All of the bands that make the cut for Nearfest are excellent musicians and performers; still, I personally didn't think that the 2006 Nearfest lineup was strong enough as America's premiere Prog festival. Ozric Tentacles (don't get me wrong- the band is quite good), as headliners when Caravan couldn't headline? Canterbury Prog legends Caravan? Whether it might be due to logistics, money issues or non-profit vs. profit- the answer I suppose is moot. Keith Emerson is a marvelous choice as are KBB and Riverside; so it may also be simply a measure of taste (or lack of- on my part). Regardless the Nearfest 06' show should be an excellent one.
The same folks at Nearfest put on the second of their Progressive legends Showcase, and just like last year- they hit a home run.
2005 showcased Proto-Kaw and the amazing PFM, and this year did not disappoint with The Tony Levin band and Hatfield and the North. The crowd was excellent, truly nice people, almost like a big family.
Camera crews were filming the shows for possible future DVD releases.
Sadly to say, the visuals were the same old routine- either weak floods of primary color or a brief pseudo-psychodelic stuff that has been done year after year. Again, Winamp plugins would have been better. My seats for the Friday show were front row, which was great viewing but were a foot from the monster amps- hence horrendous on the eardrums (hey guys, why not put the amps on risers so you don't give folks tinnitus). My digital images were a bit better this year, but because of being penned in, I could not move about and shoot different angles. Most of these shots were scaled down to 25% their original size so detail may be lacking.
PROGRESSIVE LEGENDS SHOWCASE II
The Tony Levin Band- opened up the festivities with a barbershop quartet jingle introducing themselves and saying hello to the Nearfest crowd. Tony played an array of basses including his patented funk fingers, his space-age cello and of course the Chapman stick. Most of the material was solo work, though the band did a solid cover of Genesis'- Back in NYC. He also played Peter Gabriel's first album rocker- `On the Air,' and a final encore barbershop rendition of `Don't Give Up and a rousing version of king Crimson's `Sleepless.'
The solo material in my opinion held up very well, Tony chose quite a few songs from his latest album- Resonator.' The set was mixed up well to showcase the vocals of Jerry Marotta as well as the talents of Larry Fast (They did do a Synergy tune). For the most part, Tony's brother Pete, handled most of the keys admirably while Mr. Fast on the most part provided atmosphere and `digitazations.' A nice surprise was the guitar playing of Jesse Gress. He was energetic, played with a ton of emotion and used quite a lot of effects to create all sorts of textures and smartly played solos.
Vocal-wise, Tony's voice was quite good. Jerry's voice during `Back in NYC' was fuzzy, but I believe that was from poor sound or mic problems and not his voice.
Sound-wise, it was difficult to judge the band fairly as I was in front of the left amp, but the mix seemed okay at best- Gresses work could be heard, but it could have been mixed up especially during solos. The drums and bass seemed to overpower many of the louder passages.
On stage you could see that the guys really enjoyed playing for the Nearfest audience. Energy was high. One of the highlights of the evening was Tony sitting alone at his brother's keyboard and told a story about working with Peter Gabriel in Georgia, who was recording music with gorillas. Tony wrote a wonderful piano piece to record the moment.
All in all a very nice gig, a good variety of moods and moments. The technical ability of the band- especially Levin is simply amazing and a delight to experience. Tony and crew where taking pictures of the crowd... they knew it was a magical night... and they were oh so right.
Hatfield and the North- played for the first time ever in North America, it just took them 34 years to do it. The mood was casual with bassist Richard Sinclair doing most of the talking. All of the members had music stands, though I believe it was- `just-in-case'- as the band rarely looked at them. Richard's bass playing was one of the featured instruments. He moved up and down the fret with enthusiasm and confidence. Obviously older, his famed voice held up well, though he had to go down an octave on a few occasions. The only problem with the set was the sound mixing- just like PFM the year before, the Hatfield mix was subpar at best. Bass drum and Richard's bass was too loud and you could rarely heard Mr. Miller's classic sound as well as Alex Maguire's ripping organ work. When the audience had to yell out to raise the guitar
half way through the set, you can kind of figure out that something was amiss. Mixing problems with two Friday headliners in 2005 and 06? Weird. Luckily, the guitar was raised a bit halfway through the set and Alex's keys and electronic piano sounds were listenable. Another sound entity that was present was a low hmm that resonated in between songs. Richard made some cool jokes about it, but no one tried to fix it- still it wasn't a major factor and did not take away from the evening of musicianship.
Enough rambling, music-wise- these gents can still play! Phil Miller has the most unique style of playing the guitar, adding jazz and classic Hatfield chops, showcasing the most amazing facial expressions I have seen on a guitarist- fantastic to watch. The amazing fingers of Alex Maguire blistered through many of the classic as well as new Hatfield tunes. Prog fans- take notice- this guy can smoke the keys! Pip Pyle was his usual steady self on the kit, sporting his usual great sense of humor. The band broke up the set in terms of mood, pace and varied from melodic to heavy jazz insanity.
Only for a brief period did the visuals enhanced the band (see lower left). Set highlights included an amazing rendition of `Share It' , `Fitter Stoke Has a Bath', It Didn't Matter Anyway,' and Halfway between Heaven and Earth.' During tuning up early in the gig- some guy yelled out- "play `Big John Wayne Socks Psychology on the Jaw.'" Some of the new tunes sounded very promising.
It was amazing to truly hear such unique music as is the Canterbury sound performed by such talented musicians who dare to go off on risk-taking tangents then morph from odd time signatures back into beautiful melodies.
The night was jovial, and despite the sound irregularities, it was quite magical. This is one of the bands I always wanted to see, and finally meeting them in person; they are the most engaging likeable people I have ever met. Richard is such a nice man. Before the gig, I did a quick sketch of the Hatfields and they signed it.
Was it worth the amp making my tinnitus 200% worse? (even WITH earplugs) You betcha! Can't wait for the new album and DVD from Tokyo.