Tag Archives: Cruise to the Edge

Cruising the Progressive Seas

ctte2017_slide_fish_lodgeFresh air, exceptional, challenging music, calm seas, good fellowship: this year’s floating concert spectacle, Cruise to the Edge 2017 was undeniably one of the best yet. It’s the forth time progressive rock heroes Yes have sponsored this particular festival and it was smooth sailing in almost every respect. This time we were afloat on the Brilliance of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise liner which experienced travellers said was above average though not the best craft in the league. Made little difference – the real attraction of these trips is the exciting lineup of progressive rock bands new and old, fresh or reconstituted, and this year’s collection of artists ensured there was something for every fan.

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Yes has been joined in the past by their 1970s contemporaries Marillion, Steve Hackett, Carl Palmer, PFM, Three Friends (Gentle Giant), Tangerine Dream, UK, Caravan, and Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), along with newer prog acts Anathema, Enchant, Moon Safari, Lifesigns and many others. Each festival has had something to offer, and has been successful despite each running into a storm during the voyage!

ctte2017_flyingcolorssm_144dpiThis year’s lineup included returning mainstays and new acts: Yes, Steve Hackett, Kansas, Mike Portnoy, The Neal Morse Band, Spock’s Beard, Stickmen, Haken, IO Earth, Patrick Moraz, Bad Dreams, District 97, Anglagard, Curved Air, Frost, Electric Asturias, Focus, The Fringe, Dave Kerezner, Pain of Salvation, and Scott Henderson. An excellent lineup made even better with a special appearance by Dixie Dregs/Kansas/Deep Purple axe-man Steve Morse who surprised the crowd on opening day with a great but short set from Flying Colors, staged during Mike Portnoy’s 50th birthday bash.

 

wettonjohn2017_withuk_72dpiMissing this year but certainly not forgotten was prog legend John Wetton, who passed away just before the cruise was to depart, a very short time after announcing he would not be able to make the event. John Lodge from The Moody Blues stepped in after the unfortunate announcement. There was a moment of silence for John at the opening event, and a number of tributes to him by the other artists on the cruise – possibly the most touching when Steve Hackett dedicated the Genesis mainstay “Afterglow” to our fallen friend. We miss you more …as well.

Once again Jon Kirkman was our eloquent master of ceremonies. Jon is so deeply studied in the prog arts and music in general that his many interviews with band members during the course of the cruise are a always a highlight. Jon’s new book, Yes Dialogue (@TimeAndAWordTheYesInterviews) is hitting stores now. We had the brief chance to take a look at this excellent book, which sports numerous never-before-seen photos and lots of inside information on this enduring band.

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Roger Dean was in attendance again this year, with Michael and the team at Trading Boundaries at his gallery top deck. This was another chance for cruisers to obtain one of Roger’s stunning prints, from the Yes and Virgin Records logos, to the cover of Gentle Giant’s Octopus (UK), or the magnificent cover for Yes Tales From Topographic Oceans. Roger kindly displayed a copy of my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels at his front desk with postcard ads as this tome contains licensed shots of the Yes Relayer tour taken by Martyn Dean in addition to a couple of Roger’s legendary album cover images.
https://www.amazon.com/Rockin-City-Angels-Douglas-Harr/dp/0997771100/

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Roger Dean’s Gallery

One of the fantastic features of this cruise is the Late Night Live sessions. As the name implies live music fills the wee hours from about midnight into the early morning. Organized by broadcaster Rob Rutz and a team of dedicated proggers, this event gives attendees who can play or sing a chance to take the stage and perform with other fans, sometimes with one of the professional musicians who come to cheer them on and lend an occasional hand. This afforded us a chance to see and hear Jon Davison (Yes), Nad Sylvan (Steve Hackett) members of Circuline and others perform side by side with many talented fans, as they work together often for the first time, through long set lists that cover tracks from our prog favorites old and new.

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Late Night Live: Yes “Heart of the Sunrise” Andrew Colyer (keys), Darin Brannon (drums), Rose Danese (vocals) Joel Simches (bass) Tom Maltose (guitar)

As mentioned, there was something for fans of nearly every style of progressive rock music from the big acts to the newer lot. As usually there isn’t time to get to all of the bands. Here are some snaps from the top acts I was able to see:

Yes: Continued their album-pair set that included the hard-driving Drama record and two sides of masterwork Tales From Topographic Oceans. Jay Shellen was there to assist Alan White on drums, and Billy Sherwood was absolutely on fire, visibly happy, relaxed and just nailing bass parts that were absolutely reminiscent of Chris Squire yet still colored by his own unique palette. I could have watched the whole show again just to see and hear Sherwood at that level of excellence. It had to be part of what drove the whole band, including guitarist Steve Howe to perform at the top of their game. That Drama was featured surely inspired keyboard wizard Geoff Downes who was a part of that era’s lineup. Jon Davison also mentioned in interview that it was liberating for him to do some vocals not originally recorded by founder Jon Anderson as this allowed for some stretching out, on material that is more strident and modern (added Howe and White).

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Steve Hackett: played a few stellar new tracks, along with a set list that included several from Genesis masterwork Wind and Wuthering, now 40 years on. These songs included “Eleventh Earl of Mar,” “One for the Vine,” and EP B-side “Inside and Out” along with the oft-played suite that ends the album. During that coda, Hackett dedicated “Afterglow” to fallen friend John Wetton leaving not many a dry eye in the house. Hackett and his band continue to stage innovative progressive rock concerts that are second to none.

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Kansas took the stage for a pair of first time CTTE performances, receiving many standing ovations from the audience. With the addition of Ronnie Platt on vocals and keys, and additional expert musicians, the band is able to present new and old Kansas music with the level of instrumental and vocal prowess once championed by retired founders Kerry Livgren and Steve Walsh, albeit without the handstands!

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Mike Portnoy celebrated his 50th birthday, and for his fans and admirers this was a key event on the cruise. Of the various bands he’s been in, my top vote goes to Flying Colors and they were the toast of the launch.

