CalProg 2006 (July 2006)

Date of Performance: July 8, 2006
Venue: Whittier Community Center, Whittier, CA, US

Goin' To California: CalProg 2006

The third edition of CalProg was held on the sunny and warm afternoon of July 8, 2006, in the intimate environs of the Whittier Community Center in Whittier, California. Near perfect weather and an air conditioned venue made the perfect setting for an afternoon and evening of progressive rock. Going into the festival, I had heard of Helmet of Gnats, perhaps because they'd played ProgDay last year, and was passingly familiar with Rocket Scientists, having heard Brutal Architecture a few times. Cryptic Vision, and the festival's headliner Kino, I had just seen the year before at RoSFest and had rated Kino's debut, Pictures, quite highly. I haven't yet heard/reviewed Moments Of Clarity, except for live (though I picked the album up at RF 2005). So, it was for me a day of new, sorta new, kinda-sorta new, and the familiar. Oh, let's not forget Izz Light, who entertained at dinner time (familiar).

Helmet Of Gnats (photo: Stephanie Sollow)The first band on was Helmet Of Gnats, a quartet from Connecticut who play a jazzy, fusiony style of progressive rock with hints of King Crimson, at least to my ears. Helmet of Gnats have been around since the early 80s (at least by that name), though their first album, Helmet Of Gnats, didn't come out until 1996 (and in the meantime, personnel changes happened). In 2004 their second album, also called Helmet Of Gnats was released. As usual, I did a lousy job of writing down what pieces they played -- though one was called "Hurricane," I believe, and a tempest of piece it was [Close... it was "Tsunami," I've now learned, an unrecorded piece]; plus an upbeat and sunny piece called "The Happy Camper"; the band did a great job of playing them. HoG are Chris Fox on guitar, Matthew Bocchino on keyboards (Hammond B3 included), Mark Conese on drums and percussion, and Wayne Zito on bass (who, we learned, hates to play the "Happy Camper" piece). Great stuff that; having bought Helmet of Gnats at the festival (the second album), I look forward to diving into it. The CalProg tradition is that the bands play a prog cover; Helmet Of Gnats chose Return To Forever's "Majestic Dance." Not a surprising choice given the band's history of playing RTF covers in an earlier incarnation.

Chris joked at one point, saying, "Our vocalist quit yesterday. But at least our drummer didn't, and so we're here today" (or something close to that). Of course, they're an instrumental quartet (though a vocalist once appeared in a previous incarnation). It was actually a reference to the fact that Presto Ballet had to back out of their scheduled appearance just weeks before the festival because their drummer quit, and they didn't want to come unprepared. Into the open slot comes the recently reunited California based band Rocket Scientists (photo: Stephanie Sollow) Rocket Scientists. Ironically (and sadly), the Rocket Scientists were also a band without a drummer. Ironically because the "new" drummer, Gregg Bisonette (who had already previously worked with Erik Norlander), was not going to able to perform live. Sadly because the band's original drummer, Shaun Guerin, had passed away a few years earlier. But a drummer was secured, Tony Pia. The Rocket Scientists -- Mark McCrite - guitar, vocals; Don Schiff - N/S Stick; Norlander - keyboards; Pia - drums and percussion; and new vocalist David McBee -- played a good helping of pieces from their upcoming third album Revolution Road ("Red Skies," "Sky Is Falling," to name a few (if I recall correctly)), plus pieces from Brutal Architecture ("Mariner," "Wake Me Up") and Earthbound (including the title track). The newer material had a heavier feel than the symphonic prog of earlier albums, and McBee has a metal-vocalist look about him (a bit like Mike Baker or Russell Allen to look at), but a great voice that nicely complements McCrite's. For their cover, Norlander introduced by saying "If you don't know this one, you need to leave the auditorium now." Erm, well, interestingly enough... I both knew it and didn't know it. Should I admit that? Can I explain that? It was King Crimson's "Epitaph" and yes, that word in the song gave me a clue, but there was also something very Crimson about it the piece. In my defense, what I remember most about In The Court Of The Crimson King is the title track and "21st Century Schizoid Man"... But, something said to me - and it wasn't the folks sitting next to me - Crimson, "Epitaph."

