Wednesday, December 16, 2009

News: Genesis confirmed to be heading to Hall of Fame

My favourite magazine of all time (sarcasm) has an interesting little interview with Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford who are reflecting on finally being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They contemplate playing at the ceremony, possibilities of a reunion with Peter Gabriel and deny the fact that they're a Prog band. 

It's about time that the Hall began recognizing bands from the Progressive world, however I have the feeling that the main reason for Genesis' inclusion has much more to do with the big Pop hits of the 80s then the truly groundbreaking work done in the early 70s with Peter Gabriel at the helm.  If you look at the rest of this year's list, they are still not even remotely interested in recognizing the likes of Yes or King Crimson. Let's just congratulate the boys in Genesis and then continue to pretend the Hall doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. (It doesn't, it's useless) (Even though Pink Floyd and Zappa are in it) (Still...) (Whatever)

Oh! Mike's working on a new Mike and the Mechanics album! Yay? Oh brother... 

Genesis' Rutherford and Banks Reflect on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction : Rolling Stone
What happened when you guys sat down with Peter Gabriel to talk about a reunion tour a few years ago?
There was a possibility of doing The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I think Peter was unwilling to commit. Originally he was quite keen on the idea, but then he thought about what it would actually involve, and I think he's been out of a group such a long time I think he's forgotten a bit. I think he only suddenly remembered when he was sitting down with us all what it would be like to have to sort of share ideas. He's gotten used to ruling his situation a little bit, which obviously he couldn't do with Genesis.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

News: Jethro Tull Unplugged in the Czech Republic

It now seems pretty evident that Jethro Tull's last studio album is going to be A Christmas Album. While this hardly does justice to the band's legacy, most specifically to the classic Progressive epics of the 1970s, it's a nice cheery and professional way to go out. Despite the lack of new material, Ian Anderson continues to tour the world bringing holiday cheer. In this found article, next week's concert in Prague is previewed as well as Ian hints that Tull might put the electric instruments to rest once an for all. I suppose this is only natural, the old minstrel has  really mellowed in his advanced age. Happy Holidays!

The Prague Post - Night & Day - Stage - Acoustic cheer for the holidays
"We had been on the road since September, doing acoustic tours in the UK and the U.S., when I said to the guys a few weeks ago, 'I guess you will probably want to play your electric instruments again for the shows in December?' They said, 'We actually would really like to carry on playing acoustic.' "

Friday, December 11, 2009

Essay: Prog Rock As Rebellion

I want to rattle a few cages. I want to wake some people from their mundane ordinary existences and make them think about the world around them. When most people consider anti-authoritarian attitudes in music, they automatically think of Punk. Any regular to this blog will quickly realize that I do not consider Punk rebellious. In fact, to my eye, Punk is the soundtrack of conformity. This may be a shock to anyone who grew up during the late-70s and saw the rise of Punk's status as the flag for fighting the machine. However, in my case, growing up in the 90s meant that Punk was already well established and accepted as mainstream. It was very visible in the media and was easily marketed by large corporations to any young person looking for a soundtrack to break things. You may be able to sympathize then when I claim that, to me, Punk was the machine. This probably has something to do with why I turned to Progressive Rock.

Prog, to me, was everything that wasn't mainstream. It was music fuelled by creativity and imagination. Growing up in the education system in Ontario, Canada in the 90s, being creative and imaginative was not necessarily something that was encouraged. Conformity was expected by all, teachers and peers. If you did something different, you were shunned and punished. It seemed all so constraining. This is why, in my teens, I spent the vast majority of my spare time wandering between used vinyl record shops in downtown Toronto. In the very earliest years of the 2000s Vinyl had yet to begin its resurgence. I quickly found a calling in the experimental albums of the early 70s. This magical music from another era was everything that mainstream music of the time was not. The fantastical cover art, from the screaming twisted face on In The Court Of The Crimson King to the elaborate imagination of the paintings by Roger Dean, seemed like something that would never be allowed by the reality-show obsessed culture that ruled the day. I connected with the sprawling side-long epics. The three-minute pop-songs heard on the radio simply left me cold.