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Haken: They get the award for continuous improvement. I’ve seen them over the years and each time their performances just get tighter, both instrumentally and vocally, fronting compositions that increasingly achieve balance between light and dark for a melodic and powerful form of prog.

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Anglagard: Similarly this exceptional Swedish band continues to amaze as they endure. Their first performance was cut short by late night rain, but the full set the next day found them astutely blending electric and acoustic piano/sax/flute against electric frets for a compelling strain of prog, most reminiscent of the 70s era while still sounding new and all their own.

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IO Earth: beautiful compositions and performance that blended middle eastern motifs with rock instrumentation.

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Focus: They sounded better than any time I’ve seen them – great sound and performance by this Dutch band, fronted by the always entertaining, Thijs van Leer.

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Curved Air: Legendary British band fronted by long time inspiring vocalist Sonia Kristina closed the cruise with the final set late Friday night.

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Electric Asturias: Exceptional blend of jazz-fusion and prog forms hailing from Japan.

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Stickmen: Masters of dissonance Tony Levin/Pat Mastelotto/Markus Reuter were fantastic as always.

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Patrick Moraz: legendary keyboardist on his own at the piano…. Magnifique!

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District 97: Highly talented band, brilliant set.

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Neal Morse and Spock’s Beard were crowd favorites I ended up missing, but everyone I talked to who saw them, John Lodge, Bad Dreams, Alex Machacek, Frost, The Fringe, Dave Kerzner and Pain of Salvation loved those sets.

Back on dry land this week …vive le rock (y tambien, terra firma)!

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goodnight proggers…

Änglagård at Sea

CTTE_Poster_72dpiLast month we attended the third annual progressive rock festival, Cruise To The Edge. Of the many performances on that voyage, including sets from Yes, Marillion, PFM, Three Friends, Martin Barre, Moon Safari, and so many others, there was one group that made a very rare appearance, and stood out from the pack, and that was Swedish progressive rock band Änglagård. Their two sets were masterful, florid demonstrations of the sonic power and grace that this genre can attain.

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Änglagård charted a new course for the progressive rock genre beginning in 1991 with the release of their debut Hybris. With influences such as King Crimson, SFF, Shylock, Ragnarok and other European bands, Änglagård incorporated flute and acoustic instruments, along with electric guitars, keyboards and vocals, all anchored by Johan Brand’s confident leads on Rickenbacker Bass and then drummer Mattias Olsson’s massive array of toms, bells, and varied forms of percussion. The debut was a spectacular, influential masterwork that drew audiences already attuned to the prog genre, along with new fans attracted by the mix of beautiful pastoral and euro-folk songs infused with powerful, metal passages.

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Fans and critics also rightly applauded their second album, the all-instrumental Epilog in 1994. At this point, unfortunately, the band went on a very long hiatus. With the exception of several performances in 2003 including one at Nearfest, the group did not return to the spotlight until July 2012 when they released their third album Viljans Oga. Shortly after this, Tord Lindman rejoined the band and they recruited new members, touring on and off during 2013, with the following lineup, unchanged when we saw them last month on the cruise:

Anna Holmgren (flute, saxophone, Mellotron, recorder, melodica)
Johan Brand (bass, moog Taurus basspedals, atmospheric sound
Tord Lindman (guitar, vocals, gong and atmospheric sound
Erik Hammarstrom (drums, cymbals, vibraphone, glockenspiel, tubular bells, gran casa, gong)
Linus Kase (Hammond B3, Mellotron, fender phodes, moog voyager, piano, soprano saxophone, vocals)

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One of the tour stops in 2013 was for a series of performances on March 15, 16, and 17th in Japan at Club Sitta. These were recorded for an amazing new live album, Prog pa Svenska, Live Anglagard_LiveCD_72dpiin Japan released January 2014. The album captures the band in top form, with older tracks revitalized and colored with a broader palette, a more dynamic range. In liner notes for the album, Matt Di Giordano claims rightly that the band “paint a hurricane of sound with more subtle shades than ever.” The album begins with a new track “Introvert
us” described as “melodies and riffs of all kinds flying across the room. Intricate drum patterns, whining guitar, ripping bass lines, beautiful Mellotron, proggy Hammond riffs, fuzzy Wurlitzer melodies, blistering saxophone and ornamented flute.” It’s an amazing document of a band coming back to form, and going beyond their beginnings, captured at just the right time in front of rapturous fans. It’s the launching point for their work on a new album.

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In correspondence with bassist Johan Brand, he told me about the band’s work on that new album. I asked how the work was progressing, and if there will be a change in sound or approach:

Johan: Everyone in the band has amassed quite a lot of new written material that we are going to put together now as new Änglagård songs. I dare not comment on how the new record might sound. But we are not a band which softens with age and begins to play more readily available prog …No… Änglagård are uncompromising when it comes to song composition, sound, recording and artwork.

Therefore we will complete the entire process ourselves. We are being meticulous in creating a new record will have the same high quality as the early albums.

I dare not say when the record will be completed but it shouldn’t take 10 years this time! What I can say is that we plan to record each track as much as possible live in a studio environment. We think it is important that the material have grove and feel real and free.

In the meantime, fans and newcomers will be interested to know that this month the Japanese record label, Disc Union will release a deluxe CD box as a tribute to the album Hybris titled 23 years of Hybris.

The box is limited to 500 numbered copies. It will be three CDs with lots of inserts and a thick book of photographs from the early years that have never before been published:

CD1, Original Studio Recording, Hybris
CD2, Early Tapes, old demos, live material, jam sessions
CD3, Radio documentary

For any fan of progressive rock, or adventurous music in general, this will make a stylish holiday gift!

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One of the very cool things about Änglagård’s sets on the cruise is that they varied the two shows so as to play a larger cross section of their excellent material. The set lists for the cruise were:

Pool stage.

Höstsejd
Vandringar i vilsenhet
Sorgmantel
Jordrök
Sista somrar

Atrium stage:

Prolog
Höstsejd
Längtans klocka
Introvertus fugu part1
I från klarhet till klarhet
Kung bore

Every attendee I talked to was excited to vote for Änglagård’s return to the next Cruise To The Edge voyage planned for 2017. Let’s hope that happens, as this band embodies modern progressive rock, and deserves to be seen and heard by every fan of the genre.

