One of the great things about getting to know some of the other contributors to this site is the discovery of bands that were previously missed. One such band that I had missed out on was Gazpacho, of whom I did not learn of until 2011. At that time, I took mental notes that I would check them out one day. After reading this fantastic review of their 2007 album ‘Night’, I knew it was time. Literally within minutes of finishing my reading of that review, I had purchased the album and was giving it a first of many listens. I was not disappointed, and will definitely vouch for all the good things written about ‘Night’. It is truly is one incredible album.
After such an excellent and absorbing introduction to Gazpacho, I knew I would have to explore some of their other works. I read a few reviews and asked around a little bit, and finally settled on the follow-up to ‘Night’, ‘Tick Tock’ from 2009, as my next foray into the world of Gazpacho. I knew this album would be a big challenge for the band, as is any follow-up to such a masterpiece. And once a again, I can say I was not disappointed. In fact, I can and will say a whole lot more, as ‘Tick Tock’ is an incredibly brilliant work in its own right and most certainly belongs on the shelf right next to ‘Night’, not just for being from the same band, but for being an album of the same level of artistry. In other words, ‘Tick Tock’ is an absolutely fantastic album, and could end up being the tipping point that turns me into a Gazpacho junkie.
A short summary of Gazpacho’s music is in order (at least as I know it from the two albums I have heard thus far). Unlike a lot of progressive rock, and certainly unlike most 70′s prog, you won’t hear a lot of instrumental fireworks in their music. If you are looking for self-indulgent soloing, Gazpacho is not your band. On the other hand, much like one particularly popular 70′s prog band – Pink Floyd – Gazpacho’s music give the listener a lot of room for contemplation (this is not to say they sound like Pink Floyd – they most certainly do not). ‘Spacious’ is one adjective I would use to describe their music. Two other adjectives I would use are ‘subtle’ and ‘meticulous’. Because Gazpacho relies on subtlety instead of flashy instrumentals pushed to the forefront of the mix, their music often requires more work from the listener to fully ‘get’ it. Ah, but what rewarding work it is! Repeated listens with undivided attention reveals the meticulous attention to detail in their arrangements.
One final adjective I would use to describe Gazpacho music is synergistic – the whole is much, much greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Getting back to the subject of this review, ‘Tick Tock’ is a concept album based on the story of the airplane crash of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his navigator during a Paris-to-Saigon air race, and their subsequent walk through the desert. The walk nearly ended in tragedy, but both were saved by Bedouins in the nick of time. The album is divided into four separate compositions (in order), ‘Desert Flight’, ‘The Walk’, ‘Tick Tock’ and ‘Winter is Never’. The middle two compositions are relatively lengthy, with the first being divided into two tracks, the second being divided into three.
Taking into account my basic summary of Gazpacho music above, ‘Desert Flight’ goes and makes a liar out of me. It begins as a straight ahead rocker. Musically and lyrically, it conveys an adventurous spirit:
We can be the first
Tie a ribbon all ‘round the world
We’ll make it a gift to us
From the start with a wind-flapped officer’s scarf
Like a ghost in the wind
Eventually, the mood of the music shifts a bit to give the listener a sense of trouble. Toward the end of the song, the pace picks up again in the same manner the ground would appear to move by faster as the airplane loses altitude. And suddenly, the pace grinds to a halt, with the mood of the violin and piano letting us know that we are now on the ground – but alive nonetheless.
The trek across the Sahara then starts in earnest with ‘The Walk’. Our heroes are lost, but nonetheless confident that they will get out of their predicament relatively unscathed. Musically, the acoustic guitar and drums dominate, with other instruments making brief appearances before stepping back into the shadows (a classic example of the meticulous arranging I discussed above). Midway through Part I, the violin steps to the forefront with a Middle Eastern motif, with the other instruments carrying this motif through the end of Part I. As the music segues into Part II of ‘The Walk’ we can feel the doubts creeping into the minds of our heroes, and maybe a little loss of coherency of their thought processes. We’ve now transitioned from adventure mode to survival mode.
Part I of the title track begins with the percussion indicating the ticking of a clock, and this ticking carries on throughout the entirety of the piece. The lyrics in Part I of ‘Tick Tock’ begin to really bring home the predicament our heroes are in as they trek through the sands of the Sahara:
You beg for time
She’s china white
There’s no cure
Nowhere to hide
A Gregorian-sounding chant appears near the end of Part I, and the mood becomes even darker as Part II begins. The sheer drudgery of walking through the hot desert is conveyed through the music, while the lyrics have one of our heroes (probably the pilot) beginning to question his own life. In Part III, the trek is taking its toll on our pilot and our navigator, as they apparently begin hallucinating as their survival hangs by a thread:
And what do you think they’ll do?
The ground is a pendulum
The continent is gravel
Humming in your shoe
The final track is ‘Winter is Never’, which occurs chronologically after the rescue in the desert. It is a reflective track, appreciative of the present and hopeful for the future in light of the recent past in the desert. It’s a fitting conclusion for a fantastic album.
Like its predecessor ‘Night’, ‘Tick Tock’ is a must-own masterpiece. I won’t go so far as to say this album is better than ‘Night’, but in this reviewer’s opinion, it is every bit as good. The number of bands out there that can put out an album of the artistry of ‘Night’ and ‘Tick Tock’ is small; the number of bands that can do it on two consecutive albums is even smaller. Everything about the music of ‘Tick Tock’ is utterly flawless, as is the delivery of the lyrics by Jan Henrik Ohme. It’s the kind of album you want to listen to eyes shut through headphones as you get lost and absorbed into it.
If you had previously missed out on Gazpacho, as did I, now is the time to go back and explore some of their back catalog. Start with either one of ‘Tick Tock’ or ‘Night’. Drink it in fully, and then move on to the other one. You will quickly find that what they have done as a band is to create a sound like no other. While you may hear an influence here or there, those influences have been amalgamated into something completely unique. Like the best progressive rock bands, they have pushed the boundaries back to create something new. As ‘Tick Tock’ indicates,, along with its predecessor, these guys need to be in any conversation regarding the best progressive rock bands, not only for the present revival, but for the entire history of the genre.
Now, onward to ‘Missa Atropos’!
