‘Knight of The Guitar’ - Jan Akkerman, De Boerderij Zoetermeer, Saturday 23 December 2017: Craftsmanship equals mastery

Five Dutch top guitarists on one stage, that’s what 'Knight of the Guitar' really is. These five Dutch masters are successively: Jan Akkerman, Anton Goudsmit, Leendert Haaksma, Ruben Hoeke and Leif de Leeuw. They are all master of their own genre, but also move regularly across musical boundaries. Special guest is American guitarist John Hayes, known from Mother's Finest. The six guitarists are supported by Jan Akkerman’s solid backing band while Brown Hill and daughter Laurie Akkerman provide vocals. Creator of 'Knight of the Guitar' Jan Akkerman would like to start a tradition of organizing a musical event around his birthday (December 24), this year he has chosen a number of guitar colleagues. A mix of acclaimed greats besides upcoming talent, blues giants in addition to subtle fingerpickers, soul and jazz freaks next to rock heroes: any sound possible produced by a guitar can be heard this evening. A small introduction of the musicians is in order. 

Anton Goudsmit was part of Benjamin Hermans New Cool Collective, but also has his own band, The Ploctones. Leendert Haaksma is best known as a permanent band member of rock heroin Anouk, but also plays in Ronald Molendijk's band and is a sought-after studio musician. Ruben Hoeke celebrates his 25th anniversary as a blues rocker this year. He previously worked with Jan Akkerman, Thé Lau and Wouter Planteijdt and ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. Twenty-two year old Leif de Leeuw won a prize as best blues rock guitarist in the Benelux and released a well-received debut album "Leelah" with his Leif de Leeuw band last year. Finally, patriarch Jan Akkerman does not need much introduction: from Johnny and his Cellar Rockers, the Hunters, Focus to his extremely versatile career as a solo artist, his rich career makes him a living Dutch pop legend. Finally, guitarist John Hayes has been involved with Mother's Finest since 1990. In addition, Hayes has also performed with Sting, Vinx, Sheryl Crow, Jackyl, The Beastie Boys and Herman Brood And His Wild Romance. Back to the concert. 

The first track, Americana, is penned by Anton Goudsmit and performed by him and De Leeuw. The difference in attitude between the relaxed Leif and the maniacal Anton in terms of mimics is remarkable. All Along The Watchtower from Dylan gets a relatively soft version this time with leads for Ruben, Leif and Jan plus great vocals from Brown Hill. Purple Haze by Hendrix is the moment to introduce 'special guest' John Hayes. The born showman makes quite a spectacle of it and takes on vocals. Leendert Haaksma and Ruben Hoeke will do the rest. A broken bass string forces Jan to make some dubious jokes but it only characterizes the relaxed atmosphere. You Do Something To Me by Paul Weller is the moment to see daughter Laurie Akkerman at work. She does her best but is still far from the singer she would like to be, father Jan and Leendert take charge of the guitars. The time-honoured Porgy and Bess success Summertime by Gershwin again features Laurie on vocals, Anton, John and Jan play leading roles on the six strings on this surprising reggae version of the famous song. Sweet Lovin brings five guitarists on stage with John Hayes on vocals in this swinging song. 

A short break is announced that would eventually take half an hour. Problems at the beginning of the second set, no one can shut down the interval music until eventually an employee of the Boerderij finds a solution. It's time for fifteen minutes of Focus with Answers Questions Questions Answers with Leif, Anton and Jan, of course, followed by Focus 2 with an excellent Akkerman. Stunning and still standing straight, this particular part with Focus material, fortunately Jan started playing this material some time ago. Streetwalker is a jazzy and actually an instrumental song from the fusion period of Akkerman from the late 70’s. This time, however, a vocal arrangement was written which is gratefully used by Laurie and Brown, supported by Leif and Leendert. Brown Hill’s rap is irresistible. Pietons is a delightful jam that gets a little bit of Hocus Pocus at the end. A great showcase for Leendert, Ruben, Anton, Jan and Leif. 

Cause We've Ended Up As Lovers is a beautiful ballad by Stevie Wonder, made especially famous in the Jeff Beck version. Leif and Leendert deliver a truly beautiful performance, goose bumps, and a highlight of the concert. Compliments also for the light show that fits the atmosphere of the song perfectly. Somebody Would Know Someday is a nice slow blues from Dutch blues band Cuby & The Blizzards featuring Leif and Ruben and excellent vocals from Brown Hill. Oh Baby Love is of course from Mother’s Finest, John Hayes takes care of the vocals in a charismatic way, on guitar supported by Haaksma and Akkerman. Somebody to Love, known from Jefferson Airplane, is the last song, the entire band is now on stage, thirteen in number. Laurie Akkerman makes it clear that she is by no means Grace Slick, yet six guitarists know how to bring the song to a deafening end. Final encore Hocus Pocus is stretched to XXL proportions this time with more than 20 minutes and solo spots for everyone: a little nod with the head from orchestra leader Akkerman is sufficient for the musicians to step forward and do their thing, impressive. 

Remarkable: the sound is not always good despite a front-end mixer who came with the band. Around 300+ visitors hardly seem to notice, real fans too, loudly cheering after each and every individual achievement. Especially Leif de Leeuw, Ruben Hoeke and Leendert Haaksma impress with their excellent play. Like last year, Jan Akkerman mainly plays a supporting role, his fantastic play and his exceptional feeling for the six strings can only scarcely be admired. At those moments it is obvious that he is of a different level, with due respect for his fellow musicians. The only one who was slightly out of place was Goudsmit, his playing did not really fit in with the predominantly bluesy rock repertoire, with his strange stuttering type of play. 

Tribute to the excellent backing band, it is very difficult to keep everything together with such an arsenal of soloists. Drummer Marijn van den Berg, bass guitarist David de Marez Oyens and keyboard player Coen Molenaar are without exception very experienced musicians who have worked together with Akkerman for many years. Jointly forming a solid backbone for the guitar extravaganza in front of them. Never spinning out of control, both the backing band, Jan and the individual musicians play extremely disciplined, I have seen quite different performances in a similar situation. The audience eventually leaves the theatre fully satisfied, knowing that the quality of the Dutch guitar guild is not bad at all. Craftsmanship equals mastery.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

Pink Floyd Project XXL at the Zuiderstrandtheater The Hague, Tuesday 12 December 2017

14.12.17

There are probably few bands in the world that have as much followers as Pink Floyd. In this case I am especially aiming at the number of tribute bands. Only in the Netherlands you already have Pink Floyd Sound, Infloyd and Pink Project, the latter for already 23 years, and regularly attracts sold out venues like het Paard in The Hague in their 'living room' at the beginning of this year. In the international arena, the competition is absolutely cut-throat with renowned bands like The Australian Pink Floyd Show, Brit Floyd and The Pink Floyd Tribute Show. And they’re all extremely professional.

Since some time there’s a new band on the scene, Pink Floyd Project. They exist for more than 10 years now, it involves a number of experienced musicians who have performed live for several Dutch bands for many years. Most famous among them is singer Bert Heerink, ex-Vandenberg, Kayak and Jan Akkerman's My Brainbox to name just a few. All twelve band members share a deeply rooted love for the music of Pink Floyd. This resulted in a show with quadraphonic sound, beautiful lighting, stunning lasers and the iconic attributes known from the original, such as 'Algie, the pig'. And let’s not forget the huge circular screen as a backdrop for many visuals.

It is said that around 30 people work in front and behind the scenes on the overall production. The collaboration with singer Durga McBroom as a special guest makes it even more interesting. Durga was part of the band during Pink Floyd's latest world tours and regularly shared the stage with guitarist David Gilmour in the years following. She can also be heard on "The Endless River", the fifteenth and last album by Pink Floyd. Well, something to be really proud of as an ambitious tribute band.

The band is currently in the middle of a successful tour around Dutch theatres. It seemed to me a great opportunity to attend a performance, just about in my backyard, in the Zuiderstrandtheater in The Hague, near the harbour and beach of Scheveningen. The performance is as good as sold out, I spotted only a few empty spaces on a total of a thousand seats.

The show starts with a pantomime and a sound fragment from Spartacus, known from The Wall shows by Waters & Co., upon which saxophonist Hans Wijnbergen plays part of Outside The Wall from amidst the audience. Then the band bursts into In The Flesh.

The Happiest Days of Our Lives runs seamlessly into the well-known Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, entry a large children's choir. I know I should not say this, but I do anyway: I've heard better choirs in my time, sorry kids. Bert Heerink surprises with a fine Waters interpretation. Advertising for ‘Kids Right’ appears on the screen above the stage, sympathetic. During Mother, the unsurpassed Durga McBroom plays the role of Big Mama vigorously, literally offering a consoling shoulder to Heerink. The same McBroom announces the next track, On The Turning Away, with a socially critical introduction that elicits applause from the audience. Her performance of this song, originally sung by Gilmour, is excellent. Great guitar solo again by Henk Bennen who plays the role of aforementioned David Gilmour tonight and will take care of all soloing. He plays all night on his white Fender Stratocaster, with seemingly great ease.

What Do You Want From Me from "The Division Bell" from 1994 where most of the material comes from, also features Durga on vocals, the male solo vocals of Chris Mustamu leaves much to bedesired. What a great and daring choice, the pitch-black Pigs (charade you are) from the unsurpassed "Animals" from 1977 gets a great rendition with an excellent Waters interpretation by Bert Heerink, hats off. This also applies to the visuals with lasers and video images. And what about the talk-box of left-handed second guitarist André Becker. Coming Back To Life is accompanied by many 'oohs' and 'aahs' from Durga McBroom, but the vocals of the second male vocalist Mustamu sounds rather immature, unfortunately. For The Dogs of War, Heerink returns to the stage, this time in the Dave Gilmour role, I inadvertently wonder if a second singer is necessary at all. A delicious baritone sax complements this dark and threatening song, which is even more accentuated by the video images on the big screen. During High Hopes, Mustamu is more at ease, his interpretation is surprisingly good this time. With McBroom in the choir, an acoustic guitar, a lap steel solo, balloons in the auditorium and the original video on the large round screen, a highlight of the show.

Then follows a break of half an hour after which the heavy bass of Romke de Jong unmistakably announces One Of These Days, bathed in laser light. Nice and aggressive version of this song from the album "Meddle" from 1971, the oldest song of the setlist. Also Time with the recognizable drum intro with illuminated sticks, by the solidly playing Wilco Zethof, including multi-voice singing, is very good. During The Great Gig in the Sky, all singers will be given a short solo sport, accompanied by diva McBroom and loud applause from the audience.

Sorrow, with that delicious heavily distorted guitar and its threatening tones is the next song. The band sounds quite aggressive, the overall sound seems to have improved a lot after the break. Shine On You Crazy Diamond is just delightful, that wonderful guitar sound and a ripping sax, near perfect! The most special choice on the playlist is Two Suns in the Sunset from "The Final Cut" from 1983, the closing song of the album and the last contribution of Roger Waters to a Pink Floyd piece. Heerink is definitely impressive in his role as the aforementioned Waters in this song with its extremely complex rhythm structure. During crowd favourite Money, the quadraphonic sound comes into its own very well. Heerink is featured on solo vocals in duet with McBroom, the iconic sax, both baritone and tenor, he literally plays from the top of his lungs, great stage performance by the tall figure of Wijnbergen.

Us And Them gets an excellent version with polyphonic vocals and atmospheric sounds by Willem Friso Wielenga and Paul Bergman, both inconspicuously striking. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the fantastic Comfortably Numb is played as a closing section, including a superb solo with some improvisations by star guitarist Bennen. While a part of the audience is already on its way to wardrobe and exit, there is still a beautiful acoustic Wish You Were Here to come with leading vocal roles for McBroom and Mustamu.

The latter is not a bad singer at all but in my opinion the wrong man in the wrong place. I am not looking for a perfect rendition of Gilmour but would like to see/hear a bit of the experience and maturity of his voice and that is just not within reach of the second male vocalist. The rocking Run Like Hell tests the quadraphonic qualities of the sound system of the Zuiderstrandtheater for the last time. Now it’s really over, the extensive band, a total of thirteen musicians, after about 2.5 hours of playing gratefully and cheerfully receive the standing ovation from the ecstatic audience and then the hall lights actually announce the definitive end of the performance.

During the first part of the performance, the sound is rather poor, especially the solo guitar is insufficiently present in the mix, rendering the overall sound a bit flat. After the break there is clearly more 'bite' present. Perhaps the fact that this is a theatre crowd plays a role in the choice of sound. This is clearly not an audience that is accustomed to the presence of a rock band, also noticeable in its reaction at times. During Mother, the famous statements 'should I run for president/should I trust the government' did not trigger any response. Very different from, for example, de Boerderij in Zoetermeer or het Paard in The Hague, so be it. No spotlights on the band (-members) but a spectacular light- and video show, as is required, noblesse oblige. All in all an excellent show from the men and women from Pink Floyd Project, musically it is rock solid and the visual aspects are brilliant.

It is also nice to see the bus arrive right in front of the theatre immediately afterwards and to make it home in about 15 minutes. Compliments are in order for that great theatre, the Zuiderstrandtheater, either temporary or permanent. Hopefully we can enjoy this perfect and hospitable location in the vicinity of The Hague/Scheveningen, especially if similar acts continue to be on the program.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Guthrie Govan Masterclass, Cultuurpodium de Boerderij Zoetermeer, Wednesday, November 29, 2017: Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar.

06.12.17

I did not quite know what to expect, the announced masterclass by top guitarist Guthrie Govan at the Boerderij in Zoetermeer on a weekday in November. It was my first experience with this increasingly popular type of event, and my guitar skills are not worth mentioning. But the protagonist is something of a living legend, a so-called 'musicians' musician', a musician widely respected by other musicians. A small introduction.

Guthrie Govan (46) is an English guitarist and guitar teacher, known for his work with bands such as The Aristocrats, Asia, GPS, The Young Punx and The Fellowship, in addition to his solo project "Erotic Cakes". More recently he has worked with Steven Wilson and Hans Zimmer. He is a famous guitar teacher, working with the British magazine Guitar Techniques, Guildford's Academy of Contemporary Music, Lick Library and formerly the Brighton Institute of Modern Music. In 1993 he won the prestigious 'Guitarist of the Year' award from British magazine Guitarist.

'This is not a gig' Govan quickly remarks after his arrival to the stage, in order to have as few expectations as possible. He mainly states to answer questions, realizing that a large part of the audience sees itself as a guitarist, with countless questions to ask. In addition, he intends to tell us something about himself and what drives him music-wise. Fortunately, a couple of songs are included in the program, he kicks off by playing Sevens from his solo debut "Erotic Cakes" from 2005.

After Sevens he shares a few things about his (musical) life which all started with guitar lessons by mr. Govan senior, on an old acoustic guitar with nylon strings. Dad knew ten chords and happily passed them on to his three-year-old son, who gave his first performance only two years later. There was no money for lessons, playing along to and sorting out of dad’s LP collection proved to be a hard but excellent learning experience. The heroes of the fifties, such as Albert Colllins, Albert, Freddy and BB King, Muddy Waters, not forgetting Elvis, but also, and especially, the 60’s with Hendrix and Cream were important in this respect. Just like the discovery of jazz giant Joe Pass. The self-proclaimed hippie therefore copied as much as possible from his idols, or rather, emulated them. He makes the comparison with learning a language in that respect.

An evening with lots of (musical) questions and answers, the life story and the musical philosophy of an obstinate super talented musician who says he still has so much to discover on the magical six strings. Interlaced with lots of music, fortunately. The charming Janine Gravesteijn from de Boerderij uses the microphone professionally, enabling members from the audience to fire away questions at  Govan. Lots of technical jargon, from pentatonic to chromatic scales, Dorian mode, eight-finger tapping, boxes and cages, to sustainable picks, they all pass by. As a relative layman, a bit too much for my taste, but to the great enthusiasm of another part of the audience, an estimated 300 people had come to attend the masterclass.

Fortunately there is also music, a number of questions are not answered verbally but musically. Govan dazzles us with his fabulous technique and his incredible 'feel' and timing. His perfectionist nature also comes to the surface, not easily satisfied with his self-made backing tracks and playing choices. We get to hear a couple of songs, halfway through the program it is the turn of Bad Asteroïds, from the self-titled debut album from The Aristocrats from 2011. During the writing process, Govan was influenced by Tori Amos, big bands and Steely Dan. He had also taken his band with him this evening in the form of an iPhone that provided him with much-needed assistance. So we could still enjoy the drums of Marco Minneman and the bass of Brian Beller.

Guthrie is just a nice guy, he even looked a bit timid at times, with a fair dose of self-criticism. His presentation is interspersed with that typical English humour, the whole is entertaining, although at times very technical. That will no doubt appeal to the ‘real’ guitarist more than to the person who still has trouble with the ten chords he learned from his father at the age of three. Like yours truly. Govan is a recognized and much admired guitar teacher and confesses that sometimes he had a hard time with the lack of ambition and (practice) discipline of his affluent clientele. It brought him to the realization that not everyone is as passionate as himself and that setting individual objectives was more important.

A multitude of topics was discussed: from the groove (find your own place in the sound) to his penchant for and fascination with Indian classical music (takes years before I can play this and then only badly), instrumental music versus lyrics (rather not) to the constant learning and discovery (behind each opened door several closed will appear). In between, we are treated to a fantastic improvisation of Little Wing, known from Hendrix. If the support of the iPhone was not sufficient, he miraculously fabricated his own backing by means of the Loop device on his pedalboard, great to see and especially to hear.

Hardly any form of practice, much rather just play, or rather fiddle- or mess around, for lack of discipline, is also an honest and funny confession. As far as technology is concerned, he does not much like eight-string- and/or synthesizer guitars when asked; the attraction of six strings on a solid piece of wood is still sufficient for him. He confesses to selectively deal with the sounds from his multi-effect collection: the wah-wah and the volume-pedal are favourites. Freedom is a core concept for this hippie, everything from technology to feeling, it is all in the service of the ultimate feeling of freedom; to be able to express yourself through your music. That must be a powerful feeling, he also radiates it completely. His most important mottos are making choices and feeling above technique.

Govan played the entire evening on his Charvel signature guitar, a beautiful specimen from natural maple wood, especially made for him by the American guitar manufacturer. For the man from Essex the guitar is an extension of his personality, which probably explains the special style of music he is responsible for, a strange mix of rock blues jazz fusion and prog. He is not easy to pigeonhole, has developed his own unique style and is able to play just about all (im)possible types of music. His unparalleled play makes it clear why, among others, Steven Wilson and Hans Zimmer regularly (used to) call upon his services.

Ner Ner from the aforementioned debut album is the musical ending, especially because it is a personal favourite of his and one of the longer tracks, clocking at just over eight minutes. Then it’s all over, he politely thanks the devoted audience for their input and the fact that nothing has been thrown at him and disappears from the stage just as quietly as he had entered.

Time for the many guitarists to return to their rehearsal rooms, man-caves or any other place where they practice their hobby. Some will wonder if they aren’t better off quitting, realizing that this level of play is far too high for them. But others, probably the majority, will seize the six-stringed monster which gives them so much pleasure, with renewed energy and ambition.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Premiata Forneria Marconi, live at De Boerderij Zoetermeer Saturday 25 November 2017: Forza Italia

Last year, real fans of progressive music were surprised by a performance, the first in forty-three years, of the legendary Italian symphonic rock band Premiata Forneria Marconi, aka PFM. Despite a relatively low turnout the Milanese brought the house down, for me personally a highlight of the 2016 concert season. During the show it was announced that the guys were busy in the studio recording of a new CD, which elicited enthusiastic reactions from the audience. Well, the new album has just been released, entitled "Emotional Tattoos". Press and audience are positive, albeit that the compositions are less proggy than the older material. Nevertheless, it is a high-quality album and sometimes maybe, for a band that produces only a small amount of new material, could just be the thing that breathes new life into them. Just think of Procol Harum. Resulting in a short tour to promote the new album, with largely performances in their home country. The performance in the Zoetermeer progtemple de Boerderij on a cold November evening is unique: the only concert outside Italy this year. The relatively low number of spectators from last year would hardly be improved on this time, unfortunately. But those who stayed at home were proven wrong (once again), that much I can tell you. 

Surprisingly, the band kicks off with We're Not an Island. In itself the choice for this opening song from the new album is not surprising, but the fact that they choose in favour of the English version, as opposed to the Italian Il Regno, is quite unique. Thus far all new material performed live was in Italian, so we have a scoop in Zoetermeer. It is true that singer Franz Di Cioccio has to sing the lyrics from a sheet on a music stand, but that should not spoil the fun. The band plays the new material in an energetic way, they are obviously very proud of the new album and it shows. Also The Lesson (La lezione) is brought back into English, the driving bass and as much as three guitars provide the musical accompaniment, the melody line on guitar comes from Luccio Fabbri. 

According to bassist Patrick Djivas, Four Holes in the Ground is 'a strange song, half Greek half Italian' with strong lead vocals by second vocalist Alberto Bravin and a leading role for Fabbri's violin. The sound is pretty loud, especially the bass is dominant, despite the presence of a hall mixer who’s with the group. During Photos of Ghosts the vocals are once again the domain of Bravin, he does a great job. The atmospheric Il banchetto gets a nice rendition with acoustic guitar and even three-part vocals. Dove ... quando ... 1 & 2 is introduced as an 'Italian lovesong', a beautiful ballad with emotional singing by Franz and a violin solo by acclaimed all-rounder Fabbri. 