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CRUISE TO THE EDGE OF TIME

CTTE_Poster_72dpiWhew, I did it again. Year number two taking a cruise out of Miami, something I thought I would never do. Once again the third annual Cruise To The Edge featured Yes along with performances by over 15 old and new progressive rock bands. It was another chance to rock to the jagged beat of prog, pop seasickness pills, collect some new t-shirts, and catch God knows what in the process.

Part of what drives me to these shows is the desire to see some of these artists while they are still gigging. At this point, several bands from the 1970’s continue on with just one or two original members, restocking the ranks with new recruits. While decried in some circles, this continued perseverance still results in some spectacular concerts. I prefer to liken it to the fact that symphonies all over the world still play the music of Bach, long after his death. I’m coming away from the experience with a renewed interest in some older acts, along with a few new bands to add to the collection. By all accounts, cruisers had a good time, and the event was again a success. The following is a summary of all the bands we witnessed over the 5 days, in alphabetical order:

Anglagard

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These Swedish prog-rockers topped the bill for this voyager, featuring their brand of moody, atmospheric tunes that take their cue from early King Crimson while remaining uniquely their own, steeped in the strong musical scene of the Netherlands. At center stage, Anna Holmgren leads or colors the mostly instrumental pieces with warm expressive flute, saxophone, and other wind and percussion instruments, with bursts of Mellotron for good measure. Founding bassist Johan Brand is a focal point, putting muscle into the mix via his Rickenbacker bass guitar and towering stage presence. Founding guitarist Tord Lindman also provided vocals on two tracks. Jonas Engdegard (guitars,) Linus Kase (keyboards) and Erik Hammarstrom (drums) round out the group. The band comes across as a very integrated, tight unit, giving voice to each musician in kind. At times their studio recordings can sound a bit cold and distant – not so when performed live – all the nuance and beauty of the pieces shine, balanced favorably against ample dissonance. I’ll do a whole article on this wonderful band in the coming weeks.

Martin Barre

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This long time Jethro Tull guitarist led his crack band of blues-rockers through a roots-oriented show on Saturday’s pre-cruise concert, focusing on new songs from his latest solo album, the excellent return to form Back To Steel. A follow-up Monday morning gig featured more Tull classics including a very condensed version of a Tull epic they called “Thin As A Brick” after which Martin expressed the desire to carry on indefinitely, threatening to play the 1973 opus A Passion Play backwards! On the new album and in concert, vocalist and second guitarist Dan Crisp shines, bringing his own style to the new tracks, and the older Tull songs. It’s refreshing to hear cuts like “To Cry You A Song” and “Minstrel In The Gallery” interpreted anew and sung once more with passion and punch. Clearly, all members of the band, which included skilled drummer George Lindsay and veteran bassist Alan Thomson were in fine form. Martin looked happy and relaxed, joking that it was the first gig they played on coffee, and announcing, “Thank you for choosing us over porridge…were going to be the best breakfast you ever had!” Truer words…

Caravan

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For one reason or another in the past I’ve never been able to catch this veteran act, one that was at the heart of the Canterbury scene back in the day. Instead, I’ve only seen individual members play live, as they came and went from fellow prog band Camel’s lineup. This was righted last week as Caravan’s founding member Pye Hastings (vocals, guitar) joined long time members Geoffrey Richardson (vocals, flute, violin, spoons) and Jan Schelhaas (keyboards) with Jim Leverton (bass) and Mark Walker (drums) for a set that touched on the band’s work over these last 45 years. The highlights for this fan were “Nine Feet Underground” from In The Land of Grey and Pink and the long song “For Richard” both demonstrating the enduring talent of this long standing group.

Haken

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Haken impressed with the raw power of their performances, at once rough yet often refined, particularly as their long form songs lead them to interludes that feature contrapuntal instrumentals and vocal madrigals. Lead singer Ross Jennings keeps the energy up, showcasing clean vocals and confident stagecraft.

Lifesigns

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This was the first band up on Saturday, the pre-cruise show, followed by a gig on the ship itself. They weren’t my cup of tea, but friends on the cruise reported loving their sets. It might be cause for repeated listening in order to “get it.”

Marillion

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Wisely, this band changed up their set list this year. Singer Steve Hogarth wrings emotional depth from song-stories that cover a variety of themes as he crisscrosses the stage to punctuate their delivery. The talented band hit many highpoints with the title track of their last album Sounds That Can’t Be Made, “Man Of A Thousand Faces” and a song about the vagrancies of fame, accompanied by film clips of departed artists from Marilyn Monroe to Elvis, John Lennon, Jim Morrison and many others who shone brightly but were taken too soon. Encore “The Invisible Man” was a spectacular way to close out the cruise on its final evening.

Moon Safari

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No relations to the French band Air, this Swedish outfit ended up being my wife’s favorite, and it was easy to see why as this young band plays a slightly less angular, and definitely more accessible brand of progressive music than many of their peers. The musical chops are there, with solid bass and drums supporting excellent leads on guitar and synthesizers. But the real strength of this band are their vocals, presented live in energetic performances that find the front line alternating leads and harmonizing beautifully throughout, ending the show with a 5 part a’capella capper that had the audience on their feet.

Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM)

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Another band that brought me back for a second year, Italy’s PFM lit up the poolside stage on two successive days playing a set list heavy on selections from their masterpiece Photos of Ghosts (1973), and other 70’s favorites. Two more recent tracks from their ode to Mozart “Pfm in Classic – Da Mozart a Celebration” rocked discerning attendees. The set list was nearly the same as last year, but the musicians delivered two fun, energetic hours of fresh-baked Italian prog gems. Founding guitarist and vocalist Franco Mussida retired earlier this year, and was replaced for this tour by two excellent musicians, one of whom sings Franco’s vocal parts, and both of whom play acoustic and electric guitars respectively. On Wednesday a bit of bad luck hit, as accomplished drummer, vocalist and band leader Franz Di Cioccio missed the second day’s show due to illness, leaving power-bassist Patrick Djivas to lead the show, which he did with aplomb, though reporting at one point that it was definitely strange to play without Franz.

