ProgPower USA 2001 (February 2001)

Date of Performance: February 23 - 24, 2001
Venue: JJ Kelley's, Lansing, IL, US

ProgPower USA 2001 - The Annual Dutch Festival Comes To America

ProgPowerUSA logo"Number one at the end of the bar," or so goes the Fish lyric. Okay, Fish wasn't on the bill for ProgPowerUSA, nor would anyone there have expected him to be. But, it seems the right kind opening line, as I can tell you that was my seat for the inaugural ProgPowerUSA festival. This put me nice and close to the bands playing, though every spot was relatively close at JJ Kelley's. So those who noticed the rotund gal holding up the bar, figuratively speaking, that was I. There was a reason for it, by the way, and it all starts from the moment I left home.

While I'd like to share with you the painful and frustrating details of my first few days in Lansing, Illinois, I won't. Here are, however, the highlights: I flew in from Ontario, California to Minneapolis-St. Paul. Minnesota, which went smoothly; however, new shoes gave me a bad blister on my left foot so bad, it coloured the rest of the weekend. The plane out of the M-SP airport was delayed an hour while they searched for a replacement part. I got lost Thursday night (the night I arrived) trying to find JJ Kelley's to meet Glenn Harveston (the festival's organizer), the folks at Perpetual Motion Board, and, of course, the "boys in the band" (or bands, as it were). Thus I ended up walking - hobbling - up and down one street, all the time 500 yards away from my destination. Grrr! If only the hotel check-in clerk had said, "take this road (that runs in front of the hotel) to the stop sign, turn left, go past the signal and cut through the Dominick's/K-Mart parking lot to the venue," I would have found it. As it was, she had me going left at the stop sign, past the traffic lights to the stop sign turn ---". I couldn't remember at the time which way to turn - it was right. Of course, being in such frustratingly painful agony, I wasn't listening closely. And, I had this mental map (the Mapquest map I/the PPUSA site linked to) which put Kelley's on the West side of Torrance Ave not to the East, where it actually was.

Anyway... the festival itself ran quite smoothly, the bands hitting the stage pretty much on time, or near enough that there shouldn't have been many complaints at all, if any. So I have to hand it to Glenn, he pulled off ProgPowerUSA spectacularly. I don't know if he ever got a minute to sit down or enjoy the festival he worked so hard to organize. Any time I saw him he was heading quickly in one direction or another. While getting into the venue on the first night was a small challenge, as the vendor area was set up just to the left of the entrance, the bar being to the right, there was a slight traffic jam. And personally, it was great to finally meet folks I've only corresponded with via email - Pat McDonald, who runs the Progged2 station/internet site, Jeffrey Tye, who will soon be contributing to these pages, and, of course, Glenn.

Kelley's is a nice restaurant/lounge, but not really suited for a festival length event, as there is relatively little seating. The few stools were taken for the reserved areas - for band or special guests I guess. So, I am ashamed to admit I ducked out of the festival just before Evergrey and Pain of Salvation played. I wanted to see POS badly, but after nine hours on my feet, one of which was already in extreme agony ... I had to cave in. So, I'm leaving that part of the report to others, but it seems that POS played a killer two-hour set that I am now regretting I missed[*]. But the food at Kelley's is great and the staff helpful and friendly. Winterkill's vocalist Randy BarronIdeal place for that pre-festival gig next year - if Chicago is the site for next year's festival. But I think a theatre where one can sit, or a hotel convention room with chairs would be ideal. The stage at Kelley's is about a foot off the ground, so fans and band can get real intimate. Fist-pumping metal band Jag Panzer coulda cold-cocked the fans, they were that close.

My full recollections from Friday are a little fuzzy, and since my napkin-notes got cleared away off the bar, I don't have those for reference (drat), but I can tell you that the show began at 5pm with local band Winterkill, whose set included cuts off of their Freedom album, including "Carnevil" and "Freedom." as well as from their second album, Feast For A Beggar. I was well impressed by them, so look for reviews of both albums in the coming weeks. [Only managed one - Freedom]

Of Friday's scheduled line-up, the only band I was familiar at all with was Symphony X, who were the night's headliners. And even then, all I've heard is a borrowed copy of Twilight In Olympus (and honest me didn't make a copy).

