In case you hadn’t noticed, the last quarter of 2018 has put paid to any perceived drought of new releases & reissues. Capsule reviews of what I’ve been listening to since the first of this month follow the jump; albums are reviewed in descending order on my Personal Proggyness Perception (PPP) scale, scored from 0 to 10.
What new music, live albums, and reissues (deluxe and otherwise) are heading our way between now and Black Friday? Check out the exhaustive (and possibly exhausting) sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with a few other personal priorities — below. Pre-order links are for CDs or combo packages; vinyl editions are frequently available from the same website.
- September 21:
- Marillion, Happiness is Cologne and Popular Music. Limited edition live reissues from Racket Records and earMusic. Pre-order at Amazon or other online retailers.
- Nosound, Allow Yourself. Pre-order from Burning Shed.
- September 28:
- October 5:
- October 12:
- October 19:
- Greta Van Fleet, Anthem of the Peaceful Army. The first full-length album from Frankenmuth, Michigan’s young Zepheads. Pre-order at GvF’s webstore.
- iamthemorning, Ocean Sounds. Live in the studio; audio/video bundle. Pre-order at Burning Shed.
- In Continuum, Acceleration Theory. With Dave Kerzner and an all-star line-up. Pre-order bundles from Bandcamp. Pre-order deadline for special bundles: September 30.
- Frank Sinatra, Only the Lonely: 60th Anniversary Edition. Yes, really. The greatest concept album of the pre-rock era, with Sinatra and arranger Nelson Riddle at their most gorgeous and devastating. “Make it one for my baby … and one more for the road.” More info at Super Deluxe Edition.
- October 26:
- November 2:
- November 9:
- November 16:
- Marillion, Brave Live and Live in Glasgow. Limited edition live reissues from Racket Records and earMusic. Pre-order at Amazon or other online retailers.
- The Tangent, Proxy. Pre-order special bundles from The Tangent webstore.
- November 23:
- The Beatles, White Album 50th Anniversary Edition?
- Big Big Train, Merchants of Light Blu-Ray
- King Crimson, The ReConstruKction of Light (40th Anniversary reissue) and Heaven and Earth (Crimson ProjeKcts box set)
— Rick Krueger
Lake Street Dive at Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater, Grand Rapids, Michigan, August 30, 2018.
Boston-founded, Brooklyn-based pop’n’soul band Lake Street Dive has swiftly become a quintessential Meijer Gardens act — debuting in 2015, returning every year since, regularly selling out shows even though their ticket prices have doubled in just four years. (The quintessential Meijer Gardens act? Undoubtedly Lyle Lovett, who’s appeared during 13 of the Amphitheater’s 16 seasons.)
In that time span vocalist Rachael Price, guitarist/trumpeter Mike “McDuck” Olson, stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese have seasoned their initial Motown-meets-Beatles stylings with funk and disco flavors, signed with quirky Warner Music imprint Nonesuch, added keyboardist Akie Bermiss as a full member, and scored a top 10 album, 2018’s Free Yourself Up. With 2,000 fans spanning the generations in attendance, this show was set to be a celebration — by both players and audience — of the band coming into its own.
From my point of view, they delivered; the night felt like the most fun of the three Lake Street Dive shows I’ve heard. The simple choice of having Calabrese’s drum kit face the audience (instead of toward stage right) seemed to open a more direct connection between the group and the crowd. And with four albums to choose from, the setlist felt like it flowed better, with more variety in the moods and grooves, consistent forward motion, and a gathering momentum.
Throughout the night, Bermiss’ pads, rhythms and synth licks gave Olson leave to be looser on guitar and play more solo trumpet, and Calabrese’s drumming was splashier and more extroverted. Playing to their respective strengths, Kearney held down the bottom end with solidity and style, while Price cooed, cajoled, tempted and triumphed, delivering alternately sassy and lovelorn reports from the front lines of 21st-century romance. Multi-part harmonies were spot on throughout the night, with Bermiss contributing a winning lead vocal on a typically oddball cover, Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One.” Other eccentric ideas like a triptych of songs about the same loser (“Bobby Tanqueray/Spectacular Failure/Doesn’t Even Matter Now”) and the microsuite “Seventeen” came off without a hitch, too. By the encore, as Price soared on the driving “Dude” then simmered through the lounge jazz take on the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” that brought Lake Street Dive to prominence, I was convinced — this had been a great evening. And the audience response seemed to bear that out.