Saga

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This Canadian ensemble played an evening set on the last day of the cruise, taking the audience through a collection of their upbeat tunes, marked by the hit “On The Loose” finding vocalist Michael Sadler and band in top form.

Three Friends (Minus Two!)

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Last year Three Friends played the complex, thrilling music of Gentle Giant led by two original band members, guitarist Gary Green, and drummer Malcolm Mortimore, down from three after the departure of original master keyboardist Kerry Minnear. The band was a second major reason for me to return to the cruise, and the news that Gary Green suffered a heart attack a few days before the launch was disappointing, though fortunately by all accounts he is recovering swiftly. Instead of cancelling, the band played on, led by Malcolm front and center on drums, joined by vocalist Pierre Valentin, winds and violin player Charlotte Glasson, bassist Jonathan Noyce, and keyboard wizard Neil Angilley. While Gary was clearly missed, their gigs on pre-cruise Saturday and again on the ship demonstrated their chops, and in fact allowed for a bit of additional focus on the keyboard parts, so ably interpreted and augmented by Neil’s talented, percussive playing. The set list was not greatly changed from the last voyage, but a standout track was added from the album Octopus, as “Think of Me With Kindness”, pulled at audience heartstrings with a beautiful vocal rendition from Pierre. Also, the inclusion of “Mobile” from Free Hand, gave Charlotte a chance to step up on violin. The show was great, and all hands on deck wished Gary a quick recovery and a return to the stage, while we enjoyed Three-Friends-Minus-Two!

Yes

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I wasn’t certain what to expect from Yes this time out. Original bassist Chris Squire passed away earlier this year, having named Billy Sherwood his successor for a summer tour headlining with Toto. The tour found the band focusing on some of their more popular songs, and most of that set list remained for this show. It’s somewhat unfortunate, as long-time opener “Siberian Khatru,” and closer “Starship Trooper” were in place once again, as well as “Don’t Kill The Whale,” “Your Move,” “Time and a Word,” “Tempus Fugit” and other familiar choices. Given this a Yes cruise, packed with avid Yes fans, it would make more sense for the band to alter the set, prepare a list of rare cuts and make the event more unique and special. Also the band continues to slow the pace of their pieces for live performance. While ensuring maestro Howe hits every note on the original records, it robs the proceedings of immediacy and leaves drummer Alan White to keep a steady beat that never seems to change during the show.

Having said all that, the performance was otherwise strong, and a new track from Heaven and Earth, along with a couple of rarely played songs made it onto the set list, namely “White Car” from Drama, and the beautiful masterwork “Soon” from Relayer. The latter in particular demonstrated the care and skill brought to bass leads by Billy Sherwood, with runs that defined the track alongside Howe’s slide guitar in equal measure. It reminded me of how unique and wonderful Squire’s playing was, and I rooted for Billy along with the rest of the audience, as he not only did justice to Squire’s legacy both on bass and vocals, but also was able to inject a new energy and a unique personal style to the proceedings. In addition, Jon Davison at this point sounds like Jon Davison, not an echo of Mr. Anderson. It seems this has been true from his second outing on, but we really noticed this time how Davison brings his own personality and voice to the evening, along with his heartfelt, uplifting stagecraft.

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Honorable mention goes out to artists we missed this time out at sea. As always it’s impossible to get to every single band on a cruise that is essentially a moving festival with multiple stages, as there are bound to be scheduling conflicts. This time out we missed Jolly, Thinking Scientists, Spock’s Beard/Neal Morse, and IO Earth to name a few, each of which landed positive reviews from the other cruisers that attended their sets. I didn’t talk to anyone who caught Alan Holdsworth’s sets, so can’t report on that, though rumor was he almost bailed on the cruise before it’s launch.

As to the collection of bands this year, it was a great, if not exceptional lineup for those who have attended in the past. Circumstantially, several acts such as PFM, and Three Friends staged shows that were very similar to last year, and the absence of marquee names to replace Steve Hackett and U.K. was unfortunate. Still, Marillion changed it up quite a bit with a very different set and a performance that continues to draw us into their circle. Plus, Martin Barre, Anglagard and Caravan were all excellent, and the cruise overall must be deemed a success.

No doubt master-of-ceremonies Jon Kirkman has already received countless suggestions as to bands that might be invited next year. It would seem that another headliner is in order, such as Rush or a similar major act that would change things up a bit. I for one would also vote for adding quality jazz-fusion acts, such as Zappa Plays Zappa, Al DiMeola or Simon Phillips for example. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that this year’s fusion axeman Alan Holdsworth drew many attendees. Also prog from North America is under represented, and organizers could include Oblivion Sun (former members of Happy The Man) or even Kansas or Styx, as both bands have staged strong tours this past year. Possibly the Dixie Dregs could be reunited? It’s got to be increasingly hard to assemble enough veteran acts to join the neo-proggers, so hat’s off to Jon and the organizers of this event for delivering the goods!

This was definitely a memorable event, well run, on a well-appointed cruise ship from Norwegian Cruise Lines. The organizers of the Cruise To The Edge floating festival threw a lifeline to old and new progressive rock acts alike.

Martin Barre’s Real Steel

Barre_BTS_CoverMartin Barre is the legendary guitarist who graced every Jethro Tull album after the very first, beginning in 1969. He’s been building an increasingly successful solo career for years now, and has a new album this month, appropriately titled Back To Steel. The album is a return to form for Barre, a finely honed collection of guitar-driven blues-rock. Two Tull tracks, “Skating Away” and “Slow Marching Band” are re-imagined – the former highlighting Martin’s intricate melodies on the mandolin backed by his lyrical fat guitar chords. Even better, Martin leads his band through powerful new original tracks, which highlight his unique style of blues and hard-edged rock chops. It’s available in the shop on his official website.