I was fairly known in high school for trumpeting the virtues of Progressive Rock. I couldn't understand the criticisms that were associated with the genre. How could a form of music that was built upon a foundation of creativity be brushed off as pretentious wanking? What was wrong with a musician taking time to learn how to get the most out of their instruments so that they could express themselves in a way that the three-chord punks really could not? Isn't art all about self expression? Isn't art about creativity and imagination? Isn't trying new things what art is all about? Isn't music considered art? Throughout my childhood, you would be hard pressed to think of music as anything more than a formulaic product meant to sell plastic discs.

While the notion of Progressive Rock as rebellion may be a difficult one to fathom, please consider my example as to why I believe there is nothing more rebellious. As our culture seemingly continues its drop into the netherworld of stupidity, put up some resistance and join me on my crusade to preserve my creative mind. Instead of watching the latest mind-raping insult to your intelligence on TV tonight, pull out your copy of Relayer instead and put your mind to work conjuring up the images that are the product of the lush music and epic artwork. When everyone else in society insists on being dumb, what could be more rebellious than thinking?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

News: Peter Gabriel Live in London and New Album

It appears that Mr. Procrastinate is actually heading back on stage. It seems that his new concert, called 'New Blood', will feature no drums and no guitars. Is Pete going A Capella? Hardly. It seems that he will be utilizing an orchestra as his backing band of choice. So far there is only one show confirmed thus far, March 27th 2010 in the fancy shmancy O2 Arena in London. Tickets are very very expensive and I'd guess will be very sold out very quickly.

Did I mention that he sorta has a new album coming out? I say 'sorta' mainly due to the fact that it will consist solely of an odd ball selection of cover songs and not an original composition for miles around. I'm not terribly excited for this personally. I did quite enjoy Gabriel's last solo outing, seemingly almost a decade ago. It resembled a return to his artsy roots that I for one think is his natural habitat. All that Sledgehammer nonsense may have been fun and all, and sold plenty of merchandise to boot, but in reality Peter Gabriel belongs on the fringe of experimentation. Agree? Disagree? Couldn't care less? Leave a comment or email me

Peter Gabriel | Home
With only 2 months and 6 days to go until the release of 'Scratch My Back' on February 15th 2010, details are gradually escaping the studio. We thought we'd open the door a little wider here. You may have seen the now finalised track-listing and running-order we published in the 'news' section - if so, it will be no surprise to read that the album will feature Peter's recordings of Heroes (David Bowie), The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon), Mirrorball (Elbow), Flume (Bon Iver), Listening Wind (Talking Heads), The Power of the Heart (Lou Reed), My Body is a Cage (Arcade Fire), The Book of Love (The Magnetic Fields), I Think it's Going to Rain Today (Randy Newman), Apr├Ęs Moi (Regina Spektor), Philadelphia (Neil Young) and Street Spirit (Fade Out) (Radiohead).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Found Link - No-Man's Mixtaped DVD Microsite

Bla bla bla bla. Steven Wilson is a prolific dude. Yadda yadda etc.. It's all been said countless times so what good would it be to repeat it again? One of his many muses is the band No-Man. You know he's been working with Tim Bowness since 1990? This is true. Did you know that this is their first DVD of one of their vary rare live performances? This is also true. The site features a short biography and explanation of what the DVD contains. In addition to the live concert video it also boasts a documentary chronicling the story of No-Man from seed to um...bigger seed. (I don't know what that even means...) Either way, you can get fancy wallpaper for your computer, check out a trailer for the DVD and even watch a clip from one of the songs. Enjoy it. Breathe in the Light as Mr. Bowness might want to say.

No-Man - Wherever There is Light (from Mixtaped DVD) from Kscope on Vimeo.