A classically-tinted piano intro by Alessandro Scaglione is the prelude to La carrozza di Hans with another leading vocal part for Alberto Bravin. Impressioni di Settembreme is the first single from debut album "Storia di un minuto" from 1972, this time with vocals by Di Cioccio. What a bunch of excellent musicians: rock, folk, classical, jazz and metal are part of this special song and everything is performed as professionally as can be. A shredder guitar, a wah-wah violin (!) plus Hammond organ pass by and are performed seemingly effortlessly. High fives all-round on stage after the completion of this complex piece. Rock Progressivo Italiano from the highest order. The intermezzo takes almost half an hour, the leading players are getting on a bit in terms of age. 

After the break, Di Cioccio announces three new songs from "Emotional Tattoos", this time all in Italian, English is too difficult, he admits in all honestly. Qartiere Generale (Central District) is played in a more heavy version than on the CD, the great instrumental Freedom Square, and La danza degli specchi, the Italian version of A Day we share. It sounds tight, modern, there is fun on stage, and, last but not least, strong harmony vocals. The songs sound more pop/rock oriented than prog but who cares, it’s all quality stuff. During Freedom Square, a technician tries to solve problems with the bass amp. Djivas requests a quick prayer, prompting Di Cioccio to spontaneously burst out 'In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti'. Apparently it does the trick. 

Time-honoured Harlequin is super swinging with double drums and a leading role for the virtuoso keyboardist Scaglione. The whole sounds solid and melodic. Romeo e Giulietta: Danza dei cavalieri, from the album "PFM in Classic" from 2013, is by the Russian composer Prokofiev. Patrick Djivas mentions in his introduction some kind of heavy symphony orchestra, and that is exactly what we get. Mr. 9 Till 5 is a folky tune with dominant drums, after which the famous William Tell Overture features Lucio Fabbri in a leading role as a kind of Jimi Hendrix on violin complete with wah wah pedal and playing the instrument behind his neck. The song is the last one on the official playlist. 

The band returns rapidly on stage to play Celebration, the well-known encore of the Italian ensemble. The drum duet deluxe has the intensity of the famous Genesis duets between Phil Collins and Chester Thompson. We get served cannonballs, two musicians on one kit and the alternative use of drumsticks on everything that makes a sound, just like last year. Se Le Brescion is probably even more famous, the big community singing with audience and band, including a near-fall off the stage from the overenthusiastic foreman, requiring assistance from the visitors in the front rows. This leads to singer/drummer/showman Di Cioccio finishing the gig with bloodied forehead, despite his age (71) still dancing and jumping around like a young guy! After about two hours the show is over. 

The entire band is dressed in black, as usual. Djivas has left his winter coat at home, this time he wears some kind of combat gear, Di Cioccio as always dressed in a T-shirt with Randagio (stray dog) print. The key words for this performance are passion, energy, fun and professionalism, the emphasis lies mainly on the latter in my opinion. I have heard better sound in my days, as previously mentioned, the light show was fantastic once again, with green white and red as recognizable and appropriate colours. As previously mentioned, the people who stayed at home are proven wrong, once again. Turning up in low numbers for an iconic band with original music but showing up with as much as 600 for a Marillion tribute band, with all due respect, is something I honestly don’t understand. The band didn’t seem to care though, they gratefully accepted the abundant applause from the die-hards in the venue. Hopefully it will not prevent the band from finding their way to Zoetermeer in the coming years, I will certainly be witnessing upcoming shows, for sure.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Yesshows & Peter Gabriel Tribute live at the Parkvilla Theater, Alphen aan de Rijn, Friday 24 November 2017: I’ve seen all good people

I have to admit I had never heard of them before, despite my affection for the original British band. There aren’t that many Yes tribute bands around, unlike for example Genesis. Maybe the music is too complex but there could be other reasons of course. On closer examination, Yesshows is a group of Dutch musicians who, in April 2016 during a sold out performance at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer as a temporary company, played two song from Yes. Apparently both Yours is no Disgrace and And you and I were performed so convincingly that the group decided to follow up on this. Ergo, the birth of Yesshows. The band mainly focuses on the material of the 1973 live album “Yessongs”, but they also make detours to later albums. Together with members of Genesis Project they provide a double act this evening whereby Peter Gabriel songs are played before the break and afterwards material of the British symphonic rock giant is performed. 

To start off with the Peter Gabriel tribute, not bad, not bad at all this voice, I even thought for a brief moment that the voice came from PG himself, via tape. But then singer Hein van den Broek (Genesis Project) appears on stage and we can all see for ourselves it really is him singing. And what a voice, just close your eyes and at times you can hardly hear the difference. There is back up in the form of Yesshows singer Katinka van der Harst while keyboard player Ebert Zwart, bass player Martin Thoolen and drummer Lex Bekkernens are on loan from the same aforementioned band. With the addition of the excellent guitarist Edwin Roes, known from, among others, Genesis tribute band Squonk and Genesis Project, in the role of David Rhodes, they enthusiastically work their way through a selection of Gabriel's extensive oeuvre. 'The art of leaving out', singer Hein van den Broek said, most appropriate when it comes to choosing the repertoire. 

The band kicks off with Come Talk To Me, with drums reminiscent of Biko, followed by a great version of Red Rain, bathed in red light, of course. Humdrum is a special choice, this relatively unknown but beautiful song from debut "PG1" from 1977. Sledgehammer should not be missed, the worldwide hit from "So" from 1986. Blood of Eden is a highlight with stunningly beautiful vocals from Hein and Katinka. Fortunately, Here Comes The Flood is not skipped, this beautiful song from "PG 1" is a personal favourite of mine. Also some Genesis material, blood is thicker than water: Dancing with the Moonlit Knight is accompanied by a video of the performance at Shepperton Studios in 1973, PG as Britannia. Last song In The Cage is a bit of a vocal tour de force, Van den Broek has a hard time, with almost screamed vocals, but in his defence it should be noted that this is certainly not an easy song (vocally). In addition, hats off for his energetic podium presentation. A little advice: leave those more or less random films out, it only distracts and adds no real value, except for the odd song (Moonlit Knight). Main act Yesshows set a good example in this respect. 

The Parkvilla Theatre has a pleasant atmosphere, a nice venue with a  good sound and comfortable seats. As a result, the audience participation is less, the plush surface does not really invite you to join in or sing along, however there is certainly a warm applause upon completion of the songs. Cosy too, the place is almost sold out with an estimated 200 visitors, lots of men and the odd lady, all of a slightly higher than average age, as is the case with the original band. 

After a long break it is the turn of main act Yesshows. During Firebird Suite, the familiar crescendo of the classic piece by Igor Strawinsky, the band enters the stage in the dark, applauded by the audience, just like umpteen years ago. The pedal steel guitar immediately makes it clear: And You and I and not Siberian Kathru is the opening track, the band still has to get into the groove, some mistakes left and right, the crowd in turn also has to get used to a female voice for the lead vocals. It is also noticeable that this evening there will only be two-part singing whereas the original still had/has a patent on one more vocal, even though Howe's singing skills were not really all that good. All a bit awkward, for both band and audience, it turns out to be the stage debut for singer Katinka van der Harst with the band. She needs the help of a tablet for the lyrics, but nobody will blame her for that.

During the next song, Heart of the Sunrise, YouTube shows a perfect version, the sound still rattles somewhat tonight, great job by keyboardist Ebert Zwart, the silent force in the band. It must be said, singer Katinka van der Harst does a great job during Soon. This song from "Relayer", part of The Gates of Delirium, is a nice showcase for her voice and the pedal steel-guitar capabilities of Enzo Gallo. 

Drummer Lex Bekkernens is certainly not bad, more of an Alan White than a Bill Bruford. He is so keen on demonstrating how good he is that he is occasionally guilty of playing extra drum-fills where they aren’t functional at all. Bassist Martin Thoolen is a stage animal, he jumps and dances, a real performer on his heavy Rickenbacker 4002. With his energetic performance he pays a worthy and respectful tribute to the ultimate  showman with the big hands, Chris Squire. I said earlier that I had to get used to a female voice for a lead singer, but gradually I got used to it. And let's be honest, the vocal regions that Anderson reaches are probably best sung by a woman, as Katinka van der Harst grows into her role as the performance progresses. 

Oops, Awaken, one of the best songs of the band and my personal favourite, is the next song on the set list, how will they cope with this? The beginning is somewhat uneasy but from the quiet passage with the harp on it is near flawless and the band finishes the complex track in style. Close To The Edge is of course Yes’ magnum opus. And it has to be said, this difficult piece is perfectly played by the band with main roles for guitar and keys. And actually three-part vocals during I Get Up I Get Down, courageous and well done. From this point on it’s all downhill for the gents and one lady of Yesshows. Long Distance Runaround is one of those song on which they let their hair down. 

The same goes for Yours No Disgrace with guitarist Enzo Gallo excelling on his Gibson ES 175, just like idol Steve Howe. The respect for the original band and its musicians only gets bigger, these songs are still standing straight after more than 47 years. Again those beautiful three-part vocals, they actually can manage this successfully. Roundabout gets the original live treatment like on “Yessongs”, so no acoustic guitar. Starship Trooper is the encore, good guess (not so difficult) by that one particular visitor. A great opportunity for all band members to shine featuring bass, keys and especially guitar. The supple right hand of keyboardist Zwart and the raging left hand of guitarist Gallo are leading. 

The sound is fine, compliments to the house mixers. The light show is extremely sketchy but effective nonetheless. On the big screen behind the stage projections of Yes’ sleeves and other Roger Dean work are shown which unconsciously raises questions about rights. Sometimes a bit alienating, there are covers from, among others, Asia, Osibisa, Uriah Heep, Budgie and Badger, in addition to the well-known Yes artwork. Also live images are shown, including the Going For The One tour from 1977 and the famous Rainbow show from 1972, all very functional and of added value. 

Rock songs seem to suit the band better, the second half of the show is really sublime, especially guitarist Gallo’s playing and the vocals are featured more prominently. Maybe just a little inexperienced and unaccustomed to live performances. A great show by this Dutch quintet, after a somewhat hesitant start. But especially during the second part of the set they managed to convince completely, the crowd rewarded their efforts with a standing ovation. 

Compliments to the people of Serious Music from Alphen who regularly organize this kind of concerts.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Yellowjackets live at De Boerderij Zoetermeer, Thursday 9 November 2017: Jazz at the Farm

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The management of De Boerderij has surpassed itself when it comes to attracting artists in the genre of fusion or jazz rock this year. After excellent performances by among others Billy Cobham, Spyro Gyra, Fourplay, Steve Gadd and Richard Bona it was now Yellowjackets' turn to more or less close the jazz season. The latter is a bit of an odd one out. Whereas aforementioned colleagues like to focus on a broader audience and regularly make detours towards soft jazz, the ‘wasps’ like to stay true to their roots. And those roots are jazz on the one hand and R&B and jazz-rock (Weather Report) on the other. Inventive and innovative they can certainly be deemed as well, for example the use of MIDI (wind) instruments. The American quartet has been around since 1977 and made its first album in 1981. (co)Founder keyboard player Russell Ferrante is still part of the band. Saxophonist/clarinettist/flutist Bob Mintzer has been a member of the band since 1991 and the brilliant drummer Will Kennedy since 1987, albeit with some hiatus. The newest member of the band is the Australian bassist Dane Alderson, who joined the band in 2015 as the successor to Felix Pastorius.

An estimated 400 people had found their way to Zoetermeer on a rainy November evening. And they would not be disappointed, far from it. Dutch guitarist Jerôme Hol and his companions had the ungrateful task of warming up the audience, which worked out rather well. The trio brings a catchy mix of heavy guitar rock, jazz and blues. With a Jeff Beck cover the short set was closed and all was left was waiting for the main act of the evening. At about a quarter past nine the four members of Yellowjackets entered the stage, under an ovation from the connoisseur public.

The band kicks off with Guarded Optimism from the latest album "Cohearance" from 2016. Echoes of Weather Report, the MIDI tones fill De Boerderij, converted into jazz club. The second song is also from the aforementioned album. Like Elvin from "Timeline" from 2011 offers room for an impressive bass solo by newcomer Dane Alderson. Imperial Strut dates back to 1981, the self-titled debut album of the band. Mintzer's joke about the times when they still had dark hair, or, with a reference to Ferrante's bald head, even had hair at all, meets with a roar of excitement. It is such a typical Yellowjacket’s song, unbelievably swinging with a leading role on piano for the aforementioned Ferrante. Greenhouse is the title song of the album of the same name from 1991, a beautiful song which is both atmospheric, exciting and swinging. A key role for the vintage Selmer tenor sax from Mintzer who takes care of the final chord. Lovely obstinate motif, brilliant song. Then the three veterans leave the stage to make room for the solo spot of Dane Alderson, electronic sounds are triggered by strings, keys and pedals. Cool light show with all the spots on the main man and his six-string bass, hats off.

The connoisseurs in the crowd, and they are present in large numbers this evening, know how to appreciate the many solo spots of the quartet. A loud applause regularly hits the venue after yet another virtuoso moment. The solos are equally divided between Mr Ferrante, Mr Mintzer and Mr Alderson, and it is striking that Mr Kennedy does not really participate in all this soloing; any self-respecting music fan can see for himself what kind of a super musician this man is. With great flexibility and ease, a rim shot, a brush or a cannonball is produced just as easily, and what a timing! Fortunately, none of the foursome is tempted into great ego-tripping, everything in the service of the song.

The sound is excellent, as we have come to expect from the Boerderij. An extra pat on the back for the light operatives is in place. As with previous jazz concerts, these specialists know exactly how to choose the right colour and light source, much more subdued than at rock shows. And of course the predominant colour is green during Greenhouse.

The well-known Geraldine has a funky sound coupled with a solid rhythm base and can count on a huge applause from the audience. The same goes for Claire's Song with the well-known MIDI sounds from Mintzer's special electronic wind instrument, the Akai EWI. With Spirit of the West the concert is closed in style, extra kudos for the unparalleled bass solo by benjamin Alderson, the grateful audience rewards the musicians with a frenzied applause. After about two hours of playing time, the performance is over and we can head for the cold dark night and our respective means of transport. A great concert and a truly worthy end to the jazz season for this year, although Simon Philips and Jan Akkerman are still on the bill. Hopefully in 2018 we can once again enjoy an equally good offer, this was no doubt an extra-ordinary year.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Sandra and Jeroen van Veen: Tubular Bells, Goudse Schouwburg, Gouda, Saturday, October 21, 2017: Tubular keyboards?

Sandra Mol (1968) and Jeroen van Veen (1969) met at the conservatory in Utrecht in 1987. Since then they play together sharing their passion for multiple piano music. Their first CD was a live recording presenting Canto Ostinato for two pianos by Dutch “minimalist” Simeon ten Holt. This CD was sold in more than 40 countries worldwide. Concerts and recitals brought Sandra & Jeroen from Miami to Novosibirsk. They are initiators of many concert series, among them the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and the Lek Art Festival in Culemborg. They recorded over 40 CD’s in the last ten years. Besides playing piano they teach, adjudicate, compose music, and produce many different concert programs on a variety of common and uncommon concert locations such as railway stations.

That's as much as the original and only info that can be found about the illustrious piano-playing couple. The information about the performance of Tubular Bells is possibly even more scarce. A very short introduction on the website of the various theatres, that’s all. No information about the exact tracks nor the instruments used. So I won’t go into that. What I would like to touch upon is the special experience I attended at the Goudse Schouwburg in Gouda on Saturday, October 21th. For some reason I had been looking forward to the performance of Mr. and Mrs van Veen. Especially because the music they would play came from one of my all-time favourite artists, Mike Oldfield. This year I've been more than lucky in that area because after years of drought there was a new tribute of Welshman Robert Reed, also known as keyboardist/composer of the band Magenta. His Sanctuary II is an astonishing, and very successful salute to Oldfield. And the master himself surprised the world with the first new work in years and almost forty years after the last fully-instrumental concept album "Incantations", he released "Return to Ommadawn" in January this year. An excellent album which harbours all the brilliance of the iconic albums from the seventies. And then, as cherry on the cake, a live performance of his 1972's first masterpiece, “Tubular Bells”. Something to really look forward to I would say, as a proclaimed fan. No sooner said than done, a nearly fully sold out small-sized venue in Gouda, filled with some two hundred fellow adepts, sat ready in an appropriate silence for the performance of both top pianists.

They didn’t bring along two or four concert pianos this time, they had previously performed Tubular Bells for four grand pianos, but had included a decent size arsenal, especially electronic, keyboards, including two Roland's. In addition, an original Farfisa organ, briefly highlighted by Jeroen van Veen during the introduction. He also reiterated the importance of Oldfield's masterpiece in terms of the expansion of the Virgin Empire, let alone the private equity of founder/owner Richard Branson. Back to the music.

Jeroen and Sandra had chosen not only to play “Tubular Bells I” ,albeit only side one as it turned out, but also parts of its successors from 1992 and 1998, in reverse order. Firstly we were introduced to, among others, Far Above The Clouds and Sentinel. Almost immediately the minimalist character of the music inspired by Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, is noticeable. Of course, this is fairly well-known stuff, but if you are  a classically skilled pianist you won’t be that happy, having to repeat the same simple motif time and time again. The distribution of tasks was quite simple: Sandra played the Yamaha concert piano and a digital Roland FP7 piano. I was especially impressed with the way she played the bass parts, with one hand on the digital piano. The bass is an important tool in Oldfield's compositions so that has to be good, and as a matter of fact it was. Jeroen played most of the melodies on his instruments. It should be mentioned that the guitar parts did not always get a good deal of attention. Whether it had to do with the amplification in the venue or simply because of the fact that the guitar plug-ins were insufficient, I could not really tell. Unfortunately as most of us know, the guitar parts, especially the fuzz and double guitars, are a characteristic part of the original sound.

The duo, dressed completely in white this evening, had not opted for the easy way out: none or at least very few samples and no sequencers at all, which would have made it much easier to reproduce the music accurately. Hats off. The only thing that did not come from their crafty hands was the drums and percussion which came from a computer, in no way shameful and very effective indeed. On the other hand it was great to hear the famous Glockenspiel, played live. Jeroen's playing of the brightly coloured "cow bells" should also not go unnoticed. The sound was excellent, just a pity that the ‘guitar parts’ were not give sufficient attention, as far as I was concerned, it could have benefited from a little more volume or at least some more kick. On a large screen above the stage, the famous curved tubular logo was shown. Time after time, throughout the entire performance, a little variation would not hurt, now it became very static and even boring. It is always difficult to hear music that you know so well in a different version. No (bass) guitars this time, neither acoustically nor electrically. Having said that that, the momentum did not weaken one single moment, and the attention span stayed intact for about 90 minutes, surely not an easy task. I really had fun and sat on the edge of my seat. Especially to see how both musicians would manage to play certain sections in a live setting, closely watching hands and feet and transitions between music. For the transitions between the various pieces was chosen for the sound of the sea, a good choice I think. The audience, mostly 60+, was very respectful, you could hear a pin drop during the performance. No applause in between sections, it was only after the show that people, hesitatingly, dared to display their appreciation of the performance. However, the standing ovation was fully deserved, the couple performed really well, musically very clever, without losing any of the emotion that typifies Oldfield’s original work. Perhaps next time (Return to) Ommadawn?

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Saga at De Boerderij Zoetermeer Sunday, October 22, 2017: The Final Chapter

The show had long been sold out and was announced as a combination of the celebration of the 40th anniversary and the ultimate farewell tour of the Canadian band Saga. The band is especially known for the short, sharp melodic sympho rock with a rough edge. No prog rock epics of 20+ minutes for them, the average song does not clock over five minutes. Nevertheless, there is no doubt about their place within the genre.

The music of Saga can be characterized by a beautiful balance between guitars and keyboards, excellent, often multi-harmony vocals, a strong frontman and a solid rhythm section, qualifications that have made the band a special place in the hearts of fans over the years. Furthermore, the sympathetic appearance of the band, partly due to the sometimes theatrical stage behaviour of singer/keyboardist Michael Sadler, the high degree of singalong-ability of the lyrics, and you have the recipe for a successful forty-year professional career in rock music. Especially popular in the Netherlands and Germany, images of tens of thousands of spectators at Rock am Ring, in the mid-1980s, are still very clear to me.

After an unforgettable performance at the Amsterdam ice-skating rink Jaap Edenhal in 1983, with a still unknown Chris Rea as support act, and gigs in The Hague ('86), Paradiso ('96), Bergen op Zoom (2014) and Zoetermeer (2015) this is it the sixth encounter for me and, apparently, the last time, once again De Boerderij in Zoetermeer is the venue where the action takes place. Over 750 visitors defy cold and rain on a dark Sunday evening in October to see their favourites one more time. Many hard-core fans also, witnessed by their knowledge of the lyrics and numeral T-shirts with the imprint of past tours.

It's not easy to choose from thirty-five albums from four decades. The set list consists of a cross section of their work over the years, with the emphasis on the first two decades, especially "Silent Knight" and "Worlds Apart" were well represented. Of course, the hits and crowd favourites cannot be missed. A surprising performance, characterized by a high degree of energy. The band is apparently keen on making a good and lasting impression on the loyal audience.

Surprisingly also by the choice of an acoustic set at the start. The stage consisted of a huge screen that gave the illusion of an old library in the middle of a forest. There were little desks with reading lights, which included the keyboards, and a set of various pots and pans and bottles that appeared to be on display for a yard sale, which later appeared to be a drum kit. A set of stools for the (bass) guitarists completed the whole. In this fashion, the band worked its way with visible pleasure and in a cosy and intimate atmosphere through a selection of songs, carefully chosen for the purpose of being performed acoustically.

