12 NEARFest 2012
  • Josh Groban (with Sarah McLachlan): 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Guapo: 6/25/06 NEARFest 2006
  • Peter Hammil: 6/21/08 NEARFest 2008
  • Happy the Man: 6/17/00 NEARFest 2000
  • Hatfield and the North: 6/23/06 NEARFest 2006
  • Hawkwind: 6/23/07: NEARFest 2007
  • Helmet of Gnats: 6/23/12 NEARFest 2012
  • Hidria Spacefolk: 7/11/04 NEARFest 2004
  • High Wheel: 6/28/03 NEARFest 2003
  • Steve Hillage: 6/19/09 NEARFest 2009
  • Allan Holdsworth: 6/22/07: NEARFest 2007
  • Iluvatar: 6/17/00 NEARFest 2000
  • Il Balletto di Bronzo: 6/18/00 NEARFest 2000
  • Il Tempio delle Clessidre: 6/24/12 NEARFest 2012
  • Indukti: 6/24/07: NEARFest 2007
  • Iona: 6/19/10 NEARFest 2010
  • IQ: 7/9/05 NEARFest 2005
  • IZZ: 6/23/07: NEARFest 2007
  • Isildur’s Bane: 6/29/02 NEARFest 2002
  • Jars of Clay: 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Jay-Z (with Linkin Park): 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Jethro Tull: 8/9/03 MusikFest
  • Eddie Jobson / UKZ: 6/20/10: NEARFest 2010
  • Richard Leo Johnson: 6/24/06 NEARFest 2006
  • Kaiser Chiefs: 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Kansas: 7/18/00 Camden Blockbuster Center (with Yes)
  • Toby Keith: 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Kenso: 7/10/05 NEARFest 2005
  • Alicia Keys: 7/2/05 Live 8
  • King’s X: 9/26/09 Electric Factory (with Porcupine Tree)
  • Knight Area: 7/10/05 NEARFest 2005
  • Koenji Hyakkei: 6/21/08 NEARFest 2008
  • Kraan: 6/29/03 NEARFest 2003
  • La Maschera di Cera: 6/24/04: NEARFest 2007
  • La Torre dell’Alchimista: 6/29/02 NEARFest 2002
  • Le Orme: 7/10/05 NEARFest 2005
  • Linkin Park (with Jay-Z): 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Liquid Tension Experiment: 6/21/08 NEARFest 2008
  • Magenta: 6/23/07: NEARFest 2007
  • Sean Malone: 7/11/04 NEARFest 2004
  • Michael Manring: 6/25/06 NEARFest 2006
  • Rita Marley and Stephen Marley (with The Black Eyed Peas ): 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Maroon 5: 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Sarah McLachlan  (with Josh Groban): 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Metamorfosi: 7/11/04 NEARFest 2004
  • Miriodor: 6/29/02 NEARFest 2002
  • Moraine: 6/20/10 NEARFest 2010
  • Morglbl: 6/22/08 NEARFest 2008
  • Mountain: 1/21/05 Keswick Theater (with Canned Heat and Vanilla Fudge)
  • The Muffins: 7/10/05 NEARFest 2005
  • NeBeLNeST: 6/23/07: NEARFest 2007
  • Nektar: 6/29/02 NEARFest 2002
  • Nexus: 6/18/00 NEARFest 2000
  • Niacin: 6/25/06 NEARFest 2006
  • Nicholas Payton Quintet: 10/19/97 Central PA Friends of Jazz