You Can Do a Lot in a Lifetime, If You Don’t Burn Out Too Fast – Rush, April 23, 2013 at the Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas
Just one week after a long-overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rush opened the second leg of their ‘Clockwork Angels’ tour – and fortunately for myself and thousands of other Texans, they did it right here in Austin.
For long-time Rush fans, a Rush concert is more than just an event where we see musicians performing their catalog in a live setting. For us, it is something that gets into us the way dye gets into a shirt and alters its color; something that affects each of us right down to the molecular level. This show certainly did that for me, more for reasons I will get into below.
The steampunk aesthetic of the stage setup was spectacular. It was refreshing to see a big visual presentation to accompany the music, which is a rare thing these days. In contrast to the 70’s, when progressive rock was bigger and had more backing by the record companies, most contemporary prog shows are played in smaller venues without the type of visuals as were present in some of the gargantuan shows of that earlier time (think ‘Yes’ on the ‘Relayer’ tour). Rush is the rare band from that era that can still play large venues with a corresponding stage set and light show that turns the presentation into more of an event than just a live music performance.
After a long break from the road, the band seemed rested, recharged, and ready to go. Some of Rush’s typically humorous opening video greeted the audience when the lights went down, featuring the band’s trademarked slightly bizarre humor. The concert proper then opened with a rousing version of ‘Subdivisions’, followed a number of 80’s works. In the first set, they did three songs from ‘Power Windows’, including ‘The Big Money’, ‘Grand Designs’, and ‘Territories’, while also managing to squeeze in ‘Limelight’, ‘Force Ten’, and ‘The Analog Kid’. After the latter tune, the band moved into the 90’s with ‘Bravado’ and ‘Where’s My Thing’ and then into the 00’s with ‘Far Cry’, which closed out the first set.
After a short break, the band returned to the stage, this time with eight additional musicians collectively known as ‘The Clockwork Angels String Ensemble’. This tour has been the first in which Rush has brought extra musicians on stage, and they were used to good effect here. The string ensemble filled in some spaces while enhancing others, remaining on stage throughout the performance of ‘Clockwork Angels’ and for several songs afterwards, including a blistering performance of ‘YYZ’, which is captured through a smartphone (not mine) here.
Beginning with another entertaining bizarro-humor video (with Neil, Alex, and Geddy playing dwarfs) the second half of the show kicked off with ‘Caravan’, and followed through with most of the songs from ‘Clockwork Angels’. Regrettably missing from that list was ‘BU2B’ and ‘Wish Them Well’, the latter being a favorite of mine not only for the music but for the life lesson within the lyrics. A guitar snafu during ‘The Anarchist’ was a minor hiccup that left Geddy alone without melodic accompaniment for a moment, but Alex and his guitar tech had the presence of mind to quickly swap out instruments. The performance of ‘Clockwork Angels’ concluded with a spectacular performance of ‘The Garden’, the visuals of video working great with the music here.
After concluding ‘Clockwork Angels’, the band went back into the 80’s again, with ‘Manhattan Project’, a short drum solo, ‘Red Sector A’, and ‘YYZ’. The string ensemble exited the stage and the band closed out the set with ‘The Spirit of Radio’. The band returned for an encore including ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘2112’ (‘Overture’, ‘The Temples of Syrinx’, and ‘Grand Finale’) before calling it a night for good.
I don’t have much to critique for the show, but I do have to say that the soundman could have done a better job with the mix. It was very bass-heavy, and this caused a bit of muffling of notes, particularly on a few of Alex’s guitar solos. But overall, that wasn’t enough to dampen the experience, which was still overwhelmingly positive.
All in all, an outstanding show, played with the energy and intensity that belied their age.
Afterward, according to their Facebook page, Neil, Alex, and Geddy got in touch with their inner cavemen by devouring some Texas barbeque, as shown in the photo. At this point of the review, you’ll have to excuse me while I go off on a tangent, but there is something in that photo that I think I need to address with the band members. Geddy, Alex, Neil – I’m glad you enjoyed your barbeque during your most recent visit to the Republic of Texas. The ribs and brisket are hard to beat. However, I have to say I am a little disturbed in looking at some of the bottles on the table. You three are Canadian boys, and therefore have Canadian genes – which means like other great Canadians, such as Bob and Doug McKenzie, you are drinkers of hearty beer. Thus, seeing several bottles of Corona on the table gives me pause. Corona is more or less a summertime beer – I could give you a pass on this if the gig was an outdoor gig during the sweltering months of July or August. But last night was an unseasonably cool April night, and thus I just cannot understand the Corona. Even more disturbing is what appears to be a bottle of Bud Light on the table. Perhaps one of you reached for a water bottle and didn’t notice the difference? Now, in fairness, toward the upper right corner, it does appear that some redemption is present, as I am about 90% confident that’s a bottle of Shiner Blonde. I’ve compared the portion of the label I can see in the picture to an actual bottle of the same in my refrigerator, and the lack of a bar code on my bottle appears to be the only difference. I’ll do more research of the label tomorrow night as I watch the NFL draft – just to be sure, you know. Nevertheless, Shiner Blonde is a beer befitting of your Canadian DNA, guys, so I would recommend you use that to wash down your next Texas barbeque dinner. Ok, tangent over.
This Rush concert was special in a way that says something both about Rush and their fans alike. Not only was this my fifth Rush show, but it was the fifth different decade in which I had seen them. Previously I had seen them in 1979 (Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY, Hemispheres tour), 1984 (Hampton Coliseum, Hampton VA, Grace Under Pressure tour), 1990 (Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC, Presto tour) and 2007 (Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, San Antonio, TX, Snakes and Arrows tour). The 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s. Now I can add the 10’s. I’m comfortable in saying that I’m not alone among the Rush fan base, and in fact know there are fans that have seen many, many more shows than I have, and moreover, within the same five decades. There are not many bands out there that one can say the same about. There are even fewer (if any bands) that one can say that about while also saying that it was with the same lineup each time. That’s a testimony to their longevity, as well as to the loyalty of the fans that have stuck with them all of these years. As many of you will recognize, the title of this piece is drawn from the lyrics of ‘Marathon’ off of the ‘Power Windows’ album. And those words, written by their philosopher-drummer nearly 30 years ago, appear to be even more true now than when that album was released. Rush, despite some serious ups and downs, has persevered and continued to make great music far beyond the time when most bands lose their creative edge. And fans like myself and countless others, we’ve lived our lives and had our own ups and downs for all of these years, and yet we kept coming back, keep buying the albums, and keep going to the concerts because we appreciate the excellence, the professionalism, the creativity, and the wisdom inherent in the lyrics. That neither Rush nor their fans have burned out, that both have shown the endurance to stick with one another throughout the decades only proves the wisdom of the lyrics from which this review draws its title.