At about a quarter to nine, Sadler and Gilmour enter the library for the rendition of Images, the latter plays a rare part on a clarinet while not only Ian and Jim Crichton use the acoustic (bass) guitar but also drummer Mike Thorne knows his way around the strings. Time to Go marks the entrance of percussionist Thorne and his collection of curiosa. The Perfectionist, about Ellery Sneed and his one great need, is accompanied by atmospheric accordion sounds by the crafty hands of Jim Gilmour. The trio Footsteps In The Hall/You Were Right/On The Other Side is followed by No Regrets again with a leading role for that peculiar instrument, the clarinet. The Security of Illusion, the last song of the acoustic set, is sang along loudly after which the crazed enthusiastic audience rewards the band with a long and warm applause.

After that, it takes about half an hour to rebuild the stage for the electric set. Take A Chance is a strong opener, the volume is high and the drums are bursting out of the speaker boxes. The vocals are not quite good, but during the energetic Compromise the vocals are much better audible. On The Loose is supported by a video on the big screen behind the stage and forms a first highlight, the audience is singing out loud in full voice. The title track of The 13th Generation is the next song after which The Learning Tree provides a shit-load of noise, and I mean this in a positive way. Sound and light were brilliant once again this evening.

During the years, Michael Sadler seems to have barely changed, not an ounce of fat on his lean body. But he himself had to smile when looking at his younger self on the big screen, complete with excessive moustache and dark curly hair up to his back. He seizes every opportunity to get his audience involved in singing and cheering, and frequently makes contact with the fans. His voice has lost almost none of its power. The Crichton brothers are another story. Where master shredder Ian is still physically involved with his soloing and wears a serious grimace, brother Jim was just routinely busy with his bass guitar and his inevitable Moog Taurus keyboards. As usual Jim Gilmour was busy with his multiple maxi- and mini keyboards, great background vocals as well in his duets with Michael Sadler. Drummer Mike Thorne is a beast and invariably renders Steve Negus redundant.

Careful Where You Step is one of those famous Saga anthems and an absolute crowd favourite. Time's Up features Sadler as a full-fledged demagogue, the audience is enthusiastic following his directions. Next Someone Should and Mouse In A Maze, Book Of Lies is provided with a crazy heavy guitar solo by Ian Chrichton. Then it's time for Mike Thorne, his drum solo is riddled with electronic sounds, with a nod towards Steve Negus. When Michael Sadler puts on his bass guitar, the audience immediately knows what’s next: time for Humble Stance from the band’s debut album. Scratching The Surface, with lead vocals by Gilmour, is my personal favourite and, witnessed by the audience's reaction, I'm not alone in that. Two original Saga classics are kept for last: You're Not Alone and Don’t Be Late can rejoice in a high degree of audience participation. The accompanying video on 'life on the road' is interesting and enhances the pleasure.

After a brief pause the band returns to the stage to play the 1983 hit, The Flyer, supported by a feature tour video, while Wind Him Up in turn is provided with old live images that are watched by the bemused band members. But it's not over yet, the enthusiastic crowd forces the band into a second encore. The final slot number, How Long, is from the 1978 first-class debut album. The song is accompanied by a brilliant photo collage of the band and its members over the years. With this the show had come to an end. A great and particularly energetic concert, definitely one of the best I have experienced personally.

A very successful tour as well, with about fifty gigs and a great number of performances in Germany and Scandinavia still to come. The very last performance is scheduled to take place during the Cruise To The Edge in February 2018. Mostly sold out, according to the official website of the band. Whether it has really been the final farewell is open for debate. The Canadians have already officially said goodbye several times, only to return as many times, making them the biggest contender for the Heintje Davids trophy (Dutch actress 1888-1975, famous for her frequent come-backs) for the largest number of come backs. Judging by the enthusiastic response, the fans would definitely prefer the latter. For the time being, however, this was the final chapter for the band, the book is closed.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Marillion at the Royal Albert Hall, London, England, Friday 13 October 2017

A few unbiased words on the magnificent performance by Marillion at the Royal Albert Hall. As a long term fan, you can imagine, this was very much a show that I had been looking forward to for a long time and can report that this was one of those rare occasions in life when expectations were exceeded. The first half was a performance of “F.E.A.R.” in its entirety so for these ears it meant first listens live to The Leavers and White Paper, the first was exceptional, while the latter, while good, is unlikely to trouble setlists in years to come. The second set saw the band augmented by a four piece string section, flute and French horn. The Space and Go benefited particularly from this treatment and while perhaps a bit sceptical in advance, this worked very well and was particularly suited to the surroundings of the venue. Sound was stunning throughout, eat your heart out Big Big Train, much superior to that of Yes last year and certainly up there with the audiophile Steven Wilson. The website is already running the trailer for the DVD release next Spring! All in all a concert to match the rare exceptional gigs such as Transatlantic at Shepherds Bush Empire.

Review: Paul Mitchelson

Big Big Train live at Cadogan Hall, London, England, Friday 29 September 2017: Seen better days

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I have to admit that I had high expectations. A good friend in England had bought the tickets a year earlier, I happily accepted the invitation. I had been looking very much forward to this all year long, this could be thé live prog event of the year. Then, of course, I'm talking about the unique series of performances of Big Big Train (BBT) in London at the end of September 2017. I'd eventually end up witnessing the show on the opening night.

The beginning is not quite what it should be: the doors of the theatre open up relatively late, but the start of the concert is nevertheless punctually at 19.00 hrs. While at the time more than 100 people still try to reach their seats over narrow stairs towards the upper part of the theatre. We are already listening to the starting tones of Folklore while we are still halfway through the stairwell, accompanied by dozens of fellow visitors. After the ticket check quickly off to search for our seats on narrow church benches, as it turned out. Because Cadogan Hall is actually a former church in southwest London, well restored and reportedly frequently used as a venue for (rock) concerts. Marillion played its "Less is More" show in December 2009. OK, we're finally there while the band is already halfway through the first song. Immediately, we notice the sound is bad, horribly bad even. Drums and bass are far too loud while vocals and keyboards are hardly audible. Quite unfortunate for a band that particularly depends on a good sound. So it's not that strange that people complain, especially the unfortunate ones who have a seat in the upper part of the theatre. But spectators who loudly express their displeasure in the direction of the band is unheard of, I have not experienced any of this before. And certainly not unjustified, I rarely experienced such a bad sound.

No wonder that aforementioned bad sound was thé subject of conversation during the break. Foreman David Longdon expressed his profound regrets immediately after the break, which lasted well beyond the announced twenty minutes, notifying that some of the staff will work hard to solve the problem. Unfortunately, at the start of the second set we can’t really notice any difference. What we can see is personnel from the organization busy checking and adjusting the PA system and slowly but surely some improvement is noticeable. We are now on two thirds of the show and the sound is getting better, at least the vocals are now audible. It is unclear who is responsible, the management of the venue or the band but that does not really matter, ultimately. What a bunch of amateurs, shame on them!

Is there nothing to say about the show itself, you will ask. Of course, this was no doubt a great performance in front of an extremely enthusiastic audience, especially the part that was so lucky to get a seat in the stalls. The set list proved to be a nice balance between new and slightly older work, noting that not a single song was played from albums prior to 2009. We are, among other tracks, treated to amazing versions of Brave Captain, London Plane, Swan Hunter, East Coast Racer and personal favourite Victorian Brickwork. Spectacular images on a large screen at the back/above the stage provided great support and actually added value to the experience. Especially the movies during London Plane, Brave Captain and East Coast Racer, with a major role for the famous Mallard train, were very impressive. A rather frugal light show to counterbalance the video experience, without this being perceived as disturbing.

Singer David Longdon is dressed in a blue suit this evening. Although he does his best, his stage presentation is somewhat unwavering to me, not so strange if you only have three performances a year. His presentation, however, was head and shoulders above the rest, especially bassist Greg Spawton and guitarist Dave Gregory did not move an inch. More frequent performances will certainly benefit the smoothness of future performance. Hats off also for the sometimes quadruple vocals. The five men brass section had relatively little work to do this evening and left the stage discretely when nothing else was expected of them. However, the work they had to do they did with great conviction and professionalism. The music of the company of men and woman remained intact despite the problematic sound, the melodic and sometimes quite complex structures were flawlessly executed by this extensive group of super musicians. That BBT only employs highly capable musicians is a well-known fact.

Remarkable how important guitarist Dave Gregory is for the sound of the band. Regularly changing instruments, he played his parts solidly and professionally as we are used to by this experienced musician. The same goes for bassist and songwriter Greg Spawton on his red Rickenbacker. Most recent acquisition from Sweden, Rikard Sjöblom, ex-Beardfish, showed to be a versatile musician. Alongside vocals, acoustic guitar and some great soloing on the electric guitar, he also showed his capabilities on the keyboards. The keyboard contributions of Danny Manners and, in particular, Andy Poole, were hardly audible, unfortunately. The violin, on the other hand, was quite noticeable, strangely enough. Violinist Rachel Hall surprised me with her solid play and vocal qualities, while she was also plagued by technical imperfections. During the performance, a roadie on stage tried to solve the problems, doesn’t do wonders to your concentration if you’re a player I should think. Nick D'Virgilio is an excellent drummer and David Longdon is and always will be an outstanding singer. All in all, this was definitely a good performance, albeit being somewhat overshadowed by a bad sound for most of the time. The somewhat folky Wassail, though certainly not the best song from the extensive catalogue of these gentlemen and a lady, provided a very effective and loudly sang-along encore.

After an ultra-early start and an extra-long break, it lasted about two hours and a quarter before the band could receive the gratitude of the grateful audience via a standing ovation. The loyal fans, coming from far and wide for this unique series of performances, deserved better, definitely. I sincerely hope that the visitors for the upcoming concerts will see and hear a better BBT. The shows at Kings Place in 2015 have proved that the band is surely able to do just that.

Review © 2017 Alex Driessen

Procol Harum live at De Boerderij Zoetermeer Thursday 7 September 2017: Reborn

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A new album, the first one in fourteen years, and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the band, there are more than sufficient reasons for a renewed acquaintance with the English band Procol Harum. I was quite excited about the new album, appropriately entitled "Novum". Admittedly, it's a little difficult to spot the prog, but the sheer quality of the band surrounding singer/pianist Gary Brooker is still awesome. Just like last year, the concert of the legendary Britons had been sold out for quite a while, an enthusiastic audience of relatively high average age formed a long queue in front of the doors of the theater in Zoetermeer early that evening.

The well-known music journalist Constant Meijers is responsible for the introduction of the artists tonight. He first announces the support act for this evening, which is provided by Lone Project, the band of ex-Alquin members Michel van Dijk and Ferdinand Bakker. They are allowed to play a couple of songs of their new album for about half an hour, in an acoustic setting. The voice of van Dijk is still solid and besides the more recent work, I am personally very happy with a beautiful version of Nobody Can Wait Forever, tribute.

Around quarter to nine, the show is about to start, i.e. the main act. Under thunderous applause, the guys enter the stage at De Boerderij, captain Brooker is the last man out. I Told on You from the new album "Novum" is an excellent opener. Unfortunately, the sound at the start bar is very bad, Geoff Whithorn's thrilling guitar solo manages to save the song. The problem with the sound is resolved quickly, fortunately, during Pandora's Box about the Spanish Main and the marble staircase plain, initiated by a joke about Brexit. Man With a Mission is a nice steady rocker featuring Brooker's funky piano play.
Can't Say That about the "friendly" manager who's cheated the lot, also from the new album, is played in a heavy rock version with an exquisite Whithorn on the electric guitar.
The beautiful ballad Sunday Morning shows that Brooker's voice has become a bit rough around the edges but on the other hand has gained expression and depth. The symphonic tinged Grand Hotel, from the eponymous sixth album from 1973, is introduced with last year's joke about the good life in the early days. The mandolin is courtesy of Geoff Whithorn while the violins derive from Josh Phillips' keyboards. The mutual fun is apparent, to the extent that part of the song almost fails to succeed. Kaleidoscope rocks at high volume while Businessman with it's bitter lyrics gets a dito musical accompaniment. Brooker then announces a short break and can't help advertising for the merchandise stand.

The new material sounds stronger, heavier in the live performance, vocalist Brooker is at times struggling to be heard over the sound of the band. The grand old man is obviously feeling great this evening; dressed in a flashy gray suit with a trendy brooch on his lapel, he is every inch a English gentleman. Although he looks old and fragile at times, he still has something vital about himself, almost youthfully naughty/cheeky. Old soldiers never die. Jokes about age and loss of memory are not avoided, there is plenty of room for self-mocking.

After about fifteen minutes, the show resumes with Fires (which are burning brightly) starring Josh Phillips on Hammond XK3C organ. Last Chance Motel, also a new track, already had a minor country & western tone and tonight even more so. A Salty Dog from 1969 is provided with screetching seagulls, thanks to Geoff Whithorn's guitar. We are offered an inspired version of the iconic number, quite impressive. The same goes for the vocals that sound strong and solid, even in the higher regions, Brooker does not make a single mistake. Image of the Beast is once again a new song from "Novum". The band plays really tight, the timing is fantastic and the songs sound sharp and vibrant. Although Brooker, Whithorn and Phillips regularly steal the show, the backbone of the band is equally important. Without ever dropping the ball, Matt Peg plays his six-string bass and together with drummer Geoff Dunn, they sound extremely tight and restrained, enabling the other three to excell. Meanwhile, from the corner of their eyes, they keep an eye on their musical leader, at any time able and prepared to follow any deviation in the music. This kind of professionalism is only seen by fellow-generation bands like Manfred Mann and Wishbone Ash, to name but a few.

The previously mentioned aspects also apply to the humorous Neighbor, the cheerful pub song. Rambling On, from the second elpee "Shine On Brightly" from 1968 about a visit to the cinema to see a Batman movie, according to Brooker has not been played for over 80 years. Except for last night, is the humorous addition. The bombastic Conquistador gets, in addition to Josh Phillips' trumpets, a staggering version by the experienced ensemble. The Only One, the last of the new songs, including a funny but true story about Princess Pocahontas buried in Gravesend, the city of birth of guitarist Whithorn. The beautiful ballad is a great showcase for Brooker's singing and piano abilities. No performance by Procol Harum is complete without the number one hit that launched them into space in 1967. A Whiter Shade of Pale is the encore, obviously, the fifty-year-old song still manages to raise the roof and is loudly sang along by the loyal audience. Brooker once again stresses that this is not a farewell- but merely a jubilee tour, and he expects to see more of us in the near future. After more than two hours of pure play time, the show is over, the band is visibly delighted with the enthusiastic response from the fans

The choice for the setlist is always subject to discussion, neither Homburg nor Old English Dream, for example this time, but as expected, a lot of material from the new CD. Which works out fine in my opinion. The somewhat outdated playlist allowes for a fresh wind, which is certainly achieved by adding nine new songs. Both for the public as well as the band, it offers the much needed variation. Protagonist Gary Brooker, age 72, makes a somewhat fragile impression, he obviously has problems with his vision and played with a bandage on his right hand/wrist. Nevertheless, he looks more vital than ever, conversing with the audience, joking and fooling with his band. He seems to be reborn by the new music and the renewed interest of an excited audience. This way, we'll enjoy him and his band for years to come, on to the next fifty years.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Fourplay De Boerderij Zoetermeer Tuesday July 18 2017: Smooth as silk

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2017 is a good year for fans and lovers of good fusion, smooth- and jazz rock, especially if you like live music. Because the management of De Boerderij has surpassed itself this year. Not only have we been treated to excellent performances by Billy Cobham and Spyro Gyra, this evening, Fourplay will enter the stage in Zoetermeer. And then we still have the likes of Stanley Clarke and Yellowjackets to come, it's a real treat for the true fan. 

Back to this evening's action, the American smooth jazz band Fourplay does not really need an introduction. Founded in 1990 with mere legendary musicians like Nathan East, Harvey Mason, Bob James and Lee Ritenour. The latter would be replaced in 1997 by another legend, Larry Carlton, who in turn was relieved by Chuck Loeb in 2010. Changes mostly at the guitar front, the rest of the line-up is quite stable, these gentlemen have been together for over 27 years, not an easy task if you ask me. 

However, this concert would be unique because for the first time in history, as far as I know at least, Fourplay would perform without a guitarist. Chuck Loeb has been taken with illnes, unfortunately, and is replaced by saxophonist and Grammy-winner Kirk Whalum. No stranger to the fans, acts like Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross are on his highly impressive resume. In addition, he is familiar with the band's music, he played on their latest studio album, "Silver", from 2015. Very interesting to see to what extent the group would cope with this temporary absence of the guitar, in musical terms. I can only say that this has been a great success, someone who is not familiar with the music of Fourplay would not have noticed that the composition of that moment was a temporary one. Whalum is a phenomenal artist, both on saxophone and flute, and adds an extra dimension to the sound of the group. 

The band was in excellent shape this evening, partly because of the response of a large turn out. Not a sold-out house this evening but it was pretty close, an estimated 600 men/women turned out on this sultry summer evening, choosing a visit to De Boerderij over a seat at a terrace or a cooling breeze at the waterfront. An expert audience, responding with adequate applause after each individual high level performance, and there were lots of them. After a couple of songs, James thanks the enthusiastic audience for three standing ovations. Apparently the band does not play that often to a standing audience. The Blue Notes of this world are provided with tables and politely clapping crowds, in between a bite and a drink. As already mentioned, no guitars this particular evening, eliciting a remark from Nathan East about 'Fourplay without sax'. But the problem was solved by clever arrangements, with a key role for Whalum. James (77) also got a huge hand regularly, his subtle, lightweight touch on the big Yamaha grand piano was greatly appreciated. Despite his age, he had a youthful appearance, wearing big red glasses and sitting behind a Perspex screen to prevent crosstalk. Whalum and especially East regularly took a look behind the screen to get in touch with their musical leader. The silent power behind the band is the extremely humble and amiable Nathan East. The man who played the bass with Phil Collins, Eric Clapton and Toto to name a few, is a very sympathetic stage personality and, with his warm voice, he knows how to give the songs extra feeling and depth. Although it's often not really singing, a single song (I'll Still Be Lovin' You) aside, but more of a humming sound. His melodic play on the six-string bass is the basis for the sound of the band, supported by the solid performance of his mate Harvey Mason (70), together they form the backbone of the ensemble. 

At the start of the show a number of songs from the previously mentioned latest studio album "Silver" were played, certainly not bad, but of course the most enthusiasm from the audience was provoked by the better-known songs. And they were all played, from 101 Eastbound to Bali Run. Usually in long-spun versions with plenty of room for soloing. With a break of about twenty minutes, more than two hours was played, the encore Westchester Lady was greeted with loud cheers from the fans. There was singing and dancing, space allowing, in short, it was one big party on this warm weekday night in Zoetermeer. After a deep bow from the four, the hall lights are switched on and the concert is over. And thus the concert season for the time being, the performance of the Americans was the last concert, the venue will close for the duration of a month, to mid-August. The performance of Canadian band Mystery on August 19 will mark the start of the second half of the season.

 

Review: Alex Driessen ©2017

Christopher Cross De Boerderij Zoetermeer Wednesday 28 June 2017: Hit after hit

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A short report this time of Christopher Cross and band's midweek performance on Wednesday 28th of June at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer. A short report because I wrote a more extensive report of last year's performance on 16 July, also in Zoetermeer. Not much news, again a solid and highly professional performance by the man from Texas. A relatively short show as well, despite the announcement by the representative of De Boerderij, that the show wouild last for two hours continuously. It eventually turned out to be an hour and a half, but that didn't really matter to the crowd. Cross and his band guarantee a very enjoyable show, not least because of the man's impressive oeuvre. Hit after hit, from Sailing to Ride Like The Wind, they were all played during the show. Some of them in a new version, others in the familiar arrangement we know from the record. Even two new songs were played for us, Hayla and Baby It's All You, from his new to be released studio album entitled "Take Me As I Am". New material from the man with all those Grammies and an Oscar on the mantle piece, his latest studio album, "Secret Ladder", already dates back to 2014.

His voice has not lost any of its strength, the beautiful, warm and above all characteristic high pitched voice is still the same. And maybe sometimes even better. Accompanied by his European tour band with French backbone, Francis Arnaud on drums and Kevin Reveyrand on bass, and veteran Andy Suzuki excelling on saxophone and keys, he managed to raise the roof with ease. Hats off for another long time companion, singer Marcia Ramirez, this time accompanied by a beautiful dark colleague whose name I have forgotten, unfortunately. But Cross did not only demonstrate his vocal abilities but also his guitar play. There were seven (7) guitars in front of him, three of them acoustic. His play is a little reminiscent of fellow Texan and friend Eric Johnson and that is a big compliment. Reportedly, the new album will show more of the guitar side of Cross.

The audience was simply delighted, they were singing and dancing. A significant percentage of them consisted of women, once again, which definitely contributed to the joyous and summery character of the evening. At first, it did not seem to be very busy, but shortly before the show kicked off, the hall was getting quite busy, I estimate about five hundred visitors, not bad for a weekday evening in June. During the first few songs the sound was not quite right, but this was quickly repaired. The light show was great, especially the special spots during the various solos contributed to the enchantment.
In short, a great show by Christopher Cross and band and promising new work to come, at this rate the 66-year-old Texan will last for years.

 

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

PBII: 40th Anniversary Surprise Party, De Boerderij, Zoetermeer, June 11, 2017: The launch of ROCKET.

