RoSFest 2011 (May 2011)


Date of Performance: May 20 - May 22, 2011
Venue: The Majestic, Gettysburg, PA, US

So another RosFest is in the books, and it was another corker of a show. Due to a sudden (but thankfully short) illness, I was not able to attend Friday night's slate of bands* - Epiicycle, Tinyfish and Moon Safari. I'm told by some of those I spoke to that Epiicycle were "ok," but Tinyfish and Moon Safari were very good. Having seen Moon Safari at their last visit to RoSFest, I can't say I'm surprised, and in listening to their albums over the weekend, am even more disappointed in myself for missing them. And in missing Tinyfish, too.

With that out of the way, it's always hard to determine what to share when covering a festival. No one had a crappy set. And no one had a set interrupted by drunk lighting techs, hecklers, or, as we expected, but not really, the rapture. Oh, to be sure some of the performances were rapturous. I especially found Erik Norlander's set to be sublime. And it was during his set the end of the world was supposed to come - at least on the East Coast. It didn't, naturally. And I've come away a bigger fan of Phideaux, Mars Hollow, District 97 and Norlander.

But how can one capture an experience, whether in words or images that has so many moving parts? So, all I can share with you are my impressions of the weekend. You should know that drums were thwacked, bashed, kicked (well, as they're supposed to be, there was no stage violence), and pummeled ... I guess the same could be said of the bass. Keyboards widdled, parped, swirled, swooped, and even tinkled (uh, that doesn't sound right). Guitars seared, soared, and sang with any number of fleet fingered persons in command. We had violins doing the same ... and there was no shortage of vocalists. Phideaux had no fewer than 5, perhaps more. And I suspect we can say the same about Moon Safari, who, as I understand, would break into multipart harmony at the drop of a hat all throughout the weekend. In fact, I witnessed just such a thing as I was departing the theater for a meal; they were outside like a doo-wop band of the 50's on a street corner, or a barbershop quartet.

If there were any minuses... sometimes the keyboards were lost in the mix. I find that almost always happens, because the drums are mixed loud. Not that the audio level over all was LOUD, but different elements of the mix were more prominent. I was in row E this year, right at the left aisle (my apologies again to the folks in the left aisle seats of H. Truly, I'm sure George had said H when I ordered, as that's where I'd been in 2010). From row E, I was much closer to the speakers than those further back, naturally, so for me to say it wasn't LOUD is probably true, as I really could hear everything clearly (when it was not drowned out by one of the other instruments I could hear clearly). The best sound mix was, I think, Phideaux. Maybe Norlander. Maybe both. Some found the guitar too loud with The Reasoning, but... I don't remember that.

There may have been no monkeying with the lights this year (as there was in 2007 or was it 2008?), but ... the lights were not really in sync. A spotlight was late for whomever was doing a solo ... though it did a very good job of following a vocalist as they prowled the stage. Mostly, the stage was lit dark, which isn't a problem per se, as it wasn't so dark as one couldn't see, but from a photo-journalist point of view, it was dark (too often I was shooting at 1600 ISO or switching to Sports mode, which captured the movement well, but it was dark... but enough about that). Or it was static, and stayed only on one member (as the case with Daemonia** and the focus being only on Claudio Simonetti).

But, don't get me wrong. The Majestic is great venue. Nice and roomy lobby, comfortable seats in the theater, though I personally could use a bit more room between rows. But that's a personal problem. No, the Majestic is ideal for RoSFest, so no complaints there and the venue staff were great.

