Progrésiste Convention 2004 (October 2004)

Date of Performance: October 9 - 10, 2004
Venue: Spirit of '66, Verviers, BE

Progrésiste Convention 2004 : A Weekend To Treasure!

Prog-Resiste 2004 poster

Belgium-based progzine Progrésiste, in collaboration with Spirit of '66 owner Francis Geron, have created a yearly event which could be seen as kind of a low budget European version of the worldly acclaimed NEARfest festival. Again spread over two consecutive days, no fewer than eight bands from the current wave of progressive rock delivered their goods. Sadly, once again proof was delivered that the Saturday show pulled a bigger crowd than the Sunday, probably due to the fact that most music fans have to go to work on Monday. In order to have a perfect idea of what's on offer in the wonderful world of contemporary prog, it is of course vital that you see all of the bands on offer that particular weekend. As always, a nice selection of different styles of prog were present, spread between three Belgian bands and five international acts. Needless to say, most of the visitors had come to see the Swedish, Italian and French artists, which included some well-established names. Sporting a wonderfully balanced sound, an intimate atmosphere and a perfect organisation, the weekend once again became a feast both for the bands as well as the many prog fans present. Upstairs, our good friend Georges from the well-known Shop 33 offered a huge selection of CDs and DVDs, resulting in lots of people returning home with a huge pile of newly discovered music. The bands themselves also sold some merchandise, most of which got signed before being taken home by the enthusiastic music lovers.

AmAndA at Prog Resiste 2004 (photo: John Bollenberg)With a large part of the audience speaking French, AmAndA might have been an interesting highlight. Their blend of French lyrics and theatrical approach were able to attract enough attention in order to maybe catalogue this band as the 21st century answer to seventies Ange. During their rendition of "Qui Est Amanda," huge balloons were thrown from the balcony, which kind of reminded me of Jethro Tull. On top of that, AmAndA's lead singer has that operatic feel about him, adding an interesting twist to the band's original sound.

Paatos at Progresiste 2004 (photo: John Bollenberg)No doubt a lot of people had bought tickets for the festival in order to see Paatos. The band's mix of many different elements steers their music in a very exclusive direction, even flirting with Portishead. The band simply were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the crowd, who saw an alternative version of Björk in the person of singer Petronella. This was top notch drama containing intimate sections as well as explosive energy delivered by guitars and keyboards. Petronella's voice is very clear and pure, which allows the listener to follow the lyrics in every single detail. Even in the higher regions of her voice she sings flawless with the rest of the instruments sounding like an answer to her singing. During "Senser," from their Timeloss, album the band creates lots of space to fully experiment between guitar and bass with Stefan Dimle as the perfect Chris Squire stand-in. By now the audience could be divided into two sections: one section that stood in front of the mixing desk, who listened in awe to every single note the band delivered; and one section behind the mixing desk, who talked endlesly throughout the intimate nature of some of the songs. Paatos at Progresiste 2004 (photo: John Bollenberg Paatos looks like the perfect band to ask for tea, as I'm convinced their sound would find the perfect acoustics in your living room. With "In Time" the band delivered their first well deserved encore of the evening, sporting some outstanding Fender Rhodes playing. Their concert ended in pure improvisation getting close to Squire's "The Fish."

The Watch at Progresiste 2004 (photo: John Bollenberg)Highlight of the first evening certainly had to be our Italian friends from The Watch. Sadly their new album The Vacuum wasn't ready yet, as I'm sure they would have sold several hundreds of copies that night alone. Singer Simone Rossetti remains the living shadow of Peter Gabriel whilst the total sound of the band takes you back to Genesis during their Foxtrot, Trespass, Nursery Crime period. Simone used kind of a Donald Duck voice to introduce "That Is That Is That Is." By means of a twelve string guitar, the opening section of "Know Who You Are" sounded very much like "The Musical Box." At the end of this song, Simone sadly pushed the wrong button, turning his voice once again into the Donald Duck voice he used earlier. The Watch at Progresiste 2004 (photo: John Bollenberg) Suddenly Rossetti returns to the stage dressed like Mozart, introducing "The Watch Orchestra." Here his voice sounds a little bit like the lower regions of David Sylvian. With the first encore "DN Alien," the band delivers almost authentic Genesis material. After a very long applause the band finally returns for their second and final encore, a well-deserved treat for everyone present.

