Tag Archives: John Wetton

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…

Dear John

John Wetton just passed away. Many fans have known that this brave and talented artist had been fighting cancer, going through successive treatments that did not lead to recovery. I didn’t know John, only met him twice, but I love his work and have great respect and admiration for his life and journey. The verses and choruses of his greatest music have been running through my head this morning since waking to read the sad announcement. He was and will be remembered as one of the most important and prolific rock artists of our time.

Just want to say a few things, without a deep encyclopedic review of the man and his work. While John lent his time to several projects early in his career, the first really impactful music I heard from the man was from his work with King Crimson. Back when we used to accost our friends to exclaim, “listen to this record!” one of mine handed me two LP’s – wettonjohn2017_crimson_lark_72dpiCrimson’s Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (1973) and Starless And Bible Black (1974). I found this music cast a kind of strange spell while at the same time being aurally shocking, challenging beyond belief, utterly lacking in the kind of sound that would attract anyone but serious musicians. It captivated me and made me a lifelong fan of those who contributed. These two albums capture almost everything that made John such a compelling songwriter, player and vocalist. To be sure, his work on that thunderous monster bass was often stunning – take “The Talking Drum,” a relentless dissonant instrumental driven by Bill Bruford’s tuned toms and John’s four-string attack. The momentous sound of his bass could and sometimes did overwhelm the mix in concert. Full stop… one great bass player.

But what always stuck with me, and kept me collecting John’s work through the next 40 years was his truly golden expressive voice. There was a majestic power to that voice, an incredible sustain and phrasing that alternated between sarcastic and sublime, often with a touch of vibrato but more frequently long clear pitch-perfect tones. This was a voice tailor made for progressive rock, particularly on those songs that seemed to come from an earlier time, that pre-industrial acoustic-meets-electric modern renaissance. Take his gorgeous vocal on “Book of Saturdays” and lines such as “Every time I try to leave you, You laugh just the same.” Or, something more intense and biting from “Easy Money” “Getting fat on your lucky star… Making easy money.” John had an uncanny ability to deliver what dynamic prog music demanded, a lead vocal that could easily flex between gentle and more violent passages. Right from the start, that voice had everything in its arsenal -a yearning that brought the blues, a bite, a howl for justice, a plea for sanity, or just a call to celebrate.

wettonjohn2017_uknancover_72dpiAfter Crimson’s untimely disbandment in 1974, John cast about a bit, eventually forming U.K. with prog luminaries, a band that racked up just two albums followed by a live one taken from the tour I saw, their sophomore outing supporting Danger Money when they opened for Jethro Tull in 1979 as a three piece. This legendary band, though short-lived, tops my list for great Wetton compositions played with maximum dynamics by virtuoso musicians Eddie Jobson, Bill Bruford, Allan Holdsworth and Terry Bozzio. To a great extent, while similar to Crimson in dynamics, this work finds John in his best voice, alternating between near ballads like “Renevous 6:02” and “Ceasar’s Palace Blues.”

When this outfit also broke up, John released his first solo album, which made clear that he was well capable of writing music that was easier on the ears, more major tones, a bit less minor. With this under his belt, John went on to form “super group” Asia where he found the commercial success that had eluded his more musically challenging work of the 70s. With the debut Asia album John finally made a more accessible form of pop music that also captured a wider audience. The concert in support of the album was unforgettable, a master class in prog and pop that I will never forget. I’ve seen him live in concert numerous times over the years, and never saw a lazy or subpar performance, even when he had a cold or off night.

John left behind a large catalog of solo work, and collaborations with so many peers, including most notably keyboard player Geoff Downes and guitarist Phil Manzanera. These albums explore every facet of the rock art – some jazz-infused, some progressive, most really essential rock music with some pop to balance it all out. He worked tirelessly, releasing numerous albums, touring frequently. Sure there were some bumps in the road, but there is so much treasure in the man’s large catalog of music that it will stand the test of time as a major contribution to the form.

wettonjohn2017_arkangelcover_72dpiMy favorite moment of John’s is on his 1998 solo album Arkangel. It reportedly came at a time of personal challenges for this artist, and it’s hard not to consider the title track and some of the content overall as autobiographical. Opening with a crack of thunder, this powerful tome includes fitting lyrics for the fighter:

You are my arkangel, my heart and my right hand
When in the face of danger we stand

The danger is over, the artist now quieted, rest in peace John Wetton, safe journey.

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Because John is featured in my book for his work with both U.K. and King Crimson, I searched for months for photos of the man, and fortunately discovered Lisa Tanner, one of the great photographers of the era, who captured this really beautiful shot of John and his frets…thank you Lisa!