  • North Star: 6/18/00 NEARFest 2000
  • Oblivion Sun: 6/20/09 NEARFest 2009
  • One Shot: 6/22/07: NEARFest 2007
  • Opeth: 7/20/03: Trocadero Theater (with Porcupine Tree)
  • Ozric Tentacles: 6/24/06 NEARFest 2006
  • Pallas: 7/10/04 NEARFest 2004
  • Par Lindh Project: 6/18/00 NEARFest 2000
  • Matthew Parmenter: 7/10/05 NEARFest 2005
  • Peter Wolf: 5/30/19 Citizen’s Bank Park (with The Who)
  • The Pineapple Thief: 6/20/10 NEARFest 2010
  • Richard Pinhas: 7/10/04 NEARFest 2004
  • Planet X: 7/11/04 NEARFest 2004
  • Present: 7/9/05 NEARFest 2005
  • Procol Harum: 7/20/12 Tower Theater (with Yes)
  • ProjeKCt Six: 10/7/06 Keswick Theater (with Porcupine Tree)
  • Proto-Kaw: 7/8/05: NEARFest 2005
  • Pure Reason Revolution: 6/24/04: NEARFest 2007
  • Quantum Fantasy: 6/21/09 NEARFest 2009
  • Radio Massacre International: 6/22/08 NEARFest 2008
  • Return to Forever: 8/5/08 Mann Music Center (with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones)
  • Tim Reynolds: 7/26/02: Theater of the Living Arts (with Porcupine Tree)
  • Robert Rich: 6/24/04: NEARFest 2007
  • Steve Roach: 7/9/05 NEARFest 2005
  • Todd Rundgren: 8/15/17: Hershey Theater – Yestival Tour
  • Scale the Summit: 8/3/13 Camden Tweeter Center (with Yestival)
  • The School of Rock: 8/3/13 Camden Tweeter Center (with Yestival)
  • Second Sufis: NEARFest 2003
  • Secret Oyster: 6/22/07: NEARFest 2007
  • Sleepytime Gorilla Museum: 629/03 NEARFest 2003
  • Will Smith (with DJ Jazzy Jeff): 7/2/05 Live 8
  • Spaced Out: 6/30/02 NEARFest 2002
  • Steve Morse Band: 4/7/05 Theater of the Living Arts (with Dixie Dregs)
  • Strawbs: 7/11/04 NEARFest 2004
  • Styx: 7/4/11 Camden Tweeter Center (with Yes)
  • Syd Arthur: 7/19/14 Upper Darby Tower Theater (with Yes)
  • Synergy (Larry Fast): 6/20/08 NEARFest 2008
  • Thinking Plague: 6/18/00 NEARFest 2000
  • Three Friends: 6/19/10 NEARFest 2010
  • The Tony Levin Band: 6/23/06 NEARFest 2006
  • Toto: 8/9/15: Borgata, Atlantic City (with Yes)
  • Transatlantic: 6/18/00 NEARFest 2001
  • Trettioariga Kriget: 6/21/09 NEARFest
  • Twelfth Night: 6/23/12 NEARFest 2012
  • U.K.: 6/24/12 NEARFest 2012
  • The Underground Railroad: 6/24/01 NEARFest 2001
  • Under the Sun: 6/24/01 NEARFest 2001
  • Univers Zero: 7/10/04 NEARFest 2004
  • Vanilla Fudge: 1/21/05 Keswick Theater (with Mountain and Canned Heat)
  • Volto!: 8/3/13 Camden Tweeter Center (with Yestival)
  • Rick Wakeman: 10/29/03 Electric Factory
  • Kanye West: 7/2/05 Live 8
  • White Willow: 6/23/01 NEARFest 2001
  • The Who: 5/30/19 Citizen’s Bank Park (with Peter Wolf)
  • Wobbler: 7/9/05 NEARFest 2005
  • Yezda Urfa: 7/10/04 NEARFest