No-Man's - Mixtaped DVD
Comprising a comprehensive career-spanning documentary, a complete performance from London's Bush Hall in 2008 and numerous extras (including newly commissioned and archive video footage), Mixtaped provides a fascinating insight into one of British music's most enduring and idealistic bands.


Video: Interview with Jon Anderson-soundalike Benoit David

In light of the fact that Yes seemed to have shunned Jon Anderson, here is a video recorded about a year ago on Canadian radio station CBC. Benoit David sure seems like a nice guy (he is Canadian after all), and the story of how Squire called him while he was repairing a boat out on a lake is neat. Question: It has been a long year since this video was recorded and Jon Anderson is all better and touring on his own, why not bring him back? My theory is they all secretly can't stand Jon and Benoit is much more agreeable. Anyone else have a conspiracy theory with this?

YouTube - 'Yes' on QTV

'Yes' on QTV

News: 3/5 Yes Return to US for winter tour

If you live on the eastern side of the United States, you may be fascinated to learn that Howe, Squire and White are back for another leg of their most recent adventure. They have long since told Jon Anderson that he's no longer needed as they are using Canadian Benoit David to fill his role as lead singer. Rick Wakeman's son, Oliver, has taken over for his dad who is in no shape to go on these long tours anymore. Originally David was just supposed to be a temporary fill-in for Anderson who was ill at the time, but Jon has since recovered and is touring as a solo act. I guess Squire prefers this line up and doesn't feel like dragging around Anderson and his hippie wife...or something. I have no idea why Jon isn't being invited back into the fold. Anyone have any insight into this? Oh, and why is Steve never looking at the camera during these group shots?

Yes returns to the US for winter headlining trek >> Tour dates at LiveDaily
In October, Squire told an interviewer on the UK's Planet Rock radio station that "this is now Yes," and confirmed that both David and the younger Wakeman are now full-time members of the band. Anderson, meanwhile, has since recovered from his illness and is concentrating on a solo career.

News: Ike Willis and Ray White join Zappa cover band Project/Object

This should be something to see. Ike Willis and Ray White, probably the two most prominent voices in Zappa's music during the latter stages of his life, are joining the absurdly good cover band Project/Object for their current tour. The link below has a list of dates on the tour, so if you live in the U.S. you should definitely check it out. If you close your eyes during these shows, it may just feel like 1984 all over again. Watch the embeded video for the two tallented vocalists at work with FZ. News | Project/Object Performing The Music Of Frank Zappa Reunites Former Zappa Alumni
Project/Object will have for the first time in 25 years, as special guests - Ike Willis & Ray White. These amazing & unique voices were clearly favorites of Frank Zappa's, as he recorded & toured with one or both of them from 1976 till his last tour in 1988. Together, they created some of the most memorable performances of Frank Zappa's music & Project/Object will bring them together for the fans, performing songs they are each known for, as well as songs from classic Zappa albums they recorded together.

Frank Zappa - Keep it Greasy (live)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Essay: The frustration of living in the culture of the stupid

Here me out, I'm not trying to suggest that everyone is dumb. Well, maybe I am? I don't really know. However it seems impossible to escape the vast stupidity that seemingly rules today's culture. I often find myself unable to consume any mainstream media without the instantaneous urge to stick knives into my head. What happened to patience? Why does every aspect of a 21st century dweller have to consist of instant gratification?

This example may be out of the scope of this blog, but bear with me. I happen to be a huge fan of the first Star Trek movie. Not the newest one that just came out, but the 1979 original dubbed 'The Motion Picture'. This film is critically panned for being drawn-out and over-long. There are many sequences that do truly take their time and pass without a word of dialogue. Even the so called 'real' Trek fans usually describe this film as one of the worst made. I don't get it. If they had any sort of attention span they would see a beautifully shot film that asks questions of a larger and more important nature then anything else in Trek cannon. Yes it's slow, but in its pacing we can really absorb and seriously consider the epic visuals presented before us. Now, compare this to the recent 2009 film. This is a break-neck pace film that moves along so quickly that there is no chance to even blink let alone think. The characters spend the entire running time of the film in constant peril. The good guys are clearly defined and the bad guys are clearly evil. Despite the absurd time-travel plot lines, there is absolutely no chance that even the dumbest viewer will get lost. Your hand is held and your senses are under constant stimulation.

