Shed a tear for the hardcore prog collector — actually, don’t. This week has been absolutely crammed with articulate announcements looking to part fans from their hard-earned cash or pull them deeper into debt. And no, I’m not talking about the upcoming Derek Smalls solo album. Check out what’s coming our way as winter (hopefully) gives way to the spring of 2018:
Dave Kerzner’s fine second album Static wound up on multiple Progarchists’ Best of 2017 lists (including my honorable mentions). In addition, Kerzner took Static on the road to great reviews — including my raving about his two sets at Progtoberfest III.
Yesterday, Kerzner announced the Kickstarter project for the next logical step: Static Live. Recorded and filmed at the 2017 ProgStock festival in New Jersey, Static Live will be available in multiple formats, as explained on Kerzner’s Facebook page:
- Static Live 1CD: just the album Static live (Static is a full CD)
- Static Live Extended 2CD: 2nd CD has songs from New World featuring Francis Dunnery plus some Genesis, Kevin Gilbert, SOC and Pink Floyd covers.
- Blu-Ray: All of Static Live plus the New World songs with Francis and maybe the SOC songs but probably not the other covers unless I’m able to get “sync rights” from the publishers of those songs. I’ll explain how that works in an update.
For the Kickstarter project, the audio will be available as physical CDs or downloads (mp3, FLAC and HiRes 24/96 in FLAC or WAV). The video will be available as a BluRay with 5.1 surround sound. As you travel further up the 20+ (!) pledge levels, you can add audio downloads and/or BluRays of Kerzner’s band live at the 2017 RoS Fest and live in Miami in 2015, as well as items from his back catalog (New World, New World Live and Static itself).
Kerzner admits that he’s had to learn from previous Kickstarter campaigns where release dates were pushed back multiple times; with all these live shows already in the can, his goal is to finish “mixing, editing and post production, manufacturing and shipping” by May 2018. In less than 24 hours, he’s already raised nearly $6000 of his $10K goal; anything above that amount will go toward further touring in Europe and the U.S. The Static Live Kickstarter project ends on February 14. So, I’m off to sell some old CDs …
(P.S. No official word, but I wouldn’t be surprised if audio and video purchase options for Static Live turn up on Kerzner’s Bandcamp page once backers get their copies.)
— Rick Krueger
“I do hope that [this book] succeeds in going some way to shedding light on the intrigue of progressive music. Of where it came from, and where it’s going. And more importantly, how it got to where it is today.” — Jerry Ewing, from the introduction.
To cut to the chase: Jerry Ewing succeeds at all of the above with Wonderous Stories. If a friend or relation asked me “why are you so fired up about ‘prog rock,’ anyway?” this just replaced Will Romano’s fine Mountains Come Out of the Sky as the book I’d loan them. After extracting solemn promises in blood to return it ASAP.
Ewing knows what he’s talking about; he’s been spreading the news about progressive rock since the early days of Marillion, ultimately founding Prog Magazine as a “focal point and filter” for the genre in 2009, and steering it through the choppy straits of modern periodical publishing till now. Wonderous Stories distills Ewing’s love of the music, his experience of the scene, and his considered take on prog fandom into a sumptuous coffee table book you didn’t know you needed.
Yes, “coffee table book.” A big part of Wonderous Stories’ appeal is its gorgeous graphic design by Carl Glover, pulling together band shots, album covers and live concert pics on each page to accent the text. The book works better for browsing than reading from cover to cover; each chapter is self-contained, often repeating information or opinions found earlier, with minimum cross referencing. You pick it up, read a bit, put it down because you’re satiated — until you want to enjoy some more. So you pick it up again …
And there’s plenty to enjoy. After laying his foundation with intros to the 1960s & 1970s, Ewing tackles his mainstream “big six” of prog (Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson and ELP), then branches out to far-flung tributaries (the Canterbury and folk scenes, Krautrock and art rock, American and European bands, neo-prog and prog metal, and much more). Along the way, he spotlights a dozen “albums that define prog,” from the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed to Opeth’s Blackwater Park, including full band biographies as he goes. Some selections are surprises, but they’re all deserving — three of them are on my Amazon wishlists now.
