Happy (actual) Independence Day, USA!
Rockin' Republic of Prog
Happy (actual) Independence Day, USA!
Tom Timely has written, produced, and released a single under the title, “The Elf King.” Unfortunately, at the moment, it seems only to be available as a Facebook video. Here’s hoping Timely will move it to Youtube.
Somewhat astoundingly, Timely begins his video with “Introducing A Prog-Rock Masterpiece,” all in Tolkienian, Elven script.
Indeed, he writes on his Facebook post:
My new song! Remind yourself of an earlier time over and over…until it becomes your reality. Think of the things you could do if you had the key to unlock the past….You could change things! Some call it nostalgia, I call it the key. Check out my song and see if it takes you back.
So, kudos to Mr. Timely for possessing so much confidence. His pronouncement of “introducing” a “classic” reminds me of the founding father Benjamin Franklin when he wrote, rather proudly, that he possessed the virtue of humility.
Some things, simply put, cannot be bestowed on one’s self. Anyway, I’ll just take this as Mr. Timely’s enthusiasm.
The single, “The Elf King,” is quite excellent, introducing us to some very Yes-ish bass, combined with Kansas and Genesis-like keyboards throughout much of the song, though harpsicord is the first instrument the listener hears. I can’t quite place the voice, but Timely (I’m assuming it’s Timely on vocals) has a Styx-like feel to me. While the entire middle and sections sound very reminiscent of Tony Banks’s work on Gabriel-era Genesis, the song itself seems to have been a long, forgotten part of Leftoverature.
Since I’ve referenced Yes, Genesis, Kansas, and Styx, you might very well get the opinion that this is pure nostalgia prog. Heck, even Timely himself admits the element of nostalgia. Yet, this song is definitely more than a sum of its parts, and no one of the bands mentioned above could’ve written this song as is. Thus, there’s a real genius in the way Timely pulls all of this older pieces together into a new whole.
I have a feeling Timely might very well have introduced a masterpiece. What say you???
A review of Ghost Community, CYCLE OF LIFE (2016).
Tracks: Rise Up; Mirror Lakes; Anything and Everything; Blue December Morning; Ghost Community; and Cycle of Life
Ghost Community: Jake Bradford Sharp (drums); Matty Cohen (bass); Moray Macdonald (keyboards); Simon Rogers (guitars); and John Paul Vaughn (vocals).
Imagine if Styx hadn’t gone down the AOR and pop road in the second half of the 1970s, but instead had remained deeply embedded in the prog tradition of the early part of that decade.
Imagine, for just a glorious moment, that we remembered Styx not for KILROY WAS HERE, but rather for CRYSTAL BALL and EQUINOX? Then, throw in some British rockers to replace the ones from Chicago. Then, add the perfectionist and never-wavering mighty bassist and Welshman, the brilliant and steadfast Matt Cohen.
What you might find yourself with is a little piece of perfection in a rather dreadfully fallen world.
And, thus, you’d hold in your hand, Ghost Community’s CYCLE OF LIFE.
From the opening note to the closing one, Ghost Community is nothing if not utterly earnest. I’m not sure if everyone in the prog community would classify this as strictly prog—but, then, really, what is? The more unclassifiable the better—at least to me, when it comes to art as well as to individual human lives.
I must admit a bit of bias here. I have rather proudly enjoyed the friendship of Matt Cohen (though, strictly through the internet) for many years, and I find him to be one of the most compelling artists of our day. He loves to rock, he loves to get things exactly right, and he possesses the will power of ten great men. No matter what life throws at him, Cohen NEVER sits down and he never wallows. He thinks, and he acts. And, the world is so much better for it.
He’s also one incredible bass player.
As I listen to this album, I can’t help but feel immense satisfaction. It’s full of intensity and enjoyment. There are great lyrics, great playing, great flow, great engineering, and great production. There’s nothing more to desire. At one level—hence, the comparison to early Styx—the album is rather obvious and straightforward. Upon several listens, however, especially when paying attention to the lyrics, several more layers emerge—all quite subtle and nuanced. My guess is that even a decade of listening will still reveal more nuances.
This is an intelligent release, an excellent contribution to the current wave of prog rock. Maybe more rock than prog, it’s a delight.
“Light up, everybody.”
Repetition helps you appreciate a song or an album …
… but be warned that critical thought is also required.
Otherwise you will end up fooling yourself …
…. due to the musical version of “Stockholm syndrome.”
Tom Barnes explains:
we now know that the emotional centers of the brain — including the reward centers — are more active when people hear songs they’ve been played before. In fact, those brain areas are more active even than when people hear unfamiliar songs that are far better fits with their musical taste.
As some of you might know, I’m in the middle of moving to Colorado. We begin our cross-country odyssey this Monday. By Tuesday night, I hope, the Birzers will be in their Longmont residence. So, as you might guess, today has been very hectic. So hectic, in fact, that we almost skipped celebrating Independence Day all together. Not an easy thing for someone who spends his professional life studying the founding of the American republic.
Suffice it to say, the Birzers simply couldn’t let the holiday pass without notice. So, we raised the flag, blew up lots and lots of stuff, and spontaneously belted out a full-throated version of the Star-Spangled Banner in the front yard. The Birzers are nothing if not full of noise. And, thank the good Lord that my 13-year old, Gretchen, possesses a marvelous voice.
So, in the spirit of the day–a few songs, not all uncritical. Happy Birthday, America. May you attain the moral excellence of which you are capable. Someday, if not today.
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.
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 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.
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: http://dennisdeyoung.com/tour/details.asp?id=395
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.