Porcupine Tree Tickets Through the Years

I am a huge fan of and of progressive rock and, aside from seeing Yes (see here) and going to the North East Art Rock Festival (see here), the band that I have seen the most is Porcupine Tree.  I became aware of Porcupine Tree in the mid-90s, and enjoyed them, but my first time seeing them live was at NEARFest 2001 (see here) and was blown away by their artistry and power (they broke the ceiling lights!).  In addition to NEARFest 2001 and the shows below, I also saw them open for Yes (see here), which was a tremendous show and very exciting to me, even though the confluence of those two bands was a little dissonant (Yes being positive and happy whilst Porcupine Tree being depressing and aggressive).  Porcupine Tree presents an interesting combination of Pink Floyd, Tool, and Radiohead; music with a modern psychedelic feel and electronic flair played on heavy metal sounding guitars, led by a charismatic front man, Steven Wilson, who performs shoeless and completely enveloped in the art he is trying to create on stage.  So, after many years of seeing them, I thought it would be fun to post my old tickets from those shows.  They are posted below.  Enjoy!

 

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NEARFest X (2008) Event Program

This post is in my series regarding the North East Art Rock Festival (NEARFest).  You can find all of my posts regarding NEARFest here and I started the series here.

At each NEARFest, the Festival organizers created a weekend event program.  I was lucky enough to have purchased one from all of the Festivals I attended, and I will post photographs of them all here.  These programs were expertly crafted with many beautiful photographs and well written descriptions and histories and such.  Of course, they also contain their fair share of ads, as one may expect.  I got most (maybe all) of the programs I purchased at NEARFest over the years autographed by the artist who drew its cover and, in this case, that was Yes and Asia cover artist Roger Dean.

I was able to purchase a program at NEARFest X (2008), and I thought it would be fun to post it here for prog rock fans who may not have had the opportunity to go to the Festival and/or purchase the program.  Accordingly, I took photographs of each page of the program and posted them below.

I also posted a review of NEARFest X (2008) which you can see here.  The review contains many photographs from the event.

Enjoy!

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Program From October 7, 2006 Porcupine Tree Concert

This post is part of my series of posts on progressive rock which you can see here.

On October 7, 2006 I saw the progressive rock band Porcupine Tree during their tour in support of the Deadwing album at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PAProjeKCt Six (the Robert Fripp (on electric guitar) and Adrian Belew (on electronic drums) King Crimson duo) opened the show.

The Keswick Theater often produces and distributes an event program at its shows, whether that show is a rock concert, ballet, or comedian or what-have-you, and the October 7, 2006 Porcupine Tree concert was no different.  I have taken photographs of that program and posted them below as fans may enjoy and be interested in what the band authorized for its show.

Enjoy!

 

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Return to Forever / Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Concert Program for August 5, 2008

This post is part of my series of posts on progressive rock which you can see here.

On August 5, 2008 I saw the progressive rock / fusion supergroup Return to Forever during their 2008 reunion tour at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PABela Fleck and the Flecktones opened for Return to Forever.

The Mann Center often produces and distributes an event program at its shows, whether that show is a rock concert, ballet, or comedian or what-have-you, and the August 5, 2008 RTF/BFF concert was no different.  I have taken photographs of that program and posted them below as fans may enjoy and be interested in what the bands authorized for the show.

Enjoy!

 

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Program from 9/12/14 King Crimson Concert

This post is part of my series of posts on progressive rock which you can see here.

On September 12, 2014 I saw the progressive rock band King Crimson during their 2014 tour at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which featured a huge seven piece band with three drummers, two guitarists, a bass player, and a woodwind player.  I reviewed this concert, and that review, along with some pictures of the show, can be seen here.  It was easily one of the greatest concerts I have ever seen.

The Kimmel Center often produces and distributes an event program at its shows, and the September 12, 2014 King Crimson concert was no different.  I have taken photographs of that program and posted them below as fans may enjoy and be interested in what the band authorized for its show.

Enjoy!

 

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Program From September 13, 2006 Asia Concert

This post is part of my series of posts on progressive rock which you can see here.

On September 13, 2006 I saw the progressive rock supergroup Asia during their 2006 reunion tour at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA.  I reviewed this concert, and that review, along with some pictures of the show, can be seen here.

The Keswick Theater often produces and distributes an event program at its shows, whether that show is a rock concert, ballet, or comedian or what-have-you, and the September 13, 2006 Asia concert was no different.  I have taken photographs of that program and posted them below as fans may enjoy and be interested in what the band authorized for its show.

Enjoy!

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Anderson-Ponty Band Concert Review, 10/27/15 Glenside, PA

This post is part of my series of posts on progressive rock, which you can see here, and Yes which you can see here.