A Second Ending for U.K.

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U.K. in 2012

U.K. is a progressive rock band formed after the disbandment of King Crimson’s 1974-1976 incarnations, which had included John Wetton (bass, vocals) and Bill Bruford (drums). Eddie Jobson overdubbed violin and keys on Crimson’s live album USA, had known John from Roxy Music, and had impressive credentials playing keyboards and electric violin with Curved Air, Roxy Music, and Frank Zappa. Alan Holdsworth, most well known for pioneering guitar work with Soft Machine, and Gong joined the band on guitar, and a progressive rock supergroup was born with the 1978 release of the self titled “U.K.”

Terry Bozzio
Terry Bozzio

After this release, and a supporting tour, both Bruford and Holdsworth left the band, and they became a three piece with Terry Bozzio (ex Zappa) joining the group for their second release Danger Money (1979) and final offering, a live album from that same year titled Night After Night. Though of short tenure, being hatched really at the end of the 1970’s prog boom, U.K. left an indelible mark on the musical landscape. Each member contributed some of the best work of their careers to this outfit – Eddie with his manic organ, space age synth patches and lightning fast violin solos, John with his smoothest strongest, oft urgent, vocals and power-bass riffs, Alan with his fusion guitar leads, and Bill, then Terry each incorporating their stunning trademark style on finely tuned drum kits. For proof, check out “Ceasar’s Palace Blues” live in 1979.

Eddie Jobson
Eddie Jobson

I was able to catch one of U.K.’s final 1970’s performances supporting Jethro Tull on that band’s Stormwatch tour, itself the end of an era for Ian and company, at the Long Beach Arena, November 13, 1979. The short set list afford U.K. that night left the audience wanting more, even though the three piece band tore through aggressive renditions of several prog tracks, including their defining debut suite, “In the Dead of Night” and “The Only Thing She Needs” a similarly epic track from their second. But it was the inclusion of several new songs, two that had already been played live and captured on Night After Night and a new one, “Waiting for You” that impressed me that night, so long ago. These newer tracks had more commercial appeal than the more complex song-suites, and I believed at the time these pointed to a more accessible third album to come.

John Wetton
John Wetton

However, at the end of this tour, U.K. disbanded. Stories abound but the one that seems to stick is that Eddie was looking to build longer, more instrumental compositions, and John was favoring a more song oriented, accessible direction. John went on to record his excellent solo album Caught In The Crossfire, sounding very much in parts like what could have been U.K.’s third (check out “Cold Is The Night”), then formed Asia, another supergroup with massive commercial appeal. Eddie joined Ian Anderson for one album that became Jethro Tull’s A (1980) along with the fabulous tour to support it, then went on to solo work. Terry released the jazz infused debut album from the relatively unheralded band, Group 87 (try “Magnificent Clockworks“, the album is a must-have entry in any prog collection), then joined his wife Dale to form 80’s pop sensation Missing Persons. Though they burned brightly, the brevity just seemed a bit of a loss – U.K. had straddled the line between prog and pop in a way that could have sustained the band. The strength of the group had been the balancing of both styles, and U.K. had been more than the sum of its parts but that was not to last. I thought at the time they were better than Asia, and could have carried on with a similar balancing act for at least a few years during those increasingly dark days for the genre. Ultimately, the individual members went on to record a number of successful albums with multiple collaborators and various bands.

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2012 Tour

After a long hiatus, actually thirty long years, Eddie Jobson and John Wetton began to stage a small series of occasional U.K. reunions, beginning with a night in Poland in 2009. The personnel on drums and guitar have varied across these outings. The culmination for me was being able to catch their show in San Francisco in 2012 when they returned to the three-man lineup of 1978, with Terry Bozzio back on drums. It was fantastic to see the band again, tearing through precise and energetic versions of nearly their entire catalog, finally experiencing the complete set list I, and so many others, missed all those years ago.

We were also fortunate to catch another variation on these performances on the Cruise To The Edge voyage, April of 2014. Then, last October, Eddie reported a new and final series of concerts, after which he intends to return to new projects.   He released a statement that reads in part:

After several years of assorted reunions, I have decided to permanently retire “UK.”  … It has been a privilege to work with John Wetton again and to bring the music of UK back to audiences worldwide; however, this was always meant to be a temporary arrangement and it is now necessary to allow our legendary band to slip into a graceful retirement.  