This year the bands seemed heavier, more "metal." Naturally, some of them were, or at least trending in that direction. Saturday began with Poland's Osada Vida. They were a band I had heard of certainly, reporting on them via press releases from their label, Metal Mind, but had not, prior to their performance heard much of (a bit of their Three Seats... CD on the plane was all). The first few pieces they played seemed chaotic - either a byproduct of an off-kilter house mix or the band not yet falling into sync. But by the forth track, they settled in to a groove. During the set, we got a brief lesson of some Polish words or phrases, courtesy of keyboardist Rafal Paluszek. The set included pieces from their last three albums, including the title track to their most recent album Uninvited Sleep, as well as "Lack Of Dreams," "Is The Devil From Spain?" and from The Body Parts Party "Liver." I enjoyed their set, though they seemed more metal than I expected, despite the label they're on being, primarily, a metal label (as Satellite and associated projects, Pendragon, and others who are not metal, are also on the label, the style isn't a given).

As I am slowly becoming a fan of Phideaux, I was looking forward to this set. And it didn't disappoint, even as I felt there was an overall similar mood to all of the pieces. But the mix was fantastic with each instrument shining through. I'm not yet familiar enough with his music to give you a taste of the setlist (but I have shown it below), except that I know, because Phideaux (the man) name-checked the albums each song was from - so Doomsday Afternoon, Number Seven, and the Great Leap were all represented, not to mention his brand new CD, Snowtorch. Also the set included a track that Phideaux mentioned was always planned for an album, but to date has not appeared; that track being the epic "Tempest Of Mutiny." (Nothing from Fiendish, the one album I am familiar with). I loved the harmony vocals between Phideaux, Valerie Gracious and Ariel Farber - enhanced by the background, or rather additional, vocals of Linda Ruttan-Moldawsky and her twin sister Molly Ruttan. Farber plays a mean violin as well (and not the only violin we'd hear this weekend). There was one point during the set - and I can't recall which track it was - but I had to smile at the clever pointedness of Phideaux's lyrics. Which probably describes everything, but it was something that struck me. If I find the reference as I go through his back catalog, you'll see a footnote. I bring it up only to say that's one thing I like about music - a message or commentary (and, I have learned, I'll also get that from The Reasoning)...

... speaking of which - messages that is -- as many of you might know, the world was supposed to end on Saturday, May 21. It didn't, so far as I can tell. Or none of us left, I suppose, which would say something about us as a species. Wasn't there some issue with bees leaving England a few years back (or was that just me blending the news with Doctor Who? (and dear me if that's the case, as it means I've well and truly lost it)). But, looking at the setlist, we see a bulk of the music was taken from Doomsday Afternoon ... and since the rapture was supposed to occur at 6pm... in either the Pacific or Eastern (or both, or all) timezones, it was afternoon then and 6pm somewhere at the time Phideaux was playing.

Ironically, I suppose, given my comment above about lyrics, the artist I was most looking forward to seeing was Erik Norlander. Now, he's not entirely, always instrumental, but the core of this set was. Having been very impressed with The Galactic Collective CD, hearing these pieces in a live setting, and seeing the "Wall Of Doom" in action, as it were, was a draw for me. Fantastic set, from start to finish. Great guitar playing; and it goes without saying, but if I don't you'll wonder what I'm thinking, great keyboard/synth playing/programming from Norlander himself. The Galactic Collective, as the persons around Norlander were named, aptly, also included Norlander's wife, Lana Lane -- a festival draw herself, yet has not appeared under her own name at of these festivals, so far as I know (she has with Norlander solo and with the Rocket Scientists). Great of voice, of course, singing her track "Secrets Of Astrology" (one of Norlander's TGC re-worked pieces was the "Astrology Prelude," which preceded her performance; she sang on one other piece, too.). One moment I chuckled at (but not out loud) was when the scarf that Lane wields like a weapon, snapping and swishing it about, nearly strangled guitarist Freddy DeMarco's guitar -- not shortly before, I'd thought she'd struck him with the scarf, but that had been an optical illusion.

Norlander aired out most of the TGC CD, including one my favorites - "Trantor Station." Though in truth, all pieces of the album, and corresponding live set, are my favorites. Oddly enough, three days later, back home here in California, "Trantor Station" was playing in my head and the story behind it that Norlander mentioned. I knew already it related to Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy (of which there are actually 5 books...), but I did not know that he composed it as, on the one hand reflecting the hustle and bustle of this busying transport/trade station and on the other, a wistful person meeting with family going through the station.