Thanks, guys. Not just for last night’s show. But for everything over all of these years.
One of the hardest things a serious music fan is ever tasked with is coming up with a list of five or ten desert island discs, i.e. the albums without which he or she cannot live. In fact, trying to put such a list together can be torture. I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the Geneva Convention is a prohibition on forcing prisoners of war to assemble a desert island disc list under duress. Such a thing could cause serious and irreversible psychological damage, and would thus be inhumane.
The trouble with desert island disc lists is that our moods – and thus our musical preferences at any given moment – are so incredibly varied. One moment you might want to listen to the intricacies of a well-played classical guitar piece, the next moment you crave the audio testosterone known as AC/DC. One moment you may want the sunny joy of Led Zeppelin tracks such as ‘The Song Remains the Same’ or ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, the next moment you want the dark, brooding heaviness of early Black Sabbath. One moment you want the folky feel of some acoustic Jethro Tull, while in another moment you want the cathartic release of an angry Tool song. These examples are just the tip of an infinitely large iceberg.
While I would have to inflict great pain upon myself to assemble a definitive desert island disc list, there is one album I can say would be on any final version that I came up with – Yes’s 1977 masterpiece, ‘Going for the One’.
“Why ‘Going for the One’?” you ask. The consensus on Yes albums like ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘The Yes Album’ is that they are great albums, if not outright masterpieces. On the other end of the spectrum, albums like ‘Union’ and ‘Open Your Eyes’ are generally considered somewhere between awful and God-awful. And then there are those Yes albums that are lightning rods of controversy – ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’, ‘90125’, and to some degree, ‘Drama’. ‘Going for the One’, while generally viewed in a positive manner, doesn’t fall into any of these categories among the majority of Yes fans. But if you ask me, it is a masterpiece as much ‘Close to the Edge’. It crystallizes the essence of Yes – not to mention some artistic goals of first-wave progressive rock.
To really ‘get’ this album, it helps to understand the context in which it was recorded, both within the band’s history as well as musical trends at large. Recording for the album began in earnest in the fall of 1976 – the same year that the punk movement exploded onto the scene, in no small part as a reaction to progressive rock. The genre of progressive rock itself was beginning to show some signs of wear and tear – Peter Gabriel had left Genesis, King Crimson had disbanded, and the general excesses of the genre were beginning to turn the music-buying public looking in other directions. Meanwhile, punk was raging and stadium rock’ was beginning to step into the place formerly occupied by the proggers.
Within the band, Yes had gone through a tumultuous few years, including the release of the controversial ‘Topographic Oceans’, Rick Wakeman’s resulting departure, ‘Relayer’, a number of solo albums, a significant amount of touring, the easing out of Patrick Moraz and the eventual return of Wakeman. There was a need for the band to catch its collective breath, to reflect.
‘Going for the One’ has a very introspective feel to it. This is borne out in no small part by the album artwork, including the cover (shown above) as well as the inner gatefold.
A first thing to note is that none of the Roger Dean artwork is present –neither on the inner gatefold or the outside cover – save for the famous Yes logo. The front cover shows the backside of a naked man, intersected by varying geometric shapes of different lines, against the backdrop of two modern skyscrapers, symbolic of standing naked against modern world. On the inside gatefold is an idyllic scene of a lake at sunset. From the liner notes of the re-mastered CD, I am taking an educated guess that this is Lake Geneva, Switzerland, not far from where the album was recorded. Some sort of island (quite possibly man-made) having a rather large but bare tree sits in the middle of the lake. Individual pictures of each band member are also shown, with all but Steve Howe’s having a lake (the same one?) as a backdrop. The contrast between the front cover and the inner gatefold would suggest taking refuge of some sort, turning inward and reflecting.
In addition to its introspective feel, ‘Going for the One’ also very much has a classical music-like sound as well. In his excellent book ‘Rocking the Classics’, author Edward Macan describes progressive rock of the 1970’s as attempting to “combine classical music’s sense of space and monumental scope with rock’s raw power and energy.” ‘Going for the One’ accomplishes this spectacularly, better than any other progressive rock album of the 70’s, other Yes masterpieces included. The introduction of the harp and the church organ, the latter from St. Martin’s Cathedral in Vevey, Switzerland, are instrumental in the sound of this album. The sound here exemplifies the term “symphonic progressive rock.” Interestingly enough, this was the first Yes album since ‘Time and a Word’ that did not feature Eddy Offord in the role as a producer. There is little doubt Offord’s absence affected the overall sound.
The title track kicks off the album, and it is an outlier with respect to the remainder of the tracks – a straight ahead rocker. In yet another “first in a long time”, the title track of ‘Going for the One’ is the first Yes song under eight minutes in length since Fragile. Between ‘Fragile’ and ‘Going for the One’, the shortest Yes song was ‘Siberian Khatru’, clocking in at 8:55. Musically, the song is propelled forward by Howe’s pedal steel guitar. This is interesting in itself, as the instrument is most closely associated with country music, yet Howe makes it rock and rock hard here. Wakeman’s keyboard work, both on the church organ and piano stand out here as well. In general, every instrument here, as well as the vocals, proceeds at an up tempo pace that maintains itself from start to finish.
There are a two other things to note on the title track that are true for the entire album. One is that the production here is very crisp and clean. The second (which undoubtedly plays on the first) is that the soundscape is not as dense as on the album’s predecessor, ‘Relayer’. Instead of choosing to fill up every available recording track, the band has scaled things down a bit from their previous effort. This is done to good effect, as it gives the music a little more chance to breathe.