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Europe, then Japan, and US

Eddie and John will be appearing with Alex Machacek on guitar, and two drummers, Chad Wackerman and Mike Mangini in San Francisco at the Regency Ballroom, on April 21, 2015 after some dates in Japan, and we will be there again to catch the last hurrah. Check out concert dates for this final tour here, and if you are a fan of prog rock, think about traveling to one nearest you!  Though there will be fans in many geographies who miss the short tour, this does seem a fitting time to bring U.K. to another end, unless or until there is new work to promote, so the oldies don’t get a bit too cold. Who knows, maybe after another thirty years? Fortunately, it’s a happy ending in contrast to a darker lyric in that epic 1978 composition “Thirty Years”:

Sometime when you’ve time to spare
Dreaming of missed opportunities
Spare a tear and douse your bridge
(Burning)
Thirty years and on the ledge
(Learning)

Lyrics from “Thirty Years”, album U.K. © Bruford, Wetton, Jobson

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!

Cruise to the Edge Embarking

Very excited tScreen Shot 2014-03-30 at 1.38.52 PMo be going on the Cruise to the Edge trip to Honduras and Cozumel this coming April 7, 2014.  To date I’ve been a bit wary of going on a cruse as I’m not quite seaworthy and typically regret any time spent without feet on terra firma!  However, as this particular cruise will have as entertainment over a dozen famous progressive rock bands of the 1970’s and beyond I’m intrigued.

Besides Yes who host the event, we have Genesis Revisited (Steve Hackett), UK (John Wetton, Eddie Jobson, plus), PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi from Italy), Three Friends (former members of Gentle Giant Gary Green and Malcolm Mortimer), Marillion, and Tangerine Dream.  Plus having ace keys player Patrick Moraz, stick man Tony Levin, and the great Simon Phillips on skins, among so many others made it too hard to say “no” to this cruise event.

As we’ve been able to catch Yes, UK and Steve Hackett recently, the biggest draw for me is being able to meet and see Gary Green play live once again after all these years.  Three Friends has not made it to the west coast in the states to perform the music of Gentle Giant, so this is a rare treat.  Also key is the inclusion of PFM from Italy.  Its rare to catch them outside their home country and this is arguably one of the best ever progressive rock bands of the past, and present.  Check out their latest disc for proof – the wonderful PFM in Classic da Mozart – a Celebration to witness how they have sustained their craft.

Planning to file reports as we go, as long as the Dramamine kicks in!

Genesis and Revelation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASteve Hackett was the guitar player for Genesis during their early years – with Peter Gabriel on vocals until 1975, and then for two tours when Phil Collins first took on vocals.  The first time I saw Genesis it was for the “Wind and Wuthering” tour in 1977.  It was the last time Steve toured with the band, who continued on their path with Phil Collins in front, becoming less about mysterious “progressive rock” and more about pop, to the acclaim of millions.  Now thirty-six years later, we traveled to London to see Steve perform a concert entitled “Genesis Revisited” at London’s wonderful Royal Albert Hall, October 24, 2013. As hoped, the show was spectacular, focusing entirely on early Genesis work – three tracks off each record from 1971’s “Nursery Crime” through 1976’s masterpiece “Wind and Wuthering.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were quickly reminded that to really appreciate Genesis music, it’s important to experience it played live.  The skilled band included Roger King on keys, Gary O’Toole on Drums, Lee Pomeroy on bass & rhythm guitar, Rob Townsend on winds, and Nad Sylvan on vocals.  They all reproduced the sound faithfully, with thrilling dynamics, arranging the songs with Steve’s parts nicely highlighted.   While Nad did a laudable job of covering both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins vocals, special guest vocalists helped, including John Wetton (Roxy Music, King Crimson, UK, Asia -plus) singing “Firth of Fifth” from 1973’s “Selling England by the Pound” – a highlight of the set.  Also in attendance was Ray Wilson who sang on the 1997 Genesis release “Calling All Stations.”  Ray came out to perform “I Know What I Like” also from “Selling England” and “Carpet Crawlers” from “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” both songs being the closest thing you could call “hits” from that era.  Amanda Lehmann came out to do an acoustic version of “Ripples” from “Trick of the Tail” – an emotional song done beautifully as a duo.  For the hardcore fan, Steve included the full version of “Supper’s Ready” the sprawling 23 minute track from “Foxtrot.”