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In 2017, PBII, in combination with the Plackband era, exists for 40 years, and this will be celebrated extensively by the band with the PBII 40th Anniversary Surprise Party. Broadly speaking, the program would look like this: before the break, the launch of the new album "ROCKET! The Dreams Of Wubbo Ockels "by PBII, supplemented with a 4-piece string section and a percussionist. After the break, the band enters a time machine and goes back far in time with various Plackband line-ups. The entire program is hosted by someone who knows more about the band than the members themselves. A real surprise party, for fans, friends and acquaintances. All the more reason for a visit to the Zoetermeer pop temple on a hot Sunday afternoon.

The performance is preceded by an announcement by Wubbo Ockels's brother, Jan Hendrik, who emphasized the aspect sustainability, which is not only a reference to his brother's ideas but also to the long history of the band.

The stage slowly fills with the band, a percussionist, three female violinists and a female cellist. The opening number of the performance is very appropriate, Ouverture (ROCKET part 1), preceded by an introduction by Ockels' widow Joos on video. A violin intro and vocals plus a recognizable theme make this song a melodious whole. Gravity gets a pumping bass treatment by excellent bassist Alex van Elswijk while Life In The Clouds a leading role is reserved for the classically skilled soprano voice of Nathalie Mees and the distinctive unison sound of guitar and keys. Trapped is the album track that is originally sung by Hackett-vocalist Nad Sylvan. The sound is still not OK, the bass is set too loud while the drums sound too soft in the mix. Main Theme (ROCKET PART 2), 'we are astronauts', is a real prog song with a leading role for Brautigam and his lyrical guitar play.

Blue Marble is a powerful up-tempo rock song featuring vocals, violin and guitar. Then it's time for the introduction of the band, Ronald Brautigam assumes his role as presenter. On the big screen a video is shown about the new name of the theatre events that will derive from ROCKET: Future. On My Own Again is somewhat Camel-like with a strong guitar solo from Brautigam. Pure Destruction is followed by Mother. This song is about Mother Earth and dedicated to Mrs Brautigam, 93 now and present in the hall, according to a proud son. The song is also released as a single and is characterized by a melodic bass line. Grand Final (ROCKET part 3) is the last song before the break and quite heavy, curious about Mrs Brautigam's opinion. The song has an impressive finish with a huge crescendo. After about an hour it's time for the break.

After half an hour, a guy from the band’s home town, The Hague, Jan Vrolijk, takes to the stage with a story about the history of the band, in actual slang, to great entertainment from the largely from The Hague hailing audience. About the creation of the odd name, and a whole bunch of inexplicable and non-translatable items. Delightful, but a little bit too long for my taste. Forty years is quite a long time, apparently. A number of songs are being announced from the band's 1970s period, then still under the name of Plackband.

With the original bass player, Albert de Keijzer, and then singer Kees Bik, the band kicks off with the song See The Dwarf, after which Bik takes on 30 seconds of solo vocals. His voice is also featured during Seventy Warriors. Koos Sekrève is the new singer who performs the French-speaking rock song L'enfant du 92'ieme, in an excellent way, the same applies to Ronald Brautigam, brilliant song by the way. The period in which the band assumed the name November during the mid-nineties, means the entry of drummer Ed Wernke, among others known for his participation in For Absent Friends and Squonk. Michel van Wassem takes charge of vocals. An additional compliment for Van Elswijk's fine fretless bass and the percussion contribution of Ignas ter Wiel, especially during the song Africa. Memory is dedicated to deceased singer Karel Messemaker, van Wassem sings on this ballad. The last song from the November period is With You, a more poppy song with strong references to Marillion.

For the militant Plastic Soup, yet another bassist enters the stage, in this particular case Harry den Hartog, an experienced bass player, performing on a six-string model. During Fata Morgana, even two bassists can be admired on stage, the role of solo bassist is played by the gifted den Hartog, including special effects. Due to the many personnel changes and some technical problems, the pace is slowing down and some of the spectators lose focus. This focus is only partly back during Perfect Day from the Rock opera “1000 Wishes”. During the encore Happy Energy, Nathalie Mees plays a leading role. Her beautiful voice fits perfectly with the positivism of this song, also from the new album.

There are also some points of criticism. The vocals are mediocre, Ruud Slakhorst occasionally has trouble with the high notes and the real power in his voice is missing. Fortunately, he is saved by the background vocals of Mees and van Wassem. As previously mentioned, the sound in the venue is mediocre to bad, especially in the beginning. The bass guitar sounds far too loud in the mix while the drums and percussion hardly come through. The Perspex drum cage has to counteract crosstalk with other instruments, but works a little too well: the powerful hits of drummer Tom van der Meulen hardly penetrate into the end result. The unison parts of guitarist Ronald Brautigam and keyboardist Michel van Wassem were always the highlight of PBII's and predecessors' music and fortunately this has remained unchanged. Lots of movie clips also, from Ockels himself to advertisement for the upcoming theatre tour and the band’s business partners, informative, but it tends to overkill.

The nostalgic slides that accompany the songs after the break had a funny effect, the comparison with the men on stage was both entertaining and painful at the same time. The anecdotes were funny but lasted too long, which meant that the overall performance lasted far too long with more than three hours including break.

It is of course a very sympathetic initiative and a good endeavour to try and make the world a little better. The latter also applies to the show, some work will still be necessary before the series of theatre performances can begin. However, it is planned for 2018-2019 so there is more than sufficient time. Remarkably how many friends, family and VIP’s were present, maybe bigger in number than the regular visitors, I estimated a total of 250 people had not chosen in favour of the beach this Sunday afternoon.

But we should not see this performance as a full-fledged show but more for what it was announced for: the launch of the new album and a party for fans, family and friends. And that's just what it was. Wonder what time the after-party has ended.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Caravan at De Boerderij, Zoetermeer Saturday May 27 2017: Canterbury rules

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A hot Saturday night in Zoetermeer, half an hour before the start of the Caravan concert, it is still quiet at De Boerderij, thirty odd people are wondering around the hall or leaning against the stage, a drink in one hand. Obviously, this is not going to be a busy night. But five minutes before the start of the show, visitors are still heading towards hall and stage, although their number will never exceed 150. One minute silence at exactly half past nine is a beautiful and fitting tribute to the victims and relatives of the recent terrorist attack in Manchester. Then the Canterbury boys finally enter the stage. I have seen them play regularly over the years but I can't help noticing how little 'rock 'n roll' they look. Much more a day-out for a group of senior high school teachers with clothes and hairdo to match, (reading) glasses dangling from their shirts. That is, until they start playing, then every comparison with normal society seems to disappear.

 

Although not everything goes right straight from the beginning. The band kicks off with All This Could Be Yours from 2013's most recent studio album "Paradise Filter". The start is initially delayed by keyboardist Schelhaas' slow starting Apple computer. The folky song is then hindered by a somewhat rattling sound, the guys apparently need some time to get into the right rhythm. The opening number passes seamlessly into the famous Headloss and it has to be said that the vocals are less than satisfactory, the high notes present a problem for Pye Hastings. The guitar work is simple but effective and Jan Schelhaas' great keyboard solos compensate a lot, if not everything. In the Land of Gray and Pink, from the eponymous album from 1971, is accompanied by an introduction from Geoff Richardson, who incidentally will take on all introductions, about Richard Sinclair's singing escapades. The audience is encouraged to participate during this song, dominated by flute and keys. Excellent drum work also by Mark Walker. The first notes from Golf Girl emerge, from the same album as the previous song, delightful to sing along, we are treated to the long version including the famous spoon and washboard trick. During The Dog The Dog, He's At It Again, the rattle from the beginning has long since disappeared, the band is in full swing again. Beautiful lyrics too, the singing sadly still leaves to be desired, especially bassist Jim Leverton fails to deliver. Nightmare is a beautiful melodic song, it's noticeable that Hastings seems to adjust the pitch of his voice depending on his ability: some pieces are sung an octave lower than on the record while other pieces get the original treatment, very peculiar. Superb work on violin by Richardson, both on pizzicato as well as using a bow and then smoothly switching to the electric guitar, for me the star of the night, and not for the first time. Geoffrey (66) has already been with the band for 45 years, a band that will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary. 'Rookie' someone shouts across the room. After three quarters of the show, the senior citizens announce a (peeing?) break which will last half an hour.

 

Immediately after the break, I'm On My Way is played, one of four songs from the previously mentioned album "Paradise Filter" from 2013. Playing with utmost concentration, Richardson excels on guitar, thereby demoting guitarist/foreman Hastings to rhythm guitarist.

Fingers in the Till is a song about the many ex-managers who did not always have the best interest for the band in mind. The somewhat unstable voice of singer Pye Hastings is actually very charming here. After Dead Man Walking we arrive at the last track of the recent studio album by the band. I'll be there for you is written by Hastings for his wife Cathy, this evening responsible for the merchandise. The lyrics of the song must therefore have helped. Then it's time for some older and more popular work. Which, unfortunately, means the end of the concert. But the choice for The Love In Your Eye, with a leading role on drums for Walker, is excellent. We get an inspired version of this superb track and personal favourite of mine. Particularly the duet between guitar and violin stood out. The song is played as an integrated part with the famous For Richard, in this case dedicated to the original drummer, Richard Coughlan, who died in 2013. A medley of over fifteen minutes, very much to the pleasure of the enthusiastic crowd, rewarding the band with a huge applause. After just over one and a half hours, the regular part of the show is over.

 

But not for long, fortunately, the band returns quickly to the stage to play a fantastic version of Nine Feet Underground, the encore is accompanied by a brilliant organ introduction to this song, originally written by David Sinclair. During the crescendo, the band goes completely crazy, well, crazy ....

 

Bassist Jim Leverton (71), since 1995 part of the band, and the oldest musician on stage, sometimes seems to be a bit lost, vocally I mean. His work on the bass is extremely solid, no complaints. Especially the combination with the youngest member, Mark Walker, the latest personnel change from 2010, works out fine. An excellent drummer, a big fan and neighbour of the chairman of the Caravan fan club in England. Always nice to land a job in such a way. Keyboardist Jan Schelhaas (69), the comment about his father from Rotterdam caused some disturbance, also played for Camel for a while. His well-timed contributions on the keys fit really well within the sound of the group. In my opinion, this kind of tasteful keyboard solo is missing with many contemporary bands where keyboard instruments seem to be only in support of the overall sound.

 

Founder/composer/guitarist/singer Pye Hastings (70), is the only remaining member of the original band from1968. The original member, so to speak, giving it an entirely different meaning. He has stayed in the background for some years now and leaves the guitar solos and introductions to Geoffrey Richardson (66). The latter is for me the true star of the ensemble, the most versatile musician, too. From violin to flute, guitar and singing, it does not seem to matter at all. Everything is as smooth and flowing from his fingers, with a special mention for his clean guitar play, referring slightly to Mark Knopfler, hats off. Excellent musicianship also applies to the entire group. An extremely professional band with melodic, typical English music. OK, it sounds a bit dated at times, but let's be honest: would not we like to hear more of this kind of music, deep in our hearts? Next year it's party time, the band celebrates its 50th anniversary. What's going to happen is yet a surprise, but it's definitely going to be memorable occasion. Hastings said that the surprise could be the end of the band. But that is undoubtedly a bit of typical English humour. The enthusiastic and devoted audience this evening can truly confirm after almost two hours of performance by the Brits: there is still plenty of life in the band to continue for quite a while. So noted.

 

Review: Alex Driessen ©2017

Riverside at De Boerderij, Zoetermeer Thursday May 25 2017: Riverside are back

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After the death of guitarist and friend Piotr Grudziński (1975-2016), it went quiet around Riverside. There was even talk of the band throwing in the towel. The anticipation is therefore gigantic prior to the performance, the first series of shows after the tragic event. After the mixed reception of the double album "Eye of the Soundscape" from 2016, and the recently released "Lost 'n Found: Live In Tilburg", a live double album, recorded at the 013 in Tilburg, it's time for some live performances. Under the title "Towards the Blue Horizon Tour", a series of 28 shows, starting in April in Poland and via Germany, Switzerland, Spain, France, England and the Netherlands (4 shows) to a final performance in Poland, Krakow, on May 30th. According to the band's website, the tour will be followed in autumn with more performances in other European countries.

 

As already mentioned, the anticipation is high, the tension increases as the moment of commencement gets closer. This is further enhanced by the music of "Eye of the Soundscape" played on tape. There are already some impatient slow handclaps, the rest of the audience remains relatively quiet. And then it's finally the moment, about a quarter to nine, three men enter the stage of a packed Boerderij in Zoetermeer. The three original members of Riverside receive a warm welcoming applause by the enthusiastic audience, it takes several minutes, unprecedented.

 

Bandleader Mariusz Duda opens the night with a 'good evening' in impeccable Dutch, thanks the public on behalf of his mates and gives a short introduction in which he presents the new Riverside to the fans. He expresses the expectation that we appreciate the new band and that the music will still appeal to us. Backing words with actions the threesome play the song Coda, with tranquil sounds on bass and keys, the fans listen breathlessly. Halfway through the song, new guitarist Maciej Meller joins the band, producing an almost hypnotic performance. Coda runs virtually seamlessly into Second Life Syndrome, the title song of the eponymous album from 2005, which gets a driven and intense performance. There is plenty of room for new man Maciej Meller to excel, especially in the last part of the 15-minute epic. A stormy applause is the well-deserved reward for the band. After this forceful piece of music, Conceiving You, with beautiful piano and the wonderful singing voice of Mariusz Duda, is a welcome melodic counterweight. Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire is characterized by the pulsating bass of Duda, the harmony vocals of keyboardist Łapaj and the latter's duet with the guitarist. Then it's the turn of the rhythmic The Depth of Self-Delusion with heavy metal guitar and a melodic and oriental sounding bass solo at the end, forcing the audience into a huge  applause. Unfortunately, the keyboards can hardly be heard in the mix, really a shame.

 

The Poles have always been a sympathetic group, it's probably their humble appearance, no diva behaviour for them. Keyboardist Michał Łapaj is clearly enjoying himself; with a big smile, he is constantly in touch with the audience, a nod of recognition here and there. But more than ever busy with his vintage keyboards, including a Prophet 5, a MiniMoog and an original Leslie box, not counting the modern Korg Kronos. Drummer Piotr Kozieradzki is just like a machine, but one with emotions. During large parts of his performance he appears to be in full trance. His frequent use of the cymbals on his Paiste drum kit is quite remarkable. New guitarist Maciej Meller is unobtrusively present, rendering the parts of his predecessor Piotr Grudziński in an impressive way. His stage presentation is somewhat modest, no more than logical. However, it is clear that the band has gained an asset with this new king of strings, I could not hear any mistake and he makes a calm, solid and experienced impression. Mariusz Duda is the undisputed leader of the band, moreover, he is extremely important as a singer with that great characteristic voice of his but also through his driving and melodic bass play. In addition, he is an engaging and extremely sympathetic stage personality who literally and figuratively touches the right strings.

 

A stool is handed to Duda, who, armed with an acoustic guitar, has a well-meant word of gratitude for the people at De Boerderij and the loyal fan base. He reiterates how crucial the support from the fans really is for the band. After which a wonderful subdued semi-acoustic version of Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By A Hat?) is played with ample space for both guitar- and Prophet synthesizer solo, no drums this time. Duda's request for audience participation has a hard time catching on. The heavy bass of the band leader announces the start of 02 Panic Room. 'Sweet shelter of mine' is loudly sang along, this is obviously a favourite with the crowd. The well-known counter rhythmic tune of Saturate Me is played almost in unison by three instruments, keys, guitar and bass work together in harmony. Fine drumming also by a heavily sweating Piotr Kozieradzki. His drum roadie is present during the entire performance, sitting behind the drum set, handing him the necessary towel.

 

The choice of the set list is always worthy of a discussion. This tour focuses on the more recent work, with the odd exception. "Shrine of New Generation Slaves" from 2013 and "Love, Fear and the Time Machine" from 2015 each supply four songs, the 2007 album "Rapid Eye Movement" is only good for one song (02 Panic Room), while only three songs are over ten years old, all of which come from "Second Life Syndrome" from 2005. The audience seemed to be quite OK with choices made by the band. The light show is amazing, both understated and exuberant, and always fitting with the mood of the music, tribute. The backdrop is at the same time simple and effective, three triangles on which light effects are projected. In contrast, the sound is not always good this time, strangely enough, especially the keys are treated badly in the mix. So it's not always worth your while, taking your own sound mixer out on tour, apparently.

 

Escalator Shrine starts with a cacophony of sounds. An inventive bass line, some Fender piano, melodic guitar and a raging Hammond organ solo with Floyd influences mark this epic track of more than twenty minutes. A deafening applause is received in silence by the band. Before starts with a repetitive drum roll and a melodic bass line after which soaring keyboard sounds embrace a roaming guitar. When the sound fades out slowly, the band silently leaves the stage.

 

The hall lights are switched on, no encore?! No panic Mr Mainwaring, false alarm, the band returns quickly to the stage and Duda extends an emotional word of gratitude towards his fans, whom he calls family, after a year that may well be described as tragic. The first notes of Towards The Blue Horizon are played, bathing in blue light. What about those lyrics: 'And miss you so, wish I could be strong when darkness comes.' A wonderful tribute to deceased friend Piotr. As a final song, Coda is played once again, this time in a different version, more optimistic, you would like to end the evening on a high note, right? Lots of space between the notes, the opening on bass, a great guitar solo and a keyboard contribution in the vein of Rick Wright makes the song something special. The good listener will recognize snippets of Goodbye Sweet Innocence, and Duda uses the opportunity to introduce the band members. Both the song and the concert end in the same way as it started, with subdued sounds on bass and keys, you can hear a pin drop, quite impressive.

 

The audience rewards the band with a minute-long standing ovation, the grateful musicians respond with several deep bows. With an impeccable Dutch 'thank you', the show comes to a close, after more than two hours of performance. Fierce, emotional, passionate, atmospheric, intense, driven, all these words apply to the performance of the four guys from Poland in Zoetermeer. We have witnessed a great show, sold out with 750 people, on a beautiful and rather hot Ascension Day in Zoetermeer. And more importantly: Riverside is back all the way.

 

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

David Cross Band featuring David Jackson, De Boerderij Zoetermeer, Friday, May 19, 2017: Schizoid men

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David Cross has become famous as King Crimson violinist. He was part of this groundbreaking formation from 1972 to 1974 and his contributions can be heard on the legendary album "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" (1973). Cross is a pioneer in the field of the electric rock violin. He has an extensive oeuvre, he released four albums in the last two years. His new album "Sign of the Crow" (2016) was well received by critics. An important position in Cross's band is taken by saxophonist David Jackson. He was part of the British progressive rock band Van Der Graaf Generator from 1969 to 2005 and is seen as a pioneer of the saxophone. He worked with the musical greats of the earth, including Peter Gabriel. As a bonus, we are also surprised by the presence of Craig Blundell, one of the most sought-after drummers in the world. He gained fame through his work with Steven Wilson, Frost* and more recently Lonely Robot. Bassist Mick Paul on six-string bass guitar completes the rhythm section. He previously worked with David Hasselhoff and Eric Martin (Mr. Big). Guitarist Paul Clark is known for his work with Tolga Kashif.  

It will not come as a surprise that songs from both King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator and pieces from David Cross's back catalogue were played. Although I'm not a big fan of neither KC nor VDGG, I thought it would be interesting to go and see these icons of prog perform alive. There are quite a few parallels between both men: both of them played second fiddle, in one case even literally, next to their band leaders Fripp and Hamill, although they both contributed to some of the masterpieces of aforementioned bands. They are both regarded highly for their innovative play and both have not (yet) had too much success as a solo artist. So on to De Boerderij in Zoetermeer on a Friday night in May. To find out what I was a little afraid of; there would not be a great turnout that night. About one hundred faithful/curious people stood waiting for what was to come, De Boerderij had even put in party tables to make the room look more crowded. 

An old man, dressed in a dubious stage outfit, somewhat reluctantly enters the stage. The subdued, typical English jokes of David Cross (68) are never far away. At some point, he retires from the stage because he has allegedly forgotten his bow, the moment for the second David, Jackson (70), to make his entry, the madman of the two. What follows is a strange combination of downright madness, art, free form music, tape loops as well as tiny brilliant moments of beauty. 'The scatterbrain professor and the lunatic' could be a characterization, caricatures from a comic book. Exciting and sleep-inducing and everything in between, but, I have to admit, with a constant smile on my face. If only that stage apparel, a crazy hat and silver vest with ditto belt for Cross, while Jackson is dressed in black leather with odd headgear and silver sheriff star. A funny act for two elderly gentlemen, who, judging by an anecdote from Cross, met in 2010 during a performance with ex-KC mate Trey Gunn. When Cross suggested the idea of ​​working together, Mrs. Cross seems to have said, "You and a saxophonist, this won't last five minutes." Meanwhile, these guys have been working together for a great number of years so Mrs. Cross was wrong after all.   

The first song, Tuning Up, is a joke of Cross's because it's really all about tuning his instrument. The actual first number of the set is Starless Starlight Loops. It's a loose variation by David Cross of the famous King Crimson song, with Robert Fripp participating a little, although be it in the form of a tape. Thus played solo with Fripp from a box, a nice atmospheric introduction. Axis Shattered is the first song with David Jackson. (Dis-) organized chaos, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, I can not describe it any other way. If the members of Monty Python could have played music then this would probably have been the product of their interplay. Bizarre. The latter is to a certain degree also applicable to Planxty Irwin, a cover of an Irish folk song, by Cross and Jackson collectively expertly assassinated using flute, violin and double saxes. As an audience, we never know exactly when to applaud. Sure of the Dark, was once again written by David Cross and Robert Fripp. Together with Jackson, the variations on Starless are further elaborated upon with this time a tasteful contribution by David Cross's on keyboards. After three quarters of sheer fun and madness, Cross announces a short break. Adding with a good dose of self-mockery that his bassist always asks him: "when does the real music actually start?" Well, the 'real' music is supposed to be played during the second part of the performance when the entire David Cross Band enters the stage.  