The classical-like sound referenced above makes its first appearance on the next track, ‘Turn of the Century’, and is prominent from here on out. The music begins with some light, exquisitely played acoustic guitar work by Howe. Jon Anderson has stated the song was inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s ‘La Bohème’, and lyrically it tells a story of a sculptor creating his lover in “form out of stone” after her death. Both music and lyrics convey a sense of deep loss, making this the album’s most emotional piece. The loss is most poignantly conveyed in the first half of the song, when the music is very melancholy. Around the halfway mark, Wakeman’s piano makes an appearance, along with Howe’s pedal steel guitar. This evolves into a very tumultuous transition. But what emerges on the other side, in the latter half of the song is bright and joyful. Howe takes over on a standard electric guitar with some very sunny lines, while Squire’s bass line does a great job of playing off of Anderson’s vocals. Moreover, this portion of the music is very joyful, indicating that our protagonist has emerged from his grieving and can once again experience happiness. Perhaps the sculpture of his lover has given him solace and peace, coming to life metaphorically if not in reality. The ending of the song has a bittersweet feel to it, as if again to acknowledge the loss while also acknowledging the ability to find joy in life once again after such a tragedy. All things considered, this is a very beautiful and delicate composition both musically and lyrically.
‘Parallels’ is up next, and is an underrated gem of the Yes catalog. This song features spectacular performances by Howe, Wakeman, and Squire, who take turns in showing off their chops on their respective instruments. Still, they never descend into self-indulgence or stray from the song’s logical progression. The song introduces itself proper with Wakeman’s billowing church organ from St. Martin’s Cathedral ( this is best played LOUD to get the full impact). Squire and Howe then chime in, the former with a typically excellent bass line, the latter with some crisp, clean lead guitar. From there, the song takes on a straightforward structure of two verses and two choruses, before transitioning into the middle section led by more of Howe’s crisp lead guitar. After another verse, the song segues into an instrumental section in which Wakeman and Squire are at the forefront. The interplay between Wakeman’s soloing on the church organ and Squire’s bass line is nothing short of brilliant. The transition out of this instrumental section is announced by the return of Howe’s guitar. After one final chorus, the song begins barreling toward its conclusion. Howe again steps to the forefront, his guitar firing burst after burst of clean, high notes. This is some of my favorite Howe guitar work in the entire Yes catalog – bright, sharp, and technically brilliant. Squire and Wakeman remain in the mix here with some fantastic playing of their own.
Another defining aspect of ‘Parallels’ is its conclusion – one of the best endings to a song I have ever heard. That ending is more easily described in non-musical terms. Imagine 18-wheeler, barreling down the highway at full speed. Now imagine that 18-wheeler not just coming to a full stop, but stopping on a dime. And imagine that 18-wheeler doing so with the grace and finesse of a ballet dancer. That’s the ending of ‘Parallels’ right there. It’s an extremely difficult combination to pull off, which makes its flawless execution here that much better.
If J.S. Bach had a rock band, it would sound like ‘Parallels’.
Moving on, we next come to ‘Wonderous Stories’. It’s the shortest song on the album, but also the brightest. It also marks the return of Howe on a guitar-like instrument called the vachalia, which last appeared on ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’. Like ‘Parallels’ before it, the song includes a verse-chorus structure, with the choruses featuring some of Yes’s trademarked harmony vocals. The middle section is marked by a rather vigorous Wakeman keyboard solo including synths that emulate a string section. The song resumes its verse-chorus structure once again, while a thick bass line underneath propels the music forward. Howe and Wakeman continue to supply the melodies on top. The vocals, which include both harmonies and counterpoints here, are stunning. As the vocals fade out, Howe enters the scene again, this time with some jazzy electric guitar to close out the song.
Finally, we come to ‘Awaken’. There are numerous superlatives which could be used to describe this piece. All of them are inadequate. Somebody will have to invent new ones.
Much like the album ‘Moving Pictures’ did for Rush, ‘Awaken’ brings together everything that is great about Yes and distills it into one coherent work of art. It has the epic scope of pieces such as ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘Gates of Delirium’. It has the virtuoso instrumentation of numerous Yes classics such as ‘Heart of the Sunrise’, ‘Yours is No Disgrace’, and ‘Siberian Khatru’. And it has the classical feel of the preceding tracks on the same album. Moreover, it pares back some of the excesses of previous albums without paring back any of the artistic ambition.
To the uninitiated, Wakeman’s piano lines that open ‘Awaken’ could be mistaken for something from a piano concerto. After a few vigorous runs, the music begins a dreamy sequence, as Anderson’s vocals begin. As the introductory verses closes, a note of dissonance sounds before Howe takes over using a guitar riff that has a decidedly Eastern flavor (incidentally, the working title for ‘Awaken’ was ‘Eastern Numbers’). Anderson begins a chant, and the music takes a more serious tone. The most remarkable thing about this section is the drumming and the bass work. Alan White’s drumming with Yes has never been better than on this album, and on this particular track. Squire’s bass plays off of both White’s drumming and Howe’s guitar. The odd time signature here keeps things more than interesting, as it is difficult to predict when the next bass note or next drum beat will fall, and yet it’s also clear that there is a logical pattern behind the playing. It’s the kind of bass and drum work that sucks the listener in and keeps them hooked.
After two verses and two choruses of the chant, the music breaks into a blistering Howe guitar solo. Much like the guitar work on ‘Parallels’, the soloing here is full of bursts of sharp, high-pitched notes. However, the mood here is entirely different, expressing a sense of inner turmoil and urgency. This is another section of brilliant virtuoso guitar playing that illustrates why this album is among Howe’s strongest, either in or out of Yes.
As Howe gracefully exits the solo and returns to the main riff, another verse and chorus of the chant follow before the music begins a slow transition away from the Eastern motif. Wakeman’s keyboards step to the forefront, first mirroring Howe’s riff before segueing into the “Workings of Man” portion of the song. The church organ leads the way into this section, which has a much more European sound and texture, not to mention the lyrics. The tension builds here to a peak before Wakeman puts the brakes on the whole thing with a series of ever quieter notes, effectively bringing the first half of ‘Awaken’ to a close.
The transition to the second half of the song begins with a split-second of silence, before a single note of White’s tuned percussion blends into the first pluck of a harp by Anderson. From an initial quiet beginning, the band begins to slowly and painstakingly build tension in what is a textbook example of the technique. White’s percussion and Anderson’s harp start this section, soon to be joined by Wakeman, who is initially playing singular notes on the church organ.
