Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Found Link: Roger Dean Talks Avatar in South Korea

The Korea Times had a chance to ask Roger Dean what he thought of James Cameron's rip-off job done for the production design of Avatar. I was hardly unique in questioning how Dean received no credit in the look of the high budget film. Anyone who spends as much time as me pathetically dwelling over the man's artwork while listening to Yes over the years will have doubtlessly questioned Avatar's whole design from the trailers alone. Floating islands? I mean....come on James Cameron.

Mr. R. Dean got plenty of feedback from the confused and had this to say:
``The only thing I will say is I am extremely grateful to these millions of people online who have recognized the similarities and talked about my works. It's a great honor that so many people recognized it. I didn't know there were that many people who would remember my work,'
The cagey (and absurdly humble) nature of his words, and the fact that he's holding back on what his own opinions of the matter are, lead me to suspect their might be some legal action in the works. If Mr. Cameron really did use all of Dean's famous images without permission then a lawsuit should be top priority. Shouldn't it? What do you think?

Read about Dean's take on Avatar and the retrospective underway in Seoul's Daelim Contemporary Art Museum here:
Roger Dean Talks 'Avatar' at Retrospective

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Found Link: New Interview with Jon Anderson

While I've been throwing around wild and unjustified speculation as to the inner politics of Yes, the Hamilton Spectator has an interesting interview with Jon Anderson that sets the record straight.

Beyond making fun of his "Mickey Mouse" voice, they ask Anderson on where he stands with his former bandmates. It boils down to two key facts. Firstly, Squire/Howe/White never even called Anderson to see how he was recovering from the asthma attack that nearly ended his life.

"I got very ill and nearly died."

Secondly, Jon doesn't think he's physically capable of going on the extensive touring that the 3/5 Yes are currently engaged with. Basically you can say that Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson will never again be part of a touring Yes lineup. It's pretty sad when you consider that these musical figures are starting to age to that point. I'm sure for many-a-reader of this blog, the feeling of time passing is overwhelming.

Nevertheless, Jon continues to tour as a solo act on small tours in small venues. You can see him in Hamilton on April 3rd. - go_at_home - Jon says Yes to solo tour:
"Anderson says he holds no grudges. He was, however, 'bothered a bit' at first, 'when I got ill and they didn't get in touch about what they were doing.' He pauses and then offers his former bandmates an excuse: 'They were busy. They were just guys who had to make a living.'"

Rumour: Rush to debut new songs in concert

While there is a decent amount of press coverage here in Toronto surrounding the Canadian trio's induction into the Canadian songwriter hall of fame, a recent interview with the Toronto Sun (or QMI Agency, something like that) has Neil Peart revealing an interesting tidbit of information. Apparently Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson are currently hard at work setting his latest lyrics to music and they might be premiering a few of these new songs on their next concert tour. Will they continue down the same path that lead them to Snakes and Arrows, or will Rush take another sharp turn in their ever-changing musical stylings?

It was mentioned in an older interview that Neil Peart was pretty amazed with what Porcupine Tree has been doing by breaking away from the traditional 'song' structure in the era of the digital download. Will the younger band influence the older one to go back to their Progressive roots? Who knows? I doubt it, but the possibilities are interesting to contemplate.

What do you think? Do you think the band, at this stage of its career, can create yet another sprawling/long instrumental masterpiece? I'd say The Main Monkey Business on Snakes and Arrows was a step in that direction.

Rush-ing into Songwriters Hall | Music | Entertainment | Toronto Sun: "“I stopped in Toronto a couple of weeks back and went over to Geddy’s house and listened to what they’ve been working on from my lyrics and it’s very exciting, we’ve got probably five very good songs there,” Peart told QMI Agency. “So we were saying, ‘Well, I kind of just want to keep working on this and finish the record.’ But on the other hand we were thinking, ‘Well, something we haven’t done since the ’80s is write new songs and go out and play them.’ It’s interesting to be so deeply involved in songwriting right now with this honour coming up. It kind of puts a fresh observation on it for me.”"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Found Link: Phil Collins talks about his Nerve Damage

While another Genesis tour isn't really in the cards anytime soon, Rolling Stone couldn't resist asking Phil Collins about the possibilities. As you probably know, Phil is suffering from back problems and nerve damage which is not only making drumming extremely painful but also causing plenty of pain in all aspects of his day-to-day life.

A few years ago we were talking about a full Genesis reunion with Peter Gabriel. Now, it seems highly unlikely that we'll ever see the band on stage again, in any form. However, despite all the injuries and scheduling conflicts, nothing is completely rulled out by any member of the band.

Phil Collins on Overcoming Nerve Damage, Future of Genesis : Rolling Stone : Rock and Roll Daily:
"The nerve damage has made more than just drumming difficult for the 59-year-old musician. “I can’t let go of the spoon or the knife when I eat,” he tells RS. “I can’t open a car door. I won’t get gruesome with you, but there’s a lot of things I can’t do. I’m left handed. I’m having an operation soon and there’s a good chance of it improving over time.”