The band kicks off with Nurse Insane and immediately the heavy sound is noticeable, with the sax still audible, but the violin struggling to stay in the mix. What a giant, this Blundell, but we can easily say the same about six-string bassist Paul and left-handed Flying V guitarist Clark. Starfall, from the latest studio album, is the second track of the set, the sound is loud, really deafening, quite a contrast to the first part of the show. Also the third song, title track of the last studio album "Sign of the Crow", is loaded with a screaming guitar solo, spoken words from Cross and some keyboard troubles. Whereupon the two seniors behave like an old married couple, eliciting Blundell the response: "Now you know what it's like to be in a tour bus for seven hours with them." The Pool, penned by renowned KC lyrics writer Richard Palmer-James, has indeed beautiful lyrics, the ballad with violin, guitar and piccolo whistle, forms an oasis of peace and quiet in a predominantly hectic set. But peace and quiet will soon be over, pedal to the metal with Tonk from the album "Exiles" from 1998. Rain Rain is also from the new album and is introduced by Cross as a song about the misery of a small child, all very miserable. 

Invaluable, the mimic of Jackson especially, busy gesticulating and directing, his facial expressions are priceless, proving his commitment to the band and the sheer joy of playing on stage. As always adorned with his leather cap, mind you, still the same as in 1969, with four saxes in a row, a baritone, tenor and two sopranos, including several whistles, he regularly manages to steal the show. Often playing on two instruments at the same time like in his heydays. 

Exiles, known from King Crimson's album "Larks", is also harassed by technical problems with Jackson's keys, but can eventually continue, fortunately, with a virtuoso solo on six-string bass. We get a beautiful version, thanks to great vocals, guitars and Jobson-like violin solo by band leader Cross, the highlight of the show to date. An additional word of appreciation for the great unknown, singer Jinian Wilde, androgynous, adorned with blonde pony tail, sunglasses and top hat. No easy role but certainly did quite well. Then the other members leave the stage to let Craig Blundell to what he does best: play the drums. I'm not a big fan of drum solos myself but would like to make an exception for this magical master of the pots and pans. Even though it's the third time (!) in just over three months (appearances with Frost* and Lonely Robot during Progdreams VI in March).  

Theme One is a VDGG-covered song written by the world-famous and unfortunately recently deceased Beatles producer George Martin. It's a kind of film music theme in the form of marching music, very suitable for audience participation, the attendees do not let the band down. Starless is the key song of the concert. This time an own version of the band featuring violin and bass. Excellent rendition of this famous KC song, eventually every member gets his own solo spot leading to some kind of musical rage on stage. Ultimate encore is 21th Century Schizoid Man with passionate violin solo by the old "crazy fellow" followed by a shredder guitar solo, in short, a great version of this song from "In the Court of the Crimson King" from 1969. After two and a half hours the band leaves the stage under thunderous applause by the devoted attendees. The visit to the old-timers has certainly been worth my while.  

Tekst: Alex Driessen © 2017

Eddie Jobson & Marc Bonilla at De Boerderij Zoetermeer Wednesday, April 26, 2017: Waterskiing and other stories.

Eddie Jobson (UK, Roxy Music, Frank Zappa, Jethro Tull) & Marc Bonilla (Keith Emerson Band) arrive at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer on Wednesday, April 26th for an exclusive performance. Under the name 'Fallen Angels Tour', they pay a semi-acoustic tribute to their musical partners John Wetton and Keith Emerson, both of whom recently died. There was also another UK musician who had sadly died recently, guitarist Allan Holdsworth. As a major UK fan, I could not resist the temptation to attend the performance, although I could not immediately imagine how the complex electronic music of both UK and ELP could be cast into an acoustic form. All the more reason to make my way to Zoetermeer. Somewhat disappointing to find that only a few hundred men/women had made the same choice. The number of spectators eventually got a little better after the performance was delayed for some twenty minutes to enable the visitors who were stuck in traffic after an accident on the nearby A12 to attend the entire concert.

About 250 visitors were just like me somewhat surprised by a long verbal introduction by Eddie Jobson (62). He was clearly in a talkative vein, elaborating about his early days as a 17-year-old behind the keyboards with Curved Air, the origins of UK and the way he met his friend and companion John Wetton. Seated behind his keyboard, he recounted the history of the EG Records boutique label and the special group of musicians, members of Roxy Music and King Crimson, who made up to 22 albums in the period from 1973. He calls himself mockingly a 'no hit wonder' in response to the mini-success that Rendez-Vous 6:02 had in the Netherlands and refers to, in his own words, the hedonistic behavior of some of his old bandmates. Although he admits that the friendship with Wetton had known its ups and downs, the good memories prevail, especially the Reunion tour period from 2010 on. He calls Keith Emerson his hero and someone who has changed his life. The anecdote about his introduction to Keith in 2009 during a festival in Eastern Europe with 250,000 visitors, a special experience to make you comeback, also marks the entrance to the stage of Marc Bonilla (61), after twenty minutes of monologue .

Fortunately, there is also music to be played. The duo kicks off with Emerson’s Trilogy, after which King Crimson's famous Starless is played with reasonable Bonilla vocals. Then it's time for some of the better UK material, in this case Rendez Vous 6:02 and In the Dead of Night, difficult without drums but overall an excellent rendition. The voice of Bonilla is a bit too rough occasionally, too much rock in my opinion, but then again this probably belongs to Wetton's best work. By the Light of Day starts with a little hesitation from Bonilla and gets a wonderful solo job from Jobson. The light show is fantastic, very understated but through the effects displayed on the curtain, the impression of a fountain is created, incredible. The sound is also of high quality this evening, worthy of De Boerderij. After half an hour already a break is announced, which will last twenty minutes, this will not be a long concert, I’m afraid.

The performance is slightly disrupted by a few small technical defects, both on Jobson’s extremely complicated keyboard set up as well as with the relatively simple acoustic guitar of Bonilla, surprisingly. Fortunately, this didn’t cause any serious disturbance of the performance.

After the break, Jobson appears solo on stage once again for his violin improvisations based on Nostalgia, known from the Zinc album, using a sequencer. Originally he did not even intend to take up the string instrument, he told us. Almost out of breath, he returns behind his keyboard to play some improvisations on his own composition Metamorphosis, dating back to his Curved Air period, the Air Cut album from 1973. Patches of The Barbarian and Take a Pebble can be perceived during this solo spot. Jobson's playing is still virtuoso, both on violin as well as on keyboards. He is one of the very few artists who is able to interpret Keith Emerson's special and characteristic play without becoming a pastiche. Hats off.

Bonilla returns to the stage to play versions of Bitches Crystal and Fallen Angel together with his musical buddy. Especially during the first song, his singing tends to drift towards shouting when the range becomes too high. The latter is not the case at all in the song A Place To Hide, written by himself, on which he accompanies himself on the acoustic guitar. Then it's his turn to tell the bizarre story about his encounter with Keith Emerson in 1989, including waterskiing experience. It would lead to a long collaboration in which Bonilla would not only act as a producer but also as a musician playing live on tour in 2006. The previously mentioned self-penned number shows that he has an excellent voice, varying from Wetton/Lake, more rocky than the two icons. No matter how good Bonilla's voice is, you realize how unique the voices of both Wetton and Lake actually were and how irreplaceable too. The beautiful From the Beginning gets a nice guitar accompaniment and of course, the moog solo is not lacking. Finally, closing track Carrying No Cross receives a brilliant performance with Bonilla in excellent voice, very close to Wetton’s on this particular song. Encore Lucky Man acts as a tribute to all fallen angels and receives a very subdued version with a beautiful vocal part, although not entirely according to the book, and of course, the famous Moog solo was not lacking.

After about an hour and a half of pure playing time, the performance is at an end and the grateful audience can thank both musicians for their efforts. All in all, we can conclude that we have witnessed a worthy tribute to the deceased musicians from an iconic era. Tastefully done with respect for the music and the special contributions that these unique musicians have brought to music in general and the progressive rock world in particular.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Spyro Gyra De Boerderij Zoetermeer Sunday, April 23, 2017: Swinging snake charmers

Spyro Gyra is an American jazz fusion band, originally founded in the mid-seventies in Buffalo, New York, United States. Their music combines jazz with elements of R&B, salsa, funk and pop music. To date, the band has released more than 30 albums and sold over 10 million copies. Spyro Gyra still performs live frequently, the band rejoices in a loyal fan base who have been following the band for decades. It will come as no surprise that a band with a forty year long history has undergone several personnel changes. With the exception of founder and bandleader/alto-saxophonist/songwriter Jay Beckenstein and keyboardist Tom Schuman, no one remained from the early days of the band. On the other hand, guitarist Julio Fernandez has entered into his fourth decade with the band, and for bassist Scott Ambush it’s his third. The somewhat strange name of the band is a reference to Spirogyra, a green algae species, Beckenstein had written a biology paper on in his period at high school.

Last time I saw the band was many years ago, in May 1990 in the Vredenburg theatre in Utrecht, to be precise. I honestly can’t remember that much from the show. However, the band still belongs to the absolute top of the genre and a live performance is a must for the true fan, so down to Zoetermeer to see the guys perform at close range.

A compliment to support act Seraph, a fine fusion band that has listened very well to their idols, when I climbed the steps to the venue, I was on the assumption that the main act had already begun. But no matter how well this Dutch band sounded, it's in no way comparable to the group who acted as headliner this evening.

The performance starts with a song by keyboardist Tom Shuman, Secret Agent Man, after which a composition of guitarist Julio Fernandez, Catching The Sun, is played. The Cuban guitarist is also responsible for De La Luz, one of the few songs of the largely instrumental band on which vocals can heard, from the composer himself in this case. The soprano sax of Jay Beckenstein plays a leading role as well during this song. A virtually unrecognizable version of Tempted, know from the famous band Squeeze, is played as a slow blues. After that, the opportunity arises for the excellent drummer Lionel Cordew to show his ability. This happens during Lionel's Den, written by Cordew himself, an extremely swinging song with, no surprise, an intense drum solo on two (!) snare drums. Escape Hatch, again from Tom Shuman, is played with a raging keyboard solo. Another cover, this time of The Beatles’, the John Lennon penned You Got To Hide Your Love Away gets a Spyro Gyra treatment in the form of a slow ballad featuring bassist Scott Ambush on the big five strings. The same Ambush gets sufficient space during Wiggle Room, written by himself, to present an impressive bass solo to the enthusiastic audience. The solo spot is illuminated with some funky finger slapping after which a super swinging duet between guitar and sax brings the song to an exciting end. Exciting is certainly also applicable to the last track of the official show, Ruled by Venus, with pounding guitar solo of author Julio Fernandez. The end of the show comes after only 85 minutes! Fortunately, the guys return to the famous sound of calypso and steel drums from Morning Dance, written by Beckenstein, a track from the eponymous album from 1979. And that’s it for tonight.

De Boerderij had been transformed into a real jazz club for this particular occasion, smoke machines on stage represent the cigarette fumes. Beautiful atmospheric lighting as well, not too extravagant, the curtains illuminated with red or blue lights, seemingly velvet. Just like at the famous Blue Note jazz club, as indicated on Beckenstein’s T-shirt. In addition to the light, the sound was perfect this evening, as usual, the hall proves to be very suitable for gigs within this genre.

This apparently also seemed to impact aforementioned bandleader, he played his parts and listened to his fellow band members with eyes closed. Especially when he takes hold of his soprano sax, he has the makings of a swinging snake charmer, with the audience in the role of serpent. A crowd that was fully enchanted by the sounds of the quintet.

A quintet consisting of a black backbone, were they twin brothers? Two bald Afro-Americans with glasses formed the backbone of the band. The last addition to the band, drummer Lionel Cordew, is an absolute master of his instrument, the latter also applies to the other band members. His drum kit is equipped with two snare drums, different in pitch, something you do not see too often with drummers. His colleague, bassist Scott Ambush, has been in the band for more than twenty years, sitting on a stool the entire gig and completely in control of his five-string bass guitar. Veteran Julio Fernandez, 62 years old, witnessed the introduction of his conductor from Cuba and fled at the age of the Fidel Castro regime. He played his fiery red Telecaster with the passion as only a Cuban can. Musical companion Tom Shuman has been by Beckenstein’s side from the beginning, he is the absolute swingmaster on his Yamaha keyboard. From fast-paced soloing including the use of vibrato to atmospheric background sounds, it all seems to flow effortlessly from the fingers of the 58-year-old keyboardist who, according to his boss, was taken away from school by him more than 40 years ago to join the band.

But the pivotal figure of the band is of course founder/saxophonist/composer/bandleader Jay Beckenstein (65). Playing alternately on his soprano and alto saxophone, sometimes even both at the same time! The man is calm and composed, enjoys the performance thoroughly and knows how to inspire his fellow musicians, all of them seasoned professionals, to a high level performances. As ever, musically extremely tight, these super musicians make their way through their huge repertoire. And certainly not at the expense of fun and joy, the mutual enjoyment shared by Shuman and Fernandez on stage spoke volumes.

Jay Beckenstein paid the public a compliment due to the fact that they were respectfully silent during the quiet passages, which was highly appreciated by the band. A crowd of experts, about 600 people, mostly men, knowing how to value and appreciate the music of the Americans. An extremely short performance, however, the concert lasted for no more than one and a half hour, let’s call it quality over quantity.

The Zoetermeer prog temple has now also become a full blown jazz/fusion club: after Billy Cobham's recent successful performance giants such as Stanley Clarke, Yellowjackets and Fourplay are on the bill. The global summit of the genre is present in Zoetermeer this year, for the fans definitely something to look forward to.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

The Ultimate Eagles, De Boerderij, Zoetermeer Friday, April 14, 2017: Welcome to the Hotel California

The Ultimate Eagles come unbelievably close to the distinctive Eagles sound. During a concert of this band you may find yourself in the 1970’s in Southern California, the Eagles’ heydays. A performance is one big highlight, including the mega-hit Hotel California.

The Ultimate Eagles, whose members hail largely from the UK, has now become one of the most successful tribute acts in the world. Danny Vaughn (Waysted, Tyketto), Chris Childs (Thunder, The Union, Paul Young), Chris Wright (Abba Mania), Danny Jones (Van Morrison, Cliff Richard) and Michael Lawrence (The Commitments) are passionate top performers who have earned their spurs in the music world. A few years ago, the musicians sought a new challenge and found it with this successful Eagles tribute project. They fully dedicated themselves to the legendary songs of The Eagles. And that's excellent news. What a pleasure it is to see and hear all those amazing 70’s hits within the span of a few hours, what an absolute super band The Eagles were in their heyday, still the best selling band in the world. Sufficient reasons for attending a gig of this excellent tribute band, hence my presence on Friday night in Zoetermeer.

In succession we were treated to The Long Run, Witchy Woman, One of these Nights, Peaceful Easy Feelin', the stunning a capella sung Seven Bridges Road, Tequila Sunrise, Best Of My Love and Heartache Tonight. On Lyin' Eyes I missed the piano and on the Glenn Frey solo track The Heat Is On there wasn’t a saxophone on stage. But apparently the soundtape did its job, which takes some time to get used to as a an experience visitor of concerts. No one really seemed to care because Take it to the Limit was massively sung along to.

After the break, as previously announced, "Hotel California" was played in its entirety and in the right order. The album is now over 40 years old, the iconic work was released in December 1976. The title track Hotel California gets the legendary guitar duet between Felder and Walsh, in this case Wright and Jones. Superb. Followed by New Kid In Town with perfect vocal parts and Life in the Fast Lane with Rhys Morgan's fine drumming The beautiful ballad Wasted Time is brilliantly performed with a leading role for an excellent Henley (Vaughn). During Victim of Love, the Henley vocals are taken on by Michael Lawrence. Pretty Maids All in a Row, the surprising Walsh ballad, is sung by Chris Wright while Randy Meisner’s song Try And Love Again is treated to a beautiful Felder solo provided by the same Wright. The Last Resort, once called the best Henley song ever, once again brilliantly sung by Danny Vaughn, is the last song of the regular set.

For an encore Joe Walsh’s song Rocky Mountain Way was selected, regularly played by The Eagles and always a big success number performed live, with Chris Wright on lead vocals and a funny talk box duet with Michael Lawrence. The band take their time for an extensive introduction of the individual members and a special thanks to management and crew of De Boerderij. After that, Take It Easy and Desperado are played in succession. Especially the last song received a beautiful treatment by these professional musicians, ‘we leave you with a song in your heart’, beautifully phrased.

The choice of repertoire is of course always worth discussing, but that’s the consequence of so much outstanding material on offer. Personal favorites like Midnight Flyer, Already Gone and Doolin’ Dalton were not selected this time, unfortunately. Fabulous choruses, four- and five part harmonies, unbelievable how well it sounded and how close it got to the original. When you close your eyes, you could swear you were witnessing a performance by the world-famous Americans. The voice of Danny Vaughn is best suited for the role of Don Henley, especially his phrasing, intonation and timing were brilliant. Minuscule point of criticism: the characteristic 'brawl' in the voice of the original drummer/singer was missing. But you may accuse me of exaggerating.

There was a more or less clear distinction between the vocal parts of Henley and Frey, with the odd exception. As already mentioned, the Henley vocals, at least the vast majority, were the responsibility of charismatic Danny Vaugh, while Frey's parts were alternately sung by Michael Lawrence and Chris Wright. The latter took over all of Walsh’s vocal parts. Also a particular division of roles was noticeable with regard to the lead guitar parts. With the odd exception, Wright was the man of the Felder guitar and Andy Jones was in charge of the (slide) parts of Walsh’s. Wright was obviously the musical director of the group but Vaughn also impressed with his voice and stage personality. Funny detail by the way, Andy Vaughn looks more like Timothy B. Schmitt, with his long black hair, could just be a lookalike of the Eagles’ bassist.

Four guitarists in a row at times, one more than the original band. Partly as a result, a huge arsenal of guitars could be found on stage, I counted twenty. Hence various instrument changes, the joke was quickly made. Vaughn was already ahead of us: 'before you ask, yes, we really need all these guitars. That’s also what we tell our women when we buy a new one each year'. Of course, the famous white Gibson SG double neck was not missing, so very important during the unforgettable intro for the title track to "Hotel California", the solo of Don Felder, the author of the legendary intro. Keys and horns were missed sometimes, and there was definitely a music tape, just a tad annoyingly. Should have considered a multi-instrumentalist instead of a guitarist.

Suits and ties before the break and the well-known checkered flannel shirts, jeans, boots and sneakers afterwards, just as it’s supposed to be. A surprisingly well attended event, well over 600 men, according to the band, the biggest audience they ever played to in a club. The show took over two hours and when it was all over the crowd could happily return home. An excellent performance by these professional top musicians and a wonderful feast of recognition for the grateful audience.

Text: Alex Driessen ©2017

Steve Hackett at De Boerderij Zoetermeer Sunday 16 april 2017: A soapbox opera.

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During my review of Steve Hackett's new and impressive album "The Night Siren" I had already indicated that in mid-April, two sold-out concerts would take place at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer, events I was particularly looking forward to. Not only to see the grand master of prog at work again, last time back in October 2015, but also to witness the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the classic Genesis album "Wind and Wuthering". Under the name "Genesis Revisited with Hackett Classic Tour”, quite an accurate statement actually: a combination of the better known Genesis material and a selection of his solo work.  With a prominent role for the standard classic, the last Genesis studio album, dating from 1976, that Hackett would work on, before establishing himself as a successful solo artist.

 

Apparently I was not the only one who felt that way, more than 800 men and women had taken the trouble on both days to travel to a cold and windy Zoetermeer to watch the master in the flesh. Which meant a queue halfway to the train station and huge parking problems, but fortunately this did not lead in any way to incidents nor irritations, rather the opposite. An atmosphere of anticipation to see one of the greats of the prog world perform live had taken possession of those present, quite clearly. Particularly on this Easter Sunday.

 

At exactly half past eight the concert kicked off, under loud cheering the musicians took the stage and opened with a perfect version of one of my personal favorites, Every Day, from the "Spectral Mornings" album from 1979. The quadruple harmonies are excellent. Without detour the band continues with El Niño, an instrumental song from the just-released new album. The power of the song is further emphasized by a drum duet between O'Toole on the traditional kit and Townsend on syndrums, very exciting. The beautiful The Steppes is the next song, a sublime oriental/jazz intro provided by saxophonist Rob Townsend, you could hear a pin drop in the crowded room. The fretless bass supplied by Beggs adds to the heavy rhythm of the instrumental from "Defector" from 1980.

 

Only then is it time for a brief introduction. Hackett announces a mix of new and old, especially the latter gets a big hand from of the enthusiastic audience. Then in the Skeleton Gallery from the new album is played with as a novelty a duet on harmonica (Hackett !!) and saxophone, then a typical solo on electric guitar brings the track back to earth. During the introduction of another new song, Behind the Smoke, Hackett gets on his soapbox to speak enthusiastically in favor of increased mutual acceptance and tolerance for the refugee problem. His lead vocals and distinctive guitar play, combined with Townsend’s flute make this track to what it is, the best song on the last album. Serpentine song is accompanied by a nostalgic story about his dad, Peter Pan and free concerts at Hyde Park, the Stones, King Crimson and Blind Faith, to name but a few. When he suddenly realizes that we have all paid big to see him perform and headlong thanks us for our contribution to his personal piggy bank. The dreamy song with piccolo and four part vocals together with a beautiful soprano sax solo comes to a swinging finish.