Onward vocalist Michael Grant The first scheduled band of the night was Onward, who played, I felt, a good set. The lineup consists of Toby Knapp on guitars, Michael Grant on vocals [pictured], Randy LaFrance on bass, and Jon Pereau on drums. While Onward are a new band who have only just released their debut album Evermoving, metal fans will probably know Toby Knapp from his guitar soloist days on the Shrapnel label. Grant is a good front man, who kept rallying the crowd, declaring that metal isn't dead. The lead-in to the title track was something I found to be equally inspirational. My thoughts at time were of the bad rap metal has received over the years by the mainstream press, especially in light of some of the tragic things that have happened to metal fans. I was, of course, thinking of Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne, who in the past have had to defend their lyrics. And it then occurred to me that, for every metal fan who doesn't care about the lyrics themselves, but the sonority of the vocalist, there is one who takes those lyrics to heart. Grant says to the audience, essentially, that when things get you down, get right back up and keep moving - "Evermoving." Not preachy, and perhaps the message didn't reach everyone, but he and the band won points with me for that one. But then, I'm the fan that cares about the lyrics and their meaning.

Ion Vein
Ion Vein

Next up was Ion Vein. This was a band that, but for a review LarryD published here, I was unfamiliar with. Destiny's End vocalist James RiveraAnd even now, three weeks after the event, I'll admit I don't recall much about them. Except that, of course, I must have liked them. There weren't any bands that played that I didn't like, at least to some degree.

Destiny's End were next, who, as their name might suggest played a darker sort of metal than what came before or what would come after this night. I was the least impressed with them, mainly because it was a bit darker, a bit more power metal than my usual taste. But, I thought that at first about Zero Hour, who played the next night, but after listening to their CD, my opinion has changed somewhat. Thus, as soon as I can, I'll be giving Destiny's End a listen.

Symphony X's vocalist Russell AllenThe highlight of the evening for most there was Symphony X, and as the "marquee value" of the band went up, so did the size of the audience - both in number and in height. Symphony X played a very good set, vocalist Russell Allen singing with a great deal of passion. Fans were caught up in it as well, singing along, mimicking his gestures - hands reaching out to grasp the air whilst singing those high notes. Seeing them renewed my search for Twilight and everything else at an affordable price. Symphony X deserves all the credit that is given them. From backstage during Symph X's set, Michael Romeo in foreground The other thing to note about their appearance was that it marked one of their first concerts within the US outside of their home state of New Jersey. Pain Of Salvation's set was also, I believe, their first on American shores.

So, comes Saturday, and the second of the three bands I've come to see, Jag Panzer. I would have to "wait through" Etheria and Reading Zero first, two bands I knew nothing about musically but what I had read. Etheria are a band obviously influenced by Queensrÿche. So much so it was eerie. But, that also tells you that they are a very good band. I was quite impressed by their performance. Vocalist Mike Blair had a very strong voice. In fact, during their warm up, they jammed, and a crowd gathered to listen. They chuckled nervously after the track had ended, surprised I think that the warm up drew that kind of attention. Of course, for us petite folks, there was that clear opportunity to snap a pic or two without including the heads of the audience. Needless to say, I think that resulted in my best pics of the weekend, clarity wise. Etheria vocalist Mike BlairOf course, I was closer to the stage for Saturday's show, so shots improved because of that, too. Have to take a moment to thank Nancy, one of the barkeeps, who was quite helpful in pointing out to me the best spot for shots (height not withstanding), who snapped the backstage view of Symph X for me [shown above], and generally took pity on me - must have thought I was a local reporter "forced" into the assignment. No, just in a great deal of pain that I didn't want to move too far away and lose my resting spot. As a result, I wasn't very communicative, so I apologize to those who now think I'm a lousy conversationalist.

Reading Zero vocalist/bassist Chris Roy Reading Zero followed, and they, unfortunately, are going to get short shrift here, because I was otherwise distracted by my discomfort. I did like them and felt they put on a good set. And I know one likes to read what band played what in their set, but being unfamiliar with their material ... I couldn't tell you. But, as I think upon the question, Onward (I believe) did play a cover of a Loudness tune (which wasn't known to me, so I can't tell you which one). Given that each band was fairly limited to a 45 minute set, there wasn't much time for them to play - well known hits or cuts from the new album was about it. Symphony X's set Friday was longer and Destiny's End (if I recall correctly) got a "standing O" and played an additional tune.