And he also shared at one point during the set the fact he didn't name his huge Moog synthesizer the Wall Of Doom, but rather it was one of the bands backstage at ProgWest 2001 waiting to go on. The Wall of Doom has changed in configuration, from a 3-high, 2 wide single cabinet, to 6 wide, 1 high, separate cabinets. I mention the Wall of Doom here for two reasons; one, for the anecdote, and two, because prior to Norlander's set, Michelle Moog-Koussa, by way of introducing Norlander, spoke about the Moog Foundation, her father, and the legacy his inventions have left on music - certainly in the prog realm, but beyond. Monday, May 23, 2011 would have been Robert Moog's 77th birthday. And it's been almost 6 years since his passing in August 2005.

Of course, getting back to the whole "end of the world" prediction, it was scheduled to happen during Norlander's set. At 5:55pm Eastern, the drummer declared it was 5 minutes until the end of the world (or 5 minutes to 6:00 pm, I don't remember exactly). And then, at about 6:25pm, Norlander said, "I'm told it's after 6pm..." and I believe it was then when he commented on the rudeness of scheduling it during his set.

Because the world didn't end, Daemonia came on next. Daemonia are the project started by Goblin's Claudio Simonetti. The set consisted mostly of music Simonetti composed for the films of Dario Argento, or, in the case of "Mater Tenebrarum," a piece composed by Keith Emerson. I didn't catch all of the pieces played, but I'm certain that "Inferno," "Suspiria," "Phenomena," and the above mentioned "Mater Tenebrarum," were included (setlist included below). A new piece for their upcoming release was also played. Of course, prowling the internet (in a good way), it seems the first piece - which I recognized but couldn't name - was "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor." Despite the classical overtones to the music, Daemonia were heavy. Heavier then I recall from seeing them at ProgWest 2002. They attacked these pieces with metal-band ferocity. In fact, guitarist Bruno Previtali had shorn his hair since I'd last seen him (admittedly, it'd been 9 years; even Simonetti looked older than in 2002...) which gave him a harder-edged look. And bassist Silvio Assaiante was positively punk with his spiked hair and zipper-adorned leather pants. Since uh ... we're talking fashion, Simonetti was wearing a shirt decorated with images of different kinds of beer. Oh how apropos for this crowd (compared to a stodgy wine and other spirits crowd, that is).

The band also featured a vocalist, Silvia Specchio, who had a great and powerful voice. In fact, none of the female singers over the weekend disappointed in the vocal department. Osada Vida's bassist/vocalist wasn't fabulous (but not bad). He commented on this, which I misheard as him saying he wasn't the usual vocalist because the vocalist had left the band. But, looking at the CD credits, I don't think that was the case. At any rate, Specchio did a great job.

The movies the music was from were being shown on the screen behind the set. I found this distracting, actually. Even though it was at the back and dark (whereas the front of the stage was more lit, as previously mentioned), one's attention was drawn to the moving pictures. As intense as the performers were playing, they were also fairly ... static. (This would not be true for all performers...). But we were shown bits of Zombie and other Argento films and, I think, actually footage from their ProgWest 2002 performance. There was just something so very familiar about all of it ... but I could be wrong there and it only looked like that show. There was a brief moment when this live footage matched the live stage performance, which was kind a cool, but it was only for that moment and then it seemed... superfluous. In fact, because even then the movie clips were out of sync... it became less watching the movie (without audio) with a live band than just images as a backdrop. While I'm not old enough to remember the days before "talkies," it was practice (in some if not all cases) to have a live band - orchestra - accompany a film. So, had this worked out and been in sync, it would have been... cool. As it was, the music itself was cool.