A layer is added to the tension when Wakeman begins playing slightly longer (but still relatively quiet) runs. Squire also quietly enters, playing singular high bass notes, most likely on the six-string neck of the monster triple neck bass he uses for live performances of this song. These bass notes intensify and push the music forward, while Wakeman’s runs on the church organ slowly begin to lengthen, increase in volume, and sound more orchestral. Choral singers also join the fray, further building the intensity, which builds like a wave to a first peak before receding somewhat. At this point, Howe re-enters the picture on electric guitar, and leads the music to a second peak and a transition into what may be called the ‘Master of Time’ section of the piece. The build-up from the initial plucks on the harp to this point is powerful stuff, very mesmerizing and very emotional.
I have a personal anecdote I would like to share to illustrate the emotional punch of this section. In 2002, I attended my sixth Yes concert at an excellent Austin venue called The Backyard. I went with several former co-workers, including a friend of mine named Cheryl. While Cheryl is not a prog rock fan per se, she is much more of an astute listener to music than the vast majority of people. Musically, she is “switched in”. Toward the end of the concert, Yes performed ‘Awaken’. During the portion described above, I was mesmerized as normal, but for some reason I looked over at Cheryl standing next to me to gauge her reaction. Tears were streaming down her face, which was transfixed to the stage as she was as absorbed in the music as I had been just before turning my head. Amazing. I remember thinking “she gets it”, and was very impressed at that. Among my friends and acquaintances, I have musically usually been an outlier, as few of them have been interested in prog, and certainly not anywhere to the same degree as me. Some of them have even heard ‘Awaken’ in my presence and have given me strange looks that say “what the heck is this?” Yet here was Cheryl, on her first listen to ‘Awaken’, completely getting the gist of this incredible composition. As someone who had known this little secret for a long time, I found it very gratifying to see her reaction with no prompting or no explanation from anyone else – only the music was talking. It’s a moment I will not soon forget.
As the music progresses through the ‘Master of Time’ section, Anderson sings several verses and the tension continues to build, finally resolving itself with a shattering climax, with Wakeman’s church organ and the choral singers at the forefront. The dreamy section from the beginning is then reprised, and the final line of lyrics is one of my favorites from the entire Yes catalog: “Like the time I ran away, and turned around and you were standing close to me.” Howe then brings ‘Awaken’ to its final conclusion with some playful electric guitar lines.
Wow. What a piece of music. In my opinion, the finest fifteen minutes plus of music Yes ever committed to any recording medium. This is not to take away anything from some of their other masterpieces (and there are several), but to extol the virtues of this incredible piece of music. And by the way, I am in some good company when I surmise that this is Yes’s best work. None other than Jon Anderson himself has stated “at last we had created a Masterwork” with regard to Awaken. On the 1991 documentary ‘Yesyears’, Anderson refers to “the best piece of Yes piece of music, Awaken” and further states that it is “everything I would desire from a group of musicians in this life.” I’d say that’s a pretty strong endorsement.
In progressive rock circles, many references are made to the various sub-genres. Yes music (at least their 70’s output) is most often classified as symphonic progressive rock. No album exemplifies this term more perfectly than ‘Going for the One’, and no song exemplifies it more than ‘Awaken’. Other Yes works, such as the previously mentioned ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘Gates of Delirium,’ possess the same scope but not the same instrumental timbre. ELP had some symphonic works that were their own interpretations of existing classical compositions while their own magnum opus, ‘Karn Evil 9’, sounded high tech for its time. ‘Thick as a Brick’ by Jethro Tull is certainly symphonic in its scope, and while great in its own right, has more of a folky feel than symphonic. In contrast to all of these, on ‘Going for the One’, Yes has created original compositions that, in many parts, could be easily mistaken for classical symphonic music by those not otherwise familiar with this type of music. A perfect fusion, you might say.
I’m still struggling to come up with the other four or nine or however many albums I need to complete my desert island disc list. And being immersed in the midst of a second golden age of progressive rock as we are now, completing that list will only get tougher due to the cornucopia of excellent new releases. But I can say without any hesitation, without any equivocation, whatever final form that list takes, it will most definitely include ‘Going for the One.’
Riverside’s recorded output began with three albums that are collectively known as the Reality Dream Trilogy (‘Out of Myself’, ‘Second Life Syndrome’, and ‘Rapid Eye Movement’). These are all very good albums, although I wouldn’t call any of them great albums. However, in 2009, Riverside took a big leap forward with ‘Anno Domini High Definition’ (ADHD). The music took a noticeably different direction from its three predecessors, and reflected well on the album’s subject matter, i.e. the frenetic pace of modern life and accompanying dissatisfaction that sometimes goes with it. After a two-and-a-half year wait (with the EP ‘Memories in My Head’ thrown in during the meantime), Riverside has returned with ‘Shrine of New Generation Slaves’ (SONGS). And once again, they have taken a big – no, huge – leap forward. Quite simply, this is Riverside’s best album to date.
Conceptually, the album relates to dissatisfaction with modern life, so much so that many people feel that they are slaves to something beyond their control. Thematically, there are some common threads with various lyrics on SONGS predecessor, ADHD (in particular, the lyrics on the excellent ‘Driven to Destruction’). Nevertheless, the lyrical (and thus conceptual) content extends beyond that to into areas such as stagnant relationships, the depravity of celebrity culture, surrender to nihilism, and ultimately, redemption.
Musically, the album is just fantastic. In contrast to its predecessor, it does not feature a barrage of notes and thus gives the listener a little more space to contemplate the lyrics. That being said, I wouldn’t call it dimensionally sparse either, as there is plenty going on. The music is probably the result of a different approach. Bass player Mariusz Duda stated in a recent interview:
I had some problems before as I was a little bit tired of the formula that we had in the past and I didn’t want to do another album with complicated structures. I just wanted to finally focus more on the arrangements and the composition. To focus on some details, like a way for playing drums, a way of playing guitar. I really, really wanted to focus simply on songs. Simply songs, ambitious songs should be the foundation of this album. The metal parts I skip and replace them with hard rock elements.
Confident in the chops honed on previous albums, the band has taken more of a big picture approach to the music on this album – an approach that seems to have served them very well.