On October 27, 2015 the supergroup Anderson-Ponty Band (APB), led by Jon Anderson, the vocalist/harpist/guitarist co-founder of the progressive rock band Yes‘ and virtuoso progressive rock (and classic fusion bands and Zappa alumnus) violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, played show at the at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA in support of their “Better Late Than Never Tour” in support of their new album of the same name (see here).

The band was:

  • Jon Anderson – lead vocals, mandolin, guitars, percussion
  • Jean-Luc Ponty – violin
  • Jamie Glaser – guitars
  • Wally Minko – keyboards
  • Baron Browne – bass
  • Rayford Griffin – drums & percussion

The set list for the evening:

  • Intro (a new piece which is sort of like an overture for the APB album)
  • One in the Rhythm of Hope  (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • A for Aria (a new piece)
  • Owner of a Lonely Heart  (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Listening with Me (a reworked Ponty piece called “Stay With Me” (see here))
  • Time and a Word (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • One Love/People Get Ready (a Bob Marley cover (see here))
  • Infinite Mirage (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • Soul Eternal  (a reworked Anderson piece (see here))
  • Enigmatic Ocean Parts 1 and 2 (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • Drum solo
  • I See you Messenger  (a new piece)
  • New New World (a reworked Anderson piece (see here))
  • INTERMISSION
  • New Country (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • Never Ever (a reworked Anderson song (see here and here))
  • Wonderous Stories (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Long Distance Runaround (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Renaissance of the Sun (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • State of Independence (a reworked Jon & Vangelis song (see here))
  • Jig (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • And You and I (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Roundabout (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Re-Remembering the Molecules (a reworked Ponty piece (see here)) – which included bits of Yours Is No Disgrace (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Soon (a reworked Yes song (see here))

Thoughts:

As I said when I reviewed the ABP album (see here), I am not going to comment on the songs themselves as nearly all of them are classic songs from legendary prog-rock albums and do not originate with this band.  I am only going to comment on their presentation at the show.

This was my first time seeing Jon Anderson live since the last leg of Yes’ Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Tour on September 3, 2004 (see here).  Much of what I said about Jon Anderson on the ABP album holds true here (see here).  This is post-asthma attack Anderson (see here).  His voice is not as strident or as powerful as it was in days past.  In saying that, he, as a consummate professional, does not struggle to try and duplicate his old singing style.  Instead, his voice is more soulful and breathier (is that a word?) and he conforms the music to his new singing style.  His onstage persona is much different than how he used to present himself with Yes.  Obviously his Yes stage presentation evolved with the band and their music, yet now, with ABP in 2015, Anderson comes across like a wizened and beloved person who has so many years under his belt that he is completely confident on stage playing and singing directly to the die hard fans that have followed him for fifty years now as opposed to something of a new age spiritual hippie guru.  There is very little “persona” now for him.  He does not play with long flowing robes or quasi-monk overtones.  No, instead he comes across as a man who knows he is older, knows he has been around a long time, and knows the people hearing him are the ones who have been fans for decades.  He was loose and appreciative.  He played guitars and percussion and, instead of a harp (as on the album), he plucked at a mandolin here and there (practically inaudibly for me).  Ponty was just a cool guy with no frills playing his violin.  It is amazing that both of these men are in their 70s!

The rest of the band were mainly guys recruited by Ponty.  The drummer, who reminded me of Niacin’s Dennis Chambers (see here), was a powerful and loud drummer who unabashedly plays in the style of fusion.  Although he was an excellent drummer, his playing was a bit too much a lot of the time for the more mellow rest of the band.  The guitarist was very hard for me to hear from my vantage point in terms of the mix.  I was there to see Anderson and Ponty and he played well enough to keep the music going but did not distract away from the main attractions.  As a side note, he reminded me a lot of Jim Belushi in his looks and mannerisms.  The bass player looked like he stepped right out of a reggae concert.  His playing was clean and in the style of traditional jazz.  Like the guitarist, he played the music but did not distract from Anderson and Ponty.  Finally, the keyboardist is the biggest mystery.  His playing, when allowed to expand, was very jazzy, but I felt that he was not particularly creative in his arrangements and approach.  His best playing was his jazzy piano playing.  His keyboard-synthesizer playing was the weakest part of his playing.  In my review of APB’s album (see here), one of my criticisms was that it was far too twee.  After seeing them live, I have come to realize that one of the biggest culprits causing the twee sound is the keyboardist because his keyboard sound is so light, airy, and, honestly, cheesy.   This description may not be helpful to all readers, but his keyboard/synthesizer sound is more eighties than Rick Wakeman‘s was in the 80’s.

