2018: Selah?

2018 is now a month past its halfway mark, and the year is somewhere in its middle age, and it will only continue to age until that fateful day, December 31, inevitably comes.

From the perspective of progressive rock, it’s been a solid year, but not an outstanding year–at least in terms of studio releases.  Certainly, those released–from The Fierce and the Dead to Gazpacho to the Kalman Filter to Galahad to 3RDegree–have been excellent, to be sure.  But, they’ve been few, especially compared to the re-releases and re-mastered and re-packaged.

Perhaps, 2018, in the end, will prove to be a moment of all of us catching our collective breath.  Maybe what the Old Testament called “Selah,” pause.

Continue reading “2018: Selah?”

Life shouldn’t be about the Drama

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Yes: Topographic Drama – Live Across America

Now does the world really need another Yes album? The past few years have seen the current incarnation of the band tour, bringing to life full album shows, and the albums that have been played in their entirety have been Fragile, Close to the Edge, The Yes Album, Going for the One and on their latest jaunt Drama and excerpts from Tales from Topographic Oceans, and with the shows have come several double disc sets Likie it is Bristol Colston hall & Like it is at the Meza Arts Centre.

I have to admit some bias here, as I saw this incarnation of Yes (The Howe, White, Downes, Davison, Sherwood) at Colston Hall on their UK leg, where they played Drama in it’s entirety on stage and thoroughly enjoyed it.

So, before I get into the nitty gritty and I certainly don’t want to stir up a hornets nest but…..I will broker no arguments as to whether or not this is Yes, it says Yes on the tin, it has Steve Howe and Alan White who have been mainstays longer than they haven’t, Geoff Downes credentials are beyond reproach, and Billy Sherwood and Yes have had intertwining careers for over 20 years, and he was handpicked by Chris Squire to stand in (and sadly replace) him in Yes, with Jon Davison fitting in perfectly, this to me is Yes in spirit, and even though there’s no original members left, does that matter? No, no it doesn’t. I am sure some people miss Jon Anderson, but as he’s concurrently touring with Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman, then brilliant news. Two bands playing Yes music, fantastic for the fans and it means different songs get an airing.

The music is spiritually uplifting and moving, (and Yes have a special place in my heart being the first prog band I really got into) and so I don’t really think that we should sully the music and the memories by getting into petty discussions as to whether a band is a band or not. This is Yes, and that’s my final word on that subject.

Now this album is a game of two halves for me, containing as it does my favourite Yes album, and one of my least favourite of the 70’s Yes albums.

Drama, is the definitive Yes album for me, it is so sharp, so crisp, everything is so right about this record, that hearing it live is a dream come true for a Yes fan.

From the opening Machine Messiah, the brilliant Man in a White Car, the pounding Does it Really Happen with the thundering bass of Billy Sherwood more than deftly stepping into the great mans shows, and with Into the Lens and the stunning Tempur Fugit, this line up Yes (3/5ths of the band that made Drama BTW) have picked up where it left off and given it the rebirth and reinvigoration it needs. Geoff Downes is all over those keyboard sounds, whilst Steve Howe plays like a man half his age, Alan White is still the mainstay on the drums. Drama is like a neglected jewel in the attic, and this line up have polished it and brought it back to where it should be, at the heart of the bands set.

Topographic Oceans meanwhile, left me under whelmed when I first heard it, and sadly nothing has changed, the band do their best, and there is nothing at all wrong with the bands performance and again Billy Sherwood comes in for huge praise as to how he steps into the band, his bass rumbling and thundering, you get distracted and listen and think it’s the great man himself. (Having seen him live Billy really does own the stage, and seems genuinely overwhelmed by the positive reaction his performance gets).

I enjoyed it enough to listen to once, but then, that’s why there are skip buttons on the CD player.

The additional tracks from other albums including a rousing Heart of the Sunrise, a brilliant Roundabout and then, the old warhorse itself Starship Trooper, dusted off and brought out for its umpteenth live release.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the song, I think this version is as good as any of the other live ones, I just think maybe they could throw something into the mix from albums like The Ladder, Fly From Here or Subway Walls from Heaven and Earth to truly reflect the bands history. I especially think anything from Fly From Here would be perfect due to its close relationship with the Drama material.

In other words, to answer my original question, does the world need another Yes live album? As it’s got Drama on, performed in it’s entirety, or course it does, you’d be mad not to want to listen to Drama live.

 

Stone The Crow(s)

Big Big Train release their first (double!) live album “A Stone’s Throw From The Line” on December 2nd and it’s now available for pre-order here and here. It showcases some of the finest moments from last August’s sold-out-in-the-blink-of-an-eye concerts at King’s Place in London.