After a few recent dates in the U.K. Barre continues this year’s tour with several gigs in France and Germany, followed by a series of nights on the east coast of the U.S., beginning with a voyage on Cruise To The Edge in November. Check here for dates and tickets.

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I had a rare chance to talk to Martin this month about his excellent new album and tour:

Martin, how has your band and approach changed on the new album Back To Steel?

I’ve had my own band for 4 years now, and it’s changed here and there, and developed into the current four-piece band. Occasionally we have backup singers join us. When we go out as a four piece it’s sounding really powerful. I like the space and the dynamics. The new album is pretty well summing up what I’ve been trying to do for four years, writing my own music – a little blues, prog and rock music – its really a statement of where I’m at in the moment and a pointer to where I want to be in the next few years.

The set list for the last tour included covers of Bobby Parker, Beatles, Robert Johnson, BB King, Howlin’ Wolf songs along with Jethro Tull classics. How will the set list differ in your upcoming shows?

The set list is changing as the new album is just coming out. We’ve been playing the new tracks here in the U.K. and they are going down well. It’s a good feeling, because audiences haven’t heard the new album and are coming in cold, and we’re getting a great reaction. I still like doing some Bobby Parker stuff and some Robert Johnson and I enjoy playing them. We have more music to play then we have time to do – if the venue says we have an hour and a half, we are disappointed, as we want to do at least two hours. I struggle with decisions as what not to play rather than the other way around.

Barre_FocusedHow do you pick the Tull tunes for this show? Do you still feel that songs like “Aqualung” or “Locomotive Breath” are musts?

We have probably ten Tull tracks, a good selection, that we like to do. When we played in Scotland last weekend, it was the first time with my band. We started playing “To Cry You A Song” and there was a gasp in the audience, not of horror but of anticipation – it was really nice, as they had no idea what was coming. It’s really good fun to play the Tull stuff.

I do have my favorites but I pick things I think will work well with the band and our sound, our current program. I probably have Tull songs I like better, but wouldn’t work with the band. There are some really great songs that are less well known. That’s why I play “Slow Marching Band” for instance on the new album. Back in the day with Tull, I wrote out the playlist for the concerts. But later with Ian’s new vocal range my input diminished. I like arranging set lists with production ideas – everything to do with the band. Now I’m able to do that and have lots of ideas – I’ve got a big catalog to draw from. I’m less interested in a verbatim version of any song – I like to project something new – a different arrangement. On “Sweet Dream” for instance I changed the riff to the downbeat. I like doing that, making it more biased to a guitar quartet.

Where did you find your excellent vocalist Dan Crisp? He sounds just right for this music, with a nice vibrato and strong mid range register.

He’s a little treasure, our Dan. He’s the son of a friend of mine. We became friends, based on our mutual like of music. We did some shows as a three piece in the south of England and it was really good fun. It developed from there. He was so close to home but at first I didn’t see it. I finally suggested bringing him on and it was the start of a really great period in the band. He’s developed into a very strong front man – really come into his own.

Barre_GuitarOn Back To Steel, there are no keyboards or wind instruments – will these be added for the tour?

We are trying out different things. The original band had six members, including flutes, saxophones, and whistles. It was an intense amount of music put out by the band – really at the end of it I didn’t have enough room, and I really like space in the music – times when there is nothing going on – maybe just one instrument. So I’m taking it down to the basic bones. I tried it live and on the first night it felt ridiculously empty, but by the end second gig it was great – it was exactly what I wanted.

I quite like the idea of adding back the Hammond organ at some point. I want it to be flexible and exciting for the band.

What is your take on the Steven Wilson re-masters of the Jethro Tull albums?

This might shock you, but I haven’t heard anything from these releases. These albums are a reference for me. If I were looking to add “Back Door Angels” to my set list for instance I would probably just listen to that song a couple of times as a reference musically. For most of my life I was with involved in Jethro Tull and I respect it and I owe a lot to it, but its not music that I am playing recreationally. If I were going to see new music on my time off, I’d see Snarky Puppy!

Barre_CTTE

Any update on the tour and your upcoming date with Cruise to the Edge?

I’m really looking forward to Cruise To The Edge – that’s going to be quite fun. We have a series of dates planned on the east coast of the U.S. after the cruise. The plan is to do central and west coast dates in the states next year if all goes to plan.

Catch Martin Barre at one of these upcoming shows – given the mix of new songs, and Tull classics, delivered by his crack new band, they promise to be excellent!

On a personal note:

I’ve had a life long passion for all things Jethro Tull. This superb band, led by Anderson/Barre, released 20ish studio albums over 30 years after forming in the late 1960’s, beginning with This Was in 1969 and ending with J-Tull Dot Com in 1999. These along with a number of collections, live albums, and a Christmas album from 2003 represent one of the great catalogs in rock music history.

One of the first two proper rock albums I ever owned was Tull’s breakthrough record Aqualung. Not only did the album sport amazing vocals, acoustic guitars and flute from Anderson, but also Barre’s searing hard rock riffs dominated most songs. The opening chords alone are instantly recognizable, establishing the album as one of the top classic rock album for the ages.

Barre_ActionMy interest in Tull reached a fever pitch in 1973 when they released the album A Passion Play, followed by 1974’s Warchild. The musicianship on these records is off the hook. Anderson’s vocals were never better – something he recently called “chamber rock” style – and Barre laid down some of the most complex lead guitar work on record. The tour for A Passion Play was one of Tull’s most theatrical. The show began with an extended “Lifebeats” prelude – a long series of electronic beats like the quickening pulse of a heart, along with films depicting a ballerina rising then later plunging through a mirror. The interlude, “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles,” was presented with a surrealistic film featuring animal costumes, and a type of maypole dance. Both Anderson and Barre punctuated the intricate music by leaping about the stage demonstrating showmanship and aplomb. During our interview Martin confided that he probably only played the ever-changing piece all the way through without mistake once over the long tour that followed.