‘New Generation Slave’ opens up the album, featuring a heavy guitar riff interleaved with verses of Duda’s protagonist lamenting his life and dissatisfaction with it:
Ain’t nothing more to say
Don’t look at me like that
The truth is
I am a free man
But I can’t enjoy my life
The tempo then picks up, and keyboardist Michał Łapaj announces his presence in this piece by getting in touch with his inner Jon Lord (RIP), and repeats this a number of times throughout the album. The opening track segues into ‘The Depth of Self Delusion’, which is less heavy and a bit slower, but no less good. The use of acoustic guitar and atmospheric keyboards make their first appearance. I don’t recall this much use of acoustic guitar on any previous Riverside release, and it’s great to hear them expand their sonic palette in this manner. The song includes some interesting bass work in the latter half and closes with light acoustic guitar. The band then blasts into ‘Celebrity Touch’ as Duda offers his critique of our Kardashian-ized culture and the pathological need some have for attention and approval from others:
I can’t afford to be silent
I can’t afford to lose my stand
What matters is to be in view
I am seen therefore I am
I can satisfy my hunger
I can satisfy my thirst
What about the feeling of importance
Now I’ve got my chance
In the center of attention
My private life is public
I sell everything
Days are getting shorter
They’ll forget about me soon
So I jump on the bandwagon
With no taboos
The song includes a nice juxtaposition between a heavy riff that accompanies the above lyrics, to a less heavy, more reflective section:
But what if we start to talk
Not only say out loud
What if we sift the babble
From what really counts
What if we disappear
Go deeply underground
What if we hide away
From being stupefied
‘We Got Used to Us’ follows, and is yet another slower track that has somewhat of a Porcupine Tree-like vibe as our protagonist ponders a stagnant and dissatisfying relationship. This one is pretty emotional.
Next up is the punchy ‘Feel Like Falling’, a song with crossover appeal having upbeat music that belies the lyrics, as our protagonist begins to realize the path he has chosen in life has led him astray and left him wanting to simply give up:
Had allowed that life to drift
For I’ve chosen a different trail
When light fades
I feel like falling into blank space
‘Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination)’ is up next with music that is slower, mellower, and decidedly more melancholy than the previous track. The music includes a nice, Floyd-ian interlude at about the halfway mark leading into a jazz-infused instrumental section in the latter half featuring some excellent sax playing. Our protagonists dissatisfaction seems to be so intense at this point that they have gone beyond the mere desire to give up as in ‘Feel Like Falling’ – now we have a full fledged surrender to despair:
I shut away
Please don’t call my name
‘Escalator Shrine’ begins as another slower track, but picks up the pace after a few minutes. Once again we hear the Hammond organ with the Leslie cabinet, some excellent bass playing, and some heavy (but not necessarily metal) guitar. Like the previous track, it includes another Floyd-ian interlude at about the halfway mark. Lyrically, ‘Escalator Shrine’ approaches the new generation slavery from more of an intellectual level than an emotional one, as our protagonist channels Albert Camus and the Myth of Sisyphus:
Dragging our feet
Tired and deceived
Slowly moving on
Bracing shaky legs
Against all those wasted years
We roll the boulders of sins
Up a hill of new days
‘Coda’ is the final track on the album, and maybe the most emotionally heavy, even though it is instrumentally the lightest – a single acoustic guitar. Perhaps our protagonist has read some Epictetus, or maybe the serenity prayer, but it appears he has realized that his happiness and satisfaction with life is ultimately in his control and his own responsibility:
Night outside grows white
I lie faceup in my shell
Open my eyes
Don’t feel like falling into blank space
Indeed, for all of its darkness and all of its sadness, SONGS ends on an upbeat note, as our protagonist casts off his self-imposed chains:
I won’t collapse
I’m set to rise
It’s interesting to note that, although ‘Coda’ is the final track on the album, it is also numbered as Track 1, as is ‘New Generation Slave’. Indeed, our protagonist has hit the reset button and is starting over.
I simply cannot say enough good about this album. As thrilled as I was with ADHD, my response to SONGS is in a completely different realm. Musically, the album has a perfect blend of heavy and light, of complex and simple, emotional and intellectual. Nothing is overdone, nothing is incomplete. The lyrics have a strong message, and as dark as the album’s atmosphere, it’s ultimately a message of hope for those that get it. And if this album is an indication of what we can expect in the future from Riverside, then it’s another strong piece of anecdotal evidence that we are in the midst of a progressive rock golden age heretofore unseen.
Oh, and in case you didn’t get it, I strongly recommend this album
The impact of technology on society seems to be a recurring theme in progressive rock releases of recent times. Already in this young year, King Bathmat has released ‘The Truth Button’, reviewed by Ian below, which deals with some of the darker aspects of our technological world. In 2012, Arjen Anthony Luccassen released ‘Lost In The New Real, reviewed earlier by Brad, which follows a protagonist awakened in a distant future as he navigates the reality of a world he does not recognize – while also inviting us to imagine what our world would look like to someone from the past. And preceding those two, is The Tangent’s COMM from 2011, which explores aspects related to the communications enabled by our digital world.
COMM opens with sounds that now seems ancient – the squawking of two modems making a connection over a phone line, perhaps for someone’s dialup internet connection or perhaps somebody preparing to send a fax. This provides the opening for the 20-minute epic ‘The Wiki Man’, which explores both our dependence on the internet and some of the various ways we use it. Full of witty and biting observations, the piece also includes some incredible keyboards, including a nice, jazzy piano interlude that starts at about the 7:00 minute mark.
The next two tracks, ‘The Mind’s Eye’ and ‘Shoot Them Down’ are not part of the concept proper, according to this interview with Andy Tillison. ‘The Minds Eye’ refers to how we see and think of ourselves, and I find this piece more interesting lyrically than musically. With respect to ‘Shoot Them Down’, it’s the opposite, as it relates to internal British political matters with which I am not familiar, but it does have some excellent guitar work.