 

Rise Again also gets a long introduction of a rather talkative Hackett. The man is relaxed and wants clearly wants to convey to his thoughts to us, nothing wrong with that. But there is also more music to be played, how about Shadow of the Hierophant from Hackett's debut album "Voyage of the Acolyte" from 1975, unfortunately, only the second part, from the tiny bells on, with an unprecedented leading role on drums for Gary O'Toole and Nick Beggs, sitting on the floor controlling the bass pedals, to a gigantic crescendo at the end. A huge applause by a flabbergasted audience is the just reward for the band.

 

Steve still looks great, you wouldn’t give him his 67 years at all, as always dressed in black, neatly cut and his charming stage personality, very sympathetic and almost humble in attitude. His guitar playing was again of great class, barring a few minor flaws. His increased confidence as a lead singer was particularly striking, something that’s also noticeable on the new album.

That's probably also why Nad Sylvan makes such a late appearance on stage and only sings the Genesis songs. He remains a special appearance in his stage outfit which refers to a military costume from the nineteenth century and his theatrical presentation. Collins’ material proves to be somewhat more difficult for him than Gabriel’s parts, undoubtedly something to do with pitch and range. For example One for the Vine wasn’t quite as good as, say, The Musical Box, so be it.

 

I am excited about the return to the familiar nest of bassist/guitarist/vocalist Nick Beggs. Although I am a big fan of Roine Stolt, who took over from him during the last tour, nothing compares to the all-rounder who had to make the difficult choice between one Steve (Wilson) and the other (Hackett) (and thus choose for the first) but fortunately there is now space in his agenda to reinforce the band. His voice fits perfectly with that of Hackett’s, both voices almost merge what works really well in some of the more atmospheric work of the latter.

 

Drummer Gary O'Toole has been working quite a long time with Hackett and played an important role. Not only as an excellent drummer, but the first years mainly as a lead singer, a role which in recent years has been pushed somewhat to the background with reference to the arrival of Sylvan. However, his drumming is all the more startling. He regularly draws attention to himself with a series of rapid and well-aimed hits on his red Mapex drum kit. This time not adorned with his inseparable bowler hat but wearing a suit and sunglasses.

 

That last attribute can also be found on the nose of keyboardist Roger King, the silent but very significant force behind the music of Hackett and his musical director. Without causing too much of a stir one after another subtle keyboard part flows from his deft fingers culminating in the famous solo from Firth of Fifth and fast parts during Inside and Out.

 

The eyes of O'Toole and King may have been covered but that surely did not apply to Rob Townsend’s eyes, horn blower extra-ordinary within the ensemble, this was probably the first time I saw him without glasses. Although his contributions on various saxophones and flutes in the beginning of his membership of the band had raised some eyebrows, the effect of his share of the music today is indispensable. The moments when he duels with Hackett and King are among the highlights of the live performances.

 

Then it's time for the previously announced "Wind and Wuthering" which saw the light of day more than forty years ago and was actually recorded in 'our very own' Relight Studios in Hilvarenbeek. 'Then it's time for the previously announced "Wind For opener Eleventh Earl of Mar Nad Sylvan takes the stage for the first time. Unfortunately, his voice does not fit this song well, I have to really get used to his interpretation of Collins’ vocals. Other than that an excellent version of this iconic song and, lo and behold, the entrance of the double-neck guitar, bass and twelve-string, played by Beggs. Speaking of iconic songs, how about One for the Vine, an absolute hit within the genre, it just doesn’t get any better than this. Hackett introduced the song referring to his Fernandes guitar which he played throughout the entire evening, once belonged to the unfortunately far too early deceased Gary Moore. The same guitar causes some concern because just before the end of the song the maestro makes a small but annoying error, startling both himself and the audience.

 

The next song on the playlist is Blood on the Rooftops, almost a permanent part of the show with the now familiar lead vocals of drummer O'Toole, he acquitted himself brilliantly. The largely acoustic song is preceded by Horizons, to loud cheers of the fans. ... In That Quiet Earth with its majestic instrumental ending with electric guitar and sax, is strongly influenced by the jazz rock of Brand X, then Phil Collins’ hobby band.

The song flows, just like on the album, seamlessly into Afterglow with vocals by Sylvan, in much better form, the choruses are almost perfect. Would they employ the harmonizer after all? The performance comes very close to the original and is not marred by double drums, you hear playing in your head in most of the live versions. Dance on a Volcano, not from "Wind and Wuthering" but from predecessor "A Trick of the Tail", is given a raging version, just as it should. ‘Let the dance begin’. A surprising choice on the set list is Inside and Out. Not so much because nobody knew it would be played, it was announced well in advance, but by the simple fact that it is played at all. The Collins written song about injustice, which ultimately did not make it to the album, is apparently a favorite of Hackett’s who admits to adding it to a possible new recording of the album, if it was up to him. The song is very popular with insiders, partly because of the instrumental second part with raging keyboard solo, this time by Roger King. Unfortunately no Wot Gorilla? nor All In A Mouse's Night this evening but that is partly offset by the rare live performance of Inside and Out. The song would eventually be released in 1977 on an EP entitled "Spot the Pigeon".

 

No gig without Firth of Fifth, Tony Banks himself could not outperform Roger King, even if he wanted. Unfortunately the song starts to lose a bit of magic for me, a little bit too downtrodden I guess, you can’t help wondering how often Hackett has played this song. The latter also applies to The Musical Box but due to the theatrical presentation of Nad Sylvan, the raging madness of the interlude and the beautiful vocal duet during "she's a lady" with perfect second vocal from O'Toole, the song proudly remains intact. Again with a tiny mistake by the master at the end, we forgive him. This also means the end of the regular part of the show.

 

But a show by Hackett and co without an encore is simply unimaginable, this night is no exception. In this case, the well-known Slogans and Los Endos both tracks interlaced with great sax/guitar duet as a grand finale. With an explosion of applause from the delirious crowd as a result. The song not only marks the end of the show but also the end of the European tour upon which Hackett takes the opportunity for a comprehensive thank you, expressing his gratitude to his crew and that of De Boerderij. After almost two and a half hours of a enjoying a great show the crowd goes home satisfied. We absolutely can’t complain about Sunday’s performance but reportedly the audience that had witnessed the gig the day before might have seen an even better show. Lucky bastards.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Anderson Rabin Wakeman (ARW) Tuesday, March 28, 2017 Tivoli/Vredenburg Utrecht

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Although I will confess that I am a huge Yes adept, I have doubted rather a long time whether I would go and see ARW. The concert was announced halfway through last year and I only decided to buy a ticket just a few months ago. What probably played a role was the fact that Yes’ concert at the 013 in Tilburg in 2014, though a huge success, was offset by the Yes gig in 2016, at the same venue as where ARW would play, marred by a poor performance, with an irritated Howe in a negative role. Finally, I must admit that I'm glad that I actually did decide to attend the show in Utrecht. The main reason is still the presence of icons and prog heroes Jon Anderson (72) and Rick Wakeman (67) and, to a lesser extent, Trevor Rabin (63).

The last time I saw Messrs Anderson and Wakeman jointly in a live performance was at the Arrow Classic Rock Festival in Lichtenvoorde in June 2004. Yes in its classical line-up, at the time acting as headliner, it was also the last time both men were part of a certain band called Yes. And to be able to admire all three men jointly I even have to go back as far as June 1991, during the Reunion tour at the Ahoy, Rotterdam. Eventually, the ARW show was sold out, approximately 1.100 people, although initially it looked far from it. It should be no surprise that the average age of the visitors was 50+ with a lot of women this time. An audience that was very much looking forward to the performance of its idols.

But before that, a small word regarding the organization of Tivoli/Vredenburg. it's actually a shame what happened prior to the concert, especially for a large organization with so much experience. A huge queue forms, not entirely unusual, people want to first to get the best seats. A queue that was so long that it finally was completely unclear where it started or ended. As a result much irritation among those waiting in line, when others jump the queue, consciously or not. Culminating, at the opening of the doors, or rather one single door, when the entire crowd moves as one toward the tiny opening, whether you're first or last in line. Particularly poorly organized, shame on you, Tivoli/Vredenburg! Back to the show.

For an opening song the band have chosen in favor of the instrumental Cinema, a song from "90125" from 1983, but also the working title of the new group, before it was changed to Yes, with the arrival of Anderson. Unfortunately, the sound is poor this evening, especially during the first few songs, it gets slightly better but never really good, strange for such a beautiful and well-designed concert hall. Perpetual Change is the next song on the playlist. ‘I see the cold mist in the night' are the first words from Anderson in 13 years on a Dutch stage, singing with a group. He is in excellent voice, good news for the rest of the evening.

Hold On, also from "90125", gets a good rendition including raging guitar solo by Rabin. With his famous hippy mannerisms, hands aloft and slightly floating above the ground, Anderson talks about the beautiful and good people in the hall, introducing I've Seen All Good People. The acoustic intro with gorgeous harmonies, even fourfold, causes an enormous enthusiasm among the public including some loud clapping- and singing along. Lift Me Up is preceded by a fine drum solo of Molina, who seems much more in tune with Bruford’s style than rock drummer White. Lift Me Up is introduced with the familiar joke about this song, written by Trevor Rabin for the album  “Union”, and invariably called "onion" by Rick because the music on the album makes him cry. The song is actually a solo spot for Rabin with, it must be said, great vocals by the guitarist and a new ending with harmony vocals.

Unfortunately, the sound was quite poor, especially keys and drums suffered. However, sound wise it was counterbalanced by guitar and bass, plus vocal parts. Anderson’s vocals are still excellent but he has lost some of his power, not surprising for a seventy-two year old. The fourfold vocal harmonies do full justice to the original sound, especially in the older songs. Evidenced by the following song on the playlist, one of those classics.

"Time for some Close to the Edge" announces master of ceremonies Anderson and the majestic sounds of And You and I soars. Only now Rick can really be heard, so far it was hardly the case in the poor mix. Sound wise the guitar is indeed very close to Howe’s, some variations are made, but in general a good version, the audience loves it. Rhythm of Love is from "Big Generator" from 1987, great vocals again during this heavy prog/pop song with lead vocals by Rabin and characteristic Mini Moog solo by Wakeman the magician.

Heart of the Sunrise, with its famous bass intro and a standing ovation for bassist Lee Pomeroy for his subsequent solo, harbors certain moments of the magic of yesteryear. Changes is another typical Rabin composition with the noisy intro and lead vocals from the South African. Long Distance Runaround is accompanied by an emotional introduction from Jon about Chris Squire and the loss of his friend, he goes as far as to call them both the yin and yang of the band. The song is a gem with the complex rhythms of Bill Bruford, this time very accurately nailed by Molina. As on the album, "Fragile" from 1971, it runs seamlessly into The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus) this time a real group effort, with respect for the original. Left-handed Pomeroy includes some of his own ingredients, not a bad idea, while snippets of On The Silent Wings of Freedom and even a bit of “Tales” (Revealing Science of God) pass by, hats off Lee.

Louis Molina III is an excellent drummer, whose style as said better suits the jazzy style of Bill Bruford, thorough and refreshing at the same time. On bass this time as previously mentioned Lee Pomeroy, as always solid, this self-employed entrepreneur on bass guitar and backing vocals. He played with the likes of Steve Hackett, Jeff Lynne and It Bites, not a bad resume. Wakeman plays a dozen keyboards including two Mini Moogs. Rabin plays his archetypal, psychedelically decorated Fender Stratocaster guitar.

Awaken is in my humble opinion the best song Yes has ever produced, it contains absolutely everything the band stands for. When the harp is brought in via the stage door everyone knows that the highlight of the show is about to start, it elicits a storm of applause from the attendees. There is some variation in the intro and the part with the harp, Rick's contributions are masterly especially during the long drawn-out final part which includes the organ. Although the guitar is sublime, I do miss Steve Howe more than ever. How nice would it be to see the four remaining members play together as a band, will we ever witness this again? A standing ovation from the grateful audience is the right reward for the performance of this song.

Yet something is missing, despite all the praise, the real feeling that something exciting is happening is missing. It's all tight and solid but it doesn’t sparkle anywhere. Wakeman has time for a chat with the roadies and Pomeroy, it's all very much routine. The magic has gone, I'm never on the edge of my seat, a few brief moments aside. Or is it just me?

Rick was wearing, how could it be otherwise if your nickname is the Caped Crusader, a flamboyant cape, which was hiding a belly of impressive size, while Jon was wearing a jacket with a baseball glove and luminous laces, the older the crazier, but he still looked good. Trevor also started with a jacket with a striped shirt underneath and two-colored pants, he looks like a (slightly) younger version of Roger Moore. The musicians each had access to their own stage, their own territory so to speak, with the exception of Rabin. And in spite of the elevated stage, Anderson was still by far the shortest. Remarkable also, a very limited light show and stage setting, some screens, no video this time.

Owner of a Lonely Heart was never my favorite track, but I'm apparently the only one who thinks so judging by the reaction of the crowd. I manage to get through, manfully. Rick’s keyboard solo does half a decent job to the number. The show element during the song is funny, both Rabin and Wakeman left the stage while playing by walking through the audience and meeting right in front of the stage at the other side of the venue. The remaining members remain on stage and play their part. It is all very much appreciated judging by the enthusiastic response from the fans. A piece of Cream's Sunshine of Your Love at the end of the song makes the party complete. Yes once played as support act during the farewell concert of the legendary band at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1968.

The frenzied audience does not have to wait long for the encore, an energetic version of the ancient Roundabout, the fourth track already from "Fragile" is received with much applause by a capacity crowd in Utrecht. The band looks genuinely pleased and surprised with the reaction of the fans. A view at the setlist of the gig the night before at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, shows that there is no deviation from the standard performance, so this was actually the final number. A tightly directed and highly professional show, it must be said. The band manages to play for more than two and a half hours without a break, not bad at all.

After a long US tour, with 36 appearances, starting in October and ending in December, this was the last show of the European leg of the world tour. Now it's time to recharge the batteries for the last series of shows in Japan in mid-April, with, as final chord, acting as headliner at the Night of the Prog Festival at Loreley in July.

To summarize, we just witnessed a solid and highly professional performance by the prog icons. At the same time we can also conclude that the magic has gone, unfortunately. Incidentally, the band is reportedly busy writing and recording new songs, interesting to hear in which direction the music will move.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Pink Project Paard van Troje Den Haag Saturday 18 March 2017: Pigs will fly in the Hague

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In recent years I’ve seen Pink Project perform several times and often in special places like the garden of the Peace Palace and the Omnimax theatre, both in my hometown The Hague. This time the authentic The Hague pop temple Paard van Troje (Trojan Horse) was the scene of the action.

The tribute band, founded some 23 years ago by Peter Chattelin, has been working hard for years now. After many highlights there is still one to come this year: in September the band plays the Ahoy in Rotterdam, and not for the first time. But first there’s the show at the Paard. Besides Chattelin, lead guitarist Ruud Verwijk, part of the band since 2005, is of great importance to the sound of the band. Playing his black Fender Stratocaster David Gilmour Relic Custom Shop, identical to the instrument used by the legendary Englishman since 1970, he manages to get eerily close to his hero’s guitar sound, no easy job.

The band has chosen to center stage the Pink Floyd album "Animals" this time. "Animals" dates from 1977 and is one of the best but also darkest albums by Pink Floyd. It is a concept album, somewhere along the line inspiration was drawn from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Just as in the book, animals are used to describe human behavior. And I will have to state here and now that it’s my favorite Pink Floyd album of all time, ranking high in my personal top 10. One more reason therefore to look forward with much anticipation towards the gig at the Paard.

It turns out to be rather difficult to gain access to the stately building at the Prinsegracht in the center of The Hague. Long queues formed in rain and wind,  even around the corner of Boekhorststraat, the doors won’t open till exactly seven thirty. It must be said, the hall filled pretty quickly and what I had not thought possible turned out to be true: the show began punctually at eight. There is an atmosphere of anticipation in the room, this was going to be a real party.

Pink Project kicks off with some tracks from "The Wall", successively In the Flesh?, Another Brick In The Wall Pt 2, with the famous guitar solo, and Mother, with a lead role for the background singers. This is obviously a home game for Chattelin and friends, the band hails from The Hague, it is pleasantly busy in the almost sold out Paard with an estimated 1,000 enthusiasts.

During What Do You Want From Me, Charles Dehue, who takes on Gilmour’s voice, and new guitarist Hans Hendrik, steal the show. Sorrow, a gloomy song, with its heavy guitar by Verwijk, is enhanced by a great light show. The relatively unknown Cymbaline from "Music From the Film More" from 1969, is a surprising choice, to say the least. An extremely noisy room ultimately turns quiet during the organ solo, after which we are treated to the acoustic intro to Fat Old Sun from "Atom Heart Mother", including wonderfully distorted guitar solo by Hans Hendrik.

After this, the instrumental One Of These Days follows, including heavy bass and Dr. Who theme. The vocals during Have A Cigar are somewhat mediocre, unfortunately, but that is again more than compensated by Brain Damage/Eclipse from the classic "Dark Side Of The Moon” with lead vocals by Peter Chattelin. Time for a short break.

After the break, it's time for "Animals", previously announced as the central part of the show. Just as it should opened with the acoustic Pigs On The Wing Pt 1 with film and photographs of Battersea Power Station, the former coal plant on the Thames, with the famous pig floating between the huge chimneys, up on the big screen.

Dogs gives me goose bumps with the acoustic intro and the perfect vocals of Charles Dehue. The keyboard solo by Giovanni Pepe, the tempo changes and great unison guitar parts are a feast for the ear and make this more than 17-minute song into an example of how progressive rock (symfo) should be played. The second vocal part of Peter Chattelin shows very well how much his voice approaches the light frenzy that is characteristic for Roger Waters’. Compliments.

Pigs (charade you are) is accompanied by images of successively Trump, Erdogan, Putin but also, to great hilarity, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte. Especially the vocals and lead guitar by newcomer Hans Hendrik, elicit much applause. Then it's time for the intro to Sheep, the iconic electric piano, the favorite song of my favorite album by the Floyd, with its pulsating bass line and superb singing of 'madman' Waters, as performed by his biggest fan Chattelin.

The same Peter Chattelin announced that the next song would already be the last song of the set, and that this would be a special song that is rarely played live. As soon as the first notes of Echoes are played, there is no stopping the public. The intro with the legendary aqueous piano sound, is greeted with loud cheers by the wildly enthusiastic crowd. With four vocal parts and, at times, heavily distorted guitar, accompanied by a video of the performance at Pompeii, this unique over 23 minute song is played convincingly. An absolute highlight during the show.

Run Like Hell is the first encore, the rotating lights make the comparison with the original band very realistic, obviously there is a lot of singing along by the frenzied audience. Extra compliments for the vocal duet between Peter and Charles. Additional encore Comfortably Numb is the absolute crowd favorite and also acted this time as closer. It was sung lustily, you might even say shouted, the legendary guitar solo finishes the party off in style. This The Hague get-together comes to a halt at around eleven o'clock and slowly peace and quiet returns to the town that hosts the Dutch government.

We have witnessed a truly outstanding show by these locals, extremely professional and with great dedication and commitment they played for almost two hours and three quarters, no one dared to leave the building prematurely. On to the Ahoy.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

The Watch Cultuurpodium De Boerderij Zoetermeer 17 March 2017: The return of the twelve-string.

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Almost exactly one year ago, I made my debut as a presenter on stage at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer, at that time I had the honor and privilege to announce the performance of The Watch.

A special performance at the time, due to illness of singer Simone Rossetti and guitarist Giorgio Gabriel, sustained during their tour in the UK and Scotland. The first had almost no voice left, the show had to be shortened, some songs had to be removed because they meant to big a drain on the vocal cords of the singer. Rossetti barely managed a two-hour show after which his voice simply gave up on him. The promise was made to return and make up, this promise was completely fulfilled with an excellent performance on a cold night in March.

The band has become a bit of a prisoner of its own success, just like Ray Wilson. They have an arsenal of highly original music, although obviously inspired by a certain British top band. After previously having played albums such as "Nursery Crime" and "Trespass" as a central theme, this time it was the iconic “Foxtrot” from 1972. No fuss, no dressing up nor excessive make-up, only the great symphonic pop music of the heyday of Genesis.

The band kicks off with Damage Mode from their second studio album "Vacuum" from 2004, a surprising choice as opener. But at the same time not so surprising, although an original song from the band, the music has strong reference to the band that has inspired them so much. And while we are at the subject, the second song is already immediately a big knock-out: Watcher Of The Skies is played with its beautiful menacing intro and the feast of recognition can begin. Successively, Can-Utility and the Coastliners and Fountain of Salmacis, with beautiful high notes from singer Rossetti, and Stagnation, with characteristic double twelve string guitars, are played. Not an integral version of "Foxtrot" but a mix of the album and other material from the rich past of the famous band, which seemed to have found its definitive sound with aforementioned album. The sound is not very good at the beginning of the show, very uncharacteristic for De Boerderij, but as the show progresses it gradually improves.

Time Table is a great song, a little gem, and only very infrequently played by the original band, let alone subsequent tribute bands. Great to hear it again and discover that I could still sing along word for word to the original lyrics, and I certainly was not alone. Return of the Giant Hogweed, the song about the malignant plant, turns out to be a vocal masterpiece in the rendition of Simone Rossetti, whereby dad’s flute and his son’s melodic bass catches both the eye and the ear. Have you ever heard so many musical gems together in one evening? A short break is announced, eventually lasting for half an hour.