In interviews, there has been some distancing from this album, noting the critics were critical, and the band probably went too far. Barre told me there was quite a bit of humor, with many references to the type of silly comedy made popular by Monty Python. But for fans of this artistic piece, the composition is one of their most serious and enduring works, questioning nothing less than the nature of death and the afterlife, of heaven and hell. “Geared toward the exceptional rather than the average” as Gerald would say.

Even though Tull has been retired by Anderson, it’s a pleasure now to be able to go hear Martin playing a combination of his own material and that of his former band, and we are all the better for it.

Back To Steel: A rocking new album from Martin Barre featuring 12 original songs and 2 Tull classic tracks re-worked in Martin’s unique style.

The musicians:

Martin Barre – Guitars
Dan Crisp – Vocals
George Lindsay – Drums
Alan Thomson – Bass
Alex Hart and Elani Andrea – Backing Vocals
Plus guests.

Track List:

Back to Steel
It’s Getting Better
I’m A Bad Man
Skating Away
Chasing Shadows
Hammer
You And I
Moment Of Madness
Calafel
Eleanor Rigby
Peace And Quiet
Sea Of Vanity
Smokestack
Without Me
Slow Marching Band

Yes Cruises to the Edge

yesband1Yes organized and headlined the recent concert and ocean voyage aptly named “Cruise the the Edge” this April 2014.

I’ve been a Yes fan and patron going back to teenage years past with my first show being 1977’s Going for the One tour at the fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California. I’ve also seen the band many times since original singer Jon Anderson’s departure some years ago, and I’ve seen them with scores of keyboard players besides Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman. There’s been something to admire in every performance and always there have been moments of transcendent feeling, as Yes builds their compositions to heavenly crescendos of power and emotion. Here’s what was laudable about the concert:

yesjondavidsonCurrent vocalist Jon Davidson has never sounded better – he reached for some of their highest notes with a power and clarity of tone that I’ve not seen surpassed. There was joy, peace and some Yes gospel in his strong performance.  His stage presence and confidence has improved measurably over the last several years.

 

yeschrisChris Squire (bass) still packs a punch with his bass and projects a deep happiness at plying his art after all these years. His playing is unique and seldom duplicated elsewhere. His voice has magically held up all this time – a key ingredient of the Yes sound.

 

yessteveGuitarist Steve Howe must be responsible for the tendency they have now to reduce the pace of much of their work – while this may drain a bit of the frenetic energy out, he is able to play all of his licks with stunning accuracy. It renders his performance a master class for any budding guitarist or aficionado of fine fretwork.

 

yesjeffKeyboard player Geoff Downes is always a pleasure to hear – while it would be awesome to include more tracks on which he originally played into the set, it was great to at least hear “Tempus Fugit” off 1980’s Drama.

Alan White had a somewhat off night.

I feel badly saying, can’t blame anyone for slowing up a bit – and possibly the laconic pace of some of the tracks inhibit a more energetic performance, but its something for them to work on. Alan’s has delivered some of the finest drum and percussion work of any progressive rock band in concert over the last 40 years.

yesband2Two basic quibbles for the night – one has to be the selection of the set list itself, and the second – there were no guest appearances. On this cruise keyboardist Patrick Moraz who played on the Relayer album was in the lineup of performers, and played several solo shows during the week. Annie Haslam from Renaissance was guest at one of Patrick’s shows to sing the Yes song “Soon” from Relayer – one of the most beautiful songs Yes ever recorded. But no guest spot for Patrick with Yes.  I did not expect them to take the time to learn and play the more challenging pieces from that album, but just inviting Patrick to come and do “Soon” would have made the show and the entire Cruise more special. Along with this, Yes continued to play two of the three same complete albums – a nice idea that’s now been a part of their long 2013-2014 tour – but something that should not have been repeated for a boatload of fans. In particular playing all of The Yes Album should have been off the list – that’s now been done on both of the last two extensive tours. Their catalog is so large, that dusting off and playing a larger swath of it’s path would be preferable. Doing “Roundabout” as the encore of almost every tour I’ve ever seen shows a lack of creativity. It leaves the planning feeling a bit “by the numbers.”

yesband3Having said all of that, Yes is in fact performing their early masterpieces, many of which should be played long after they and we are all gone, in the tradition of classical music.  And, they have always steered away from medley’s – a scourge that long plagued another famous prog rock band from the era – so it’s nice to see and hear them play these spectacular tracks in their entirety.  I am definitely of the camp that hopes Yes keep up their touring, hoping they vary the set list, but keep at it, as this band are one of the few key practitioners of the original form that still produces a powerful progressive rock concert experience.  Waiting with high expectations for HEAVEN & EARTH, their new album, to drop.

Cruise to the Edge with PFM

P1000682Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) appeared live on the Cruise to the Edge concert voyage April 7-12. The shows reinforced why they have been one of the premier international progressive rock bands over the years, and their playing is undiminished by time. PFM’s music, while sometimes touching on dark themes, is overwhelmingly positive and joyful, particularly when the music incorporates snippets of traditional Italian folk within the progressive, jazz and pop music formats. Many fans consider their best work in live performance, of which there are many official recordings available. Unlike some contemporaries, they still play complete works in their original form to make up their set list – lots of early work, such as “La Carrozza di Hans” from their first Italian release Storia Di Un Minuto (1972), to “Romeo E Giulietta” off the beautiful new Pfm in Classic-Da Mozart a Celebration (2013)There is a high degree of precision in their live performances, but also room left for jamming and improvisation. These days drummer/vocalist Franz Di Cioccio has a backup percussionist leaving him several chances during the show to come out front with lead vocals and enthusiastically rally the crowd. It’s a rewarding experience to capture PFM playing live.

I caught up with the three primary members of the band, Franz Di Cioccio (drums, vocals), Franco Mussida (guitars, vocals), and Patrick Djivas (bass) for the following interview during the cruise:

 

P1000160D: Can you tell us a bit about how your popularity was built outside of Italy?

PFM is the best-known and most famous band of this kind in Italy. At the start, we came to the USA and UK and stayed there for 6, 8, 9 months at a time – you have to build up the following in country. We thought with a worldwide mentality – we did not think only in the Italian way. But we are Italian, we know the mother language –and there are a lot of things that anybody who goes into art must consider. We did the best with our potential – for example leaving home touring the USA for a long time in a lot of places – big towns but also places like Grand Rapid, Fort Wayne – you have to be out there and the people love it and know you are really an international musician.