Except for one thing: my friend from college — who’d first brought Lake Street Dive to my attention, who consistently raves about their abilities, who’s attended all their Meijer Gardens shows with me, whose musical opinions I deeply respect — wasn’t convinced. And he had fair points to make. For one thing, the live sound was substantially louder and boomier than on previous visits — I realized that, on the uptempo tunes, I’d been compensating by listening through the low end fuzz and haze to hear the harmony vocals or Kearney’s detailed bass work. In addition, the thicker, chunkier sound of the Dive’s quintet formation just didn’t work for him; while acknowledging Bermiss’ ability and musicianship, he strongly prefers the open space and freer interplay of the original quartet. And both of us agree that the band’s writing could use a shot in the arm — all the onstage energy pumped life into the new tunes, but on disc both the Nonesuch albums (Side Pony and Free Yourself Up) run out of steam before they run out of songs.
So while I enjoyed the evening, this show also served another purpose — illustrating that “in matters of taste, there can be no dispute” — de gustibus non est disputandum, for any Latin majors. Both of us had strong opinions of the show — and the cool thing was that we could talk through them without feeling like we had to convince the other to abandon his point of view. Probably good for me to remember the next time one of those classic online prog-rock discussions (“Was Genesis any good after Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett left? Did Trevor Rabin ruin Yes? Was Signals where Rush jumped the shark?”*) break out.
And, since “in matters of taste, there can be no dispute,” I do think that both my friend and I would encourage you to check out Lake Street Dive —- on record and live — for yourself. You can also check out another local review of the show, with an extensive photo gallery, here. The setlist:
- Baby, Don’t Leave Me Alone with My Thoughts
- You Are Free
- I Don’t Care About You
- Red Light Kisses
- Bobby Tanqueray
- Spectacular Failure
- Doesn’t Even Matter Now
- Hello? Goodbye!
- Hang On
- I Can Change
- You’re Still the One
- Call Off Your Dogs
- Shame, Shame, Shame
- Musta Been Something
- Bad Self Portraits
- Good Kisser
- You Go Down Smooth
- I Want You Back
— Rick Krueger
*- For the record, my answers are: yes; no; and absolutely not.
Toto at Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheatre, Grand Rapids Michigan, August 24, 2018.
Toto’s sold out my local outdoor shed twice in the past three years. Last time through, they stacked the deck, playing plenty of hits and radio favorites. This year, with the anniversary compilation 40 Trips Around the Sun to flog, they took more chances with a deep-cut setlist, a semi-acoustic storytellers interlude, and extended displays of their fearsome chops. Riding a fresh wave of Internet love, they could do no wrong for the hyped-up crowd.
And the same held true for me; I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart (and possibly my critical faculties) for Toto. A posse of Los Angeles studio aces melding Steely Dan’s shuffles, Boz Scaggs’ blue-eyed soul, crunchy proto-Van Halen guitar and proggy synthesizer fanfares, with the mission statement (from founding drummer Jeff Porcaro in Rolling Stone) “craft is content”? No wonder rock critics hated their guts, especially when when they got triple platinum sales out of the box. Their goal was to make sleek, catchy pop with a touch of musical ambition, get on radio and move records — not bare their souls, change the world, or even necessarily write sensible lyrics. There’s an odd, appealing purity to that aim, no matter how calculated the strategy.