‘Tech Support Guy’ returns us to the theme of the album, chronicling a very bad day for the tech support guy Adam. Adam, it seems, is to be blamed for everything that goes wrong with his company’s network, never mind the fact that he didn’t build the servers, or write the software while the source of the problem is an ocean away. The lyrics illustrate one of the darker effects of all of the instantaneous communications technology that surrounds us today, mainly the virtual loss of even minimal patience when something goes wrong (as it most certainly will sooner or later) and the impulse to blame someone for the problem with out thinking things through. ‘Tech Support Guy’ will leave you sympathetic for the thankless tasks performed by all of Adam’s real life counterparts – and might also leave you hoping that the marketing manager’s boss walks into his office during the early moments of the system outage (you’ll understand the reference after you read the lyrics).
It’s in ‘Titanic Calls Carpathia’ that the concept of this album is really driven home. Clocking in at a bit over sixteen minutes, ‘Titanic Calls Carpathia’ is divided into six sections. The first two sections deal with two of history’s most famous distress calls, the first being referenced by the title of the piece, the second being Jim Lovell’s call to Houston during the ill-fated Apollo 13. These two sections lyrically set the theme for ‘Titanic Calls Carpathia’, which can be interpreted as a distress call to our modern culture and society, many members of which who become obsessed with their gadgets and gizmos without realizing or stopping to think that what that obsession is doing to them.
And now we can all talk across oceans
If we get things sussed we don’t even have to pay!
We get “FREE iTunes songs” when we return an empty bottle
But there’s so much around
That we throw the damn thing away
Beyond the rusting pylons, beyond the looted homes
People scrabble around for batteries to get more talk time for their phones
We want so much without paying, we forget someone has to make
The things we want for ourselves so we just eat each other’s cake
I’ll leave it to the reader to interpret the meaning of those lyrics for themselves, and indeed they could have different meanings to different people. Needless to say, that in ‘COMM’, Tillison chooses to look at the dark side of technological advance on everyday lives, focusing on our trivial uses thereof, our loss of perspective resulting from its use, and in general, and how much we have let it spoil us.
I’m not a technophobe, far from it – I’m very pro-technology. But the message here is nevertheless something worth pondering. Technology is a tool, and as such is neither good nor bad. The various uses and abuses of technology is what makes it one or the other. It’s great that we can all communicate with one another through avenues such as this blog, Facebook, email, and so on. And it is certainly incredible that we have access to so much information almost instantaneously. At the same time, it’s not so good when the use of technology becomes the preoccupation of one’s life to the exclusion of almost everything else. I guess the real message here is one that applies to much more than just the realms of technology – everything in moderation.
In any field of endeavor, there is a certain language used. One working in the legal field speaks of briefs, appeals, affidavits, and so on. A football coach may speak of blocking schemes, blitzes, and pass routes. And one who flies airplanes may speak of instrument flight rules, crosswind landings, air speed, and fuel mixture.
Alas, those that make and listen to music have their own language. Of course, those of us involved with progressive rock, as listeners, musicians, producers, etc., usually look at the world a little bit differently. As such, an alternate language has developed.
Thinking about this, I have come up with a list of a few terms to aid conversation between prog rockers, as well as to help those who would like to speak to us on our terms. Of course, this list is by no means considered to be complete. Fellow Progarchists and readers of this site, in the interest of smooth communications, you are not only welcome, but are encouraged to suggest additions. So, without further adieu, and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I present to you a brief glossary of progressive rock terms.
Short song – a song under 10:00 minutes in length.
Unusual time signature – 4/4
Normal Time Signature – 7/4, 5/8, 7/8, etc.
Brick – a unit of measurement for determining thickness.
String Section – a group of musicians in an orchestra whose function it is to emulate a Mellotron.
Dancing – ??????
Pretentious (1) – a word used to describe the critics who accuse prog rockers of being pretentious.
Pretentious (2) – the lyrics from this guy:
Excess – ??????
Air Guitar – what rock fans play.
Air Keyboards – what progressive rock fans play.
Air Bass – Well, a lot of us play this too, especially those of us that are into Geddy Lee and Chris Squire.
Bass Guitar – a stringed instrument typically used in the melodic discourse of a progressive rock composition. Occasionally used as part of the rhythm section.
Robert Moog – the greatest electrical engineer of all time.
Aaron Copland – a guy who used to write music for Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Alberto Ginastera – See Copland, Aaron.
Female Prog Rocker – a woman that participates in progressive rock, either through listening or performing. Most frequently found in Continental Europe, the U.K. and Scandinavian countries. A North American variant of the species exists but is extremely rare. Another related variant of the species is the prog rock spouse, defined as a wife dragged into the prog rock scene by an overzealous prog-rock loving husband.
Consuming alcoholic beverages – rearranging your liver to the solid mental grace.
Seed drill – a tool for precisely positioning seeds in the soil, refined by a man who was preemptively named after the band Jethro Tull.
Composing – the art of multiple musicians in a band sitting around arguing for hours, sometimes very intensely, over whether the next bar is to be in F or F#.
Corporate Attorney – see video:
(it is rumored that they also did some prog rock in the 70’s)
This post has been floating around in my head for a while. Being reminded that today, 21-12, is International Rush Day, what better day to go ahead and write it?
The year 1979 was a defining year for yours truly. After my parents split up in 1978, my mother decided to pack up my sister and I and move us across the country. Thus, as the clock turned over from 1978 to 1979, I was somewhere between my former home of Lewiston, Idaho, and my soon-to-be new home of Lexington, Kentucky. On June 23rd of that same year, I became a life-long progressive rock fan at my first Yes concert (I would also see Rush on tour later that year). Two other pivotal occurrences that year were my purchase of Rush’s seminal 2112, and a number of long discussions with my maternal grandmother. My listening to 2112 and those discussions with my grandmother are related, and played a big part in forming part of my world view.
At this point, a little background on my mother’s family is in order. My mother and her family hail from Germany – in fact, what was once known as East Germany. My mother was born in Berlin during World War II, and when the shooting stopped, her family was in the part of Germany that became East Germany, which fell under the domination of a tyrannical government. My grandfather, a literature professor, was occasionally outspoken – a quality that is fraught with danger in a country ruled by an oppressive government. In 1953, he was warned by somebody (who I have never been able to find out) that he had better get the hell out of there. He gathered his family, my mother and grandmother included, and boarded a train for West Berlin. Had they been caught, my grandfather, and possibly his whole family, would have been shot by the authorities. Luckily they made it to West Berlin, connected with others dedicated to helping those who wanted to escape the tyranny of East Germany, and were airlifted to West Germany. They settled in Bonn, where they remained until coming to the U.S. in 1959.