In terms of the sound mix, thankfully the violin and Anderson’s vocals were louder than everything except maybe for the pounding drums.  The keyboard was loudest after that followed by the bass, the guitar, and whatever Anderson tried to strum at a given moment.  The bass player and guitarist offered background vocals but they may as well have had their microphones switched off as they were nearly completely inaudible.

The songs on the album that were played at the show (and all of them were) all sounded basically like the album, which stands to reason as the album was a live recording.  The only differences I can remember is that the solos were sometimes a little longer), the bass player played the acoustic guitar intro to “Roundabout” on the bass (this intro was omitted on the album), and the band added the instrumental section of “Eclipse” to the end of its version of “And You And I” (also omitted from the album).  “Eclipse” was appended to the end this band’s version of “And You And I” (and lacked the steel guitar) and, I thought, was one of the most powerful, dramatic, and emotional portions of the show and it is regrettable that it was omitted from the album.

When it comes down to it, this show was really a tale of two concerts, with the line of demarcation being the intermission.  The first half was, more-or-less, in the style and sound of the APB album and my comments and criticisms about that portion of the show are basically the same as those I had for the album (see here).  Enigmatic Oceans, which was played during the first half of the show and does not appear on the album, prefigured what was to come in the second half.

The second half of the show moved away from the twee and song based approach of the first half and went headlong into a new-age-jazz-fusion direction that was extremely well performed and musically and sonically very interesting.  The keyboardist, notably, focused more on his piano than the keyboard during the second half which contributed significantly to the overall change in sound, tone, and form.  Moreover, the guitarist played acoustic guitar for several of the pieces.  So, between acoustic guitar, piano, violin, and voice, you had the makings of a very interesting sound in the new-age-jazz-fusion style.  One of the highlights for me was “Long Distance Runaround,” which really revealed the impact that arrangement can have on a song.  The original Yes song is a classic song with multiple, and fast moving, contrapuntal lines.  By contrast APB presented it without any of its traditional instrumental trademarks (e.g.: the walking bass, the bouncy piano, or the punctuated guitar).  Instead, APB turned it into a contemplative jazz piece which, if it were not for the vocal melody, I would never have guessed that it was “Long Distance Runaround.”  As an aside, it is this sort of cover of a song that I really like; why simply play someone else’s song when you can make it your own?  “State of Independence” was very powerful and quite a surprise that Anderson would try and mine that part of his career with APB.  That song is a classic that is often overlooked when thinking about Anderson and/or Yes because too many assume it is a Donna Summers song (see here).  This song, too, was a brilliant reworking.  The original (and even Summers’ version) had a terribly 80’s sound with the drum machine and synthesizer (which has an almost midi type sound) and cheesy 80’s saxophone lines.  APB transformed the song into a fast paced and powerful jazz rock song.  Fantastic.  The Ponty pieces were presented more in line with how he recorded them, which makes sense as the members of the band played with him before and they were, more-or-less, presented in the same style in which they were written.  Anderson composed and sang lyrics over some of his music.  The pieces featured long and mesmerizing instrumental sections led by the violin and it was here that the drummer’s talent really came to the fore.  The instrumental sections really showed off the musicianship and prowess of the band and their ability to tastefully, yet intensely, show off their chops while remaining musical and interesting.

