The Neal Morse Band live in concert at the Crofoot Ballroom, Pontiac, Michigan, February 24, 2019. Thanks to Paula Pasma for the great pic!

Prog Past, Present, and Yet To Come

One of Robert Fripp’s “devil bugs” caught up with the Krueger household on February 24 — the same day a “bomb cyclone” hit West Michigan, causing a 30-degree temperature drop in 24 hours, along with whiteout snowstorms.  It’s taken this long for us (and the region) to emerge from hibernation  — but through the depths of winter to the cusp of spring, music has taken sad songs and made them better.

That very day late last month, I trekked across the state to catch The Neal Morse Band’s Great Adventour stop in suburban Detroit; Neal and his merry crew (including son Will and daughter Jayda at the merch table) didn’t disappoint.   As I anticipatedThe NMB’s live take on The Great Adventure was even tighter, more driven and more finely honed than the fine studio album (first half glitches to Morse’s keyboard rig notwithstanding).

Hearing all of TGA in one go brought home how thoroughly integrated the new effort is.  The key musical themes (as well as flashbacks to The Similitude of A Dream) aren’t just repeated, they’re developed in near-symphonic ways: transposed, transformed rhythmically and harmonically, recapped in unexpected contexts throughout the work.  Kaleidoscopic contrasts of rhythm, instrumental color, vocal textures (mainly from Morse, guitarist Eric Gillette, keyboardist Bill Hubauer) and tonality meshed smoothly with drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Randy’s George’s badass forward propulsion, ably mirroring the lyrical highs and lows of another journey to the Celestial City.

In sum, TGA is a genuinely impressive concept work, marked by ambition, intelligence, technique and sentiment in just the right proportions.  The result at the end of each set (and the encore medley that covered Morse’s entire solo career, ending the night where it began) was sustained, extended, unforced ecstasy in the audience — a feeling that, I believe, couldn’t have been manufactured or manipulated into existence.  I couldn’t help think that, consciously or not,  Morse’s recent work fully embodies the ongoing ideal of American revivalist religion — an ideal, whatever its flaws, that’s been a cultural constant from the Puritan theologizing of Jonathan Edwards to the rough-hewn democratic juggernaut of today’s Pentecostalism.

And, in the inspired, paradoxically complex simplicity of its drive to the finish, The Great Adventure live reminded me of nothing so much as Gustav Mahler’s massive Resurrection Symphony. Like Mahler, Morse and band embraced everything that came to hand, running the risk of grandiosity to shape a new musical world — a payoff acknowledged by the heartfelt, fervent applause of the 300 souls in attendance.

Continue reading “Prog Past, Present, and Yet To Come”

Kinetic Element, The Face of Life

I first encountered Kinetic Element at 2017’s Progtoberfest III in Chicago:

As I entered Reggie’s Rock Club on the final day of Progtoberfest, the Virginia band Kinetic Element were winding up their set … their take on classic prog, spearheaded by keyboardist Mike Visaggio, sounded accomplished and intriguing; I wished I could have arrived earlier and heard more. Plus, you gotta love a band with a lead singer in a kilt!

I’m still working on arriving earlier; fortunately, Kinetic Element has stepped up with more to hear.  Forged in the crucible of key personnel changes, KE’s new The Face of Life is a sturdy album of ambitious, appealing prog from the grassroots.  Visaggio, longtime drummer Michael Murray, bassist Mark Tupko, vocalist Saint John Coleman (he of the kilt), and new guitarist Peter Matuchniak rise to a tricky challenge — shaping music that’s steeped in the “founding proggers” while striving for fresh sonic territory and aptly framing the cultural and spiritual musings of Visaggio’s lyrics.

Album opener “Epistle” lays out Kinetic Element’s approach; seven minutes of space-age blues melded with a modernized take on 1 Corinthians 13, it’s a driving showcase for Tupko and Murray’s grounded groove, Visaggio and Matuchniak’s timbral variations and upbeat solo flights, and Coleman’s forthright delivery.   The epic “All Open Eyes” admittedly kicks off in familiar Yes Album territory, as a cappella vocals trade off with wistful guitar/mellotron licks.  But KE quickly heads their own way, building from a ear-catching symphonic overture through dramatic piano-led balladry (which Coleman aces) into an exciting instrumental with hot licks aplenty from Matuchniak, Tupko and Visaggio, as tempos, textures and the players’ roles constantly shift.  The return to the ballad for the big finish is a classic prog move (just ask Neal Morse), but Coleman’s portrayal of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting is utterly committed, and Tupko’s “Heart of the Sunrise” tribute toward the end tastes like a delicious cherry on top, not like half-baked leftovers.

Similarly, the title track’s opening can’t help but recall Going for the One’s “Awaken” to my ears.  But again, there’s a swift upshift to a more aggressive vibe, as Matuchniak and Visaggio push hard atop Tupko and Murray’s steamrolling riffs, Coleman testifies over gospel-inflected piano, and the band cycles through an organic, consistently surprising rotation of related ideas.   “Last Words” is an affecting coda to the album, a two-verse meditation sung first to Visaggio’s digital string quartet, then to a full band backing that floats to a serene conclusion.  Throughout, the mix by Glass Hammer’s Fred Schendel and Steve Babb is full, present and warm.

So if you want meat and potatoes prog that’s more than a hackneyed rehash of the past, Kinetic Element’s proudly blue collar efforts fill the bill.  The Face of Life is a satisfying listen and a genuine achievement, splendidly realizing the latent potential of a fine band.