The reason I use this example is this... It really seems to me that our culture has become irreversibly stupid. I'm currently working on a video review of Tales From Topographic Oceans for the Vintage Vinyl series that we began last week on the blog. I usually do extensive research before embarking on such a piece. I try to gather as much criticism as I do praise for the albums I review in order to provide proper evidence for my thesis and answer rebuttals before they arise. There is no shortage of criticism surrounding Tales, unsurprisingly. This was an album larger viewed as a miserable overblown pretentious waste upon its release. The basic gist of all critique against the album , then and now, can be summed up in the following quote from a certain review: "Two albums full of aimless noodling, pointless soloing and pretentious lyrics that will test the patience of any listener." Sigh...

Why do we have such limited patience? Part of my review consists in my claim that Tales may indeed be the most perfect use of the vinyl record format in the history of rock music. Part of the joy of purchasing a record, or any recorded music for that matter, is the fact that you own the album. Having it in your possession means that you can listen to it whenever and how often you please. Topographic Oceans is not an album that one can truly understand on first listen. Forget it. This is an album that demands repeated listens. Any fan of the work can attest to its "getting better with every spin" properties that define great music (in my opinion). I'm also going to suggest that listening to this album in today's world is the ultimate show of anti-establishment behaviour. In a world of 99cent downloads and the simplest music built solely on its catchy hooks and having no other depth whatsoever, Tales stands out like Jon Anderson at a Punk concert. As the days tick by from its release, mainstream culture is only further developing its short attention spans. Even the most commercial and popular release from 1973 is high-art in comparison to anything being made today.

This is probably a source of too much frustration in my life. I just can't associate with today's culture. I feel like the black sheep of society. If it were not for the advent of the internet, who knows where my mental state would be right now. Why am I seemingly the only person thinking. What's wrong with using my brain and applying independent thought? Is there any chance that the masses of stupidity will ever change their ways? Is the lack of brain-power a sign of genetic degeneration or is it purely a manifestation on a commercial culture leaching off those who gladly follow the herd?

The posts to the Prog Rock Blog may slow ever so slightly over the next few weeks. The reason for this is that this blog is going to become a part of a larger network. I'm going to expand my writing into other areas and examine other aspects of interests in much the same way I am doing here with music. The common thread running throughout these sites will be an examination of contemporary culture and its penchant for favouring simplistic lowest common-denominator forms of entertainment over anything that requires any form of thought. Have no fear, once all the other sites are up and running I plan to continue full force here at The Prog Rock Blog. The thing that drives me to write here and eventually in other places is one underlying belief. If I can somehow reach as many people as I can and challenge their notion of the reality they consider normal, then maybe...just maybe, we can pick ourselves out of this culture-rot. What I hope from you, dear reader, is to join in the conversation. Let me know when you agree with what I have to day. Even more importantly, let me know when you disagree. Share this site with anybody you know who might have similar tastes. If they too look around at our almost unbelievably stupid music mainstream today and shake their heads in frustration, then I can bet they will want to share their opinions here.