Found Link: Interview with The Moody Blues' John Lodge

While the Moody Blues continue to tour, John Lodge was asked a few questions by Some interesting points are brought up including a question about how The Moody Blues became one of the first Progressive bands to achieve huge popularity in the early 1970s. It's been 43 years since Days of Future Passed took the music world into new territories when full orchestration could be mixed in seamlessly with Rock instruments. Mr. Lodge says it all comes down to wanting to make longer songs:

"When we started we didn’t know what we were doing. That’s the real truth. We were just making different music to everyone else. From that, it became progressive rock music. Up to that point, people were really concentrating on 2-minute-50-second songs. We didn’t see that as a vehicle for music. Why stop there? If you wanted to have a 6-minute song, why not have a 6-minute song? We didn’t realize we were part of something new that exploded, really. I’m really proud, whether we started it or not. It’s something I’ve enjoyed all my life."

Full Interview with John Lodge -

Found Link: New Ian Anderson / Jethro Tull Interview

Whilst we cannot anticipate any new material from this band any time soon, Jethro Tull continue to tour the world and are showing no signs of slowing down. In this interview with the Sheffield Telegraph, Ian Anderson recounts how Tull rose to stardom in the early 1970s and makes his drug free stance quite clear. The quote is as follows:
"I'm not morally opposed to drugs - but, given there is a 50 per cent chance that my last moments on earth will be spent while being shot up on morphine, I think I can wait until then."

Fascinating stuff from the Progressive Rock's most well known flautist. Follow the link below for the full article. You can keep up where Tull are touring next by checking out their website.

No living in the past for the forward-looking Jethro Tull - Sheffield Telegraph:
"'In the run-up to the tour I take the time to get physically and mentally into shape to do a full concert. I practice on the flute and guitar and borrow my wife's running machine,' says frontman and flautist Ian Anderson."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

News: Kayo Dot's Coyote available for Pre-Order

If you haven't heard of them yet, Kayo Dot are easily one of the more interesting groups to emerge in the last six or seven years. These guys hold no prisoners. Kayo Dot's music can probably be summed up in one word: Difficult. That's not to say that it isn't very good. Their past two albums, while quite different from each other, have divided critics. Some really enjoy the kind of risks that are presented; others find the experimentation a bit too much. I'm sitting on the side of the fence with folks who thing they're neat.

Their newest album "Coyote" is going to his the streets in late April. The band is offering a very reasonable offer to pre-order the album through their website. They're even tossing in an extra CD-r featuring a live performance from last year. If you're a fan of the band, this is an excellent deal. If you haven't heard them yet, then I suggest trying out their older albums. They are very powerful but challenging. If that sounds like your kind of music then look no further.

kayo dot:
"The brand new Kayo Dot album, Coyote, will be released on April 20th. You can pre-order it from us here and now! Included with all pre-orders will be a CD-r of a recent Kayo Dot live set from our Fall 2009 European tour! Each CD-r will be uniquely labeled by the band and will come in hand-made packaging. This CD-r will only ever be available through this pre-order! This offer will close on Friday, April 9, and all pre-orders will ship on Friday, April 16!"

Found Link: Trans-Siberian Orchestra on stage in Ohio

They seemed to have garnered quite the strange reputation. Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a name that immediately reminds certain folks of the holiday season. They've built a reputation for their over-the-top hard rocking Progressive Christmas music that seems to top the charts almost every December. In addition to their albums, they also consistently sell out huge concerts centered around their Christmas tunes every year. The moral of the story is; regardless of what you think of them (a bit cheesy), they've filled a much needed niche for people who want their carols to rock a little harder.

This week they're putting on a different kind of show. The link below features an interview with band founder Paul O'Neil. Trans-Siberian will be performing one of their few non-Christmas themed albums, Beethoven's Last Night in Ohio on Friday night. It's a fascinating read for anyone looking to attend the show, or simply interested in hearing thoughts from the brain behind the music. - Lights! Action! Trans-Siberian Orchestra on stage: "The current show is based on Beethoven's Last Night and will follow the concept-album's storyline detailing the famed composer's last night alive (which in some kind of cosmic serendipity was March 26, the same day as the Akron show), his struggle with deafness, regrets about his life and a potential bargain with Mephistopheles for his soul and the unfinished 10th Symphony."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Found Link: Frank Zappa Marvel Comics Ad

Wowie Zowie!
Check out this vintage 60s ad for Frank Zappa and the Mother's We're Only In It For The Money. "From the same wonderful, wholesome and American teen rock combo that is responsible for Freak Out! and Absolutely Free e e e ee e" It was found in marvel

Click the link below for more information.