Cryptic Vision (photo: Stephanie Sollow)The next band on the bill was the high energy quintet from Florida, Cryptic Vision. I didn't file a report on RoSFest 2005, since Duncan had done the job nicely, but I wanted to say then that I kept expecting vocalist Todd Plant to break out into the Tom Jones classic "It's Not Unsual" (somehow, "What's New, Pussycat?" didn't come to mind). Not that Plant is smarmy like Jones - it's the hair, I think. And the fact that Plant is a showman, a vocalist's vocalist who doesn't just stand there and sing, but gets into the vocals, feels them, emotes them... Oddly, progressive rock is often about what the fingers are doing (guitar or bass solos, keyboard runs, frenetic drumming), not so much about the body attached to those fingers. (For what it's worth, McBee also is a move-about-a lot vocalist). But Cryptic Vision have that "rock band" stage presence; the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville and Whittier Community Center might be small venues, but CV play like they're at Madison Square Garden. Not a bad thing, mind you. They're very good at what they do, so it's not just posing. They don't just "look pretty for the cameras," they play pretty, too (well, not "pretty" actually; they prog rock hard, though it's not hard prog rock). Yes, they may be a little more pomp rock than prog rock, but... well, damn they're good. And although being closer to the stage at CalProg than I was at RoSFest, I didn't have quite the same Plant-as-Jones thought; Plant's shimmery shirt seemed... well, like something Jones might wear, though ... maybe.

Anyway, CV are: Plant, of course, on vocals and percussion (including cowbell), Sam Conable on bass and vocals, Tim Keese on guitar and vocals, Howard Helm on keyboards and vocals, and Rick Duncan on drums and percussion. They played a selection of material, mostly drawn from their new album In A World, but also selections from their first album Moments Of Clarity. And their prog cover - "Progledy" - was a medley of pieces that included Kansas, Genesis, Crimson, ELP, Dream Theater and others. There's a reason why they wowed the crowd at RF, and again at CP. Great sound and great energy; a band loving what they're doing even if they aren't progressive in the "breaking new ground, going where no band has gone before" style.

My love for progressive rock began with Marillion's Misplaced Childhood; though I had been listening to prog before then, I just didn't identify it as anything but great music. A large part of that love is Pete Trewavas' bass playing. Of course, Marillion lead me to Arena (though John Mitchell was not the band's first guitarist) and my seeking out of prog led me to It Bites.* So... I was predisposed to like Kino (photo: Stephanie Sollow)Kino. And having heard their one album to date (not including the recent outtakes CD), I do like them and Picture very much. Course, like CV, I had seen them before, and so knew what to expect. I think I enjoyed their CalProg set more, however. Whether it's because now they have a few more concerts under their belt, were having a better day... I don't know. But the set moved quickly, despite some equipment incidents. They played, if not all of Picture, pretty darn near so. I wasn't checking them off, but the set included "Letting Go," "Swimming In Women," "Telling Me To Tell You"... "Perfect Tense"... "Picture"... and so on. Plus, they played an outtake from the "outtakes" release (a Trewavas piece), It Bites pieces ("Kiss Like Judas" and, um, one I didn't recognize), and, for the encore, Marillion's "Sugar Mice." Hard to say then which was their "prog classic" cover... or which wasn't.

Izz Light (photo: Stephanie Sollow)Now, I do need to back up a minute here, because between CV and Kino we had Izz Light, providing the dinner time entertainment. Izz Light are Paul Bremer on guitar, Laura Meade on vocals and keyboards, and John Galgano on acoustic guitar, vocals and keyboards. This trio played Izz pieces from Sliver..., I Move and their new one, My River Flows. Laura played a couple of pieces from her yet to be released and "nearly almost about to be finished" solo album. And John also treated us to teasers of prog classics, including a bit of Tarkus... their longest "cover" was an abbreviated rendition of Marillion's Misplaced Childhood (after a tease of "King Of Sunset Town"). While percussion wasn't included in Izz Light proper, two fans provided the Ian Mosley drum fills by banging appropriately on their table. Now, either he could see Pete Trewavas before the rest of us did, or John's timing was impeccable, but just as he concluded their MC rendition, he said, "I hope Pete didn't hear that." And who should appear but Pete, along with John Mitchell and John Beck. Pete approached and congratulated Brems and Galgano (as Meade was not part of this section). I should also add that during the set, Todd Plant came out onto the patio to listen a bit; Sam Conable and Tim Keese passed through and back a couple of times, too. With the doors open to the vendor room, those inside could hear (and if they peeked out the window, see) the performance as well. Which makes CalProg a very intimate setting... like your family reunion picnic [with family members you like..., I should have said - SS Sep 2011].

All in all, CalProg proved to be another fabulous day of music and friendship... with five strong performances. Make your plans to come out now for CalProg 2007.

* Here's a quick anecdote. Oh, quit your groaning, I made it a footnote, didn't I? Okay, many moons ago; I'd say circa 1991-1992 (maybe a tad later), I had been on a CD shopping trip down in San Diego and picked up several used CDs, one of which was It Bites' Eat Me In St. Louis. My friend, whom I dropped by to visit on my trip back home, asked me "what would make you pick up an album with a title like that?" (or something like that, for obvious reasons). I recalled this exchange at CalProg when Kino sang It Bites' "Kiss Like Judas," which isn't on that album, but... well... I didn't say it was an insightful anecdote.

Added: July 19th 2006
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow

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