As you will hear from many a reviewer, Sunday morning is referred to as "Prog Church" (or some variant). This doesn't necessarily imply that the band playing is a Christian Prog band, nor does it preclude it. And to be honest, I'm not really sure sometimes if their lyrics are of the sort that appeal both to the religious and secular (e.g., U2). I figured Mars Hollow to be just such a band - their debut CD didn't include the lyrics and as it seems many a new US-based band is trending towards Christian Prog, well, it wasn't out of the realm of possibility. Looking at their lyrics now, I can see that, perhaps, in some vague way, they could be... but also they'll appeal to the secular side. They aren't preachy in anyway. But, I'll leave that for my review of their CD.

Live they were quite good and kept up the tradition (of both RoSFest and NEARfest) of having a Sunday morning surprise. If you take a little bit of Yes - mostly in John Baker's vocals - and a little bit of Rush (also there in the vocals), that's a bit what Mars Hollow sound like. A bit of Howe in the guitar playing. But, more generally, an upbeat prog band with sing-alongable lyrics. They not only played tracks from their self-titled debut -- including "Eureka," "Dawn Of Creation," and, my favorite and most catchy, "Midnight" -- but also from their new, yet-to-be-released (although available at RoSFest) album World In Front Of Me, produced by Billy Sherwood. In fact, that connection prompted bassist Kerry Chicoine to quip, "is my bass Billy Sherwood loud?" (a reference to the excessive volume many found Sherwood's Circa: performance of 2008 to be). From that new CD they played "Walk On Alone," "Voices," and "Weapon" (near as I remember; the setlist below confirms it).

The next band I'd seen at CalProg 2010, that being District 97. As good as their CP performance was, I think their RoSFest performance was better. Leslie Hunt has great stage presence, infusing the songs not just with vocal emotion but physical, dancing around. Someone commented on the internet - and forgive me if I don't give him/her named credit or get the comment verbatim - that they were impressed that she could dance to a prog song. District 97 have a sound that mixes metal heaviness with a pop appeal. That is most evident on the opening two tracks of Hybrid Child, which received an airing at RoSFest. And that makes it a bit easier to dance to; but then there's the more proggy material from that album ... and by golly she dances to that, too.

As with their CalProg performance, cellist Katinka Kleijn was not part of the lineup. No reference to this absence was made -- at CP, she had another commitment with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, her other "gig." However, a check of the D97 website reveals a posting that she has left the group due to these other commitments. As with both performances, but something I paid more attention to this time around, the music didn't suffer from her absence. Which may sound like a "oh, she made no impact" kind of comment, but no, what I mean is, those dark, rich cello parts were covered by guitar and, I think, keys (certainly guitar, I was watching closely). So, the tracks felt complete.

New material was also debuted, including a track called "The Thief" and another called "The Perfect Young Man," from their upcoming yet-to-titled album. The latter I think will be another winner for them. Not to say "The Thief" won't be, but... "Perfect Young Man," struck some chords (and not just literally). As they did at CP, they also covered Genesis' "Back In New York City."

A humourous anecdote to add in the "oops" department (to go along with the "attacking scarf" of Lana Lane) is a brief "costume malfunction" that happened to Hunt during the first half of the set (and yes, someone in the crowd to my left shouted out "costume malfunction!"). The large belt/clip the clasped together the two sides of her blouse came off. Now, not quite the Janet Jackson moment... so let's not start rumours of nakedness at RoSFest (already my non-prog-fan friends think I go to festivals like Woodstock!), but with a quick fix and quip "Don't worry, you'll see them later," Hunt quickly recovered. And "see them later" we did... well, sort of, for beneath the blouse was a top made of (or that appeared to be made of) duct tape. ("We haven't done laundry..." one of the band members joked). That Hunt took it in stride and didn't let it break the momentum of their set shows good stagepersonship (oh, I'd be far too embarrassed to continue, provided I had the nerve to be up on stage in the first place).