Frank Zappa Marvel Comics Ad, 1968 - Charles Johnson - The Lizard Annex - True/Slant:
"And here’s an interesting bit of 60s trivia; in a few issues of some of the Marvel comics, we’ve discovered the following advertisement for Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention and their new album, “We’re Only In It For the Money.” I’d totally forgotten about this ad."

Video: Steven Wilson vs. Reality TV. New Clip from his documentary Insurgentes

This is gold. Listen to this man. He knows what he's talking about.

Insurgentes has been playing in film festivals all over the world. It's a strange little documentary/art film by Steven Wilson and his long-time album art designing/music video creating/concert DVD directing friend Lasse Hoile. It party covers the making of Wilson's first proper solo album (also titled Insurgentes), partly covers Wilson's travels around the world working on various projects and party covers the man's thoughts on music as an art form and how the media and technology is affecting his work and the work of musicians all over. This newly surfaced clip shows Steven doing what he does best; explaining how reality TV is distorting the public's perception of music. Watch and learn. For the record, I share his feelings on this subject quite fully. Don't watch American Idol. It's bad for your brain. Tell your friends and family the same. They won't listen to you, but at least you'll know you're morally correct.

Mr. Wilson has expressed his intentions to eventually put this film out on DVD/BluRay. Until then, you can see a full 20 minutes of it on the DVD-Audio disc of the Insurgentes album.

Rumour: Anderson Bruford Wakeman Rabin?

It's the late 80s again in Yes land. I don't subscribe to Classic Rock's Prog magazine (you think I would. I should, but it's a financial question, these ads on this site? worthless!) but they are spreading some pretty wild Yes rumours. As you know, Squire, Howe and White are currently touring with Oliver Wakeman and Canadian Benoit David. Missing from this lineup is a cranky discarded lead singer.

Jon Anderson has been a bitter little man since being kicked out of Yes unceremoniously when he was too sick to tour. Now, and remember this is just a rumour, Anderson is going to gather some old friends to form a new band. How does Anderson Bruford Wakeman Rabin sound? Yup. That's right. The retired Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman will supposedly reunite with the scarcely seen since the early 90s Trevor Rabin.

Now this is a bit of a strange rumour. I wouldn't normally even consider this sort of thing for the blog usually, but this is Yes. This is old territory for this band. It's a flashback to the late 80s when there were two versions of Yes working at the same time. Maybe this will result in yet another terrible Union album.

Anderson Bruford Wakeman Rabin ? - Founded 4/01: "The Mar 2010 edition of Classic Rock Presents... Prog reports the project as involving Wakeman, Rabin, Anderson and Bill Bruford.

The article reads: 'Bruford has recently announced his intention to retire from music, but Prog understands if the project goes ahead he will be involved.' This has not been confirmed by any other source."

Friday, March 19, 2010

The post Hall of Fame fallout

I don't want to dwell on this too much longer. Let's wait and see if the Prog trend continues next year. For now I'll leave you with the following links:

An article on what happened during the Induction Ceremony

A video of what happened on that March night.

All in all, I'm sure it was a night to remember. Steve looks like he's having fun and Tony looks like he has something sharp sticking up his backside. In other words, nothing has changed in Genesis land.

Prog News Catchup - Week of March 15th 2010

Firstly, I must apologize for the lack of updates recently. I've been pretty busy with another project I'm working on. Fear not, fellow Proggers! (Prog-fans? Prog-o-maniacs? Proggies? Now I've gone too far.) I'm always keeping an eye on the newswire and have accumulated all the recent infos from the vast and ever-expanding world of Progressive Rock. (Seriously folks, I don't think the word "Progressive Rock" has been this popular since 1975. It's sorta freakin' me out here.)

A quick update on the Steve Hackett/Renaissance tour:
Thanks to kind Prog Rock Blog reader (and concert promoter) Kimberly Zimmer, we now know that the tour will feature Steve as the headliner and Renaissance as the opening act. Sounds like a dream concert for any self-respecting fan of Prog Rock. This does, however, shatter my dreams of an epic 20-minute version of Shadow of the Heirophant featuring Annie Haslan on lead vocals. A man can dream can't he? Also, thanks to our kind tipster, we also have the first known date on this tour. Steve and Renaissance will be stopping about five and a half hours north of me in Montreal on July 9th. (you're welcome for the free plug). As dates become available for the rest of the tour, you'll find them on Steve Hackett's website.

If you're not familiar with the guy, Les Claypool is the bass player and lead singer of one of the 90's more interesting rock bands, Primus. There's hardly any doubt that this guy is very influenced by a whole spectrum of Progressive bands. One clear influence is the Canadian trio Rush. Mr. Claypool will be playing tribute to his heroes by performing Spirit of the Radio at the induction ceremony into Canada's Songwriters Hall of Fame on March 28th. Should be a great show.