A very enthusiastic keyboardist, this Valerio De Vittorio, rarely seen such a big smile on a musician on the stage, and highly skilled as well as evidenced by the often complex parts. However, the keys sound less clear, even a little flat. In my view this has nothing to do with the capabilities of the keyboardist, but you could say that the choice for the specific sounds leaves to be desired. The piano sounded just dull, the vibrancy that characterizes Banks’ sound, was lacking.

Drummer Marco Fabbri, drum animal, as always adorned with Scottish kilt and bare-chested in the second part of the set. He is clearly a good companion of singer Rossetti, after almost every song there is some sort of brief physical contact, a high/low five between drummer and singer. Son Mattia Rossetti certainly doesn’t have the easiest of tasks in the ensemble. Switching between bass and twelve-string guitar, but also taking care of bass pedals and backing vocals, he grows more and more into his role that was once shaped by Michael Rutherford.

But the focus is on the sublime vocals of band leader/founder/singer/composer/flautist Simone Rossetti, evidently. What a voice, what a performance, simply impressive. His diction, timing and phrasing is eerily close to that of Peter Gabriel. He has a quiet, sympathetic and almost humble appearance on stage, his flute parts also should not be forgotten, it enhances the arsenal of sounds considerably.

The band returns to the stage for the second part of the show and plays, somewhat surprisingly, The Fisherman from the album "Twilight" in 1997, with its characteristic heavy bass pedals. The Musical Box is introduced by Rossetti in fine Dutch, after which a perfect rendition of the song follows starring guitar and keyboards. And what a fantastic light show, making it look even more dramatic.

Then bandleader Rossetti takes the floor again for an emotional speech about the importance of culture and especially music in modern day society. And all in Dutch, although read from a note, sympathetic nevertheless. He clearly has listened to and watched very carefully the legendary singer and frontman of Genesis. Peter Gabriel was known for the fact that he'd address the audience in their own language, there are countless examples of bootlegs in which the entire show is introduced by him in French or German. Tribute to Rossetti for this much dedication.

The relatively unknown, but no less interesting, Happy the Man, which later on would be the inspiration for the band name of former Camel keyboardist Kit Watkins, followed by the Foxtrot songs Get 'Em Out By Friday, you could hear a pin drop during the quiet passages, respect for the crowd at De Boerderij. Horizons included a tiny mistake from the otherwise flawless guitarist Giorgio Gabriel. In his defense it could be argued that Hackett himself called Gabriel 'crazy' because he insists on performing this technically difficult track on twelve-string guitar.

But the highlight of the evening has to be the iconic Supper's Ready, also announced by singer Rossetti in Dutch. A truly sublime version of this more than 23 minute-long magnum opus of Genesis of which I, perhaps with the exception of a certain Mr. Hackett and his band of top musicians, have never heard a better version, I dare say. A gigantic applause lasting for minutes is the well-earned reward from a super enthusiastic and appreciative audience, which had made itself heard previously by singing along loudly and even dancing to their favorite songs.

The Knife from "Trespass" from 1970 is a smashing end to the gig with once again a leading role for guitarist Gabriel applying a smooth Hackett finish to the work that was originally put on record by the latter’s predecessor, Anthony Philips. With his clownish face and stoic appearance, sitting on a stool the entire concert, he impressed with his playing, which is close to that of the master. And make no mistake about the complexity of the music, aspiring musicians among us: do not try this at home.

After more than two hours and nearly three quarters the show came to an end and the grateful and humble ensemble receives a lengthy curtain call by the faithful and knowledgeable audience. A passionate acceptance speech from frontman Rossetti is the last thing we heard this evening, enough is enough. Some three hundred men and the odd woman could be content, we have witnessed an inspired show by the quintet from Milan.

The new studio album "Seven" will be released in a month according to frontman Rossetti and is partially produced in collaboration with, here we are again, Steve Hackett, interestingly. High time for a concert with purely original music, the new album as a steppingstone and highlights from the first six albums, and there are plenty. And if the band still has the enthusiasm and energy to throw in some Genesis songs I'll will not protest.

Text: Alex Driessen ©2017

Progdreams VI Festival day 2 Sunday March 5 2017 De Boerderij Zoetermeer

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TILT 

Opener on the second day of the festival, is TILT, the band of Steve Vantsis, best known as the bassist of Fish. The collective around Vantsis has just released a great new album in 2016, "Hinterland", involving, inter alia, Robin Boult, John Mitchell and John Beck. The album gets excellent reviews, as a result therefore, expectations are high: can they live up to these expectations in a live performance. No surprise, the entire new album is the basis for the set list of TILT, including Answers from the EP "Million Dollar Wound" dating from 2009.

The start of the gig leaves to be desired somewhat, the sound is not quite good, especially the vocals are mediocre. The band starts with Assembly but only when No Superman is played the voice of singer Paul Dourley starts to come together. Strontium Burning, with a beautiful guitar solo at the end, and Bloodline with a melodic bass line work well in a live setting. Encore Disassembly is just as impressive on the album. "Is there no God?" asks singer Dourley. The other songs are pretty ok in general, but nothing really sticks.

I honestly have some mixed feelings about the performance. Unfortunately, the promise is not quite fulfilled, the whole was insufficient dividends. Does this mean that the CD has been overproduced? Sound samples, keyboards and even an acoustic guitar on tape? That’s not what we are used to as a prog audience. The second disappointment concerns singer Dourley; I was very excited about this unknown singer from Scotland but it was not quite what it should be this time. This man has undeniable qualities, and the same goes for the company surrounding him. As this is only the second live performance of the band, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. The music is interesting enough, maybe they should consider hiring a real keyboard player for live shows. John Young (Lifesigns) stood in the wings and watched.

Antimatter

At about eight o'clock this evening’s second act, Antimatter, start their performance. Once again, just like Saturday, we are behind schedule. I must admit that this band is not quite my cup of tea. While listening I regularly ask myself the question: is this still prog? Sure, here we have musically literate men at work, no doubt about it. The music is intense but I felt little excited with many of the relatively short numbers. The amplitude, the melody is lacking somewhat. Some old school prog fans left prematurely, pure coincidence? Maybe it's a generational thing, the band draws more people in their forties and fans of the more heavy genre, nothing wrong with that.

Antimatter has a band leader in Mick Moss, a singer/guitarist with a Dave Grohl-like voice, a good guitar player in the person of Dave Hall, an unobtrusive bassist Ste Hughes and a long-haired head banging unknown drummer. They play an almost completely new set relative to recent performances, the acoustic shows aside. Lots of material from their latest album "The Judas Table" from 2015, at the time well received by both press and public. Definitely not a bad show by Antimatter, especially the prog-metal part of the audience will be happy with this heavy guitar-oriented band.

Tiger Moth Tales

Tiger Moth Tales is essentially the brainchild of Nottingham based musician/composer Peter Jones, who has been active in the music industry since the late 90’s. Jones (36) at the age of fifteen months, lost his sight due to Retinoblastoma which did not prevent him from learning to play the piano at an extremely young age of four. An X-Factor participation in 2004, the release of "Cocoon" in 2014 and his joining of Camel in 2016, are just a few milestones in the relatively short history of this musical centipede.

Tiger Moth Tales appearance on stage starts half an hour later than scheduled, caused by technical problems with the set-up of bandleader Jones. The introduction of John Young, who spoke about the participation of Jones in the English version of X-Factor and the importance of remaining faithful to your own music, is sincere.

The band kicks off, very appropriately, with Overture from success album "Cocoon", the source of most of the set-list. Then the party really breaks loose with Don’t Let Go, Feels Alright with successive solos on saxophone, guitar and keyboards by Jones. With the latter two played simultaneously, not often shown before. The title to the song is not the only item with a high Camel content, more on that later. The blind front man has a set of instruments that he must find by touch, the sax is in a container close by, the guitar lies transverse on top of his keyboard, surmounted by a microphone. And he can never be caught making mistakes, extremely impressive. The Quest for Beauty, from "Storytellers" from 2015, is announced by him with a “to horse!". Indeed represented by a kind of cross country horse race, a bit similar to Camel’s Fox Hill. The comparison with Andy Latimer also returns for City in the Stars, a song from his hobby band Red Bazar, with a guitar solo reminiscent of the illustrious duo Hackett/Latimer. The same goes for The First Lament, whereby, after a sax intro , a great Camel-like guitar solo appears, unheard of. Three cheers for The Merry Vicar, I would almost call this Vaudeville prog, very humorous and clever.

A Visit to Chigwick, with its acoustic intro and musical references to Big Big Train, is greeted with great applause by the fans. Typically English, with a giga keyboard solo at the end. Then for me personally the absolute highlight of the festival arrives: a duet with pianist Luca Zabbini from Barock Project during the new song Alone. The two super talents together cause goosebumps. The song is part of the collaboration of these two musical geniuses on a couple of songs for the new Barock Project album, "Detachment", very much looking forward to its release. Closing track, Tigers In The Butter, is accompanied by sound effects, quacking ducks and even a sitar. "We live our lives in fantasy” is a phrase from the lyrics, and that certainly applies to the music, as evidenced by the huge variety in tempo and theme. A great epic rock song with sublime guitar solo at the end.

Jones is blessed with an excellent sense of humor, of the typical English high-level type, very different from Frost*’s, with all due respect. His voice sounds occasionally a bit like Paul Carrack’s, melodic and soulful. Camel/Andy Latimer will very much enjoy working with this super talent, hopefully also in terms of composing. Has Latimer brought in the proverbial Trojan Horse with Jones? It won’t be long until this man not only plays the keyboards but will effortlessly take on any passing guitar solo as well. Three cheers for the blind man.

Lonely Robot

Much later than announced, no surprise after earlier delays, finally band and frontman appear on the stage of the theater where, the previous night, he triumphed by the side of Jem Godfrey with Frost*. John Mitchell appears in a bright orange NASA astronaut suit. They almost immediately kick off with the instrumental Airlock from the latest album, "Please Come Home" from 2015. After which consecutively God vs. Man and the melodious The Boy in the Radio are played. In Floral Green, a song from the new album which is about to be released, is a beautiful slow song with a great guitar solo, typical of Mitchell.

Why Don’t We Stay? is left out of the setlist and personal favorite Oubliette is performed vocally only half for the same reason: there is no female voice present this time. Like during the concert in December 2015 in Zoetermeer with the excellent bass player/singer (and rather delicious) Caroline Campbell. Construct/Obstruct, with a characteristic solo by Mitchell on his white Cort, followed by Are We Copies?. Humans Being is the much needed break after all the previous heavy stuff with the beautiful, The Red Balloon, showered in red lights, to finish off the regular part of the set.

For the encore Mitchell returns to the stage, accompanied only by keyboardist Holmes, to play an extremely beautiful version of Battlelines, an ode to "dear friend" John Wetton, not without emotion. The obligatory drum solo is as always just a bit different when Craig Blundell is behind the pots and pans, this time with a lot of electronic sounds. Sigma is the smashing closer in front of a half-empty hall, unfortunately, although I heard from a reliable source that this was a specific choice of the artist.

The performance was, as in 2015, accompanied by video images, this time on large screens on either side of the stage, a novelty. Mitchell was in moderate voice this evening, he seemed a bit distracted, staring into space while he played and sang his parts. Very little contact with the fans, however noted that a slowly emptying room is not a very nice background. Mitchell wondered if maybe we were 'progged out' in response to the somewhat lukewarm response from the audience, might just have been the case. A great band, with previously mentioned buddy Blundell and TILT bassist Vantsis, but also with an excellent keyboard player, Liam Holmes. This is the second time I saw Lonely Robot in action, the setlist was more or less equal to the first concert in 2015, which I personally prefered, more inspired and intense. However, even on cruise control a pro like Mitchell delivers solid work. The new album, "The Big Dream", will be released soon, the new track at least arouses our curiosity.

Around midnight the performance came to an end and with it the sixth edition of the festival. In summary, we can say that this year, in some respects, was better than last year. Both in terms of programming and in terms of public interest, especially on Saturday, was a strong improvement noticeable compared to edition five. The screens are a great service to the public and catering and drinks again were well looked after. For me personally Tiger Moth Tales was the highlight of the festival, followed by Frost*, Barock Project and Huis. On to the seventh edition.

Text: Alex Driessen ©2017

Progdreams VI Festival day 1 Saturday March 4 2017 De Boerderij Zoetermeer

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The Progdreams festival at De Boerderij has become an annual event where many prog fans in the Netherlands and beyond are looking forward to eagerly. This year’s line-up for the sixth edition was especially interesting. Manager Arie Verstegen and his team have succeeded to book a whole bunch of top bands. To my great excitement, this particular edition was rewarded with a large audience. Again, not only people from the Netherlands, but also from England, Belgium and Germany had traveled to Zoetermeer to witness the festival.

Karnataka

The first band that was allowed to enter the stage was the English Karnataka. This band around bandleader Ian Jones and singer Hayley Griffiths released the successful album "Secrets Of Angels" in 2015. Hayley Griffiths, among others, performed with Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. She is a delightful live wire who jumps across the stage and radiates an enormous amount of energy. Her voice is on the whole quite clear, but at times you feel like she herself is seeking the pitch that fits best her vocal range.

The rest of the band is doing quite alright. Especially drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi is a big ball of energy, his drumming is a performance in itself. With his long hair and his way of playing (really, his entire body participates!) he makes me smile and reminds me of Animal from the Muppets. The songs from the last album are very straightforward and less prog influenced. Therefore, they don’t really stick. The older songs from the era of previous singer Rachel Jones, had the most impact. A good warm-up, nothing more, nothing less.

Barock Project

The Italian Barock Project was eagerly awaited by many, not least myself. This band has made huge progress and is currently working hard to win a place at the top of the symphonic ladder. Regretfully, singer Luca Pancaldi has recently left the band, during this concert his place was taken by newcomer Alex Mari. However, right now he can’t hold a candle to his predecessor. Especially during the first part of the set nerves played tricks on him, but as the show progressed he managed to bounce back pretty well.

Eyecatcher is undoubtedly keyboardist and bandleader Luca Zabbini. He had brought an impressive arsenal of keyboards with him and really knows how to handle them. He also regularly took on lead vocals and plays a very nice acoustic guitar. Like a true Italian, he doesn’t shy away from a little showboating, certainly making the band fun to watch. But especially musically Barock Project is overwhelming. A busy amalgamation of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Queen and Genesis, topped with a baroque sauce, making the music impressive as a whole. Very rich, full and noisy, but at the same time very good. Symphonic rock in the purest sense of the word.

Already after the first performance there had been some delays and the actual time table was far from the original schedule. This didn’t impact the atmosphere. People visited the CD stand of Beyond Rock, met up in the cozy and intimate concert hall and were indulging in satay, burgers and other hot snacks.

Huis

The next band to take the stage was Canadian Huis. This band has a special connection with the Netherlands. They started playing Knight Area covers, got in touch with the band and eventually visited the Netherlands. What they saw in our country made a deep impression which you can hear on their debut album "Despite Guardian Angels". On the album you can hear songs like Beyond The Amstel and Oude Kerk. The band, with Mystery guitarist Michel St-Pere in the ranks, was visibly moved by this performance and the crowd’s reaction. Singer Sylvain Descoteaux admitted he would have liked to kiss the stage on which he stood, fortunately he didn’t but he came close.

With two excellent albums to their credit, the band had sufficient material to put up a great performance. Hence a cross-sectional from both albums was played. Their attractive neo prog went down well with the audience. I like their music although at times it sounds a bit too stylized and nice. Usually, in a live setting, the music gets a little more rough around the edges and/or a slightly different approach, but during this gig  you could close your eyes and easily hear the CD being played. A very solid performance from a band full of potential, that will certainly continue to grow.

Frost*

At half past ten it was finally time for the band where most of the attention was drawn to: the four musicians of Frost*, make their entrance more than an hour and a quarter later than originally scheduled. You should anticipate something like this at a festival with various bands but this evening was the nadir. But, as previously mentioned, It barely seemed to have any impact on the audience.

Host/presenter and my predecessor, Lifesigns keyboardist John Young, introduced the band with a joke about an alternative band name, Tactical Wankers. 'Hello wankers' was the welcoming of band leader/founder Jem Godfrey to the enthusiastic crowd. It would not be the only (practical) joke during the show this evening. They kick off almost immediately with the instrumental Hyperventilate, played well and heavy. Almost instantly followed by Black Light Machine. "I'm just a farm boy” Godfrey sings, while yet again another characteristic guitar solo by John Mitchell passes, certainly not the last of the evening. 

Frost* is already quite heavy on their albums but in a live performance they manage to step it up even more. The band makes a strong and well-oiled impression. Then again at times they give the impression of a boisterous gang of schoolboys during a field day rather than a professional rock group. There is a lot of joking around, loads of interaction, much to the delight of the fans. Million Town, the title track of the debut album from 2006 and main supplier of the first part of the set list, is the next song. Including 'trois mains' piano, one hand from Mitchell, two from Godfrey. Thereby immediately mentioning the two most important members, Jem Godfrey (Atomic Kitten) with his strong performance on keyboards and main vocal contributions, and John Mitchell (Arena, It Bites, Kino, Lonely Robot) with his distinctive guitar play and occasional vocals. 

But then I short sell the rhythm section, ‘masterly’ is the only correct description. That beast of a drummer, Craig Blundell (Steven Wilson, Lonely Robot), combined with the pulsating five-string bass of Nathan King (Level 42), quite a treat. Then it's time for some tracks of the new album, successively Heartstrings, Closer To The Sun, The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light Blues, Nice Day For It, Hypoventilate and Last Day, all from the most recent album "Falling Satellites" from 2016. A lot of heavy stuff, therefore, with the exception of Godfrey's subdued solo at the end. 

Encore for this evening is The Other Me, again from the successful album "Million Town", a raging version is presented to us including whirling drum solo by master drummer Blundell, a pleasure to see this guy at work. Frost* at times produces a wall of sound, personally I was a little battered by the end of the show, perhaps the result of a long day in the company of progressive music. 

Nevertheless, the absolute highlight of the first night of Dreams Prog VI, energetic and passionate, but sometimes a bit petulant and somewhat unruly, long live fun. Fun that manifests itself on stage by many mutual glances and reactions, kicking at each other, quirky dance moves and stretching out on the floor of the stage, apparently all these things belong as well to this company of mad dogs and Englishmen. 

After playing for about an hours and a half, around midnight, the show was over and the room slowly but gradually emptied. Most visitors hoping for a new day with a program as strong as today’s.

Text: Alex Driessen ©2017

Ray Wilson, Underground, Lelystad, Netherlands, Friday 10 March 2017: Classic Genesis Plus

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I could hardly pass up on the invitation to attend the concert of Ray Wilson in Lelystad. Despite the fact that I saw the Scottish ex-singer of Genesis fairly recently in action, on 26 November last year, at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer. The gig would initially take place at the Kubus but was moved at the eleventh hour to Underground, a cozy little theater, aptly named so; it looked like a subterranean space, partly due to the low ceiling. Approximately 300 men but mostly women, had found their way to the dark hole, not completely sold out but pleasantly crowded. An enthusiastic audience with a peculiar preference, I will come back to this later. Remarkable: until the day of the show, the artist himself was unaware of the change in venue. Apparently the original estimate of the programmer of bigger brother Kubus (max 700) was not quite right.

 

Pity, Wilson seems to be the victim of his own success, playing Genesis classics and related stuff, his own songs are fine, though. Automatically, you think it's time for a tour with self-penned songs, his own work is good enough and his body of work is quite sufficient to choose from. His most recent album "Makes Me Think Of Home" (2016) contains some great songs. Good band, with special mentioning for the fantastic guitarist Ali Ferguson. The band consists half of Scotts and half of musicians from Poland, with one German violinist in the middle. Since this is the second time within four months, no extensive report this time.

 

A little late start, you usually start when the hall lights dim, but not in Lelystad apparently. It took another 10 minutes, to about a quarter past nine, before the show eventually started. Sound was not too good, especially in the beginning. The light show is also limited but I can hardly compare this with larger venues like De Pul and certainly not De Boerderij.

 

A slightly different set list this time with, inter alia, Dividing Line from "Calling All Stations", interesting number, excellent drummer. But the combination of the beautiful Entangled with Ripples, worked perfectly in this setting, as well as Home By The Sea, another highlight. The compact venue and intimate atmosphere allowed for direct contact between band and audience, stage animal Wilson made good use of it. He had more than a keen eye for beautiful women in the audience, who can blame him.

 

Wilson had success with his Gabriel songs, the surprising In Your Eyes was another highlight for me. His baritone voice lends itself more to the interpretation of the songs of the first Genesis singer. All the more surprising is the choice of Phil Collins' Another Day in Paradise, judging by the reaction of the audience, the most successful song, sang along at the top of their voice. The least proggy song has the most success, tells you something about the audience. Interesting, let’s just keep it at that. The band ended the show at around midnight, including a break of about 20 minutes, performing for more than two hours. Another great concert of Wilson, in good voice this evening, together with his solid and close knit band.