For more on Kinetic Element and the new album, check out this article at (of all places) Broadway World.  The Face of Life is released on February 28, when physical and digital versions will be available from BandcampMelodic Revolution Records, CD Baby, and Syn-Phonic Music.  Or, to pre-order the new album (along with previous albums and t-shirts) direct from the band, message Mike Visaggio on Facebook.  I did!

— Rick Krueger

kinetic element

Progtoberfest: Day 3 Report

by Rick Krueger

As I entered Reggie’s Rock Club on the final day of Progtoberfest, the Virginia band Kinetic Element were winding up their set.  From the merch stand (where Discipline’s Matthew Parmenter was kind enough to make change for me as I bought CDs), their take on classic prog, spearheaded by keyboardist Mike Visaggio, sounded accomplished and intriguing; I wished I could have arrived earlier and heard more.  Plus, you gotta love a band with a lead singer in a kilt!  (Props to Progtoberfest’s Facebook group admin Kris McCoy for the picture below.)

Kinetic Element

The second high point of the festival for me followed, as fellow Detroiters Discipline held the Rock Club spellbound with their baleful, epic-length psychodramas. Matthew Parmenter reeled in the crowd with his declamatory vocals and emotional range; from there, the quartet’s mesmerizing instrumental interplay kept them riveted. The well-earned standing ovation at the end felt oddly cathartic, as if the audience was waking from a clinging nightmare, blinking at the newly-rediscovered daylight — even while rain clouds and colder temperatures rolled in outside.


Continue reading “Progtoberfest: Day 3 Report”

KINETIC ELEMENT at Terra Incognita

Great news from Kinetic Element’s Mike Visaggio:

I guess we can let the cat out of the bag since Michel up in Quebec has posted on the website. We are the Church of Prog for next year at Terra Incognita! Our first festival on a main stage after doing the Prog Day Pre-Show twice. What else might happen between now and then!

Keep an eye on this because the lineup is pretty awesome.

For up to date information, go here:

Journeys Through Beauty and Honesty: Kinetic Element’s TRAVELOG

Kinetic Element: Mike Visaggio (keys and vocals); Michael Murray (drums and vocals); Todd Russell (guitars); and Mark Tupko (bass).

Travelog tracks: War Song; Travelog; Into the Lair; Her; and Vision.

Birzer rating: Mysterious and perfect

If I had to put a label on this. . . I would label it. . . .

Kinetic Element's second release, TRAVELOG, a thing of mystery and beauty.
Kinetic Element’s second release, TRAVELOG, a thing of mystery and beauty.

As much as I hate labels and labeling as forms of dismissal, I also recognize how important labels can be for finding context.  Every once in a while, I find a thing that is so beautiful it defies any labels or categorization.  Such is the new Kinetic Element album, TRAVELOG.  I’ve had a review copy for about 2 weeks, and I’ve enjoyed every listen.  Yes, every single one.  Indeed, “enjoy” is simply too weak.  This is an absolutely incredible album at every level.

For some reason, as I listen, I can’t get fanciful mergers and conglomerations out of my head.  TRAVELOG could be, an Americanized Flower Kings album.  This is what comes to mind most frequently.  Yet, I hear elements of Zebra and Saga and Triumph and Glass Hammer.  There’s psychedelia and folk and prog.  Lots and lots of prog.  No one would mistake this as anything other than a very authentic American expression of prog.  But, what kind of prog?

If early Styx wrote A TRICK OF THE TAIL.  If 1971 Allman Brothers wrote TORMATO.  If 1975 Kansas wrote the one and only Blind Faith album.  Yes, it’s this last one that fits best.  If you can imagine Livgren and co writing and performing “Do What You Like,” you’ll start to get the idea of Kinetic Element.

I love this album.  It’s a thing of intense and meandering beauty.  Just as the title of the album suggests, TRAVELOG is a journey through the dark night of the soul, finding doubts but also vistas of joy and, amazingly, patriotism.

Though over 20 minutes long, “War Song,” the opening track to the album, pulls the listener into the journey, full immersion, demanding a complete surrender of the will.  Though dominated by instrumental excursions—all heavenly—the minimal appearance of the lyrics makes the vocals all the more important.  The protagonist must choose between his love of country and his love of a specific woman.  Nothing is easy, and the choices demands sacrifice.  The listener feels every aspect of the pain the man goes through in his decision.

Track two stunned me.  A reworking of “America the Beautiful,” the song made me cynically wonder at what point would the band proclaim the irony of what they’re doing.  There is no such irony.  These guys absolutely mean what they say: America is beautiful, and we denigrate it at our own peril.  Honestly, as an American who rather proudly came of age in the 1980s in Kansas, I’ve not felt this proud to be American since 1989.  Thank you, Kinetic Element.  This is a song that could’ve gone wrong at every point.  It never does.

The third track, “Into the Lair,” is a cry against conformity, mediocrity, and a duplicitous Leviathan.  A new voice takes the lead vocals, a more folky version of Glass Hammer’s Suzie Bogdanowicz.

Track four, “Her” begins with unrelentingly romantic keys, but the lyrics reveals that the woman is not all she seems on the surface, seeking to devour her prey.

The final track, “Vision of a New Dawn,” is almost as long as the first track and certainly as epic.  Lyrically, it’s an anthem, a call for integrity, openness, and honesty.  This is Kinetic Element at its most Peartian.

To purchase the album, please go here:

A final note, it wasn’t until I’d finished this review that I realized that Steve Babb and Fred Schendel mixed this album.  A lot more makes sense now—all to the good!