Hey look! Some British columnist actually agrees with me! Wowie Zowie. Of course he seems to have missed all that Porcupine Tree have done to encourage the idea of "The Album".

Looks like the British press is really seeing this as a victory for artistic integrity. Aren't these largely the same publications that have been putting this kind of stuff down for most of the last 30 years? Makes ya think, don't it?

My favorite quote is as follows: "For me, it's quite a grown-up record," he says. "It's not easy listening. And I love stuff like that: that you don't necessarily like at all at first, but grows on you. And I think some of these songs are like that, or particularly these arrangements." Mr. Gabriel is one awesome dude. Who agrees?

Now this is an interesting interview. Mr. Hackett talks about how Prog is gaining greater appreciation by the general public. Banks and Rutherford seem to agree that Supper's Ready is Genesis' finest hour (or maybe Mama, but then again maybe not). In my own opinion, its the more ambitious material, such as The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Supper's Ready that will truly define Genesis' legacy in the future. Despite being bigger commercial successes, Invisible Touch and We Can't Dance will fade into oblivion. Agree? Oh, and a reunion concert with Peter? Don't count on it happening. Ever.

I feel like I'm living in bizaro land. You have to understand, I grew up listening Prog Rock in a time where it was practically non-existant in the mainstream press. Whenever the world Progressive and Rock were mentioned in the same breath, it was in a condescending tone. Prog was a mistake of the past. Right? Am I the only one who remembers this? Now, in the face of Pink Floyd's court victory and Genesis Hall of Fame induction, everyone is jumping on the Prog Rock bandwagon. What? Where? Whoo... this isn't going to last, is it?

This album features a one-off acoustic performance of many classic PT tracks. For whatever reason, since its initial release it has become increasingly rare and hard to find. If you missed out on picking up this gem, you can do so once again at Porcupine Tree's online store Burning Shed. They also have lots of hard-to-find vinyl versions of PT albums, and my personal favorite DVD-Audio versions of Fear of a Blank Planet and The Incident. Trust me here, you haven't heard Porcupine Tree until you've heard them in 5.1 Surround Sound.

You know how I tend to rant about the terrible audio quality of most modern so-called "Remastered" CDs? Well, these guys hate that kind of audio-mutilation more than I do. I really hate how the current Rhino remastered version of The Yes Album sounds. It's too loud and distorted. This is meant to be a smooth-sounding symphonic Prog masterpiece for crying out loud! If you are even minutely interested in this sort of nitpicky audiophilia (and I know, I know, most of you aren't) this should be a highly anticipated release. Or, you can just keep playing your original vinyl version, which sounds fantastic.

What's Jon Anderson up to? It's pretty clear that he's been booted out of Yes by the rest of the band. He's clearly more than healthy enough to tour, since he's been going non-stop for the better part of the last year. He's currently making his way across North America. Click on the link above to go to his webpage and see all the details. The tour starts next week in Vancouver.

While official word on this front is still lacking, careful study of Robert Fripp's online diary is clearly leading me to believe that the next in the series of King Crimson remixed/remastered are almost done. While Fripp talks about spending time with Steven Wilson working on the surround sound versions of Wake of Poseidon and Islands, there is a bubbling rumour that Beat will also be in the next batch of 5.1 Crimson albums. Stay tuned to the Prog Rock Blog for more information on these releases as they become available.

While Zappa stopped communication with him on fairly bad terms, it is still a sad to note that the original manger of The Mothers of Invention has passed away. In addition to co-founding DiscReet records with Frank, he was also the manager of Tom Waits.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My take on Pink Floyd's EMI lawsuit.

I was reading an interesting take on the whole EMI/Pink Floyd digital sales battle and I couldn't help myself in writing a long winded comment to rebute what some of the other readers were saying. Basically, the general public, (ie. not you and me) have a hard time understanding why Pink Floyd wouldn't want their albums being chopped up and sold as individual singles. You can read what I wrote here. Or, if you don't wanna click on that link you can read what I wrote right here. Do I come off as a pretentious Prog fan. Most likely. Do I care how I come off? Naw. What do you think?

The problem is that it's really hard for artists to create anything other than formulaic fluff with 3-5 minute tracks. Those who chose to consume music in this manner tend to not really be interested in the full potential of music as a viable art form. They want a quick fix of familiar sound to influence their mood. Today's 'single' minded music listener uses these 99 cent downloads like drug addicts use shots in the arm.

Even if the album isn't held together by a 'concept', giving yourself up to an artist for 40-50 minutes at a time can create as much entertainment value (in terms of emotional and psychological stimulation) as a film or dramatic television show can provide. Bands like Pink Floyd create albums that have all the dramatic highs and lows that you experience when watching a movie, you just have to use your imagination to create the visuals. You simply can not do this in the course of 5 minutes. Making a playlist on your own doesn't count because you are not allowing each artist a chance to take you on a journey.