Top 40 radio courts a different sound these days, but Toto still has a knack for the killer hook; kicking off, new songs “Alone” and “Spanish Sea” were every bit as engaging as the singalong version of “Hold the Line” and Toto IV’s “Lovers of the Night” that they framed. Following spirited takes of tracks from forgotten-stepchild albums like Tambu and Turn Back, the band lit the fuse on Kingdom of Desire’s funky instrumental “Jake to the Bone;” guest keyboardist Dominique “Xavier” Talpin (subbing for founder David Paich) and guitarist Steve Lukather stoked their lengthly solos to the boiling point, while synth whiz Steve Porcaro and the rhythm section (Shem von Schroeck on bass, Shannon Forest on drums, Lenny Castro on percussion) simmered underneath. Building on the momentum, “Rosanna” was a foregone, happily welcomed conclusion to the first half, with singer Joseph Williams (the John Williams’ son! Really!) and sax man Warren Ham helping bring the crowd to their feet.
The storytellers interlude — with everyone sitting on stools and Lukather playing acoustic guitar — had its charms, even though the six selections (including Porcaro’s “Human Nature” from Michael Jackson’s Thriller) were truncated to keep things moving. Ramping up again, the band dove deeper into their catalog, holding the audience’s attention even through obscurities like the Dune soundtrack’s impressive “Desert Theme”. But in the end, past was all prologue; the moment Lukather shouted, “Are you ready for that song?” and Castro and Forrest launched the polyrhythms of “Africa,” Meijer Gardens went joyously, deliriously nuts. It was gonna take a lot to drag 2,000 fans away from that moment; they were all in — dancing, singing along, clapping during Castro’s exhilarating solo, chanting back and forth vocals with Williams, responding with a full-throated standing ovation. Hard to beat an extended moment of pop ecstasy like that — even if you’re frightened of this thing that you’ve become.
One quick and grungy cover of Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” later (sadly, without Rivers Cuomo or “Weird Al” Yankovic in sight), Toto was done, the crowd went home happy, and my streak of satisfying shows in 2018 was unbroken. Check out another review of the show, with an extensive photo gallery, here.
- Hold the Line
- Lovers in the Night
- Spanish Sea
- I Will Remember
- English Eyes
- Jake to the Bone
- Storytellers interlude:
- Georgy Porgy
- Human Nature
- No Love
- Stop Loving You
- Girl Goodbye
- Dune (Desert Theme)
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps
- Make Believe
- Hash Pipe
— Rick Krueger
This summer saw the long-awaited second release from Melody’s Echo Chamber: Bon Voyage arrived after five stop-and-go and, at times, tortuous years. On its June 15 release date Melody Prochet (vocal, guitar, synthesizers, violin, viola) wrote on her Facebook band page,
Today is a day life forced me to give up waiting for… ‘Bon Voyage’ is a little monster I hope will find it’s home in some of your hearts and…if not soothe, will resonate somehow positively…
So it comes down to listeners interacting with this beast, a theme-park ride of a record, while the artist, one imagines, pulls the covers over her head. First off, it is little, clocking in at a compendious 33 minutes. But given its twists and turns, its density and scope, the brevity of the work allows repeat listens to work out its strange but satisfying logic.
As I told a friend: I can’t imagine a Syd Barrett or Brian Wilson or Todd Rundgren or Wayne Coyne not really liking this record.
Prochet (b. 1987, Puyricard, France) began working on her sophomore project and releasing tracks (e.g. “Shirim”) in 2013. Rumor has it she threw away some of the material. Then last year she was involved in an undisclosed accident resulting in serious injuries. Her fans despaired until Bon Voyage was dropped in time for the summer solstice.
Melody’s Echo Chamber (2012) was readily classified as “psych pop.” But for those who tire of musical taxonomies Bon Voyage is as open borders as they come. The opening track “Cross My Heart” begins with composite acoustic guitar chords followed by a swelling string arrangement, a mid ’60s Wilsonish verse, then a beat box section folding into a flute and percussion-driven jazz passage embellished with some fanatical bass lines. The lyrics here, as throughout the album, flow freely between English and French. We’re escorted back to the opening chords for a reprise of the main (?) verse and a riff-laden, cinematic flourish.
As soon as “Breathe In, Breathe Out” drops a power rock groove the listener’s head-bobbing is interrupted by a trance section before the track accelerates again to its finish, the opening themes reworked but almost unrecognizable in the sonic whiplash.
