Bubala, Mumi & Max

Monday, July 03, 2006


NERDFestSo, about a week or so ago, we made our way up north to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to the Northeast Art Rock Festival, aka NEARFest. The festival is in it's 8th year of bringing world renowned progressive rock* bands to the United States. The festival invites people from around the world to converge and celebrate their appreciation of this obscure kind of music. Every year, the weekend concert event sells out within about an hour after tickets go on sale. The event is held at The Zoellner Arts Center on the Leighigh University College campus. The place has about 2,000 seats. Yes, seats! This is not your ordinary rock and roll festival. There is no mosh pit. There are no kiddies crowd surfing. Instead, the crowd sits and stays (for the most part) very attentive to what the performers are trying to convey on stage with their music. It is a place where you can just let the art flow all over you. Progressive rock has never been a very popular kind of music in the USA due to it's tendancy to be made up of long, sometimes complicated musical pieces As a result, it requires a little more of an appreciation than your average music listener who just wants to bop and sing along. This is music for the head.

We arrived in Bethlehem early Friday evening, June 23rd, and checked into our hotel and met up with our friends Jon and Linda who we met at previous Porcupine Tree shows. We had a quick dinner and then we were off to the concert hall. Yeah, it was only Friday, but they had a progressive rock showcase concert to get everyone warmed up for the weekend and to get folks familiar with the venue. The concerts are in the hall, but in the lobby area there are a few adjacent rooms that are filled with prog rock CD vendors selling what we love best. Music. Because prog is much more popular in Europe, it is often hard to find a lot of the music that you are looking to listen to in the U.S. So, there were CD's, DVDs and vinyl of all of the most obscure prog bands, old and new, from all over the world. If you couldn't squeeze your ways through all the prog nerds* frothing at the mouth as they looked at all of the CD's, then you could stroll over and renew your subscription to Progression Magazine Or, you could make make your way down to the NEARFest room and get a T-shirt and a program or one of their own NEARFest CD's recorded at NEARFests past.

But, now it's time for the show...

First up on Friday night was "The Tony Levin Band." This is the third time that we've seen them on the "Resonator" tour. The show was pretty similar to my previous blog about them. They were a great way to kick off the festival and of course NEARFest draws a big Crimson/Gabriel crowd.

Next up on Friday night was "Hatfield & The North." This band has been around for 36 years and this was their very first show ever in U.S. They have all played here in other bands before, but this was the first time they played together as Hatfield & the North. Even though there were vocals the music was a little too on the jazzy side for my tastes and the guitarist noodled a bit too much. It had been a long day with traveling and all, so we took off before the encore and went back to the hotel with it's king size bed and no bed hog of a dog. We slept well!

The next day, the music started at 11 AM. We got there a little earlier to try to squeeze in between the prog nerds at the CD vendors' tables and maybe pick up a few things for my summer listening. You know that is what this is all about, opening yourself up to new music. But, wait. There is no time to shop. The first band is coming on. KBB is an instrumental Japanese quartet. A bassist, drummer, keyboardist and violinist that played some pretty impressive symphonic music. The violinist and keyboardist also played amazingly together. They didn't speak much English, but that didn't seem to matter. They still impressed the crowd. The next band on stage was Riverside, a polish quartet of brilliant musicians. This was one of the bands I was really looking forward to seeing, another first-time performance in the US. They did not disappoint. They rocked, pulling songs from their two albums. Bubala and I even though that they were kind of cute, especially the guitarist. After each peformance at NEARFest, the band does a meet and greet for whoever wants to stand in line and get their stuff signed and chat with the band for a few minutes. I got the Riverside guys to sign my CD's, and I picked up a few of their harder to find EPs.

The next artist to grace the NEARFest stage was Richard Leo Johnson, an American guitarist who has a unique technique to playing. I've seen him before in Baltimore at a place called Orion studios where they sometimes have small prog rock shows. He played some great slide guitar and told some funny stories too. After the show, I went into another vendor room. This one was shared by prog rock album cover artists Roger Dean, who painted all those classic Yes album covers in the 70's and also creates a new NEARFest logo each year for the festival, and Mark Wilkinson who painted all those Marillion and Fish album covers in the 80's and 90's. Each had prints for sale and were there to talk and sign stuff. I bought a print fro Mark and had them both sign my NEARFest program.

FMThe Next act up onstage was FM from Canada. This is really why I went to NEARFest this year. I saw FM open up for RUSH 25 years ago and when I heard that they were getting back together after several years I was overjoyed and decided that we must go and see them. They have a fine new mandolin player/violinist. There is no guitarist. The last guitarist they had, Ben Mink, went on to co-write most of KD Lang's songs. All but one of FM's albums, 1978's "Black Noise" are out of print. They were never released on CD, but when we were talking to the band after the show, they said that everything has been remastered for CD release and that they'll all be available soon after the NEARFest gig. The performace was just one of those shows where your heart is in your throat and you are fighting back tears because, for me at least, I've listened to those records since I was a kid and to see the band play live again was a quarter century coming full circle.

