Bryan’s Best of 2014

Without a doubt, 2014 has been a great year for Prog. It seems as if we have been barraged by great music from all sides.  The string of excellence continues. This list is my arbitrary ordering of what I liked best from this year. I’m really not a huge fan of “best of” lists because I don’t think you can really judge art in that way. So, consider this a list of what I enjoyed. The order of numbers 10-3 is relatively interchangeable.

10. Dream the Electric Sleep – Heretics 8530215

I should have reviewed this album when it came out back in January, but I’m lazy. This was a fantastic sophomore release by the Lexington, Kentucky prog outfit. Their first album, Lost and Gone Forever, was an excellent concept album. These guys do a fantastic job of combining classic prog influences with a harder rock edge. The beginning of the album sounds almost Pink Floydian, and there are definite nods to The Wall. The singer also sounds a bit like Roger Waters. Heretics is another concept album, and it clocks in at over 70 minutes in length. Check these guys out – they are ascending as a band and are making some great music.

9. Cosmograf – CapacitorCapacitor

Robin Armstrong’s latest offering, combined with the efforts of such wizards as Andy Tillison, Nick D’Virgilio, and Matt Stevens, is a fresh take on prog rock. As of right now, I haven’t listened to any other Cosmograf albums, but this one is quite good. I’m sure there are others here at Progarchy that could tell you more about the band, and I’ll wager they would be more than happy to. Capacitor is definitely worthy of any 2014 “top 10” list.

8. Bigelf – Into the Maelstrom Into the Maelstrom

Three words – Mike freaking Portnoy. He teamed up with Bigelf to drum on their latest album, and it was insane. He has to be the hardest working musician in prog. This isn’t the last we shall hear from him on this list.

Bigelf’s breed of prog metal is unlike anything I have heard before. Maybe it’s lead singer Damon Fox’s awesomely bizarre vocals, or their fantastic combination of metal and classic rock, or maybe it’s Portnoy. Or all of the above. Whatever it is, Bigelf has created something special with Into the Maelstrom. They have been around since the early 1990s, have four studio albums, and have toured with Dream Theater, so they know their way around the business. Certainly worth the time for any Mike Portnoy fan, as well as any fan of prog metal.

7. The Gift – Land of Shadowscover

London’s The Gift masterfully combine prog metal with symphonic metal and Gabriel-era Genesis prog. This album is refreshing in its tonal clarity and its thematic prowess. It is definitely an album worth listening to over and over again through the years. Here’s my review of it from several months back:


6. Voyager – Vimage013

Australian prog metal outfit Voyager have released a very solid album this year. While I feel like it could have been more tightly constructed and some of the songs featured unnecessary repetition, there are some awesome riffs to be found here. This band rocks, and they rock hard. Many comment that the second half of the album is a let down, but I think it is just the opposite. Voyager ventures into the wonderful void of prog in the second half of V, including some softer songs. Time Lord wrote a very nice review of the album earlier this year:

5. Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope Kaleidoscope (Kaleidoscope)

I told you Mike Portnoy would be heard from again on this list. Supergroup Transatlantic cranked out a fantastic album this year. Made up of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt, and Pete Trewavas, Transatlantic has several albums under their belt, and they continue to impress. Kaleidoscope was my first introduction to Transatlantic, and it was an excellent first impression. The cover songs found on the accompanying special edition are all excellent. Anyone who can cover Yes, King Crimson, Elton John, Focus, Moody Blues, and a few others while still sounding entirely unique deserves immense respect. The live album, KaLIVEoscope, that came out in October, was equally brilliant, with three hours of musical genius. The collective talent in this band is shocking, and it clearly shows on Kaleidoscope.

4. Chevelle – La GárgolaLaGargola

No, this isn’t a prog album. However, Chevelle released one of the best albums of their career with La Gárgola. Their heavy, yet not overly heavy, style of metal has been a staple of contemporary hard rock over the past 15 years. Their excellent vocals, steady bass, clear guitar, proficient drumming, and haunting lyrics makes Chevelle one of the most interesting metal bands of the 21st Century. I found this album to be an excellent return to their heavier beginnings, while simultaneously exploring new and more complicated territory.

3. Pink Floyd – The Endless RiverThe Endless River

Is Pink Floyd even capable of making an album that isn’t good? Their latest (and final) album combines extra recordings from The Division Bell with recordings from David Gilmour and Nick Mason, as well as studio musicians. Mainly instrumental (only one song has singing), this album hearkens back to the instrumentation found in Wish You Were Here and Animals. The one thing missing, in my opinion, is Roger Waters’ bass. I feel like his involvement in this album would have made it even more spectacular, as well as thrill millions of fans. Even so, this is clearly Pink Floyd, and any fan of psychedelic prog will love this album. The album serves as a worthy sendoff for Richard Wright.

2. Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld397022

Vanden Plas’ latest album might very well be the best progressive metal album I have ever heard, with no disrespect to Dream Theater’s Images and Words. It is just that Netherworld so beautifully captures the intricacies of metal, “high prog,” and magnificent story telling. There have been some excellent albums released this year, but few reach the brilliance of Vanden Plas. Having listened to some of their previous work, this album is not out of the ordinary for them. One of the nicest things about this band is the vocals are not your traditional “metal” vocals – there is no screaming, yelling, whining, etc. Andy Kuntz’s voice is beautifully melodic and mysterious, and it is perfect for this album. Vanden Plas perfectly crosses over between the worlds of full-on head banging metal riffs and quieter, classic progressive rock. This album also has one of the best beginnings and endings of any album I have ever heard. There is a clear and definite start and resolution – you aren’t left hanging or wishing there was more. It is perfect just as it is.

Check out Gianna’s and Time Lord’s reviews of Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld.

1. Flying Colors – Second NatureSecond Nature

Mike Portnoy again. The guy sure does get around. Neal Morse again too. Go figure. Also in the band are Steve Morse, Casey McPhersen, and Dave Larue.

Second Nature is one of the best albums I have ever heard. Flying Colors combine prog rock and pop rock in a way not seen since the glory days of Styx and Kansas. Seeing them live merely solidified my position on the matter. Catchy yet complicated riffs abound, as well as thoughtful lyrics. If prog wants to become mainstream and popular again, then bands need to take note of Flying Colors.

Check out my review of Second Nature, as well as my review of their live show.


Well, there’s my top 10 of 2014. A fair mixture of metal, prog metal, and straight up prog. Honorable mention should go to Ian Anderson’s Homo Erraticus, Fire Garden’s Sound of Majestic Colors (which I thought had far too much of a “garage band” mixing to make my top 10 list), Fractal Mirror’s Garden of Ghosts, Salander’s STENDEC, and Glass Hammer’s Ode to Echo. Special mention goes to Haken’s recent EP, Restoration EP. Had this been an album, I would have placed it in my top 5. Dishonorable mention goes to Yes’ Heaven and Earth.

Top concert of the year goes to Dennis DeYoung. His voice has not changed in 40 years, and his backup band and vocalists are better than Styx. He also has a singer who sounds better than Tommy Shaw did 40 years ago. Runner up for best show goes to Flying Colors, from their brief Second Nature tour. The reason I’m not placing them as best live show of the year is because of the audio problems they had during the show. The sound system for Dennis DeYoung’s show was superb, with no feedback issues during the show. I also had a wonderful time at the B.B. King concert, as well as seeing the CSO perform the music to Return of the King live. It was a great year for concerts!

I would also like to mention Dream Theater’s self-titled album as one of my most listened to albums of 2014. Everything about this album was fantastic, including the live album on Blu-Ray they released a few months back. From the metal virtuosity to the lyrics, this album will be on the rotation for years to come.

2014 has been another fantastic year for prog, and I look forward to more of the same in 2015. Neal Morse’s next project, The Neal Morse Band The Grand Experiment, comes out in February. Take a wild guess at who the drummer is. Muse will also be releasing an album in 2015, one which they claim will return to their rockier roots. There is also talk of a Rush 41st anniversary tour (I think there is, anyways). Much to look forward to in the coming year, and much to appreciate from 2014.

Prog on, Progarchy!


Lessons in humility from the cover of the Rolling Stone

Here are a few more thoughts on Dennis DeYoung’s Vancouver concert. The article begins:

“Babe, I love you,” sings Dennis DeYoung in the hit song he wrote for the rock band Styx. It was 1979. “Babe” was on Cornerstone, the band’s ninth album. It went triple platinum, selling over three million copies.

The last time Dennis visited Vancouver was in 1981. Styx had just released Paradise Theater, their tenth album, which also went triple platinum, thanks to phenomenal songs like “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “The Best of Times.”

But in 2014, Dennis finally returned to British Columbia, with six other musicians alongside him to play a concert, “The Music of Styx,” at the Hard Rock Vancouver. One of them, on background vocals, was his wife Suzanne.

Dennis introduced Suzanne to the audience as the woman he sings about in the song “Babe.” He also pointed out that their marriage has lasted forty-four years. After all these years, the song still stands strong as an inspired testimony to true love.