While many of those reading this site may be of a more advanced age, considering the music I cover here, I am a young and ambitious guy. I want to do what I can to encourage everyone to question the norms. I want to inspire others to use their brains to make new realizations about the world around them. In my opinion, things have rarely been worse in contemporary history. Despite the means that technological advances have brought us to expand our minds and use our brains more efficiently, we are stuck with a culture more obsessed on basic instinctual self-centred motivations. Sex-obsessed, shallow and materialistic, I think its time we move into a new age of enlightenment. Who's with me?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Review: Steve Hackett - Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth (2009)

I have an endless amount of respect for Steve Hackett. How could I not? While I do tend to take many-a-shot at old timers who have spent the vast amount of their careers cashing in on past successes, there are some old dudes that seem to continually push themselves well into their autumn years. Steve Hackett is one such example. In fact I'd go as far to say that the last decade has easily been his most consistently excellent since the 70s. Starting with 1999's Darktown, Hackett has churned out a succession of brilliant albums in both his moving Classical and eclectic Progressive Rock style. He seems content to consistently put his former Genesis band-mates to shame with not only his continued artistic integrity, but also in the sheer pace of production.

The most astonishing fact is that with each release he is only improving as a songwriter. His latest collection of compositions, Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth, continues in much the same vein as his previous Prog Rock outings. 2006's Wild Orchids was, at that time, an album I proclaimed to be one of his most consistently enjoyable in decades. It didn't take many listens to his latest creation to come to the conclusion that this is indeed his best since Spectral Mornings. Of all the legendary Progressive greats, there is no doubt that Steve Hackett is the only one who just keeps getting better and better with age. Don't believe me? Listen to the two-part epic Emerald And Ash. The first half, a beautiful ballad (perhaps the Emerald), transforms effortlessly into the second-half rocker with guitars ablaze (clearly the Ash). This is a sign of a mature composer who isn't afraid to toy with the structure of his songs and use the power of contrast to aid in his storytelling. This advanced craftsmanship in the art of building music in the boundlessness world of Progressive Rock is a sign of a master at the peak of his game.

While fans of Steve's frantic licks will relish in the hard-rocking fusion-esque Tubehead (you know he was fret tapping years before Van Halen), fans of the complete Hackett package will soak up every second of the extend length of Sleepers. Beginning with yet another shining example of his classical guitar prowess, the song shifts and grows through just about every style the man has been perfecting all these years. The album's finale, Last Train To Istanbul, fusses huge violin riffs and powerful drumming in a way that very much reflects the song's title perfectly.

As I'm known to be rather picky when it comes to sound quality and production in music, you'll be happy to know that this album gets full marks in my books. The production is lush and very dynamic. I applaud Hackett's continued resistance to do like so many of his contemporaries and overuse compression and limiting during the mastering process. (For an example of the worst of this, see the recent Genesis remix/remasters. Yugh. Steve had little involvement in those. Damn you Tony Banks!) The album alternates in between the gigantic and the intimate. You would never know the fact that this was recorded in Steve's living room! This is the perfect example of how modern recording technology can be utilized tastefully. Sadly, at the present time you can only purchase this excellent album from Steve's very own website. As you may know, his recent separation from his wife has caused all sorts of legal problems with his former label, leading Hackett to produce this album very much independently. This shouldn't stop you from ordering it, by the way. If anyone deserves enormous success going the independent route, it surely is Steve Hackett. While the big bucks in the music industry continue to flow the way of cheap talentless hacks (no pun intended), Mr. Hackett is most deserving of every penny he earns for being the model of artistic integrity. Bravo Steve.

News: Allan Holdsworth In San Diego Tomorrow

Can enough be said about how amazing Allan Holdsworth is? A man who has done so much for influencing a generations of jazz guitarist to take their playing to another level, he continues to amaze and inspire. If you're lucky enough to be in San Diego you can catch him live tomorrow night. Check out this article for some great quotes from Holdsworth and an army of admires.

He’s a guitar hero among guitarists - Features -
“As soon as I figured out I didn’t know anything about music, I was OK. It’s when I thought I could learn something that I was in trouble. It’s a never-ending story, but we all know that. The more you learn, the more you learn you don’t know.”