The audience was really into the show the entire night.  At this point in their career, and considering the size of the venue (~1000 seats), the audience seemed to have a direct relationship with Anderson and Ponty while they were on stage that perhaps would not have been there when in their prime (when they still had an image protect and project) and/or in bigger arenas where the audience and musicians are too geographically remote.  So the band, particularly Anderson, interacted personally with members of the audience the entire evening.  Anderson’s birthday was two days before the show, so there were a lot of cries of “Happy Birthday!” throughout the show (to one of them Anderson responded with “Merry Christmas!”).  Before introducing “Infinite Mirage,” Anderson starting speaking of “infinity” in a typical Andersonian-spiritual sort of way and someone shouted “You’re getting heavy Jon!” and Anderson responded with “not yet it’s too early!”  He really seemed to have fun and truly appreciate and feel the love the audience had for him.

Over all it was an excellent show and great way for Yes fans to see Anderson in a band setting singing the classics.  As indicated above, the first half of the show was somewhat uninteresting and lightweight, but during the second half the band, and, indeed, its prog-rock potential, came through with some really great new-age-jazz-fusion arrangements and some furious playing.

Photographs:

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Anderson-Ponty Band, Better Late Than Never, a Review

In September 2014 progressive rock band Yes‘ co-founder and vocalist/harpist/guitarist Jon Anderson teamed up with virtuoso progressive rock (and classic fusion bands and Zappa alumnus) violinist Jean-Luc Ponty to form the supergroup Anderson-Ponty Band (APB) to play a live concert to be recorded for an album (CD/DVD) which was released in September 2015.  The set list they played consisted of mainly reworked Yes, Anderson, and Ponty pieces with a couple new tracks thrown in for good measure.  Apparently (see here) the actual set list was a little longer and included a few more pieces left off the album.  The live concert from September 2014, upon being recorded, was then modified and edited and overdubbed in the studio.

CD Track List:

1. “Intro”
2. “One in the Rhythm of Hope”  (a reworked Ponty piece)
3. “A for Aria”  (a new piece)
4. Owner of a Lonely Heart”  (a reworked Yes song)
5. “Listening with Me”  (a reworked Ponty piece called “Stay With Me”)
6. Time and a Word”  (a reworked Yes song)
7. “Infinite Mirage”  (a reworked Ponty piece)
8. “Soul Eternal”  (a reworked Anderson piece)
9. Wonderous Stories”  (a reworked Yes song)
10. And You and I”  (a reworked Yes song)
11. “Renaissance of the Sun”  (a reworked Ponty piece)
12. Roundabout”  (a reworked Yes song)
13. “I See you Messenger”  (a new piece)
14. “New New World”  (a reworked Anderson piece)

DVD Track List:

1. “One in the Rhythm of Hope”
2. “A for Aria”
3. “Owner of a Lonely Heart”
4. “Listening with Me”
5. “Time and a Word”
6. “Infinite Mirage”
7. “Soul Eternal”
9. “Renaissance of the Sun”
10. “Roundabout”

Personnel:

  • Jon Anderson – lead vocals, harp, guitars
  • Jean-Luc Ponty – violin
  • Jamie Glaser – guitars (Jamie Dunlap was part of the original line-up of APB and thus performed live on 20 September 2014 at the Wheeler Opera House, Aspen, Colorado, United States but by January 2015, he had left the band and had been replaced by Ponty’s guitarist Jamie Glaser who, as a result, overdubbed Dunlap’s parts on the present live album)
  • Wally Minko – keyboards
  • Baron Browne – bass
  • Rayford Griffin – drums & percussion

Review:

So, like most reviews, what one thinks of an album depends on what one expects from it.  If one expects a prog-rock tour de force, then one will be sorely disappointed.  Despite the pedigree of Anderson and Ponty and, indeed, the fusion background of the rest of the band, ABP does not live up to its potential.  Instead, the music is very light (even when it is heavy like during “Owner of a Lonely Heart), often twee, and and is more a fusion of new age and rock, with jazz sounding bass, than a fusion of jazz and Anderson.  Of course the underlying Yes, Anderson, and Ponty music is amazing and the stuff of prog rock legend, but I will try and keep this review just about the interpretation that APB has given them.