So while the world seems to be listening to music less and less seriously, real artists will follow Pink Floyd's lead and create extended-listening albums meant to be consumed as a whole and not to be chopped up into individual heroin hits that iTunes and the like provide. This model works surprisingly well in the digital age and is even being practiced by some young and innovative artists who's popularity has largely been created thanks to the internet. See Porcupine Tree for the best example of this.

I'm sure Pink Floyd is fighting this for the right artistic reasons and I wish them the best of luck in keeping their works of musical art together and whole. Listening to a popular 'single' like Another Brick in the Wall part 2 on its own reduces it from a poignant tale of a protagonist's trouble history in school to an annoying diversion with a meaningless children's choir and disco beat. You need the rest of The Wall to understand how that song fits in with a larger and much more powerful story.

Tonight's the Night! Genesis bring some Prog to the Hall of Fame

Well, I usually avoid these sort of events like I avoid the rabid-infested squirrels that tend to dominate the neighbourhood these days. Nothing makes my eyes roll, my eyebrows twitch and my brain hurt than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The annual induction ceremony has become a bit of a running joke. The joke goes as follows:

Man One:
So guess who's getting inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.

Man Two:
Yes? King Crimson? Genesis?

Man One:
Nah, some random crappy bands you've probably never heard of. And if you do hear them you'll probably hate them.

Hit The Red Button

Well this year, the only one laughing is Peter Gabriel. That's right boys and girls. Genesis is getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At long last! Finally! What took them so long? Why is Yes still not there? Argg. Well, despite all the hoopla, Peter Gabriel will not be there to accept the induction. He's got more important things to do, like continue to make innovative music. Who knew? Anyway. The rest of the band should be there and you should be able to see some of the action by following the link below. I'm not sure if they're streaming it live or not, but I'm sure there will be video available not long after the show starts at 8:30pm EST.

Fuse Presents the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony March 15, 2010

News: Steve Hackett to join Renaissance for a summer tour.

I didn't see this one coming. What on the surface seems like an unlikely coming together of diverse entities in the vast universe of Progressive Rock is actually a fairly logical combination. While the little press release on the link I've provided below indicates the combined tour, it doesn't really get into the details of how much of a collaboration this might turn into. ("Joining Forces"?) Are they going to have Steve simply open for Renaissance (or vice versa)?

Since the specifics aren't made entirely clear I'm going to do some healthy speculating here. Could we be in store for an Annie Haslam lead version of Shadow of the Hierophant? How about Steve Hackett adding some tasteful classical guitar to the Ashes are Burning or Mother Russia? See what I'm getting at? This could be a pretty exciting collaboration. If you, kind reader, can shed some more light into true nature of this tour, please share you knowledge in the comments. Many thanks.

Entourage Talent Associates: Steve Hackett:
"Guitar virtuoso, Steve Hackett (formerly of Genesis, founding member of 'supergroup' GTR with Steve Howe and 2010 Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame inductee) and 70's progressive rock icons Renaissance will join forces to create one of the most musically stimulating packages of the Summer."

Video:  Drum Channel video with Terry Bozzio and Mike Portnoy

If you're a drummer or fan of drumming in general, you've probably checked out Drum Channel. They've created what I'd have to assume is any drummer's dream. They have a whole library of videos featuring a who's who of legendary drumming talent getting together for some talk and some jamming.

Terry Bozzio, in case you didn't know, is probably best known in Prog circles as the Zappa drummer tasked with mastering The Black Page. There's little doubt that Mike Portnoy would list Bozzio amongst his influences.

This video, (almsot two hours long!) features some drumming duals between the two legends and some very interesting conversation. They quiz each other on their history and influence and aren't afraid to talk about the math behind the complex drumming that is their trademarks. The mood is casual and the dialog is candid. If you are even moderately interested in either of these progressive drumming icons then you should probably set aside some time and check this out.

Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) with Host Terry Bozzio Rebroadcast of DC LIVE

Thursday, March 11, 2010

News: Pink Floyd Wins UK Court Battle with EMI Label

That was fast! Looks like Pink Floyd was right to say that EMI's selling of individual tracks from their concept albums was in breach of contract. Floyd gets a fairly huge cash settlement from EMI (probably money that EMI could use more than the members of the band considering the record label is in financial trouble). All the details are in the CNBC article linked below.

As a huge fan of concept albums, I think this is a victory for the integrity of these works. I'm going to asume that Waters/Gilmour/Mason pushed this law suit for the right reasons. The biggest selling Floyd albums (from Dark Side through The Wall) are all carefully pieced together and were made to be listened to as a whole. Let's face it, the world's second most selling band of all time (The Beatles are obviously first) didn't make music that was designed for the ADD era of hit single downloads (or hit single records for that matter). Sure there are those who will be upset to not be able to just get Money or Another Brick in The Wall on their iPods without having to spend money on the rest of the album, but those people can go listen to something else. Call me a Prog-Snob (cause I probably am) but this is good news.