It occurred to me at this point, in the break between D97 and The Reasoning, that this year's fest almost could have been "ladies night." Phideaux? Female vocalists (one also a violinist); Norlander? Check (2 of them as well); Daemonia? Check; D97? Check. Reasoning? Check. Quidam? Check, by way of a violinist. And, of course, the first front person for Quidam was a woman... Kinda goes along with (and disproves) my comment in my D97 review about more female fronted bands (disproving it's a new phenomenon).

At any rate, the second to last band of the evening was the UK's The Reasoning. I had been listening to their most recent CD, Adverse Camber, and have liked what I heard. And I wasn't disappointed by their set either. Their set included pieces from albums past (5 from the debut, Awakening, 4 from Dark Angel - each including the title track - and all but one track from Adverse Camber (5)), and some new material as well. One of the new pieces was "The Omega Point," which vocalist/lyricist Rachel Cohen explained was based on ideas in a book she had read by ... well, I don't recall the author now or think I can reiterate the concept... at least not without going off on a long tangent. It was at this point in the set (I think) that Rachel admitted -- well, revealed would be more accurate, as the other implies either something to hide or keep mum about -- that she was the "geek" of the group, and is a year away from her Ph.D.

Here was also another point, as I said above, where the energy on stage, certainly from Rachel, was in contrast to the quiet attentiveness of the audience. I have come to expect it, but it's still funny to me how we - and yes, I have to include myself - prefer to remain seated (except to give a standing ovation) and don't spontaneously clap along when the beat surely warrants it. I know it's because we - or at least many - are watching the how: fingers on guitars or keyboards, hands/sticks on drum heads, or whatever manipulation is being executed on a particular instrument. And listening to the result. And just to conclude this thought and move on, prog music isn't really... or hasn't really been music you could dance to; our draw to this music suggests our "get up and dance" instinct is dormant. And thus, I don't expect the audience of mostly 50-something (or older) men... to be screaming like the mostly teen-something audience of, say, the Beatles did (or of Duran Duran -- and why I know that is another story). To be sure, the ratio of men to women is changing, as each year there seem to be more women at the festivals, and more of them who are not just along for the ride, but are active and interested fans themselves. Perhaps owing to the increased ratio of women in prog bands? I don't know. Still, not enough that there is ever a line for the loo.

The headliner for Sunday was Poland's Quidam. I knew next to nothing about the band prior to RoSFest, beyond that I'd published a few reviews of their previous titles and whatever news items we've published over the years. Well, maybe more than next to nothing because I had watched the live DVD The Fifth Season (the review of which is here), so I knew to expect that maybe we'd get a bit of "Hush" somewhere (a cover), and we did, but also in the cover excerpt department, we heard "Riders On The Storm," which became a moment for audience participation (we are staid bunch... one of the bands during the weekend, maybe it was Osada Vida, kept making sure we were still alive out there). And the set concluded with "Wish You Were Here," another sing-a-long, though we kept repeating the "two lost souls..." lyric over and over... and over. Or, would that be round and round? Oh, yeh, and a bit of King Crimson's "Red." So, I was sitting there, and the first few seconds I thought... wow, that sounds familiar; have they stolen...? But then when a few bits more of it were played, I knew then, duh, it's "Red." Only my favorite piece from that album. But you know, I couldn't really tell you what else was played. There were three new tracks, two "in Polish," vocalist Bartek Kossowicz said, apologizing, and one in English.

The performance was good; not as lyrical as I expected from watching the video, as they had a heavier sound. Flute abounded (Jacek Zasada), nonetheless, as did violin (Matylda Ciołkosz), including some duets/duels with guitar (Maciek Meller).

One note there - whether during their set or just before, Kossowicz learned that his friend had lost her baby; he seemed genuinely upset... that is, you know, shaken as if he had just learned that news. The song they sang then, which was solemn, was dedicated to her.