After having stayed the night with a lovely Dutch couple who rent out a couple of rooms from their stately home in Verviers, I was ready to encounter the second day of this incredible weekend. After an impressive breakfast together with the guy who did the monitor mix on stage (and who apparently was staying in the same house without me knowing) I went back to the Belgian prog temple. Sadly, there were far fewer people present than the previous day, which probably is due to the fact that most people had to work the next day (unless of course they took a day off just like me!). Eclat at Progresiste 2004 (photo: John Bollenberg) And sadly I have to admit that the first band on that second day was probably the best of the entire weekend. Although French based band Eclat has no stage presence at all, they delivered a tremendous set, filled with technical highlights and outstanding compositions. Flirting a lot with the Canterbury scene and sporting a fantastic saxophone and accordion player in the person of Jer?me, this certainly was top prog all over. "La Machine" was pure Soft Machine, "Trium" embraced authentic jazz piano and duels between drums and bass. A fretless Rickenbacker no less! "Mister Z" was the band's tribute to Frank Zappa, Eclat at Progresiste 2004 (photo: John Bollenberg)whilst the guitar sounded a little like that of Santana. Their final song, "Circus," contained both the true Canterbury sound as well as the spirit of real circus. With a revamped version of "Mare Nostrum," it was as if we were listening to a real tsardas due to the soprano saxophone. Although few people had found the way to the venue that early, this was surely the absolute highlight for me.

Liquid Scarlet at Progresiste 2004 (Photo: John Bollenberg)Young girls suddenly started finding their way to the front of the stage. I can't remember the last time I saw young girls at a prog concert but they were there. And rightfully so as Liquid Scarlet confronted us with an in your face attitude that will bring them far in the music industry. As on their debut album their tattood singer often sounds like Ah-ha's Morten Harkett, introducing a fair share of accessibility to the whole. The way this band presents itself on stage (all dressed in white), looking ever so comfortable, I would rate these guys on the same level as ACT, which also is a band you have to hear AND see! Of course there were some minor mistakes, such as slightly singing out of key (and I mean slightly!), but Liquid Scarlet surely got an A level from the university of prog. Liquid Scarlet at Progresiste 2004 (Photo: John Bollenberg) These guys seem to mix Radiohead elements together with King Crimson outbursts, as proven with their final song, which started with a repetitive pattern before exploding in an authentic bombastic finale. Rumoured to write shorter, more compact songs for their second album, whilst not needing an external producer, as no one knows Liquid Scarlet better than the band themselves, these Swedes will no doubt find the ideal niche where prog and rock blend perfectly in order to reach a wider audience. After their gig, not only the girls were overwhelmed ...

Ken's Novel at Progresiste 2004 (Photo: John Bollenberg)Almost playing a home match Ken's Novel has taken a distance from their neo-prog approach by introducing more experimental touches to their music. Sometimes the sound is so loud it rubs shoulders with Dream Theater licks on top of which Patrick's unique vocals add originality. Throughout their set I came across many strong melodies, although there still seems to be something lacking, somethig I can't directly lay my finger on. During "Crowd On Sail," the band switches towards an acoustic version, resulting in voice and piano, whilst boasting a huge audience participation. Ken's Novel at Progresiste 2004 (Photo: John Bollenberg) By adding a couple of young bandmembers, the band's sound has become very detailed and interesting. Again these guys brought with them some young friends who are certainly securing the future of the genre.

If there is one band that did not really look like a band it has to be Consorzio Aqua Potabile. Better known as CAP, the eight musicians on stage (2 "older" and 6 "younger" musicians), looked like they came out of eight different bands. CAP at Progresiste 2004 (Photo: John Bollenberg)Whilst from a musical perspective the band delivers pure Italian symphonic prog, also some lyrical folk is regularly on the cards. Sadly, their singer, dressed in a silk shirt, constantly flirts with a huge dose of decadence. Luckily the piano introduced a fair share of sentimentality. With "Luna" and "Robin Delle Stelle," CAP played some nice tunes, but the visual identity of the band sadly took away our attention from the music. It looked like the bass player was a hairdresser, their keyboard player had been putting together the stage and was asked to contribute, their second guitar player had left a hardrock band only minutes before, whilst their singer's exaggerated female gestures together with his over the top dramatics almost made me puke. CAP at Progresiste 2004 (Photo: John Bollenberg)Sometimes in his vibrato I could hear the echos of Marc Almond (Soft Cell), so this should give you a good idea of what we heard. During the lengthy "Il Reigno," the two original CAP members more than once had to peak at their scores. As an encore, the band had planned something special so they asked Mangala Vallis drummer Gigi [Cavalli Cochi] on stage. Gigi had brought the new Mangala Vallis singer with him, which is none ther than ex-Aqua Fragile and ex-PFM singer Bernardo Lanzetti! Of course this was a huge surprise for all of us, as we were treated to a wonderful and unique version of PFM's "Impressione Di Settembre."

No doubt Progrésiste could not have asked for a better ending of this impressive festival. So I do sincerely hope that the bank balance has been favourable so that we might already reserve a weekend for 2005. Well done to all involved!

Added: November 21st 2004
Reviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg

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