ProgWest 2002 (November 2002)


Date of Performance: November 9 - 10, 2002
Venue: Seeley-Mudd Auditorium, Claremont, CA, US

ProgWest 2002 program cover, artwork by Nat ParisWhen Stephanie Sollow told me that Progwest - the "little" progressive rock festival that dared to fill the void left by the now-defunct Progfest - was a "go," I was not immediately enthused. My memories of Progwest 2001 focused on a fledgling effort that struggled with technical difficulties and which ran late into the night. I enjoyed all five acts, even though I missed most of Glass' set and couldn't stay awake for the entire Djam Karet show. So, despite the spirit of the promoters, the bands, and the Los Angeles progressive rock fanatics, I didn't get a real charge from Progwest 2001 and therefore didn't expect much from its progeny.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I read the news that Progwest 2002 had expanded to a two-day event and would feature no fewer than seven acts, including a two-part set from headliner NDV on Sunday night. In addition, the festival would be held at the Seeley-Mudd Auditorium on the campus of the Claremont College of Theology, a venue approximately twice as large as last year's venue. Intrigued, I purchased a Sponsor's ticket with Stephanie's assistance and made plans to return to Claremont for the sophomore Progwest.

By the time the festival weekend arrived, Progwest had grown a bit further in size, now featuring a Friday night pre-festival performance by the Rocket Scientists at the Claremont Inn. I wasn't able to catch the pre-show, but I understand that it was quite good. Forever Twelve were the openers, featuring Steve Barbaric on keyboards.

So it was, then, on the rainiest Saturday I had seen in several years (I live in the central San Joaquin Valley near Fresno, i.e., No Rain Central) that I met up with ProgressiveWorld's erstwhile editor at the Seeley-Mudd Auditorium for Progwest, Year Two. Stephanie turned out to be a fun and funny companion and her presence made what would prove to be a great two days that much more enjoyable.

Avant Garden at ProgWest 2002As always, the sound checks ran long so we were trapped in the auditorium lobby until about four o'clock. When the doors opened, we quickly headed to our seats and didn't have to wait long for the first act, Avant Garden, to take the stage. Avant Garden was a strong opener, playing a lively set of - what else? - avant garde instrumental rock that combined wailing saxophones and furious flutes with a basic power trio of guitar, bass, and drums. The group's instrumental prowess and enthusiastic arrangements were well received by the audience, who responded with equally enthused applause.

Maudlin Of The Well at ProgWest 2002The second act, Maudlin Of The Well, did not fare as well. Plagued by guitars that constantly needed re-tuning, Maudlin Of The Well's long-on-silence, short-on-songs performance lost the audience's attention and interest. When they did get to their songs, Maudlin Of The Well put up a solid performance of death metal and space rock, a combination the band referred to as "astral metal." In the end, Maudlin of The Well's troubled set sapped the afternoon's earlier momentum, but the audience showed their appreciation by applauding the band's valiant efforts to salvage a lost cause.

Daemonia at ProgWest 2002After the dinner break, the rain stopped and we returned to Seeley-Mudd for the Saturday night sets by Italy's Daemonia and England's Radio Massacre International. Daemonia hit the stage like a cyclone, hammering out heavy metal renditions of movie themes from the films of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. Daemonia leader Claudio Simonetti, formerly of Goblin, the group that originally scored most of the soundtracks from Argento's movies, made it absolutely clear that Daemonia was a band to be reckoned with on its own merits and not just a Goblin knockoff by leading his new group through raucous versions of other artists' songs. These included a medley of the themes from Halloween and The Exorcist (A re-working of Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells"), Keith Emerson's score from Inferno, and J. S. Bach's "Concerto No. 3." Hyper-kinetic, supra-talented, and completely professional, Daemonia roused the audience to fever pitch with their furious set which proved to be the highlight of day one, and possibly the best show to be found in all of Los Angeles that night.

Radio Massacre International at ProgWest 2002Radio Massacre International had the unenviable task of following Daemonia, but I understand that the techno-rockers from England acquitted themselves admirably. Unfortunately, I was exhausted by the time RMI really got going so I returned to my hotel room to catch up on my sleep, leaving Stephanie to catch the rest of the show. [See Progression issue #42 (Winter/Spring 2003) for my report on ProgWest {2011: wouldn't you know, it's out of stock*} - ed..

Day two, Sunday, arrived and brought with it clear blue skies and warmer temperatures. As I walked from my hotel to the auditorium, I crossed my fingers and hoped that the improved weather was a good omen for the day's shows. It was. I arrived at the hall to find the doors open and Stephanie already in her seat waiting for the day's first act to take the stage.

Izz at ProgWest 2002Right on schedule, IZZ - making their West Coast debut - opened Sunday's show with a brilliant, engaging set that featured their off-beat (to me, anyway) combination of symphonic rock and pop. A big group, Izz filled the stage with a line-up that featured two drummers, one playing a standard kit and the other playing electronic drums, and two female back-up vocalists. The drum duo gave the rest of the group a powerful foundation on which to build and that's just what they did, with melodic bass lines, lush keyboards, and Paul Bremner's wondrous guitar playing overlaid with thick layers of vocal harmonies. The music ran across a broad horizon of styles, from The Yes Album-era Yes to Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and Elton John. Izz played their hearts out and the audience rewarded them with a standing ovation.