Although he is himself sixty-seven years old, Dennis sang all the songs at this year’s Vancouver concert with the same stunning, mega-talented voice and passionate conviction that he had in his youth.

Dennis and Suzanne are both Catholics. Both half-Italian, they grew up in the same Chicago neighborhood. They met at the ages of seventeen and fifteen as visitors to a dance at Mendel Catholic High School.

The article continues over at The B.C. Catholic Web site.

Dennis DeYoung: Live at the Hard Rock Vancouver (March 21, 2014)


A few days ago, I read the totally awesome review right here on Progarchy of the Dennis DeYoung show in Joliet, Illinois.

I soon realized that Dennis was bringing his show to Vancouver on March 21, 2014! (1981 was the last time he visited the city.)

But I was scheduled to see Yes in Vancouver on March 20. Would I also be able to make it to the DeYoung show?

Well, as it turns out, my wife and I had an amazing time at the Yes show, where we also met new Progarchy friend Paul Fitzgerald of See It Live Canada, who encouraged us to join him at the DeYoung show the next night.

So, in about as much time as it takes to say “SHOW ME THE WAY” we decided to hit the DeYoung show the next evening. After all, I had it on good authority from Progarchy’s Brian Morey that the show would be awesome.

And what can I say? Progarchy is truly here to show y’all the way. Because the show was incredible.

All the musicians were so insanely superb that the Styx songs were actually even more impressive live than on the original recordings, and how many times can you say that about a concert?

I mean, these guys were such pros that they even took in stride the odd technical difficulty, like wireless guitar frequencies suddenly dropping out, and didn’t miss a beat at all. Nothing could stop them from having fun on stage! They turned everything into an occasion for maximum musicality and celebratory joy.

As Brian wrote, DeYoung added a healthy dose of stand-up comedy to the evening, including various jokes about being 67 and yet still on stage acting like an 18-year old. Even all his stage moves had the right balance of self-deprecatory self-awareness and unfiltered joyousness. The amazing thing is that DeYoung is so mega-talented that his voice and keyboard chops are still in prime condition.

Paul captured some of the excitement with his photographs, a few of which I include in this post.


Brian couldn’t recall the full set list in his excellent review, but thanks to the front-row Styx super-fan named “Chrystal Ball” (indeed, that is how she was introduced to me by Paul), I was able to take a photo of the set list given to her by the band at the end of the evening; here it is reproduced in full below:


For me, the songs with the biggest emotional impact were “Show Me the Way” (which DeYoung dedicated to Canadians and Americans who serve in the military), and “Best of Times” (which seemed to be the show’s end, but to the crowd giving a standing ovation, DeYoung said that he would skip the silly ritual of going off-stage and pretending not to come back, and then they proceeded to launch right in to the two encore songs), and “Come Sail Away” (which was even more incredible in the prog-enhanced live version than on vinyl).


But objectively it is hard to pick favorites from the set list, since every song played was a classic track now super-enhanced with live musical adrenaline. Watching the mega-talented axe-men August Zadra and Jimmy Leahey trade off guitar solos or even play in unison was a continual delight throughout the evening. Also, Zadra’s vocals were so incredible that they make that other entity touring under the name “Styx” look merely like a Larry Gowan cover band. I can’t imagine anything better than DeYoung’s show. (Although I guess I should admit that I actually do like the Cyclorama Styx album of 2003.)


Also part of the touring team are Tom Sharpe on drums, John Blasucci on keyboards, “the Reverend” Craig Carter on bass guitar, and — last but certainly not least — Dennis’ wife Suzanne DeYoung on backing vocals. Married for 44 years, she is the real inspiration for the classic Styx song, “Babe.”

Don’t miss this show! A+ entertainment.

Dennis DeYoung- Live in Joliet, IL

Dennis DeYoung knows how to put on a show. Last night was the best time I have had in a while, and being within the first ten rows was a definite bonus. I’m still waiting for my hearing to come back (it probably won’t, but who cares, it was worth it). Dennis DeYoung sounds as good today, at age 67, as he did in 1977 when The Grand Illusion was released, and I sincerely mean that. Not one single note was off key. I have seen both Ian Anderson and Kansas live within the last few years, and neither the great Anderson nor Steve Walsh can sing anywhere near what they could in the 70s. Not only was DeYoung at the top of his game, but his entire band was incredible as well. I would venture to say that they were as good or better than Styx. The lineup was Dennis DeYoung on lead vocals and keyboards, Tom Sharpe (of Mannheim Steamroller) on drums, August Zadra on lead vocals and lead guitar, Jimmy Leahey on guitar, John Blasucci on keyboards, Craig Carter on bass guitar, and Suzanne DeYoung (Dennis’ wife of 44 years!) on backing vocals. Wow. Dennis DeYoung has surrounded himself with some incredibly talented musicians, who were obviously enjoying the time of their lives on stage. I was exceedingly impressed by August Zadra’s vocal talent, for he sounds just like Tommy Shaw on songs like Renegade and Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man). Between Dennis and August, the band was able to play their most popular songs, even the ones where Dennis doesn’t sing lead. 