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Surrounded By Prog - Genesis' Selling England By The Pound SACD DTS 5.1

I hate the Grammys. What a load of baloney. If you happen to frequent this blog I'm sure you'd have no difficulty imagining my reasoning behind this. I'd rather get whacked in the face with Chris Squire's triple necked bass that he uses during Awaken then get a dirty little Grammy award. That being said, I do tend to get minutely interested when the list of nominations comes around every year for the Surround Sound category. Mainly because this is a category that Porcupine Tree usually has a chance at winning. I know for a fact that Deadwing won in 2005 and Fear Of A Blank Planet was nominated, among a few others, I believe. I was quite disappointed when Mr. Wilson's solo album Insurgentes was not on this year's list of nominations. What were they thinking? I think that it might be one of the most amazing 5.1 presentations I've ever heard. Fools! Not 'mainstream' enough for the narrow-minded jerks, I suppose. (cynical cynical cynical I am)

What has been nominated this year, however, are the new surround sound mixes of the Peter Gabriel-era Genesis albums. In honour of this fact I'm going to take a look at one of those mixes: Selling England By The Pound. I'm sure this album needs no introduction as it is synonymous with Progressive Rock. It's usually battling it out for top spot on Prog Archives' top album of all time charts, and rightfully so. A well deserved classic by all accounts. Yadda yadda yadda... Despite my praise for the album itself, I just can't give the same glowing review of these new mixes. Genesis' sound engineer of choice, (at least since We Can't Dance in the early 90s) Nick Davis, and Tony Banks himself were mostly involved with this project and quite frankly what they churned out is very disappointing on many fronts. The notion of going back to the original recordings and remixing old albums of this nature is a dicey proposition. In an ideal situation, running the old multi-track tapes through modern digital mixing equipment should provide the opportunity to bring enhanced sound quality. Despite this, there is always a danger of making too many changes to the album and as a result rewrite history (in a George Lucas and Star Wars kind of way). The approach that Nick Davis took on these Genesis reissues is pretty upsetting.

This album, Selling England By The Pound, was a warm and lush sounding record. On the new 5.1 mix (and new stereo as well) things sound significantly louder and much harsher. The more I listen to these DVDs (I don't have the SACD version, which was only released in Europe and Japan and was outside of my budget to order as imports) the more I think this is a huge wasted opportunity. In comparison with Steven Wilson's treatment of the King Crimson catalogue so far, these discs are a sonic mess. I find it hard to crank these albums to a level of loudness that I'm accustomed to with the original vinyl version without having my ears start to bleed. To use audiophile terminology, these are harsh and bright sounding discs. The low end (the bass effects) are severely lacking. Where Mike Rutherford's bass used to shake the room, it now sounds as though its been castrated. It's wimpy sounding in 5.1. Us Prog fans should be thankful though, the Phil Collins era albums are treated far worse. In fact, I never listen to the new mixes of Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering anymore simply because they sound terrible. The original vinyl versions beat the snot out of them every time. Just compare the new Foxtrot with Wilson's treatment of Lizard and see what I mean. No comparison.

It's not all doom and gloom however. The use of surround sound and its additional speakers is very entertaining. The added separation does give additional insight into just how all the individual elements come together to make this album what it is. There are many instances of discrete sounds coming from the rear of the sound stage. During moments like in Cinema Show, the acoustic guitars are spread around the room in a way that lets you hear how all those weaving 12-strings come together. Backup vocals usually stand near the rear to counterpoint the leads in the front. The marching band at the beginning of The Battle Of Epping Forest marches around the room. The mellotrons, while having lost some of its majesty due to the sound quality remarks in the previous paragraph, are easy to hear coming from the rear. Going to the original recordings brings out many new details such as the sound of Peter Gabriel pressing the buttons on the flute during the solo in Firth Of Fifth. There also seems to be some different vocal takes used in comparison to the original, such as the "here comes the cavalry" cry during Epping Forest. All these aspects should appeal to all fans of Gabriel-era Genesis so these will probably be of interest despite the sound quality criticisms.