Our big opportunity was when Pete Sinfield from King Crimson liked our music. He found in PFM– a new renaissance of a theatrical mentality and creativity. He wrote incredible lyrics for our music because our lyrics are not as good in Italian – the image you get from music and lyrics together in English is fantastic. “River of Life” for instance – the combination is fantastic. In Italian it’s not quite the same – it’s got to be the right music combined with the right lyrics.

Franco Mussida
Franco Mussida

D: Having said that, if I could pick one of your Italian language songs on albums Per Un Amico or L’isola di niente and translate a lyric to English – what would be a favorite?

PFM: In English words are very short and it’s fantastic for rock because it will get you moving. In Italian everything is more about drawing out the syllables (sings a bit of “Dove Quando”) and it’s more melodramatic. We didn’t translate that one – even Pete said you don’t need to translate this lyric because it’s perfect in Italian. The same is for “Il Banchetto.” English is more clipped and there is better possibility to carry the idea. When you want to communicate something from the heart use the vocal melody – you can use the round vowels to carry emotion.   Another example is from our first album – our song “Generale” which has no Italian lyrics – they would be difficult in Italian – Pete made it easy – “shiny shoes he runs to catch the train…rockets launched if he is late again…” (sings and taps this out to the beat of “Mr. Nine Till Five”) and it makes the melody different – we made a melody to support the Pete Sinfield words that we didn’t have in the Italian version. By contrast, when opera is in Italian or German – you can’t do it in English.

cookD: Cook – the first live recording released by PFM, was recently re-released with the entire concert included and it’s a stunning document that displays the bands full range – was there a discussion at the time of putting out a 3 album set?

PFM: No we did not try to get it out – did not have the time. We were not even supposed to do a live album at that moment – we had access to a recording studio which was paid for but unused. We decided to use it and we were playing in New York – so we used the time to make the record and taped a few more shows. We decided to do one album – to make something very accessible to the people – to represent PFM with one album – and cost was a factor – double albums are expensive – three even more. Now you can do these box sets and legacy collections more easily. So we did the best in one, and made it more successful. I even decided to cut my drum solo!

Franz Di Cioccio
Franz Di Cioccio

D: Franz, back in those times, did you have drumming support – it’s entertaining when you come out front during shows today.

PFM: Not at that time – I stayed back on the drums with a mic. When we used to play as a 5 piece, everybody sang something because there was not really a singer with that one role in PFM – our voices mixed together. I did sing “Dove Quando” and “Just Look Away” up front because the drums only came in at the end.

D: Chocolate Kings was the first of several albums with Bernardo Lanzetti out front on vocals (from 1975–1977). It’s an album that gets talked about more than Jet Lag – yet I find Jet Lag is just brilliant – did it not do as well?

PFM: The music did get more difficult and this is the way PFM has always been – we play what we feel like playing in the moment. At that particular time we were living a lot in the states and had a lot of contact with jazz musicians and we had more jazz influence – some of us more than others and it went in that direction. We did not really think about “why or why not” – we did it because we liked that music at the time. Maybe people did not expect anything like that from PFM. It was more improvisational – its a different way – we used to improvise a lot. PFM always changes album by album – we didn’t want to stay the same for each one – for instance our latest, Pfm in Classic-Da Mozart a Celebration, is different from all the others. It’s not planned – not decisions we make but it just comes – its why we keep playing with the same interest because we always do different things. If you play the same thing all your life – whoever you are and how good you are – you get bored and you don’t get better. You are just doing the same thing all the time. For us its nice to have the influence of all kinds of music – for instance the 2006 record Stati di immaginazione – this is the record where you really understand the way PFM is – where we put a little bit from all the experiences from all the years – so every musician comes to the project with all of their background, and this is what’s important to us.
(ed: Patrick mentions Stati from 2006 – for those not keeping up with PFM’s more recent releases, this one is highly recommended)

Patrick Djivas
Patrick Djivas

This is why we can do the Mozart work. It was very difficult to do the Mozart album – it’s easy to score or play with an orchestra doing what everybody else does – which is either playing the classical themes with your instruments, or else using the orchestra to back your music – we did not want to do that – everybody has done it. We wanted to do something totally different – we thought, what if Mozart had guitar, bass, and drum – what would he have added to his compositions – so we had to invent and make music to fit this inside of his music. And let the people get comfortable without shock – to have a different experience about a another period of music but still be contemporary – have it be contemporary now.

D: PFM has released a lot of CDs of live shows, so there is audio covering your entire career. There is a wonderful DVD of PFM live in Japan in 2003. Have you thought about releasing a video history of the band?

We played straight live, no lip-syncing, no overdubs – the music spoke for us. Most of our live performances sound better as there is more energy and adrenaline. We did Old Grey Whistle Test, Midnight Special, Don Kirshner in concert, the reason we got on the charts was because we played live. But we have no video tapes of that – they ask a lot of money for those. The DVD from Tokyo in 2003 took advantage of better technology. There is also video of the show in Siena Italy – released on audio as Piazza Del Campo Live in Siena (2008) – but it has not been released. Lucia Fabri was back on violin for that event and we played the solo together at the end of the show just as in 1974.
(ed: I’ve since located the video Franz mentions above – it’s all online now, and there is enough to give one an idea of what the band was like in the beginning, and middle of the ’70’s.  The 2003 Live in Tokyo is the best footage available commercially at the time of this writing, and is an amazing document from the band)

P1000200D: In live performance it almost seems like you increased the tempo of many tracks and it could be at times simultaneously loose and tight like a train that could go off the tracks – was there almost a competitive spirit to play faster at the time?

PFM: No – the reason it sounds that way is because we were playing more than 300 concerts a year and we would play very fast, almost too fast – not competing, just natural – tight and fast. For example last night when we played “Four Holes in the Ground” the count in was [taps out a slower tempo] but in those days it was more like [plays out a rapid fire tempo].
(ed: listen to this track on Cook and you will see what Franz means!)

mozart2D: Will you tour more in support of Pfm in Classic-Da Mozart a Celebration?