Music & Media: Pink Floyd Wins UK Court Battle with EMI Label - CNBC: "British rock band Pink Floyd won its court battle with EMI on Thursday with a ruling that prevents the record company from selling single downloads on the Internet from the group's concept albums."

Man's guitarist Micky Jones dies

Tragic news! Micky Jones, the amazingly underated guitarist of the amazingly underrated Prog band Man has lost his battle with a brain tumor. He was only 63 when he passed.

He was probably one of Prog's more interesting guitarists. Listen to the clip below for an example of his innovative style.

News Catchup March 9-10 2010

Here's a roundup of all the interesting news items that have passed by my radar over the last few days:

Tuesday March 9th 2010:

Rick Wakeman: The Six Wives of Henry VIII Blu-ray Review: While they mock Wakeman's penchant for cape wearing, (not to mention the mandatory laugh at the King Arthur on ice tour) gives a mostly positive review for the new Rick Wakeman BluRay disc. They don't seem to understand the music (who expects them to?), but they say that fans of Wakeman and Prog Rock (hey, that's us!) will enjoy the excellent audio and video quality. And the old man, despite no longer touring with Yes, can still fly up and down the keyboard with the best of them.

Pink Floyd takes EMI to court: One of the bigger news stories of the last few days has to be Pink Floyd suing their record label EMI. Apparently the argument is over selling individual tracks online. Apparently the Floyd don't believe their contract allows for this and are taking EMI to court to solve this issue. I'm going to make a nice little snobby Prog-fan remark: anyone who wants to listen to Pink Floyd tracks outside of the context of the full albums probably aren't real fans anyway. I mean, Floyd put so much work into structuring the all of their albums, (specifically post Dark Side of the Moon) that listening to individual tracks almost defeats the purpose of listening to Floyd in the first place. Although I do know some very not-Prog minded people who could listen to Have A Cigar over and over again on repeat without ever hearing anything else. So what do I know?

Permanent Waves: Making the case for RUSH: There seems to bit of Rush love as of late floating around the interwebs. It warms my little Canuck heart to see my fellow country-dwellers finally start to be considered as socially acceptable again after a few decades of hate directed at their more ambitious albums of the late 70s-early 80s. This time, it's a blog post coming from the (I presume) hipper than hip Chicago blog site Chicago Now. My favorite quote? Has to be: "I'm unapologetically a Rush fan. I've got their library "on shuffle" as I'm typing this (currently playing the bombastic "Cygnus X-1 Book II" from "Hemispheres"). Magnificent. If liking Rush isn't cool, well...I'm happy to be lame."

Wednesday March 10th 2010:

Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Eclipses Concept Album Classics: Happy 37th Anniversary to Dark Side of the Moon! It was on Wednesday 37 years ago that the Floyd turned from relatively successful Art-Rock band to mega-superstars. The all too legendary Prog Rock masterpiece is certainly beginning to show some signs of wrinkles and grey hairs, but apparently its appeal has yet to fade. While the band fights with EMI to make sure that tracks are kept together and not sold out-of-context, Wired Magazine provides us with a brief overview of their favorite concept albums including Prog favorites from Frank Zappa and The Moody Blues. I just get a little tickle whenever a mainstream publication mentions Progressive Rock at all. Rare sight indeed.

Don Preston and Bunk Gardner to tour US east coast: Original members of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, Don and Bunk are going to be flying up and down the east coast of the United States this summer. They'll be playing all the classics from the 1960s. Should be a great chance to hear those tunes played by the same people who helped Zappa create them. More information available on their Myspace page.

Phil Collins' Motown Cover Album due out in September: File this under "oh boy". I was almost hoping it was a joke, but Phil Colins is going full steam ahead on his Motown song cover album. The link goes to a forum post with pictures of the recording session. I know, Peter Gabriel is also working on a cover album. I highly doubt that any critic is going to hail Phil's as being innovative and revolutionary like Pete's has been.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Review: Mike Oldfield's Amarok (1990)

Tubular Bells is overrated. I'm not saying it isn't any good. It's pretty amazing actually, considering the age of young Mr. Oldfield when he recorded the album, not to mention how commercially successful it was. However, scarcely in my own observations has the commercial acceptance of an album had any relationship to the actual quality of music it contains. Since he recorded Tubular Bells, Mike Oldfield has been unable to shake his reputation being tied solely to that work. Well, you should be thanking me Mike, I'm going to set the record straight. While Tubular Bells is alright, it isn't even close to being the best Oldfield album. Not by a long shot. In fact, the real highlight of Mike's long and bloated career has to be Amarok.