Although the dormant prog gene wasn’t fully activated until that fateful night in June when I saw Yes, I had unknowingly during the spring of that year already purchased my first prog album, 2112. I just thought it was a cool heavy metal/hard rock album by some guys that wanted to sing about something other than chicks, booze, drugs, and so on. Certainly, the suite that gave the album its title got my attention, and not just the music but the lyrics. More than a few times I sat in my room listening to side 1, album gatefold open so I could follow along with the lyrics, which told a fantastic story of a dystopian science fiction universe in which a guy had found a guitar, realized its beauty, and presented his discovery to the authorities only to be slapped down hard by them for deviating from “the plan.” It seemed rather harsh and unfair to me. Upon the first few listens, I did not realize that there was a deeper meaning to the story.
In addition to listening to 2112, I also had a number of discussions with my grandmother during the spring of 1979. I hadn’t seen her for over 12 years prior to us moving to Lexington, and was only a toddler when we had initially moved out west. There was a lot of catching up to do. During our discussions, I asked my grandmother numerous questions about her previous life in Germany. Her answers painted in my mind a picture of life under both the Nazis and later the Communists. I learned of a society where certain books could not be read or published … a society where certain music could not be played … one in which certain ideas were not to be voiced publicly or written down. Moreover, I learned that one could go to jail for reading or writing the wrong types of books, for listening to the wrong kind of music, and for expressing ideas that were not approved by the powers that be. Freedom of movement was only a dream – you were told where you could and could not live. And you certainly couldn’t leave the country any time you want. Trying to do so without authorization could result in prison or death. Having grown up in a mostly free country, I was stunned at the realization that countries like East Germany, the USSR, and others that restricted people in this way existed. I knew of these countries and had a basic idea of their systems before that, but I had never fully realized how much the freedom of those that lived within them was restricted. It wasn’t just on the big things, it was right down to a lot of very small things.
Interleaved with these discussions were my repeated listens to 2112. At some point during this period, I started to make the connection between what was told to me by my grandmother and by the lyrics of 2112. It began to dawn on my that 2112 wasn’t just a science fiction story set in some distant future, but was also an allegory for something that was very real in the present. They may have had apparatchiks in politburos rather than priests in temples, but these distinctions were without difference. Such tyranny and oppression that could prohibit an individual from doing something as seemingly innocent as playing a guitar could and did exist. Governments that were threatened by the mere expression of certain ideas were the stuff of reality, not just lyrics for a side long rock suite set in a sci-fi future. People that would oppress, enslave, and even kill others for merely refusing to go along with “the plan” were as much a part of the present day as they had been in the past and would certainly be in the future. In effect, what Neal Peart was telling me through the lyrics of 2112 was the same thing that my grandmother was telling me during our discussions.
The impression that this album and the education from my grandmother left on me has never faded. It informed my thinking during much of my time in the Navy, during the 1980’s as the Cold War reached its final phase. I remember thinking about it again one night when I came home from work a year after leaving the Navy, turning on my TV set, and seeing that the Berlin Wall had come down. And to this day the impression is as strong as it ever was. Freedom is a precious thing, something never to be taken for granted and something that should be fought for at any and all costs. Governments that oppress their citizens, that refuse to let them express themselves, be it with a musical instrument, ideas spoken or written, or their desire to move about, are pure evil and are not to be respected or tolerated. Freedom, while often times hard, is a precious thing and something that should never be taken for granted. It’s something for which free people should fight (metaphorically if able, literally if necessary), and oppressed people should fight to achieve or regain. As for those who informed The Planets of the Solar Federation that they had “assumed control”, I hope they were the good guys, the forces of freedom.
This post is dedicated to those that enlightened me on such things, Rush, Neal Peart, and my grandmother, Ingeborg Stapf. Rest in peace, Oma.
Looking at some of the other ‘Best of 2012’ posts here, you have to wonder how some of the other Progarchists do it. That is, how do they find the time to listen to and fully absorb that much music (and particularly prog)? Not to be snobby or anything, but listening to prog is not a passive thing, it takes an active effort by the listener to fully “get it”. And yet when I read through these posts, I can conclude that my fellow Progarchists are A) listening to a lot of prog, and B) “getting it.” With the other obligations they have in their lives – families, careers, other hobbies, other blogs – it would seem like it would take a superhuman effort to fully absorb all of that music. And yet clearly they do just that.
Alas, I think I’ve figured out their secret – most, if not all of the other Prograrchists are in possession of an ERTEM – short for “Einsteinian Relativistic Time Expansion Machine.” In short, the ERTEM is a machine about the size of a booth or a very small room. A person may enter his ERTEM, shut the door, and emerge in what appears to be only a few minutes to an outside observer. But aaaah, inside the ERTEM, time expands, and the occupant therein can spend several hours of “inside time.” Thus, the Progarchist may receive a new CD or a new album in digital format, step inside his ERTEM, and indulge in hours of listening pleasure, until they fully “grok” (apologies to Robert Heinlein) their most recent prog purchase. They may even be smuggling their laptops in their to write some of their long, detailed, and typically excellent reviews – the type that usually send me lurching toward my computer to make yet another purchase. Read the rest of this entry
Like many of you, I “suffer” from the common “problem” that afflicts those of us who are prog fans in this, the Second Golden Age of Prog – mainly, that there is just so much good prog out there that nobody could possibly listen to it all. In short, it’s like trying to drink from a firehouse.
Happily, this “problem” has been exacerbated for me since joining this site, as I have had the good fortune to be able to borrow a number of albums I had yet to hear. As such, I’m going to write a few quick reviews (which are more like first impressions). Please pardon the lack of detail, but do remember these reviews are worth every penny you paid me to write them .
The Flower Kings, Banks of Eden: This is my second foray into Flower Kings territory, the first being ‘Space Revolver’ some time ago. I thought the latter album was quite good, and ‘Banks of Eden’ only reinforced my good impression of these guys. Even if there were no other good songs on the album, the hippy-dippy-trippy epic ‘Numbers’ that opens the show makes the price of admission worth it. Luckily, there are other good songs, and thus I would definitely give this album a thumbs up.