PFM: We have done some shows – our manager is figuring out where else we can play. The challenge is you have to go to a place and hire the orchestra instead of trying to take them with you. Everyone who plays with an orchestra has to do this. But we could take PFM plus say 5 additional musicians – a chamber orchestra but not a full one. For instance, last night we played “Romeo E Giulietta” and it came out well.
(ed: the band’s rendition of “Romeo E Giulietta” was played wonderfully even without the full orchestra)

Here’s hoping for more chances to catch the amazing PFM live soon – with or without orchestra!

 

 

 

Cruise to the Edge Returns to Port

Still reeling a bit from 5 days out to sea witnessing a terrifying battle between two sea monsters… wait, no, that’s a different story – ahem – 5 days at sea bearing witness to at least a dozen progressive rock concerts on the wonderful Cruise to the Edge voyage.  Met and interviewed band members – many who are musical heroes to me, made new friends, and took in some sun & sand besides. On the plane now heading back to San Francisco, thinking about the highlights:

P1000501 Three Friends (now two – featuring former members of Gentle Giant – Gary Green (guitar), and Malcolm Mortimer (drums)):  The talented band they assembled played three full sets, varying the selections each time, including “Alucard” from their debut, four from Acquiring the Taste including the searing “The House, The Street, The Room”, and four from Three Friends including “Prologue” (the opener for each show), “Schooldays” (yes, really, live!), “Mister Class and Quality” and “Three Friends”.  Among other mid period tracks, they did several from their masterworks, Octopus, In A Glass House, Power and the Glory, and Free Hand.  I’ll have a lead story on these shows and an interview with guitarist Gary Green in an upcoming post.

Premiata ForneriP1000195a Marconi (PFM): This will be the subject of a second lead story which will include an interview with the three primary band members and I’ll have a review of their latest Pfm in Classic-Da Mozart a Celebration. PFM has seldom made it to the states after the 1970’s other than the east coast Nearfest dates some years ago, and time has not diminished their musical prowess in concert.  The band tore through tight renditions of “La Luna Nuova” (Four Holes in the Ground), “Mr. Nine ‘Till Five” (including the “alta loma” coda), “Romeo E Giulietta” (from the beautiful new Mozart orchestrated disc) and the ever popular “Celebration.”  At their main stage show they included the songs “Promenade the Puzzle” from their first English language release Photos of Ghosts (1973) and “La Carrozza di Hans” from their first Italian release Storia Di Un Minuto (1972).  PFM earned many new converts among the cruisers with these fine shows.

P1000777Marillion: This show was a real surprise for me Thursday night on the cruise.  I’ve not had the chance to experience this band but we kept meeting so many very (very) dedicated fans on this cruise, and being able to talk to them, along with the very personable band members themselves over the days leading up to these headlining shows I think prepared us to finally “get it.”  And we really did get into this band – Steve Hogarth is one amazing singer and performer who communicates their work in an inspiring and compelling way.  Steve Rothery (guitar) had a bit of the bad back, but played beautifully, and temp drummer Leon Parr had to fill in for an ailing Ian Mosley, but the band was in fine form, and played an excellent set that opened with “The Invisible Man” – most impactful to these new ears were “Ocean Cloud,” “This Strange Engine” and “Neverland.”.  One experienced fan on the way out said if he could have designed the perfect set list, that would have been it.

P1000644Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Steve and his tight band played two shows on the main stage, each including Supper’s Ready (he and Nat joined on the last show by Simon Collins, son of Phil for the “Apocalypse” vocals), Firth of Fifth (with John Wetton on vocals – also last show) “The Knife” and “The Musical Box.”  For the first show they wrapped these together with “Dance on a Volcano” and “Los Endos.”  The second show was more extended with “Squonk” and the closer “All Along the Watchtower” joined by Chris Squire and again with John.  Also added for the second show was “Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…In That Quiet Earth” followed by “Afterglow” from Wind and Wurthering and “Broadway Melody of 1974” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.  These were rewarding shows, though the shorter format let a bit of the steam out of the proceedings given the full sets on these tour dates have been more than twice as long.  Still, amazing to see this master guitarist paying respects to his early work with Genesis.

Yes – After all, the cruise is nP1000334amed for these headliners.  The shows were very much like the current tour – the band played all of Close to the Edge, and The Yes Album, at a reduced tempo, along with “America” and “Roundabout.”  The slower pace for their original work allows one to see Steve Howe (guitar) and Chris Squire (bass) hit all their notes and I think works well for any frustrated musician or technically curious fan.  Unfortunately the downside is it robs a bit of the immediacy from the work.  One nice surprise, most notable to this listener, was just how strong a vocalist Jon Davidson has become – he nailed several very sustained perfect notes at just the right times to drive a bit more energy into the mix.

uk_j UK – John Wetton and Eddie Jobson were joined on stage by guitar and drums to make a four piece this time out.  Both shows presented their debut album in it’s entirety, plus a bit of their second, Danger Money.  Each show included a nice surprise – the band doing a faithful rendition of “Starless” from King Crimson’s Red (1974).  Was great to see them again and this time with deft guitarist Alex Machacek who filled in Alan Holdsworth’s parts, often missed from the first tracks when not present.  No photos were allowed for these shows.

Along with these headliners we were able to catch great sets by Patrick Moraz, Sound of Contact, Tangerine Dream, Renaissance, and Soft Machine.  We missed Moon Safari and Stick Men who were also favorites on the ship, and a few other bands, but overall were able to take in as much music as I suppose was possible over the five days.  Even caught a bit of the midnight movie – Paul Williams in Phantom of the Paradise on the pool deck – major cheese (!) – how could that have been any better?  What an awesome experience the cruise was – think about saving up for next year.  In the meantime, I think now that we are back on shore, to regain my Eustachian balance we will have to listen to something a bit less prog…. maybe the Beach Boys!