For the show itself, the band opened with none other than The Grand Illusion, which I believe to be one of the best songs to open a concert with. I forget the order of the rest of the songs, but throughout the concert they played Lady, Babe, Lorelei, Desert Moon (which wasn’t a Styx song, but according to DeYoung “should have been”), The Best of Times, Blue Collar Man, Fooling Yourself, Mr. Roboto, Show Me the Way, Too Much Time on My Hands, Suite Madame Blue, and finishing the show with Renegade and Come Sail Away. There are a couple of other songs that are slipping my mind, but this list was the majority of the show. The band started with a romp roaring rendition of Grand Illusion, and the show was never dull. In between many of the songs, Dennis DeYoung engaged the crowd by telling stories about himself and the band, cracking jokes about getting old, and cracking jokes at the audiences expense (he’s from the Chicago area so it’s all good). The best line of the night was when he asked who had seen him in concert before, and who was seeing him for the first time. When people yelled and cheered at the latter, he responded, “Where the hell have you been, I’m 67 years old for Christ’s sake?!” That kind of humor was displayed throughout the whole night, and it was great. I’ve been to concerts where the band never says anything, and I’ve been to concerts where the band doesn’t shut up. Dennis DeYoung had the perfect balance. All the humor just goes to show that at 67 years old, DeYoung is still touring and playing because he LOVES it. And the band members all loved it too. August Zadra looked like he was having more fun than any single person should be allowed to have in Joliet Illinois when it is 20 degrees F in the middle of March. And all that fun certainly found its way to the audience- the concert was a blast.

Something must also be said of the Rialto Square Theater in Joliet, IL. It is magnificently beautiful. It was built in the 1920s as a movie house, and it has been lovingly restored to its former glory. The interior is much like the Chicago Theater (in Chicago) or the Fox Theater in Detroit, just on a smaller scale. I look forward to seeing more shows there (B.B. King at the end of May. Giddy up).

In the end, Dennis DeYoung and his band could not have been better. The one complaint I had about the show was the absence of Pieces of Eight, and the presence of Mr. Roboto (the one Styx song I could really do without). So, if you find that Dennis DeYoung is coming to a theater near you, drop everything, call the theater, buy tickets, and get ready for an awesome show. These really are The Best of Times.


Dennis DeYoung of Styx- Live in Joliet, IL


As I was driving home for spring break this past Friday, I was listening to my favorite radio station in Chicago, 890 AM WLS, and I hear the melodious voice of Roe Conn say that Dennis DeYoung was going to be interviewed on the radio in the coming minutes. That was enough to make the traffic I was cursing through almost bearable. The purpose of the interview was to promote a show that DeYoung is playing this coming Saturday, March 15, at the Rialto Square Theater in Joliet, Illinois. This made me about swerve off the road, since my parents just moved to a town outside Joliet last Wednesday. Game on. Three tickets purchased, and I cannot wait. 

Several years ago I saw Dennis DeYoung give a free concert for a Fourth of July celebration. My Dad dragged me to it, and I had never heard of DeYoung or Styx before. I was still rather new to prog at the time, but what I heard astounded me. Within the few days after seeing that concert, I acquired a copy of The Grand Illusion, and I fell in love with it. But what was truly amazing was how Dennis DeYoung’s voice has not changed at all since that album was made. He sounds as good today as the day the album was cut. He even sang a few bars of “Lady” over the radio the other day, and he was spot on. So now that I have had a chance to appreciate the music of Styx before hearing it live, I get the opportunity to hear Dennis DeYoung perform the greatest hits of Styx again. It will be awesome. 

So if you happen to be near the Chicago area this Saturday night around 8 PM, I highly recommend going to this concert. Tickets are going fast for this event, so order quickly before they are all gone. 

Click here for more info about the show and ticket information:

I’ll certainly post a review of the show soon after the euphoria wears off and I settle back into school. I honestly cannot think of a better way to end spring break than to see Dennis DeYoung singing “Come Sail Away.” Good times.