What I always loved about old Genesis was on full display.  It’s strange and thrilling music –Steve describes one track, “Fly on a Windshield” as “doom ridden music at its most unashamedly epic.” In fact the tunes from that era are often gloomy with heavy use of minor tonalities, though offset in almost every case by the resolve to major keys, greater volume, and stories of transcending the dark into light.  For me the best example of this, and highlight of the night was “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” – which kicks off with an a cappella line “Can you tell me where my country lies?” evoking a nostalgia for a Britain of old, before Wimpy burgers and mass commerce.  It was really exciting and heartwarming to see and hear Steve and band play these songs so faithfully, so many of which most of us of a certain age missed, having not seen the original Gabriel era tours. It was a brilliant performance and a special evening I will never forget.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe day after this show, we headed up to Manchester where we will see Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music and solo effort fame October 26th.  As we disembarked from the train I was surprised to see Tony Levin and Peter Gabriel just beside us.  I said to Peter “We just saw an old friend of yours play last night” and had a short chat about the Hackett show, and my emotional reaction to some of the material.  He wished us luck on our own “concert tour” after I let him know we were also seeing Bryan, and Camel while in London.  We realized he was playing tonight, and picked up a couple of tickets to the last night of his global “So” revisited tour, even though we had seen this earlier in the year in San Jose.  For these shows, Peter plays his 1986 album “So” – arguably his first attempt to make music that would appeal to a larger audience.  After leaving Genesis, Peter released four very dark and different self-titled albums each presented back in the day with powerful performances.  Though the Genesis-era costumes were no more, the third and forth tours included a bit of make up, and a dose of stage theatrics.  Musically, “So” was a departure from all that, including more of a rock & soul vibe, and less oblique lyrics.  For the tour then and now, while Peter included some of those darker pieces such as “The Family and the Fishing Net” and “No Self Control” the overall mood is more jubilant and there is even… dancing!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQuite a one-two punch from one night to the next, leaving us ruminating on the various stages our musical heroes had been through, each returning to their older work, each taking a different path.  Steve has always kept a torch alive for his Genesis-era work, and for him, the crowd last night was probably larger than any of his frequent solo tours, confirming the fact that there is still an audience for that work, and for progressive rock in general.  In Peter’s case, he filled a giant arena revisiting his most popular album from 1986 – it’s different than his early work, but with as many dynamic, touching moments.  While one punter shouted “Supper’s Ready” during a quiet moment, I don’t think Peter will ever perform his Genesis-era work again, though it’s all been left in able hands.

Yes Transcends

Asia Opening
Asia Opening

Finally!  After a year of uncertainty about the future of Yes, I am pleased to report here that the show last night at the Warfield theater in San Francisco exceeded my expectations making the long wait worthwhile.  Asia opened and played a set list that included several songs from their debut, two tracks from the followup, and one from the most recent release. Group members presented something from their past –  John Wetton (King Crimson/In the Court of the Crimson King), Geoff Downes (The Buggles/Video Killed the Radio Star), and Carl Palmer (ELP/Fanfare for the Common Man), each representing a bit of the the history of their 1970’s bands.  While Asia was always this “progressive supergroup gone pop”, their work was pleasent, powerful and certainly less angular than their predecessors.  John Wetton is one of my favorite vocalists and he delivered with accurate, clear vocals throughout the show – awesome and unexpected after all these years.

When Yes took the stage for the opening track, “Siberian Khatru”, any fears that this ensemble would have troubles melted away.  This first track would be a litmus test for any band, given the complex interlocking passages and strong harmonies. This band showed right away that they are up to the task, as Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitars), and Alan White (drums) played as well as I have seen, and seemed to enjoy themselves during the almost two hour set. Though this music calls for precision timing and accuracy, the band kept a the slight looseness to some passages which added to the experience.  The only minor complaint for me is that while Oliver covered his father’s material (and Geoff/Tony) faithfully, he never really stood out in the mix, but that has been a common affliction of Yes keyboard players other than Rick Wakeman.

Siberian Khatru
Siberians

Most important was the question – would the absence of lead singer Jon Anderson, the zen center of Yes, render the show a lesser form?  Would the emotional integrity of the experience be intact?  Covering for Jon Anderson is even more difficult than what we have seen with other ’70’s acts such as Alan Parsons, Journey, Foreigner, Boston, etc. because Jon is so much part of the fabric of the whole Yes experience.  The main reason most of us love this band is simple, and goes beyond exceptional musicianship and compositions – its that when Yes hits it marks, we are taken somewhere on a transcendent journey, getting in touch with an energy outside ourselves.  The band construct these intense, chaotic passages, which build, and then shift into the most angelic, harmonic major-chord-based resolves imaginable.  Jon seems at the heart of this journey, embodying his spiritual lyrics – often obtuse, but imparting radiant, positive messages.  When this is presented properly in a live concert setting, the results are powerful.  On this night, of course we missed seeing Jon himself, but even without him in this lineup, all was well in the Yes universe.

The current vocalist Benoit David has Continue reading Yes Transcends