To be fair to Nick Davis and Tony Banks, the use of compression and equalization on the Genesis remixes are very much in step with current trends in music mastering. Personally the constant loud volume detracts from the dynamic nature of these recordings. If you aren't particular about such things then I have no doubt that the Selling England By The Pound 5.1 remix will entertain and amuse. If I'm in the mood to really listen to this album at a loud volume, I tend to reach for my vinyl copy. That being said (I love saying that), I do hope the box-set takes home the Grammy award for no other reason than having more Progressive Rock albums recognized by the mainstream (for what it's worth). If I had the choice, however, I'd easily pick Steven Wilson's Insurgentes to be nominated and win this year's award. It may be the best of its kind, ever. Hmmm, perhaps the next instalment of this column should explain exactly why I think this. How's that for a teaser?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

News: Alan Parsons Project's Eric Woolfson Dies

Sad news. The Alan Parsons Project's songwriter Eric Woolfson has just passed away today at the age of 64.

You can leave condolences on his Facebook Page

Found Link: Interview With Kansas Guitarist Rich Williams

Well I made fun of Rich and the rest of Kansas yesterday for being washed up so I figure I might as well link to this interview from Modern Guitarist. Rich talks about life on the road, touring with Journey and Styx (speaking of washed up) as well as the equipment he uses on the road. When asked about all the live albums Kansas keep churning out, he forgot to mention the real reason for their existence: easy cash-in! They have what, two hit songs? How else can you keep milking the cash cow? Oh yeah, greatest hit compilations, they have plenty of 'em too!

Interview With Kansas Guitarist Rich Williams
Rich: When we first got started we were signed by Kirshner Records, and they kind of left us alone with the music. They gave us a budget and let us record the album. There was some input, but not much beyond asking us to have some material that they could play on the radio. That kind of a situation just wouldn’t happen today.

LA Philharmonic Plays Zappa

Speaking of Frank Zappa, there seems to be a recent trend for many an orchestra to be playing his compositions lately. You have to understand this though; the guy fought for most of his life to have his 'serious' music to be played by a 'real' orchestra. In his autobiography he talked about how symphony orchestras only play music by dead composers because of a myriad of reason not excluding they didn't have to worry about paying royalties. Well, call it a self fulfilling prophecy. Now, almost 17 years since his death, you can go just about anywhere in the world and hear dead-man Zappa's 'serious' music being by just about anybody. Heck, even the LA Philharmonic put on a performance of pieces from Yellow Shark last night. Seems to be the way, the good composers are never fully appreciated until they croak. Poor Frank.

LA Philharmonic Plays Zappa on JamBase

EDIT: I found a review of last night's concert. Sounds like lots of fun. Read all about it.

A Prog Rock Guide to the Project/Object - Absolutely Free

This album was released in 1967! I really think history has almost forgotten just how innovative and ahead of their time The Mothers of Invention were. Zappa's first band were clearly breaking just about every rule in the book and doing so with style and class. Just to put into perspective how important the release date of this album is, consider that this is the same year The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's, the Moody Blues released Days of Futures Past and Jimi Hendrix released Are You Experienced. There is little doubt that these are important and innovative albums in the overall picture of Rock music, but with Absolutely Free I do believe that Frank Zappa and The Mothers were making full blown Progressive Rock years before King Crimson apparently launched the genre properly with In The Court Of The Crimson King.