Anyway, after Reading Zero, it was time for Jag Panzer. What a powerful set, playing lotsa cuts from Thane To The Throne, which I had been listening to just prior to the fest so everything was fresh in my mind - "King At Any Price," "Hell To Pay," and others. Harry Conklin can well work up a crowd - fists were thrust into the air, punctuating each beat. Jag Panzer vocalist Harry Conklin He'd often stand on the drum riser (adding an extra foot), I'm sure just to see the whole crowd versus just the front rows of folks who really were close enough that one wrong move and smack. Though that wasn't the reason the guitarist - oh dear, I'm not sure if it was Chris Broderick or Mark Briody, but I think it was Chris - slipped on the stage during an intro, however (to "Thane Of Cawdor" -- double, double, toil and trouble indeed). I'm sure the band were frustrated to be playing a small venue - not because of the venue per se, but because metal has become so underground, while pap like ... well, you know the usual pop targets ... are playing arenas and the like. 300 hundred-plus faithful fans is great, mind you. But I could see that their whole show was designed for something a bit bigger. It just won't happen the US - the popularity metal had in the 80's died. Heck, it died for almost all the harder forms of rock -- Kansas is playing fairs. Jethro Tull is playing fairs. They should be playing in L.A.'s Staples Center, for heaven's sake. Or Madison Square Garden. I don't even think Yes was playing stadiums and arenas.

Jag Panzer's Conklin surveys the crowd from the drum riserHowever, I digress. After dinner - again, great food at Kelley's - Power Of Omens came on. Again, I wasn't familiar with their material, but found them to be very technical. The vocalist Chris Salinas was very good - and very Geoff Tate like. But I didn't feel the music and the vocals fit together, at least not for the first part of their set. They seemed at different speeds. And whether it was because they just weren't on that night or this is their style, I don't know. If Conklin worked the crowd (as did Allen the night before), Salinas seemed very into himself. Not narcissistic mind you, but very inwardly focused.

Zero Hour's Eric Rosvold Or maybe it was just me, who by this time was driven to distraction by my discomfort. I was torn between staying - "it's only another 2 - 3 hours," I thought. "It's only another hour before Pain of Salvation," I thought. "I want to stay, but..." But it was another 2 - 3 hours of pain before salvation. I debated, and stayed for Zero Hour's set. Like I said, I was put off at first, finding their set a little too much power. Strange, given that I like Jag Panzer, and they are power metal (at least in my definition). But, it's a different kind. (I've to tell you that as I type this, that Phillips/Magnavox commercial where the couple are having dinner and his music mix begins with "cookie monster" vocals singing "Let me call you sweetheart!" is playing ... for about the fourth time this hour. There was none of that this weekend.). So, I tried to focus on Zero Hour, but couldn't. I thought the set was good, but having heard their latest album, I wish I had paid much closer attention. My apologies the band.

After their set ended, I left. I will leave it others to tell you how the Evergrey and POS sets went. The only other thoughts I had throughout the weekend was that the keyboards often seemed too high in the mix - well, those that had 'em. And one band, Reading Zero I believe, was short a keyboardist, and so were playing from samples. Or so someone said, though I was certain there was someone at the keyboards. Had I taken better pics, I'd be able to reference it. (Um, it may have been Power Of Omens, come to think of it. Oh, memory is always the first to go).

But, I'm already making plans for next year - in fact, I jabbered via email to Glenn like I was looney and giddy at the same time. I so wanted to go back, having started from the beginning again - wearing sneakers, as I wanted to, and not listening to the advice of others. Heck, there wasn't even any snow to speak of.

*and now, 6-plus years later, in December 2007, I'm still regretting it, as it seems that POS will never come to these shores again... or at least not until either Daniel Gildenlöw changes his mind or the US's policy changes -- the checks that the government runs on visiting tourists, perhaps just those applying for visas, is why Gildenlöw and co are not planning to come here (last I heard). And though I regret not seeing Evergrey, too, I did catch them at the next installment).

Added: March 15th 2001
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow

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