Azigza at ProgWest 2002Azigza hit the stage next and, like Izz, took the audience by storm. Featuring a singular Eastern-world sound, Azigza roused the crowd with complex, polyrhythmic performances that featured a healthy dose of furious violin melodies and new singer Sheba's powerful vocals. Once again, the audience was completely blown away and Azigza received a well-earned standing ovation.

Nick D'Virgilio with Mike Keneally at ProgWest 2002After dinner - and a "delay" of about one hour - Nick D'Virgilio and a huge cast of supporting players (among them Mike Keneally) took the stage to deliver The Shaming Of The True, the concept work begun by the late Kevin Gilbert and completed posthumously by NDV. Needless to say, most of the audience were Kevin Gilbert fanatics and, by extension, Nick D'Virgilio fanatics. Having never heard either Gilbert or NDV, I didn't know what to expect, but the highly charged atmosphere in the auditorium made it clear that I was in for something special.

NDV and friends tore their way through the story of one Johnny Virgil, who "wanted to be a star" at the beginning and "used to be a star" by the show's end. NDV sang, played guitars and drums, and hammed it up in the lead role, and the band, with its ever-changing pool of musicians, provided spot-on musical support. Every Kevin Gilbert fan in the audience knew every song and sang along with the performers, adding a sympathetic power to the show that I had never before experienced. By the show's end, I was awed by the audience's appreciation for Kevin Gilbert, NDV, and The Shaming Of The True. The audience, overjoyed by the performance, granted NDV and friends a lengthy, tumultuous standing ovation.

Spock's Beard at ProgWest 2002As the curtain closed, NDV reminded the crowd to stick around because he had a few more surprises waiting for us. It really wasn't a secret that Spock's Beard might come on to help NDV bring Progwest 2002 to a close and, sure enough, as the curtain opened once more, NDV hauled out his partners in Spock's Beard (less Neal Morse) for a performance that featured solo material from NDV and Ryo Okumoto, and a smattering of Spock's Beard tunes. Each band member was greeted with a friendly "Hello" from the audience, and Spock's Beard responded in kind. The band's show was spirited and rocking; all four members played like it was the last show on earth and again roused the audience to fever pitch, earning Progwest 2002's fifth standing ovation.

So Progwest 2002 turned out to be a great success, having built on both the legend of Progfest and the lessons learned from Progwest 2001. And apparently the magic will go on: At the end of the show, Progwest emcee Bob Rosenthal announced that Progwest would return in 2003 and that the promoters were already negotiating with several acts for the show. This announcement made me glad as a progressive music fan and proud of the Progwest promoters for their tenacity and persistence of vision. Between them, the great bands, and the spirited audience's support, Progwest 2002, the little progressive festival that could, did!

*So... in 2011, was updating the gallery with my (absolutely horrible) pics, I went on a frantic search looking for my referenced report. Where was it? No links to it, no left over Word docs. Distressed, I went back to processing this file. Ah-ha! I discover that I published it in Progression! No wonder I can't find it. Nor can I, naturally, republish it here, but... here's some quotes from it on each of the weekend's bands.

· Avant Garden: " I found my attention, both optically and aurally riveted on saxophonist/flautist Flamp Sorvari, though given the type of music, he didn't move much bodily. I personally enjoyed their set {of avant-garde rock centered on their debut}, though I found 'Dragon Feed' a little overlong..."

· Maudlin Of The Well: "...I expected an experience as unique and eclectic as their two {then} recent releases {...} alas, {they} appeared to be unready for live performance {... the set was} disjointed..."

· Daemonia: "...this band delivered {...} the epitome of talent and professionalism {...g}uitarist Bruno Previtali was stellar {...} bassist Frederico Amoriso and drummer Titto Tani just cooked, not to leave out, of course, Simonetti's stunning keyboard work..."

· RMI: "...mostly electronic explorations {...} rather mellow {...but} their music also includes some quite violent musical excursions..."

· Izz: "...well received and quite impressive {...} on the whole the band were solid..." (of course, I do really dig Izz, but I think later performances I've seen were much better)

· Azigza: "...warm sound. The band was energetic, especially multi-instrumentalist {...} Aryeh Frankfurter who lept and pranced and danced around {...}" (there was a buzz around the band leading up to the fest; they were very good)

· NDV: "D'Virgilio and company did a magnificent job of bringing the music {of Kevin Gilbert's The Shaming Of The True} to life -- despite a few hiccups. D'Virgilio is an affable, friendly and energetic frontman {...}" - Steph/editor

[ProgWest 2003 didn't happen. And a prog festival on the West Coast wouldn't occur again until CalProg 2004... which took a hiatus in 2011 (in between, the unfortunately acronymed BARFest (Bay Area Rock Fest) did also debut, encore, and disappear up in the San Francisco Bay Area...]


Added: December 7th 2002
Reviewer: David Cisco

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