CalProg 2007 (May 2007)

Date of Performance: May 19, 2007
Venue: Whittier Community Center, Whittier, CA, US

Sunny California played host to the 4th Annual CalProg Festival, again held at the Whittier Community Center in Whittier. The billing included Puppet Show, Spiraling, Frogg Café, and headliners Rudess Morgenstein Project. Because of the nice weather, it gave attendees the opportunity to comfortably sit out in the patio and chat, and easily go in and out of the dealer room, where I can tell you I did spend a bit of money*. And various eateries are within walking distance, as is the hotel. All in all, it's a great, intimate setting for a musical festival.

For me and other patrons, the weekend started Friday night at the patron dinner, at which the bands and CalProg staff were present. It was a delicious buffet style dinner at the hotel's restaurant. A chance to relax, catch up with old friends or make some new ones.

Saturday morning, it was Puppet Show that opened, pulling - or in this case, strumming, plucking -- all the right strings, playing a solid set that included material from both their albums, their latest being A Tale Of Woe. While I had enjoyed their set when I saw them two weeks earlier at RoSFest, I felt they put on a stronger performance here. Whether it was not being bothered by the erratic lighting situation or not, I can't say, but Sean Frazier's vocals seemed much stronger. As is the tradition with CalProg, each band is asked to play a prog cover. As with their RF set, Puppet Show performed "Cogs In Cogs" (Gentle Giant) -- a song that Frazier commented was "over before it started" (and when they'd finished it, "see, over before it started").

Spiraling made a return appearance, having first played CalProg in 2005. They brought with them again their mix of progressive pop. They played tracks from their upcoming new album - a sampling of them also on a limited edition CD pressed up especially for CalProg, as well favorites "A Face For Radio" and "Texas Is The Reason." Playing a lot of gigs on the east coast has allowed the band to hone their stage presence, and the energy the band has, especially bassist Bob Hart, becomes infectious. Even when they aren't, they seem like a high-energy, party band. Their cover? Yes' "Tempus Fugit" -- given Brislin's stint with Yes, it's not surprising that he chose a Yes cover.

Frogg Café put on a ribbiting performance, hopping gracefully from one piece to the next, representing their 3 lily-pad albums to date and one from the shore (in other words, 3 studio, 1 live). To say they had the audience flicking out their tongues, or the audience had turned green implies three things - one, a good time was had by all; two, I'm spreading on the froggy (and cheesy) metaphor waaaay too thick; or three, and the only one that ain't true, the audience was feeling ill and rude. Their set included "Candy Corn," "Creatures," "Space Dust," and "King Kong" - a Zappa tune, but it was not their "obligatory cover" - nor was their playing "Peaches En Regalia" as an encore, nor was Phish's "Cars Trucks Buses." (I must note that I did not recognize those two pieces and must credit a person at the CalProg Yahoo Group named Grinch for making mention of these. Since Frogg Café started life as a Zappa cover band, and Phish is a jam-band not a prog band, we can assume that their cover was their playing of King Crimson's "Red."

As for the headliner, Rudess Morgenstein Project, I was more familiar with Jordan Rudess than Rod Morgenstein, but still had no idea what to expect. Wow. That about covers it - mostly hard driving, fusiony rock that just blew my socks off. Sure, they were accompanied for part of the set by backing tapes, but the first few pieces, just Rudess creating his effects in real-time -- including a "drum duet" with Morgenstein. Very cool. I don't know all the pieces they played by name, some of the material was from Rudess recent solo CD Rhythm Of Time, and I know one piece was made up on the spot, so I guess I'll call it the "CalProg Jam" though it was untitled and never to be heard again. (Well, unless someone was recording video w/audio at the time, I guess). Morgenstein played two killer drum solos; Rudess' solo spot was he on a Roland RD-700SX playing a medley of Yes and Genesis tunes (a variant version, he said, will be on the covers album that Morgenstein let slip/announced that Rudess was recording).

It was a great day that breezed by way too quickly. In addition to the festival itself, I personally enjoyed my short chat with Sean Frazier - it wasn't an interview, so you won't find a transcript later (we talked about the weather here and at RoSFest), and meeting some of you, my readers - whether you read me here or at Progression Magazine (which, incidentally, I can say #51 is at the printers as of this writing**). If you haven't considered coming to CalProg, you should make plans for it next year. No date yet, but I'm already making my plans to be there, no matter what.

* For the record: Frogg Café - The Safenzee Diaries, Starcastle - Song Of Times, Spiraling - limited edition sampler, and Puppet Show - The Tale Of Woe, plus the festival t-shirt and a Frogg Café t-shirt.

** Where you'll find part 3 of my prog in California survey and I left out San Jose based Puppet Show from that round up....

Added: May 28th 2007
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow

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