All in all, I enjoyed myself at RoSFest and am amazed at how spot-on with time George Roldan and his crew are. Yes, in a way Norlander ran "long," but part of his spot was given over to Moog-Koussa, and we can't complain about that. (He did cut his set short by two pieces to help fit in with his allotted time). I've already penciled in the dates for 2012.

Because I am so very bad at writing down setlists... I went scouring the Internet. And in finding nothing, turned to ProgressiveEars.com (where I really must visit more; not for that reason, but just because) and found some of the lists either via a repost from TinyFish's forums (posted there by James Allen), or from the bands themselves. In the case of Phideaux, it was via a post the RoSFest Yahoo Group by Brenden L. who mentioned Setlist.fm. In the case of Norlander, my own memory. Therefore, here are some of the setlists (corrections welcomed):

Friday:

TinyFish:
The Loose Ends
Rainland
I'm Not Crashing
Refugee
The Big Red Spark
Weak Machine
Activation
The Final Act
The Loose Ends Part 2
Wide Awake At Midnight
The June Jar
Driving All Night
Fly Like A Bird
Nine Months On Fire
All Hands Lost

Moon Safari:
Moonwalk
Lover's End Pt.1
A Kid Called Panic
Yasgur's Farm
World's Best Dreamers
Dance Across The Ocean
New York City Summergirl
Heartland
Other Half Of The Sky
Doorway / Beyond The Door medley
Constant Bloom
(posted to PE by Tobias Lundgren, but admits may not be in set order)

Saturday:

Phideaux:
Snowtorch (Part One) / Dormouse - A Theme
Thank You For The Evil
Darkness At Noon / Sick Of Me
Doomsday Afternoon
Micro Softdeathstar
The Doctrine Of Eternal Ice (Part One)
Candybrain
Crumble (Vocal Version)
Abducted
Chupacabras
Helix
Microdeath Softstar
Tempest Of Mutiny

Erik Norlander/The Galactic Collective:
Arrival
Neurosaur
Fanfare For Absent Friends
Sky Full Of Stars
Astrology Prelude/Secrets Of Astrology
Trantor Station
After The Revolution
The Dark Water
(note, not necessarily in this order, but I think they were played in the album's order, barring the "extra bits" - e.g. Secrets...)

Daemonia:
Toccata & Fucia
Intro -> Demoni
Halloween/Tubular Bells
Inferno/Mater
Opera
Nemo
You And I
A Voice To Scream
L'Alba
Zombi
Zaratozom
Tenebre
Gamma
Desert
Fragile
Suspira
Phenomena
Mad Puppet
Drums solo
Keys solo
Profondo Rosso

Sunday:

Mars Hollow:
Wait For Me
Walk On Alone
John Baker guitar solo/Midnight
Steve Mauk piano solo/World In Front Of Me
Eureka
Jerry Beller drum solo/Weapon
Voices
Dawn Of Creation

District 97:
The Man Who Knows Your Name
I Can't Take You With Me
The Actual Color
Termites
The Thief
Presto Vivaca/Back in NYC
I Don't Wanna Wait Another Day
The Perfect Young Man
The Back and Forth
Mindscan: Mvmts. VIII, IX and X

The Reasoning:
Diamonds & Leather
Fallen Angels
Sharp Sea
Nobody Effect
Shadows Of The Mind
The Omega Point
The 13th Hour
How Far To Fall?
Script Switch Trigger
Within Cold Glass
Chasing Rainbows
14
A Musing Dream
Dark Angel
Awakening (maybe, a response poster thinks it may not have been included)
Aching Hunger

*But there is an open call to those who would like to file a report on Friday's bands. You could find your words here, on these pages. Pictures not required, but helpful as they help illustrate the story.

** I must thank one-time contributor Duncan Glenday for mentioning this at ProgressiveEars.com and jogging my memory about what I thought.

Added: May 31st 2011
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow

Artist website: www.rosfest.com
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