Prochet cites composer Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992) as a favorite, and perhaps what we catch on this record are flecks of his emphasis on color and unusual time signature.
The first of two foci on this record is “Desert Horse,” pairing a dark Middle Eastern groove (including on old Black Sabbath riff) with a bright but plaintive chorus,
So much blood
On my hands
And there’s not much left to destroy
I know I am better alone
…except the isolation that birthed this record finds its emotional epicenter in the epic “Quand Les Larmes D’un Ange Font Danser La Neige.” Ironically it’s among the more conventional and readily accessible tracks on the album, even at seven minutes. Imagine the Bee Gees not taking that disco detour…
[spoken word] …it comes through the window like a whistle or a whisper under the bed and little children think that the monster —
Ain’t no karma, only love
To punish those with rotten heart
Good to have Melody’s Echo Chamber back — and this creature on the loose.
The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” was released as a single on March 14, 1966, eventually reaching number 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Influenced by Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass album, it was one of the first (if not the first) glimmerings of psychedelic rock. And thus a progenitor of prog? I think so.
Check out three views of this pioneering tune for yourself. First, a Byrds promo appearance lip-syncing for an unknown TV show. Note David Crosby’s brilliant outfit, complete with Russian hat:
Of course, “Eight Miles High” has been covered numerous times. Back in 1988, it was the one of the key tracks on To The Power of Three, the collaboration of Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Robert Berry. How Eighties is this? Check out Berry’s headless Steinberger bass! Emerson’s keytar! Palmer wielding a Dynacord electronic drum controller at the front of the stage! Plus the, uh, dancers “playing” snare drums in the background. Goodness! (Though it does serve as a reminder that Robert Berry releases his posthumous collaboration with Keith Emerson, 3.2: The Rules Have Changed, on August 10.)
Three years later (ouch) in 1991, “Eight Miles High” was one of the cover tunes on Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s album Spin. Since their 1981 version of Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” had snagged number one on the British single charts, Stewart and Gaskin had been bringing a thoroughly proggy attitude to the synth-pop duo format. Spin is no different, mixing quirky originals with fresh takes on Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog,” Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia,” Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” — and the Byrds. One bonus feature of the album: the precocious pre-Porcupine Tree percussion of Gavin Harrison. Check out the spectacular drum fill that kicks off this version!
Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s new album Star Clocks, featuring “eight Dave Stewart originals alongside a cover of an iconic 1960s song,” is out on August 17. Pre-order it at Burning Shed.
Bonus track: Stewart & Gaskin’s samurai/Beach Boys/cathedral bells version of “It’s My Party,” with special guest video appearance by … Thomas Dolby?
— Rick Krueger
Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, Michigan, May 15, 2018.
Thirty minutes into their opening set, Utopia had played just three songs — the entirety of the sprawling “Utopia Theme”, a five-minute instrumental chunk of the half-hour epic “The Ikon” and the extended progressive soul workout “Another Life.” Todd Rundgren seared and soared on guitar; Kasim Sulton dexterously laid down the thunder on bass; Willie Wilcox channeled the jazz drumming greats he grew up on; and tour keyboardist Gil Assayas adeptly covered piano, horn and synth parts originally done by three people. All that, plus pin-sharp four-part harmonies. No wonder that Rundgren’s first words to the audience were, “we call that ‘The Blizzard,’” before Utopia stepped “out of the notestream” with a hard-rocking take on The Move’s “Do Ya.”
Surprisingly for a tour marketed to fans of classic pop-rock (their first in 33 years), the first half of Utopia’s show leaned on proggier repertoire; the precision-tooled flurries of notes kept coming, whether packed into tight unison licks or splattered across plentiful solo slots. There were lots of stellar vocal moments too: Rundgren traveled effortlessly across his multi-octave range on “Freedom Fighters” and “The Wheel”; Sulton played a genial McCartney to Todd’s acerbic Lennon on the gritty “Back on the Street” and the yearning “Monument”; and the choral build of “Communion with the Sun” fit perfectly with the giant pyramid & sphinx projected on the back screen. All in all, impressive, well-wrought stuff, performed with enthusiasm and landing with maximum impact.