But unlike other recent books on the genre such as David Weigel’s well-intentioned but sloppy The Show That Never Ends, Ewing doesn’t leave the story of progressive rock sucking in the ’70s. He makes a strong case for the 1980s as better years for the music than opinionated fans think; then he insightfully posits grunge, not punk, as the fad that killed prog for the mainstream music industry, forcing survivors like Marillion and neophytes like Porcupine Tree to fend for themselves. In Ewing’s telling, this do-it-yourself ethic and the Internet’s ability to connect bands and fans worldwide sowed the seeds of renewed creativity and interest in progressive music, culminating in “The Steven Wilson Effect” (winner for best chapter title!) and the state of the genre today: “a thriving form buoyed by a big worldwide market.”
To sum up, this is a thoroughly delightful book, worthwhile both for newcomers to prog and to long-time fans. While a few copies of Wonderous Stories’ limited edition are still currently available through Pledge Music, a hardback trade edition costing substantially less but looking just as yummy is coming out in the UK (on February 15) and in the US (on April 1). Don’t hesitate to order it! — Rick Krueger
“Rock & roll isn’t really going on right now and it’s something the people need.” — Josh Kiszka, Greta Van Fleet, quoted in Rolling Stone.
If Frankenmuth, Michigan is known at all, it’s usually as a tourist spot that channels a kitschy “Little Bavaria” vibe — complete with chicken dinners, a Christmas superstore that my wife described as “obscene” after a visit, and its local polka band heroes. (To be fair, it began as a mission colony, founded by Bavarians who crossed the Atlantic to minister to Michigan’s Chippewas. These “Franconians” became key players in the founding of my spiritual home, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — but I digress.)
This year, a different kind of band from Frankenmuth is on a new mission; the incredibly young quartet Greta Van Fleet (named for a octogenarian hammer dulcimer player) aims to stoke the “rock & roll revolution” Bono predicted in his recent Rolling Stone interview. Their weapon of choice: a heavy, howling sound that reconnects to the energy of Chicago blues, early pre-mellow Bob Seger and the British hard rock boom — especially to Led Zeppelin.
Be warned: there’s a whole lotta Zeppelin influence on this compilation of two EPs — so much so that my longtime buddies from high school were comparing the music to 1970s German Zep-alikes Kingdom Come when we got together recently. And it’s fair to wonder how the band — twin brothers Josh Kiszka on vocals & Jake Kiszka on guitar, baby brother Sam Kiszka on bass and pal Danny Wagner on drums, ranging in age from 18 to 21 — could possibly have been so well marinated in the classic sounds they emulate. (Parents with great record collections and a musical family that jams together on long weekends seem to hold the answer.)
But let’s face it: Robert Plant & Jimmy Page were these kids’ age once, and they did all right for themselves. More than anything, it’s the explosive energy of youth that these boys are bringing to the table, and they surf that energy on From the Fires until it soars. The opening “Safari Song,” the semi-acoustic “Flower Power” and the surprise radio hit “Highway Tune” work as brazen, thoroughly convincing new-Zep; the strong covers of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Fairport Convention’s “Meet on the Ledge” showcase their eclectic, well-formed taste, and at a short, sharp 32 minutes, the whole set oozes potential.
Not that there won’t be some growing pains along the way; while Greta Van Fleet has sold out every headline show they’ve played this year, there were credible grumbles about their live sound and management in the wake of their recent Grand Rapids gig. Still — a rock band from the Midwest with nationwide, possibly international potential! It’s been a while since that’s happened. On the evidence of From the Fires, I think they have what it takes to go for it, and I wish them the best. But feel free to judge for yourself below. — Rick Krueger
by Rick Krueger
The good Dr. Birzer did a fine track-by-track survey of this milestone album for its 50th anniversary in 2016. While I’m tempted to say “just read his article,” it wouldn’t answer the implied question this series poses. How did hearing Pet Sounds change my life?