The dinner break on Saturday was spent getting FM signatures. There was a lot of their vinyl floating around the room. Then, we went and bought a few more CD's. One of the vendors had jumped street date for the new White Willow who played NEARFest in 2001. Their newest album, "Signal To Noise," which technically comes out on September 26th is fantastic. I also picked up the new one from the UK's Ozric Tentacles called "The Floor's Too Far Away." It comes out on July 18th. The band didn't even have copies to sell on their US tour, but some of the dealers in the vendor rooms had it. And, it's a good one to start with if you haven't heard them before. They closed day one (or was that two?) of the festival. They are the kings of space rock. A whooshing and pulsating swoosh of tranquility complete with acidmindwarp guitar solos and lots of bubbles. They also run these trippy visuals behind them and the image of them playing while multicolored waves crashed above them is painted in my memory. They are also kind of freaky in that "we live the drug culture" kind of way. We should have brought them a gift of some deodorant though! And so closes Saturday evening of NEARFest 2006.

By Sunday we both started asking ourselves a question. Is it just us, or are there a whole lot of gay people around here. We got cruised some, but that wasn't really the thing that had our gaydar going. These are more the type of guys that took band in high school instead of gym. The guys that got called fag a lot in school but weren't really gay. (That's gotta suck!) Well, at NEARFest, there were plenty of guys that we just had to wonder about. Like guys wearing bright red T-shirts that said "Fat Hobbit" on them. On the bright side though, some of those French Canadians are fucking hot and the fact that they like prog rock just gets my dick hard. But not now, because our early morning wake up call came in the form of the English band Guapo who played a dark pensive atmospheric form of music. I was VERY impressed. These were pretty young guys, all in their 20's and their music was so complicated and cinematic. I bought two of their CD's, "Five Suns" and "Black Oni." If you can picture the apocolypse set to music, that is what they sound like, it's definitely difficult listening, but I liked it.

Sunday's next performer was Michael Manring, solo bassist who has this unusual bass that he could detune and bend the notes as he played. He said he liked to give his songs real intelligent sounding titles because chicks digged that. Everyone laughed at that because here he was playing at a prog rock festival where the audience is about 95% men. Yes, the girls don't dig prog rock too much. It's a very white male kind of music. The next band on stage was Ange from France. This is another band that has been around for a while, a good 30 plus years. Their lead singer is probably in his 60's and looks like the guy in Fiddler On The Roof. The show was very theatrical with props like a big dog bone, a leash, a pacifier and a female singer who sprinkled glitter and waved her arms around a lot. Of course, all the singing was in French but given that over half the NEARFest bands this year are instrumental, it was a nice change. They put on one of the more entertaining shows of the festival.

A few more laps around the CD tables and man I'm kind of getting sick of the prog nerds.

The guys from Riverside found some empty seats by us and were watching the shows from there. I have to admit, I was not looking forward to the next band, Niacin from the U.S. Now, Dennis Chambers is a great drummer and he was great to watch, but I really hate the bass playing of Billy Sheehan. The David Lee Roth band and Mr. Big are hardly prog rock credentials. So, even though the music was loud, I found it boring and actually closed my eyes and drifted off thinking this wouldn't be too bad, if the music didn't suck so much. We bolted before the encore. Then, it was time to find some dinner before Sunday's main act. So, we went to a nearby resturaunt that was understaffed not knowing they would shortly be packed with weekend concert goers. We were afraid that we might not make it back in time for Sunday's main show, but we did.

The doors to the hall were kept shut for a little longer than usual while Keith Emerson did his sound check. He was schedule to start at 8:30 PM, bu he finally went onstage at 9:15 PM. He played and told some stories. We thought that he was kind of pompous like he was the E in ELP. Oh yeah, I guess he was. Anyway, like the song says, "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends" at 11:45 PM, Keith was still playing and Bubala and I still had a long 3 hour drive back home in the dark and the rain, so we said goodbye to our friend Jon who was waiting in line to get Keith Emerson autographs for Linda and we took off for home bringing with us a bunch of new music to listen to this summer, some fresh inspiration and a bunch of memories.

*Progressive Rock or Prog Rock - A style of rock music that grew out of the late 60's Psychedlic movement. It's birth was in the UK and Europe. It's reaction to psychedelic music was to take it in even further directions using virtuoistic playing skills and fusing classical, jazz, folk, blues, and avant guarde influences with rock to create long pieces of often very self indulgent music with sometimes rather obscure lyrical content rather than hit singles for mass consumption. The progressive movement also coincided with Germany's Kraut rock movement. Both untilized new technologies in their art and in their pursuit to create sounds that no one had made before. Progressive rock went underground for the most part in the middle 70's when punk rock decided that you really didn't need to play that well to be entertaining.

A few bands from the original era: King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, ELP, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Vander Graff Generator, Gong, Caravan, Focus, Gentle Giant

*Prog Nerd - A 30-50 something year old guy that spends most of his time consumed with progressive rock exploring the vast array of stylings from various artists from around the world all the while alienating himself from the reality that surrounds him. He does not know that there is more to life than buying CD's and records and going to concerts. He usually has little to no social skills, even less personal hygeine, and he has never had a girlfriend or a boyfriend He still lives in his parent's basement. Aside from that, some of them can be really nice people if you ever happen to get into a conversation with them about which King Crimson line up was the best.


Blogger The_Gay_Dude said...

Wow that sounds like a great time....I may have to check that out next year....Have a great 4th!

3:25 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home