Hear me out. While The Beatles take a lot of the credit for inspiring the legions of Progressive bands that followed, The Mothers were really laying the blueprint for Prog in a much firmer way than Sgt Pepper's ever did. Firstly, The Mothers were pretty good musicians. In fact, one of the reasons Zappa wanted to join these guys was that they had better musicianship then most of the other bands in the L.A. music scene at the time. While future lineups of Zappa bands were clearly much more polished in this regard, these early Mothers of Invention could certainly play their instruments at a level that was pretty advanced for Rock n' Roll in the late 60s. Just listen to all the shifting tempos and styles that this album possesses. In addition to the musical chops, Zappa was experimenting with the form of composition in ways that other bands wouldn't try for another couple of years at least. The original vinyl consists of two "Underground Oratorios", each of which took up a side of the LP. The first side was simply called Absolutely Free and was a flowing suite of music revolving around the subject of vegetables. The second side was called "The M.O.I. American Pageant" and revolved around the boring plastic nature of Americans at the time. Zappa's social satire is pretty clear, Americans and vegetables are pretty much interchangeable in many regards. This may seem like an obvious statement in our post-modern satirical era, but in 1967 these were pretty daring statements.

So we basically have two side long suites. That's a staple of what was to come as the Prog bands of the 70s pretty much took this format to the extremes. The humour in the lyrics is pretty apparent, if the constant giggling doesn't point that out. Zappa and The Mothers create a fun almost circus-like atmosphere but then, almost casual, toss off really perfectly played high-brow classical music references almost seemingly. Check out Status Back Baby. This is a fairly straight forward parody of late-sixties bubblegum pop music, but then suddenly during the instrumental break Zappa starts playing a phrase from Igor Stravisnky's Petrushka on his guitar and then the full band joins in and nails the big ending of the famous bombastic section from the same ballet! A whistle blows and then they go seamlessly back into bubblegum mode to finish off the song. Need I remind you that this is 1967? How incredible is that? Considering the influence Stravinsky had on the Prog bands of the early 70s, this is yet more proof that Zappa nailed the genre before it was even created.

From the musical complexity to the 'out-there' subject mattered covered on epics like Brown Shoes Don't Make It, I can't think of another album from 1967 that pushes the boundaries of Rock music like The Mothers of Invention did with Absolutely Free. Of course it may be these very factors that has caused the album to be largely ignored by mainstream audiences of the day and subsequently its lack of appraisal today. Regardless, many Zappa fans consider this album to be among the most concise examples of his genius. There is little doubt that this is an essential album for any Zappa collector and fan of Progressive music. It's an important historical document and shines today with its music and social satire resonating as strongly as ever.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Vintage Vinyl - Emerson Lake and Palmer's Tarkus

The first in a brand new series as a guide to the beginner used vinyl collector. I decided to attempt to make this a video series. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Vintage Vinyl - Giant Armadillo Tank!!! Emerson Lake and Palmer - Tarkus - The Prog Rock Blog from Paul Di Meglio on Vimeo.

News: Kansas - officially washed up - playing at the PGA merchandise show in January

Poor Kansas. I guess this is a step up from touring casinos. Or maybe it's a step down? Well, if you like golf and like Kansas and happen to be in Orlando late January, you may want to check out the following link:

PGA Merchandise Show will present Kansas at industry concert | World Golf News
Kansas, one of America's most successful progressive rock bands, will be the featured entertainment in a new "Elations Rocks the Joint" Concert at the 2010 PGA Merchandise Show. The complimentary industry concert will be held in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., Friday, January 29, 2010, at 6:00 p.m.

News: Yet Another Asia Reunion like its 1983

Everyone's favorite "should have been an amazing jaw dropping Progressive Rock super group but actually turned out to be a crappy mediocre 80s pop band" is back! Yes that's right, following the 'success' of their 2008 reunion album Phoenix, the original lineup of Asia is heading back to the studio for another collection of pop-fooey. If you haven't heard Steve Howe, John Wetton, Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer's last creation, then don't bother. Well, that is unless you really can't believe how a band can make an album in 2008 that sounds exactly like it was made in 1982. Seriously, down the cheesy keyboards and bland straightforward rhythms, if you weren't informed as to its correct release date you may be fooled into thinking that those old geezers actually recorded this sucker in the early 80s and have been saving it until now.

Regardless. They are going to make another one... if this is exciting news to you then perhaps you may want to check their website for more information.