What? Amarok? What's an Amarok? Well that depends on who you ask. If you ask the Inuit, Amarok is a wolf. If you would ask a German car company, it's a type of pickup truck. If you ask a computer geek they'd probably say it's an open source alternative to iTunes. Us Prog Rock fans, (aka you and me) should know it as one of the greatest instrumental albums of all time. (Also the name of a Spanish Folk Prog band, but we'll save them for another day) Apparently, Mike named his album Amarok simply because he liked the sound of the word.

When Mike Oldfield released Amarok, the world seemed to be entirely devoid of a musical soul. In 1990 we were still reeling from the musical abomination that was the 1980s and the best answer mainstream music had was the shallow and simplistic world of grunge rock. In the midst of all this, Mike Oldfield was in the middle of a bitter battle with his record label. In case you didn't know, Tubular Bells was once the first pride and joys of Richard Branson's Virgin Records label. While I'm sure things were all happy in Virgin land in the early 70s, but as time went on things turned sour. As Richard Branson's empire grew, the demands placed on Oldfield to continue to release commercially popular albums grew. As we all know, Mike's heart and soul was in the long instrumental works he did in the 1970s. Virgin's continual pressure on Mike to deliver 'hit singles' did yield some successes (remember Moonlight Shadow?), but you can't help but feel Mike was manipulated.

As his contract with Virgin began to come to an end, poor old Mike Oldfield had enough. He couldn't wait to get out of there. Unfortunately, he still had to release a few more albums to fulfill his contratual obligations. With Amarok, he decided it was time to get payback. The album was constructed by Mike to be Richard Branson's worst nightmare. His basic goal was to piss Branson off as much as possible. How did he go about doing this? Well, for starters, he decided to make the album one long 60 minute track. An hour long instrumental track on its own would probably be bad news for any record label, but Mike took it a step further. Due to the dynamic and constant shifting nature of the album, it would be impossible to cut out any given section and isolate it as radio-friendly single. Now you can just imagine how frustrating all this was for Richard Branson and Virgin records, but Oldfield didn't stop there.

- Hidden within the album is a secret morse code message. If you're able to decode the message you'll find it translates to "Fuck Off RB" (guess what RB stands for).

- This was also one of Mike's first albums that was designed to be released on CD. One of the many advantages of the format was the ability to have a wider dynamic range. This meant you could have a huge difference in volume in between the quietest moments and the loudest. There are moments on the album, specifically near the beginning, where the music seems to be really quiet. Apparently Oldfield pictured Richard Branson driving down the highway in his convertible listening to the album and turning it up loud to hear this quiet section. Then, just as he was comfortable, Mike hits a loud synth "BLAM" at full volume. This, I imagine, would blow Richard Branson's ears out. (Side note, modern CDs that are victims of the "loudness war" don't have any dynamic range)

- The album packaging came with a "Health Warning" on the back which read as following: "HEALTH WARNING - This record could be hazardous to the health of cloth-eared nincompoops. If you suffer from this condition, consult your Doctor immediately "

- While Virgin wanted Mike to release the next "Tubular Bells" and Mike does play them on Amarok, they are listed in the liner notes as "long thin metallic hanging tubes". Good luck marketing that!

While all these little trivia points are interesting, I don't want to undermine how good this album is in its own rights. You can forget that this album was made by "Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells fame" and just enjoy it for what it is. In my own opinion it stands the test of time as one of the best instrumental albums ever recorded, Prog Rock or otherwise. Throughout it's entire run time you never feel as though Mike is stretching things out. Its constantly shifting and always melodic. There are so many interesting ideas presented here and the structure is so dynamic and innovative that I find it imposible to stop this album once it starts. Oldfield's abilities as a musician also seem greatly improved since the days of Tubular Bells as his command of the guitar and piano are at an all time high.

I can't recommend this album enough. The musical ideas, the instrumental skill and the production values represent the real peak of Mike Oldfield as an artist. Despite all the politics that went on behind the scenes of this album's creation, nothing takes away from just how amazing this album is to listen to. It's pure ear candy. If you don't own this album, then your Prog Rock collection has a giant hole in it that needs to be filled immediately.

A Prog Rock Guide to the Project/Object - Uncle Meat 1969

This album by the original Mothers of Invention came out during the decline of the summer of love. Frank Zappa had little sympathy for the hippie movement that was sweeping the western world at the time. There's no secret that he saw the whole thing as shallow and misguided. Looking back on that era with hindsight, it appears as though he was spot on with his assessment. All the optimism and hope that emanated out of the San Francisco area has panned out to be nothing but hot air (and pot smoke). While the rest of the world was gearing up for Woodstock, you get the feeling that Zappa was well into the 70s by this point of his career. October 1969 would bring about King Crimson's Court of The Crimson King and the start of Progressive Rock; Frank Zappa was already there, ahead of his time as usual, in April.