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Scott and I were fortunate enough to secure tickets so we travelled to the UK for a bit of a holiday and attended the Saturday gig before we flew back the following day. And I can honestly say it was one of the most remarkable days of my life.

This wasn’t just a chance to see our favourite proggers in concert for the first time in…well, forever – it was also a chance to catch up with friends we had made at 2013’s Big Big Weekend, which (if you missed it) involved much merriment in the beautiful English city of Winchester, a rag-tag group of Passengers (as BBT fans are known) being led around the landmarks (including pubs and a curry house) by Alison Reijman and Greg Spawton, with special guest appearances from Andy, Rachel, Danny, Rob, Robin Armstrong and Steve Thorne, to name but a few. It was a truly extraordinary weekend, and something that will stay with me for a very long time. The opportunity to catch up again for a ‘family reunion’ of sorts and witness some amazing music and extraordinary camaraderie was therefore a pretty significant moment in my life.

As a result this review’s not very objective, as it’s impossible to completely separate the sounds from the experiences we had back then, but I’ll try my best. Caveat lector, as the Roman music reviewers used to say to Internet people back then.

King’s Place is an arts centre just down the road from King’s Cross Station in London. BBT played to a seated audience of just over 400 – it’s quite an intimate venue, the sound is warm and that’s captured well on this album. On rare occasions it feels like there’s a lot of audio happening at once but in general it doesn’t get too claustrophobic or chaotic. To my tin ears the second act sounds a bit more lively and expansive than the first – certainly on my initial listen I thought David’s vocals and some of the harmonies were lost on the early tracks of the first act, but this does quickly improve. I should also note here that the review files we received were lossy so I’ll have to give it the lossless test before I can fully appreciate the sound. Hopefully my own copy arrives on my doormat soon so I can perform this critical benchmark!

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Here’s the track listing…

Act One
Make Some Noise
The First Rebreather
The Underfall Yard
Uncle Jack
Victorian Brickwork

Act Two
Kingmaker
Wassail
Summoned By Bells
Judas Unrepentant
Curator Of Butterflies
East Coast Racer
Hedgerow

Many of you will be familiar with these tunes already so I won’t go into detail, suffice it to say that there’s a lot of music – it’s great to see so many long-form delights, and fantastic to see most of my favourites are included – the sublime TUY (get that brass section!), Victorian Brickwork (not a dry eye in the house), the rip-roaringly powerful East Coast Racer (she flies!) and the marvellously fun Judas Unrepentant (with a gloriously ostentatious NDV drum intro.) Curator of Butterflies isn’t one of my favourites from the English Electric albums, but the version on this release really does bring it to life. I’ll have to give the studio version another spin…

Early-BBT fans may be disappointed that there’s nothing on the track list from before 2009’s excellent The Underfall Yard. Personally I’m not unhappy about this because the majority of pre-TUY work doesn’t float my metaphorical boat, although I am sure I share a certain agog-ness with others at the prospect of hearing re-recorded pre-2009 material in the near future.

Anyway, what else do you get on this double album? Virtuoso performances, some very cool alternative arrangements allowing the guys to stretch their musical legs (Rachel’s violin and Danny’s keys on TUY, and Rikard’s guitar work on Victorian Brickwork being just a few examples), and of course that ‘live’ atmosphere that transports some people to strange places… Some (but not overly much) audience interaction from David, a few in-jokes, and the Passengers are also in excellent form – respectful, enthusiastic, with (joy of joys) minimal whooping at inappropriate moments.

In summary:

  • If you were at the concerts last year you’ll appreciate the memories of a great evening this album rekindles.
  • If you are a completist you have already ordered it. Why are you reading this?
  • If you are neither of the above, this is a solid exploration of BBT’s relatively recent catalogue, with the added joy of hearing them out of the studio – something that happens rarely enough that it’s definitely worth experiencing.

Saxon – BBC in Concert (23rd August 1986) (Review)

Only a year had passed since Saxon’s 1985 Hammersmith show was broadcast on BBC Radio but Saxon invaded the UK’s airwaves yet again as their headlining slot at 1986’s Reading Festival was recorded for broadcast on the BBC Friday Rock Show. The band were touring to promote the imminent release of the Rock the Nations […]

http://heavymetaloverload.com/2015/10/12/saxon-bbc-in-concert-23rd-august-1986-review/

Incoming! The Ritchie Blackmore Story (2DVD/2CD)

**Before we start, I have retired the How Tempting tag for the time being. As these posts no longer concern my music-buying addictions and angst, the How Tempting title no longer really fits so any release news will now be under the Incoming! tag** Here’s an upcoming release that manages to bring together a lot […]

http://heavymetaloverload.com/2015/09/09/incoming-the-ritchie-blackmore-story-2dvd2cd/