CalProg 2008 (October 2008)

Date of Performance: October 11, 2008
Venue: Whittier Community Center, Whittier, CA, US

The weather was perfect for CalProg 2008, if just a tad bit breezy. There'd been small changes to the venue and environs since I'd last been to the Whittier Community Center in July of 2007. The lobby area was larger because the entrance doors had been moved forward; street parking was now angled rather than against the curb, which allowed more cars to fit (though I discovered there's a lot behind the venue, too - which answered the question I'd ask each year - to myself - as I scored a parking space next to the venue? Where're all the cars?). Of course, now the streets were one way, but the city and centre have made these improvements for the best.

Anyway, there's the blurb for Architectural Design; you're really interested in the bands and the music.

Presto Ballet started things off. They had been on the schedule last year but had to pull out when their drummer quit. They did have a change in keyboardists, as the fellow who had been in that role, left. His replacement was extremely small and thin and sat for the whole set. Okay, it was a laptop playing samples of the keyboard parts from their first two albums, but it was a nice looking laptop and did its job admirably. It did make the set kinda awkward though when the other instruments took a back seat (or were absent) for the keyboard solo. But the real live members - Kurdt Vanderhoof (guitar), Israel Rehaume (bass), and Scott Albright (vocals) - were animated and lively, and stood for the whole set - well, except for Bill Raymond, as he was behind the drum kit.

Tracks from both their albums were given an airing, the material from their first, Peace Among The Ruins, having an extra oomph that I don't recall from hearing the album. And the new stuff had a certain something to prompt a purchase of their follow up, The Lost Art Of Time Travel. When they were at full force, they rocked, but I'd like to see them again with a full complement as the "dead moments" (the keyboard solos) made the set very disjointed. I'm sure Vanderhoof made the compromise as to not have bow out a second time and engender ill will from his fans. There was no prog classic cover from them however.

Next on the bill were Izz, who I've seen several times now, mostly at CalProg. They were in fine form, perhaps their best form, playing their brand of accessible prog. Paul Bremner was remarkable, not only for his stellar guitar playing, as we've come to expect, but also for his kilt. Yes, Brems played the entire set in a kilt. The rest of the band were dressed normally, bassist John Galgano in a tee-shirt that read "Am I Bovvered" or something like that. And that's the report for Rock Star Fashion Today.

Of course, they played great, as I said - and sang great, because it wasn't just the tight musicianship of Brems, John, Tom, Brian Coralian (drums) and Greg DiMiceli (drums), but also the fabulous vocals of Tom, Annmarie Byrnes and Laura Meade. Such a wellspring of talent here that really deserves wider recognition.

Izz chose as their prog classic cover Emerson Lake and Palmer's "Trilogy," which Tom Galgano said he'd learned to play when he was 15, and hadn't played since (or so I remember him saying; it had been a while at least). You'd hardly know it, as he did a great job, throwing a bit of "Tarkus" in there, too. The time that has passed between then and now has meant that the details of their set list have eluded me, but naturally it would have included pieces from My River Flows - what I do recall? "The Wait Of It All" (from Ampersand) and "Deafening Silence;" and a little research adds "Late Night Salvation." However, I most certainly recall their second prog cover, and that was Marillion's "He Knows, You Know." John had many Fishy gestures down, but the performance was also enhanced by festival organizer Jim "PapaJ" Harrel sitting in on bass. The cover was a cool treat, at least for me, by a band that already had earned a 10 in my book.

Sylvan were another band I'd seen perform before. I have been enjoying catching up with them by listening to Posthumous Silence and Presets. I love the dynamics of these two albums... but, in thinking back, I don't really feel that those dynamics translated live. The performance was good, but my memory doesn't pull out any distinct moments. Marco Glühmann poured his heart into his performance, and I can tell you the energy was there, but some of the subtlety heard on disc was absent live. Perhaps it was the volume - which was not on the whole, too loud, but loud by virtue of it being live. If that makes sense. I mean, it wasn't that the house sound was too loud - actually it was perfect - but that... well, I don't know. I think mainly because the mix was off -- too much of this, not enough of that -- all the subtleties were squashed out. But they played with passion. I remember coming out of theater liking what I heard and giving them high marks. I think with the passage of time that might be shaved just a little bit. Their prog classic cover wasn't prog and, from the comments from some others, not classic either (some disagree); it was David Bowie's "Live On Mars" -- funnily, it seemed vaguely Pink Floydian to me, early Floyd, and yet I couldn't quite pin it down. Of course, that it wasn't was why.

Echolyn. What can I say? They were terrific and energetic; certainly Ray Weston was. I think, if possible, even better than at NEARfest just a few months earlier. Their set was focused on Cowboy Poems Free as that was being prepped for reissue - and not just reissued, but remixed. So, we were treated to: "Texas Dust;" "Too Late For Everything," which while it didn't move me in the same way as their NF performance, perhaps because there were no visuals and I was in a different mindset, they performed it excellently; "67 Degrees;" "Brittany;" plus tracks from As The World, including the title track, "Entry 11.19.93" (if I recall correctly), and "Never The Same"; from The End Is Beautiful, "Georgia Pine," and the title track; and a segment of Mei, among others. And smack me silly for forgetting - and for waiting a month plus to write this - but I think there was a new untitled track in their set as well, as they revealed they were also working on a new album. Of course, as I write this, Brett Kull has released a new solo album, The Last Of The Curlews.

The only downside to their performance? Ray Weston cheering on his Phillies whilst they were competing against the Dodgers for a World Series spot. While I don't think his cheering changed the balance of things, sadly the Phillies won the playoffs (should I admit I was cheering on the Rays in the World Series? Well, it was their first time ever, so...). Of course, it was just teasing on his part, even if in earnest. At least he wasn't in Pittsburgh saying that, eh?

So no, really, Echolyn were great and each time I see them (this was the third), I think their performances just get better. Same with Izz, who I've seen four times now, I think. Well, four and half if you count their Izz Light performance at CalProg a few years back.

Echolyn's cover was a track from Radiohead (if you don't count the few bars of "Whole Lotta Love," which while classic, isn't prog). Echolyn, too, had a guest on stage, Joe Stout, the band's live engineer, who played dueling guitars with Kull.

I came away from CalProg 2008 already penciling in an appointment for CalProg 2009. And I do wish I'd done this review earlier - too many work commitments prevented it - because there are so many little moments that I've forgotten, reminded to me by reading others' more contemporaneous reviews - little comments that the artists made, like Presto Ballet's Vanderhoof joking about not being able to play a cover because "they played all the songs their keyboard player knew," this after vocalist Scott Albright greeted us with "good evening" at 11:00 a.m. (oops) -- at least it wasn't "Hello Cleveland" right? Or Kull quipping "That was the death metal version of Mei" after a particularly ferocious performance of said piece.

The festival was a 10, even if not all the bands reached that level.

In the Gallery {currently offline -ed. 2015} you'll find all the shots I took - well, not all of them, some were right crappy so they went into the delete bin, but all those I cared to share and came out, or came out enough.

Added: November 30th 2008
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 5980
Language: english

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