Though I always liked the Beach Boys, I didn’t glom onto Pet Sounds until I was in my 30s. My older brother had a few of their early records; I remember borrowing the In Concert album and subjecting my family to repeated plays on one vacation. Some of their songs from the 1970s filtered through to FM rock radio in my high school years, too; “Sail On Sailor” was particularly popular. I even arranged a medley of the band’s 1960s classics for my final choir concert at Lutheran High School East. But I typically thought of the Beach Boys as a group with cool harmonies, a Chuck Berry fixation, and decent songs about surfing, cars and girls.
Then, on a whim, I picked up the 30th anniversary edition of Pet Sounds in 1996. Which included liner notes featuring Paul McCartney quotes like “this is the album of all time” and “no one is educated musically until they’ve heard that album.” I figured I’d better give it a serious listen.
by Rick Krueger
This article rounds out my “best of 2017” series, focusing on older albums that I discovered — or rediscovered in one case! — in the course of the year. They’re listed in alphabetical order by artist after the jump:
Pat DiNizio, vocalist-guitarist-songwriter for the tough yet tuneful New Jersey rock band the Smithereens, died Tuesday. He was 62.
The group announced his passing on their web site. No cause of death was given, but the musician had been beset by health problems in recent years; in 2015 he was sidelined after losing the use of his right hand and arm following a pair of falls that incurred serious nerve damage.
I remember being knocked sideways hearing the Smithereens’ “Behind the Wall of Sleep” on the radio in 1986. I was always scanning record stores and the airwaves for tuneful, Beatle-ish power-pop, and this filled the bill nicely:
Three things about the song grabbed me: the misquote of H.P. Lovecraft in the title; the 1960s callbacks in the lyrics; and the killer combination of catchy melody and hard-rock groove — more Cheap Trick than Marshall Crenshaw.
After that, I was always excited to hear the Smithereens on the radio. Maybe the melancholy skew of their lyrics (“Blood and Roses,” “In a Lonely Place,” “Only A Memory,” — sensing a theme yet?) was another factor in their favor during my self-pitying single years. When they had an actual hit (“A Girl Like You”) off a solid album (11, also featuring Belinda Carlisle’s duet with DiNizio on the Rubber Soul homage “Blue Period”), it felt like a triumph!
The window to mass culture closed on the Smithereens after their next album Blow Up, but not before they came to Grand Rapids and played a free show at the Civic Auditorium the night before my 30th birthday. You had to go to the main location of the local chain Believe in Music to get tickets, which is where the band autographed the t-shirt pictured above. It was a good show; I remember lots of audience interaction, including guitarist Jim Babjak venturing into the audience for the guitar solo on “Blood and Roses.”
The Smithereens made one more major label album, A Date with the Smithereens (first line of lyrics: “Guess what, there’s a black cloud inside of my head”) before fading into where-are-they-now territory. Which turned out to be their original stomping ground of Carteret, New Jersey. They made occasional albums: some new material — including a Christmas disc; some live retreads; some tributes to the Beatles and the Who — for my money, their take on Tommy has more guts than the original.
The Smithereens were planning live shows in 2018, but it wasn’t to be. In one of his final Facebook posts, Pat DiNizio turned to thoughts of Christmas:
In early December the church that I live directly across the street from here in Scotch Plains builds a life size classic manger scene that is among one of the most beautiful and detailed one that I have ever seen. I can’t say that I’m a church goer, but I was raised Catholic, and the aforementioned church was where I was baptized, received Holy Communion was confirmed, where my parents were married (as well as every other member of my family) and where the funerals were held for my father, grandfather, grandmother, aunts, uncles and virtually every member of my family. Most of them were married there too. So when Hollingsworth House, the home that I have lived in the past 20 years or so became available, it seemed to me a stroke of good fortune to be able to live a hundred yards away across the street from the church that was and has been such an important part of my life.
Here’s hoping that Pat DiNizio now enjoys the peace embodied across the street from his house. Buona Natale!