Uncle Meat was a bit of change of directions for The Mothers. This mostly instrumental album was their first double album since the debut Freak Out! and was almost unrecognizable in comparison. From the first notes of the title track you know that Zappa was taking huge steps forward in terms of his abilities as a composer. Having already dismissed the flower power movement on We're Only In It For The Money, Uncle Meat is more about pushing forward all sorts of musical boundaries. Though still classified as a 'rock' album, you get the feeling that Zappa was more interested in contemporary classical and jazz music at this point of his career. Steadily adding more musical-literate members to The Mothers in the late 60s, Uncle Meat presents Zappa the composer using his band as a small chamber orchestra. Zappa the producer was also taking on huge advancements, as there is no shortage of fancy tape manipulation and quick and quirky edits all over this album. The result is something that sounds as unique today as it did in 1969.

The centrepiece of the album resides on its fourth side. King Kong was Zappa the jazz fusion pioneer leading his band in an extended jam that travels the gamut of spaces and places. The main theme is easily one of Zappa's all time classics and would easily foreshadow his first solo album Hot Rats. If you're looking for something a bit more radio-friendly give Dog Breath, In The Year Of The Plague a shot. In four minutes you get a bit of catchy silly high-pitched vocals in the style of Only In It For The Money and then an instrumental section that perfectly sums up the rest of the album. Elsewhere you get more Doo-Wop parody in the form of the humorous and charming Electric Aunt Jemima, the neo-classical compositions The Legend of The Golden Arches and Project X and the avant guard in the form of Nine Types of Industrial Polution.

Don't get the impression that you'll be able to pick and choose individual tracks from this double album. Like pretty much everything Zappa did, it's best consumed entirely in one sitting. For an album with so many styles and shifts, it holds together surprisingly well as a whole. This is very true for it's original vinyl release, but probably less so for the CD version. You see, for reasons only known to Frank, the CD issue of Uncle Meat comes plagued with what fans have come to call "Penalty Tracks". Uncle Meat, in it's original form, was meant to be a soundtrack to a film that Zappa was working on at the time. He ran out of money and was unable to finish the film until some time in the 1980s. On the CD reissue he decided to add long audio excerpts from the film. These tracks go on for over half an hour and are really hard to listen to. They consist of people talking about, um...chickens and uhhh other things of no particular relevance. I've yet to see the completed the film, but I'll assume that you need the visuals to fully appreciate these pieces of dialog. As for as the album Uncle Meat goes, placing these tracks right in the middle of the CD destroys the perfection that existed on Vinyl. I might also mention the inclusion of the 1982 song "Tengo Na Minchia Tanta" (meaning "I've Got a Big Cock" in Sicilian), but I won't. Suffice to say it doesn't belong.

If you're new to Uncle Meat I highly recommending trying to track down a copy on vinyl. Not only is it missing the "Penalty Tracks" but it also sounds insanely better than the CD. In addition to adding tracks nobody wanted, Zappa covered the entire album with primitive 80s digital reverb on CD, making the whole album sound like cheap plastic. In comparison, the vinyl sounds full and lush. If you have no means to listen to vinyl and must resort to the CD, do yourself a favour and skip the adding fluff. You'll probably enjoy the album much more without it. All these technical issues aside, Uncle Meat is an essential part of any Zappa collection.

News: Do you feel like all good people? Peter Frampton and Yes to tour together this summer

The last time they hit the road together was in 1976. Now, for some unknown reason, they are going to share a dates during the summer of 2010. No, Jon Anderson still won't be part of Yes' lineup, and Rick Wakeman is still enjoying retirement from the hardships of touring. This will be the 3/5 Yes lineup that has enjoyed a fair bit of success since Oliver Wakeman and Canuck M. Benoit David joined the fold.

I'm still not sure if it's Yes opening for Frampton, or vice-versa. Heck, maybe they'll play an extended blowout version of Do You Feel Like We Do together as an encore. There are some dates already announced and more expected to come out over the next few weeks/months.


Upper Darby, PA

Tower Theater

Uncasville, CT

Mohegan Sun

Bethel, NY

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts


Meadow Lands, PA

Meadows Racetrack and Casino


Vienna, VA

Wolf Trap Foundation for Performing Arts


Blue Ash, OH

Lake Forest Venue

Albuquerque, NM

Sandia Casino

Los Angeles, CA

Greek Theatre
10SATValley Center, CAHarrah’s Rincon-Open Sky Theater

YesWorld: The YES Online Service:
"Yes and Peter Frampton are reuniting for a twenty-five city national co-headline summer tour, which kicks-off in early June and runs through the middle of July.� The total length of the show is three hours.
The two performed stadium shows together in 1976, including a show to more than 100,000 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Preliminary dates are now on the Tour page. More dates and on-sales coming soon."