Anderson, I think, does most of the heavy lifting in the creation of this album as he wrote most of the music and pushed the kickstarter campaign (see below for more on that).  Excluding “Intro” (which is something of an overture written by Minko), 7 of the 13 remaining songs are from Anderson’s prior work and at least one of the new songs “I See You Messenger” is derived from Anderson’s stock of unreleased material.  Ponty’s solo compositions are instrumental and Anderson’s contribution to them are largely adding lyrics and melodies with which to sing those lyrics over Ponty’s music.  So, Anderson has a writing credit for every track on the album save “Intro.”  Aside from singing, he also strummed a guitar, plucked a harp, and a played very small stringed instrument which seems to be turned to a specific chord for him to strum (I do not know the name of this instrument).  Ponty is an excellent, virtuoso, and experimental violinist, and his playing throughout the album is technically top notch though not particularly inspired.  He more-or-less noodles over the Yes/Anderson material – though on occasion he plays something interesting – and, probably obviously, seems much more at home with his own material.

Of course, the music – especially the Yes material – is rearranged to fit a vaguely new-age-jazz sound which is often stripped down in its complexity compared to the originals, but and some of the interpretations are interesting.   In saying that, I really did not need yet another version of “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”  It is worth noting that “Time and a Word” is a reggae interpretation with some Beatles references thrown in here and there.  Although this version is fun, it is hardly original to APB as Anderson has been doing since at least 2008.  Various quotes from songs like “I’ve Seen All Good People” or “And You And I” or even “Don’t Kill the Whale” (in “I See You Messenger”) are sprinkled throughout.  As an aside, I really like the “Don’t Kill the Whale” quote and I think that song is catchy and the quote makes it doubly so.

As a huge Yes fan, I was most interested in Anderson.  It is very nostalgic for me to hear a new recording from this legendary singer who has made so much music that has such an impact on my life, especially since he nearly died not long ago (see here).  His range is still there.  His spirit is still there.  His emotion is still there.  Despite that, his strength is not nearly what it used to be.  The power of his voice is greatly diminished.  Though still ethereal, his voice is more “breathy” (for want of a better term) and less strident now.  I have to say that, despite this, Anderson, as always, seemed to be very aware that his voice is very unique and tries to use it uniquely if only for it’s sound and he does that here as well (e.g.: the vocal sounds on “One in the Rhythm of Hope”).  Lyrically, he is not really offering anything new.  There are various Yes song references (e.g.: lyrics like “Second Attention” or “That that is”) here and there and the remaining new lyrics fit Anderson’s long standing custom of writing about the sun, light, innocence, Earth, love, moon, and other sorts of “mystical” things.

As a brief editorial, considering Anderson’s diminished voice, stale lyrical ideas, and rather pedestrian musical ideas on this album, I do not think he would be an improvement over Jon Davison (Yes’ current singer) in Yes as Davison’s voice is stronger and his writing is much more creative and interesting right now.  Of course, none of that speaks to the nostalgia and love of/for having Anderson back in Yes and I, for one, would not oppose his return in the least, nor does it in any way diminish Anderson’s influence, creativity, and impact on Yes and prog rock in general.

This collaboration started its life as Kickstarter campaign (see here) and took over a year to prepare, perform, record, produce, and release.  The extended time it took to go from inauguration to release is the inspiration for the title “Better Late Than Never.”  I have to say, as far as expectations are concerned, for an album that took over a year to put together, I was truly hoping for more than just some fairly twee rearrangements of old songs and a couple of light weight new ones.  I was hoping some true creativity would work its way into the music.

All in all this album is really only for Anderson and Ponty fans who enjoy nostalgia and enjoy the idea of these two luminaries working together and enjoying the music of other.  So, as fans of both Anderson and Ponty, I really enjoyed the music and hearing the collaborate, but I was disappointed that they did not really do anything special or creative or really stretch themselves at all.

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