Text: Alex Driessen © 2017

The Analogues, Zuiderstrand Theater, The Hague, Saturday February 25th 2017: A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

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Two Beatles tribute bands in one week? Yes, The Bootleg Beatles on Friday, February 17 at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer had been a great success. Would The Analogues be worth my while to once again find my way to the theater? A tip from a good friend and fellow music enthusiast was the deciding factor; according to him, it was an absolute must-see, a unique and truly fantastic experience. Anyway, bought my tickets, just in time apparently, the relatively new temporary Zuiderstrand Theatre in Scheveningen was completely sold out. A mixed audience, young and old, male and female, but no experienced music lovers as far as I could tell. There was hardly any sing-along, I could distinctly hear some a-rhythmic clapping and, if I'm not mistaken, I even occasionally noticed some people looking terrified when the volume, which the band produced on stage, was too loud for their ears.

But I'll just come straight to the point: I witnessed a fantastic show, incomparable to The Bootleg Beatles whom I saw just a week before. Incomparable to any other tribute band whatsoever. Technically superior in sound, using all the original instruments (although The Bootleg Beatles did the same). Special recordings were made at Abbey Road studios, nothing was spared to create the most authentic sound available. And supported by pretty respectful images on the big screen above the stage with, among others, an interview with Geoff Emerick (71), previously the engineer during the original Sgt Pepper sessions in the aforementioned studio. Hats off to so much trouble and appreciation for the original. An introduction is in place.

The Analogues is a Dutch band that was founded several years ago, in 2014 to be exact. The original goal of the band was to perform the later works of The Beatles, also known as the studio years, in a live setting with the original (analogue) instruments. The first project which the band took on was “The Magical Mystery Tour” which the band toured in 2015/16 along theaters and music venues, followed by “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”, in 2016/2017, assisted by a dozen additional musicians, especially strings and horns. The Beatles never played these albums live and indulged together with producer George Martin in intricate arrangements.

The band was formed by a number of experienced musicians from the Dutch pop scene: Bart van Poppel (bass, keyboards, vocals) has a background in, among others Lois Lane and Shine, Jan van der Meij (guitars and vocals) is a splendid guitarist in bands like Vitesse and Powerplay, and was at the time seen as the Johan Cruyff of the Dutch rock scene. Diederik Nomden (keyboards, guitars, vocals) played with, inter alia, Johan and Daryll-Ann and Jac Bico (guitars, vocals) is known for, among others, Lois Lane and Henny Vrienten, the entire group consists of professional musicians. But the most special member of the ensemble is a non-professional artist.

The band is in fact an initiative by Fred Gehring, former CEO of Tommy Hilfiger Corporation. Fred himself plays drums and sings in the band. It was he who approached musician and producer Bart van Poppel, who, in turn, the arrangement of the often complex Beatles songs and searched the internet looking for original instruments such as the Mellotron, the Höfner viollinbass or a Wurlitzer piano. The band has recorded at Abbey Road Studios, the tapes are used during the live performances. In this case to record the orchestral parts used during A Day In The Life, for the famous crescendo.

"Sgt Pepper's" was years ahead of its time and is perhaps the most iconic pop album ever. It is of course well known that the album was recorded, without any kind of limitation or restriction. After all, the Beatles had decided, voiced by John Lennon, never to perform live any more. The restriction that a song should hold up even in a live performance was not necessary any longer. So they experimented endlessly with special instruments (sitar horns, mellotron) and tape loops and everything else that was possible and sometimes impossible at Abbey Road Studios under the guidance of the acclaimed Sir George Martin, unfortunately deceased last year. With his musical abilities and knowledge of music and production techniques, he led the men to great heights and at times squeezing every last drop out. John wanted a circus-like atmosphere, he wanted to "smell the sawdust in the circus ring," Martin realized the impossible. The free program booklet in pocket size provides a wealth of information about the background of the recordings and the individual songs, an excellent initiative of the band.

On June 1 this year it is exactly fifty years ago, "Sgt Pepper's" was released. This fact is celebrated all over the world, in London in particular with a special concert at the Royal Albert Hall where, inter alia, The Bootleg Beatles are present, the event is already sold out. The Analogues are also present on a similar event: on the very same day at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam with a cast of stars, yet to be disclosed. The whole thing is a bit shrouded in mystery, but it's going to be a great happening, that much is clear.

But let’s go back to the show on this windy and rainy Saturday night in Scheveningen. The band kicked off with Something, great guitar play, and successively We Can Work It Out, And Your Bird Can Sing, Eleanor Rigby, Magical Mystery Tour and I Am the Walrus. Then some surprising choices Glass Onion, The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill and Mother Nature's Son from the famous "White Album" from 1968. But perhaps not so surprising at all: the guys are planning to perform this underrated double album as a whole on their next tour in 2017-2018 . And since they were already practicing why not have an immediate baptism of fire. The Ballad of John and Yoko only appeared as a single (1969) and written and recorded without by John and Paul without George and Ringo present. You Never Give Me Your Money from my favorite Beatles album of all time, Abbey Road, gives me inches of goosebumps and hair raising on my arms.

Then it's time for the pre-announced main dish of the program: a full and integral version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. From this moment on the setlist holds no secrets for the true fan, superb versions of the titletrack Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, With a Little Help From My Friends, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds and a rousing Getting Better are to follow. Then again some personal favorites in the form of Fixing a Hole and the magnificent She's Leaving Home, with only vocals and strings. For Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! one of the brass players is invited to sit in and play keyboards, this might very well be one of the most difficult songs to perform live. The somewhat odd Within You Without You, written by George Harrison and Indian influenced, is played with two additional musicians on board, on of them takes one the tabla. Probably the least popular song on the album but if you pretend to play the entire album then of course this one should be part of it as well.

Time for a couple McCartney classics with When I'm Sixty-Four, probably close to the average age of the audience, Lovely Rita, about the sexy parking attendant, and Good Morning Good Morning. A nice and heavy version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) is followed by the unsurpassed A Day in the Life, including pre-recorded tapes of the orchestral crescendo. A standing ovation lasting several minutes is the reward of the enthusiastic audience for the ensemble on stage. After a show like this it would be a great anti-climax to finish without an encore, and that’s exactly what happens. With Eight Days a Week, a long and impressive version of Hey Jude, finally with the right amount of audience participation, and a smashing performance of Revolution, we had come the end of the concert after just over two hours.

Aside from all this praise, there’s only one point of criticism: the vocals need attention, mind you, not that the singing isn’t good, on the contrary. But the clearly dissenting voices from Lennon and McCartney were less distinctive. In some cases the vocals of both Paul and John were sung by the same singer (van der Meij, Nomden). And When I'm Sixty Four was a low point with drummer Fred Gehring in the role of Paul. Unfortunately ....

However, an almost perfect Paul (Nomden) on Mother Nature's Son, all solo, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, meant sheer goose bumps. And ditto John (van Poppel) during I'm the Walrus. And those were not the only goose bump moments, many were to follow. Also great compliments to the choruses, which almost completely balanced out the previously mentioned problem with the voices.

I would not have wanted to miss this for the world, songs I've never heard before live, not by any of the many tribute bands I've seen in recent years. What about You Never Give Me Your Money, Glass Onion and the previously mentioned Mother Nature's Son. Compliments for the unusual choice of repertoire, these guys obviously did not go for the safe option.

No exuberant show, no fancy dress, at best a solo waltz by Jan van der Meij in his role as Henry the Horse during Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite! So no tribute band in this sense of the word, but the word ‘tribute’ in itself is insufficient to describe what happened here; this was more, pure and utter respect, scientific almost, without losing emotion. A low bow for the dedication and perseverance of this special company. As already noted there will be a sequel in the form of the famous "White Album", some of the songs were already played during this show. Personally, I am kind of hoping of course for my all-time favorite Beatles album "Abbey Road". Wouldn’t it be great to hear side two in its entirety in a live performance. I will have to be patient, I think.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Airbag, Friday 24 February De Boerderij in Zoetermeer: The Nordic connection

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With some pleasant tension I awaited the performance of the Norwegian progressive rock band Airbag on Friday February 24 at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer. I was given the impression  that I was not the only one who was looking forward to the show; demand for tickets had exceeded all expectations. A nice full house, not completely sold out but probably close. No support act, a sense of anticipation was clearly noticeable. Which was further strengthened by the fact that the gig started fifteen minutes later than usual, for reasons unknown. It hardly seemed to matter to the audience. 

Finally at a quarter to nine, under tremendous applause six musicians appear on stage to play the title track from their most recent and well-received latest album "Disconnected" while images of a strong religiously tinged video was played on the overhead screen. This song, dotted with heavy guitar riffs, turned out to be an excellent opener for the debut of the band as a headliner on the Dutch stages. After Redemption, the second song, Broken proves to be a nice break from the heavier stuff, with its acoustic intro, slow pace and lingering atmospheric keyboards. 'But I'm only here for the ride, only here for the fun' sings vocalist Ole Tostrup during Killer, an excellent song with strong hook from the last CD. The audience is in complete agreement with him. 

During Call Me Back lots of space between the notes and a leading role for the second guitarist, Ole Michael Bjorndal of the Norwegian band Oak, on slide guitar which even elicited a collegial applause from first guitarist Bjørn Riis. All Rights Removed from the eponymous album from 2011, appears to be the last track before the break. Already after one hour the band announces that an intermission of about 20 minutes would follow, not unusual in itself, but come on, these are relatively young men. 

As previously mentioned six musicians, an additional guitarist on the left and a new keyboardist on the right complemented the quartet of vocals, guitar, bass and drums. The band sounds much heavier in a live performance than on the albums, the overall sound certainly benefits from it. The sometimes heavy orchestration is further reinforced by the driving bass, playing a simple but solid role. All vocal parts are provided by Asle Tostrup, in excellent voice this evening, sometimes in harmony with Bjørn Riis, occasionally playing either electric or acoustic guitar. 

The sound of guitarist Riis largely determines the sound of the band, he regularly played out of his skin, alternating between a black Fender Stratocaster and an Epiphone Les Paul. At the same time, I was pretty impressed by the capabilities of the talented Bjorndal who took on the solos on some of the songs. When Riis was playing his solos Bjorndal provided little musical mosaics, some wonderful interplay during those moments, at times very impressive. 

The tuning of the guitars, in particular Riis’, proved somewhat problematic. The band had arrive in Holland that same morning from Oslo and his explanation was that the instruments were too cold. That was pretty much the only thing that came from his mouth, the Norwegians are clearly men of few words: the intros of Tostrup were ultra-short, actions speak louder than words. 

After the break, the show continues with Slave from the last album, a wall of sound samples and supported by a strong video on the big screen behind the stage. 'It's been a while since you left me' Asle Tostrup sings in an agonizingly slow pace. The Bridge is, like the singer announces, an older track from the album "All Rights Removed," a dark song about a suicide attempt in San Francisco. A small but persistent technical problem with the keyboard section is the cause for a short delay before an enthusiastic version of The Greatest Show on Earth from the eponymous album from 2013 could be played. 

During the introduction of this song it turns out that in addition to Bjorndal and the young keyboardist also the bass player is a replacement for the regular player of the instrument. Therefore only singer Asle Tostrup, guitarist Bjørn Riis and drummer Henrik Fossum, who joined the band in 2011, are part of the core members. Surveillance is the last song of the regular set, at least the instrumental part of the song, with atmospheric mood and guitar solo in the style of David Gilmour, the famous aqueous guitar sound. Supported by an equally aqueous video on the big screen. After only one and a half hour, we had arrived at the end of the show, a bit early in my humble opinion.

But fortunately singer Tostrup promised us "a couple more" then quickly Colours will begin with acoustic intro of the same Tostrup and a beautiful guitar solo by Riis. As grand final will be played Homesick, an obvious crowd favourite, this time with even a mini keyboard solo that strongly reminiscent of Rick Wright in sound and structure. The first solo of the young keyboard player who was also solely responsible for support and samples. The epic, almost twenty minutes, Homesick is a fitting conclusion to a very successful performance. Nice also to see: Riis which completely absorbed in his game, often with open mouth and grimacing in the vein of Camel's Andy Latimer. Singer Asle Tostrup has a beautiful clear voice reminds me here and there in terms of timbre and gasp a bit like Morten Harket of A-ha, fellow Norwegians, but without the accompanying pathos. 

The encore was highly appreciated by the audience clapping along to a large extent, while the band moving a heavy wall of sound, a crescendo squared. The enthusiastic crowd was played completely flat after about two hours by the Norwegians, who receive the grateful and loud applause with visible pleasure. 

It is difficult, if not impossible, not to talk in a review of airbag on the band obviously made a huge impression on the men's and whose influence to this day today is noticeable. OK, here we go: if you would not know the music of the Norwegians and in any listener or concert visitor would ask for their response to a piece of music will undeniably drop the name Pink Floyd, 100% sure. It has a high degree to the lyrical guitar playing Bjorn Riis, what awfully close to that of David Gilmour. Also bear the slowness of the pace, the space between the notes, the drums and the supporting keyboard performance also greatly contribute to the equation.But this band has too much to offer to be constantly reminded of this comparison. There are also samples other influences from Anathema to Porcupine Tree, but the music of Norwegians, stylish, compact and full of intricate details, is nevertheless original enough to survive on its own. The gig in Zoetermeer is living proof of that. After a few years in particular have acted as support act (Anathema, Pineapple Thief, Riverside, RPWL and Gazpacho) is after this concert sufficiently clear: longevity headlining lies ahead, judging by the enthusiastic response of the audience but also the its diversity: a younger audience than usual in prog rock bands and more women than usual. Just before that we owe them thanks, tribute. 

My thoughts turn involuntarily to that beautiful beer commercial in which a Scandinavian in a Nordic sweater asks the Dutch: "What do you have in Holland" The answer is obvious: your best prog band now as headliner in our theatres. Duly noted.

Review: Alex Driessen ©2017

The Bootleg Beatles, De Boerderij Zoetermeer, Friday, February 17th, 2017

There are a lot of Beatles tribute bands around the world, probably the pop icons are the band with the biggest musical legacy on planet earth. Over the years I have seen many a band in action from The Cavern Beatles, Help! A Beatles Tribute, Fab Four to The Ultimate Beatles. With considerable variety in quality, suffice to say, the last band I witnessed last year, the British Help! A Beatles Tribute, could be characterized as ‘a nice band for parties and celebrations’.

But, no doubt, the band I saw perform on Friday 17 February at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer would win the distinguished title "Best Beatles tribute band ever" by a long stretch. Until now, I will come back later on that. We are talking of course about The Bootleg Beatles, the ultimate tribute band of the most famous pop band ever.

Probably the longest surviving and most successful as well, established in 1979, and with over 4000 shows to their credit. So good, that they are the only band allowed to use the original Beatles logo. And received special endorsements from both Sir Paul and the late Sir George Martin. What about that comment by George Harrison that "those guys probably know the chords better than we do". Proof of this are fully sold-out shows at the famous Royal Albert Hall in London and the Symphonic Hall in Liverpool on June 1 and 2 . Ample proof of their capabilities. Adam Hastings (John Lennon) guitar, vocals, keyboards, Steve White (Paul McCartney) bass, vocals, keyboards, Stephen Hill (George Harrison) guitar, vocals and Hugo Degenhardt (Ringo Starr) drums, percussion, are indeed very capable musicians and performers. (The latter, by the way, worked with Steve Hackett on several of his albums)

Both performance and music are truly amazing. By using a large screen and displaying (black and white) images of events from the sixties, the whole experience is enhanced and made extremely entertaining and recognizable. If the band sings ‘ah ah Mr. Wilson, ah ah Mr. Heath’ during Taxman, you can indeed simultaneously watch both statesmen on the screen, very clever. The costumes and instruments are authentic as well: from McCartney's' distinctive Hofner violin bass to his heavy Rickenbacker 4001 and from Harrison’s beautiful black Gretsch Country Gentleman to Lennon’s black Rickenbacker 325. And what about Starr's Ludwig Super Classic drum kit, incredible.

It all comes eerily close to the original. Although most of this is guesswork of course: between the famous last performance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966 and the equally famous performance on the rooftop of the Apple building at Savile Row on January 30, 1969 no live performances took place so no comparison can be made. But that certainly doesn’t make the experience less attractive and impressive.

Witnessed by an almost completely sold out Boerderij and an audience of highly diverse background, from eight to eighty, men and women, the universal appeal of the Fab Four has lost none of its power sixty odd years on. It was one big party that particular evening, we sang, danced, drank and laughed a lot during an energetic performance which lasted over two hours.

The show was cut into three parts: the neat jackets and ties which roughly represent the period from '63 to '65, the fluorescent Sergeant Pepper costumes for the psychedelic period in 1967 and the hippie outfit and loose leisure clothing for the last part of the performance.

All hits were played, what else, some thirty songs, often very short. That meant, among other, I Saw Her Standing There, I Want to Hold Your Hand, She Loves You, A Hard Day's Night, Eight Days a Week, Can’t Buy Me Love, Help!, I Feel Fine, Day Tripper and Twist and Shout during the part before the interval. Followed by Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the obvious 'Ringo' sung With a Little Help From My Friends, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds (no, really has nothing to do with hallucinogens), When I'm Sixty-Four, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise), A Day in the Life, I Am the Walrus, Hello Goodbye, Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane and All You Need Is Love. 'Paul's' solo song Blackbird meant the transition to the final part of the set and then consecutively Come Together, Something, Get Back, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Hey Jude, Let It Be and Revolution, played as final encore, were played.

With a left-handed bass player and all the musicians in full character, needless to say. 'Paul' always serious during announcements, swinging his bass, 'John' as joker, his guitar close to his chest and 'Ringo' rhythmically moving his head with his typical style of drumming, arms close to his body. But the star of the evening for me anyway was 'George'. Regularly staring into the hall, inhaling the atmosphere and audience with his quiet personality. Producing especially strong guitar solos, specifically during the more recent songs, some of them actually written by him.

The jokes from ‘John’ on Wings (after the last track: ‘after this we will all be called Wings’) and the relationship between Pattie Harrison and Eric Clapton (after a great solo from 'George': ‘who needs Eric Clapton?! HIS wife referring to ‘George’). Delicious anachronisms who really went down well with the partying crowd. Another special mention for the extra musician on stage, praised by the band for his orchestral contributions on Moog, keyboards and percussion.

Compliments especially for the vocals, both solo and harmony, including 'Ringo’s' contributions. An elated and very happy audience rewarded the band with a long ovation lasting several minutes, visibly to the satisfaction of the Brits on the stage.

A great success, which really tastes for more. And 'more' is actually happening in short-term: on Saturday, February 25th, just a week after their British counterparts, Dutch band The Analogues make their appearance at the Zuiderstrand Theatre in Scheveningen for a full and integral performance of the legendary album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I genuinely am very curious if the high level of the show I just reviewed could be equalled or perhaps even surpassed. We’ll find out soon enough.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Billy Cobham’s Spectrum 40 Band Wednesday 15 Februari 2017 Boerderij

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A concert of Billy Cobham is an absolute must for fans of jazz-rock. The man is an absolute legend and a pioneer of the drums, he stood at the cradle of the movement that merged previously incompatible musical styles, ergo the term fusion.

In 1969, the tireless musical explorer Cobham (73) played an important role in the fusion group Dreams, in which the brothers Randy and Michael Brecker, John Abercrombie, Don Grolnick, Barry Rodgers and Will Lee were playing. The following year he was invited to join the Miles Davis Group, where he played  with, among others, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Count Basie. In the seventies he became famous as the drummer of the Mahavishnu Orchestra with guitarist John McLaughlin. The fusion of jazz and rock played by this band, offered Cobham ample opportunity to develop a drumming style with influences of rock and funk, which was very innovative at the time. Later he worked with artists ranging from George Duke, John Scofield and Tony Williams to Jack Bruce and the Grateful Dead.

His role as drummer/bandleader should be remembered as well, on recordings such as "Spectrum" from 1973, his powerful, complex style of play exerted a strong influence on the development of jazz and jazz/fusion. On "Spectrum" he plays with the tragically deceased guitarist Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple) and keyboardist Jan Hammer (Jeff Beck), the album is a standard for every fan of jazz rock. This now over forty year-old album is the inspiration behind the concert and delivers a considerable share of setlist with four pieces

The first set kicked off with Sphere of Influence written by bassist Ric Fierabracci, followed by Radioactive and Stratus, the latter written by Cobham but mainly famous in the version of Jeff Beck. Then two songs, which were played as a whole, like it should, To the Women in My Life/Le Lis, with a leading role for keyboardist Etkins during the first part these songs, are composed by Cobham and, like Stratus, from his iconic album “Spectrum” from 1973.

An ultrashort first set, only three quarters of an hour, after which a half hour break. The second set lasted approximately an hour and including fifteen minute for the encore the total playing time lasted 2 hours, quite acceptable. A reasonable turnout also, a crowd of estimated 400 had found their way to the rock and jazz temple in Zoetermeer on this Wednesday night. A real connoisseur audience, judging by their response to the songs and solos, lots of applause after yet another unique piece of musicality.

Cobham’s solid backing band for several years now consists of Gerry Etkins on keyboards, Dean Brown on guitar and Ric Fierabracci on bass. Etkins does look a bit like good-old Norm Peterson, the friendly cafe habitué of Cheers. From his Roland but especially his Nord keyboard, he manages to elicit the most amazing sounds, especially his solos with vibrato regularly caused rapturous applause from the crowd. The latter is also true for silent partner Ric Fierabracci on five string bass. The concert opened with his composition Sphere of Influence indicating that he is a gifted writer as well. But most striking was surely the performance of guitarist Brown. His resumé reads like a "Who's Who" in jazz-rock, he played with all the greats on earth and can be heard on more than 200 albums. In his guitar playing I recognize bits and pieces of Carlos Santana but itis also reminiscent of John McLaughlin, Larry Carlton and Mike Stern. With his pivoting guitar style on an old battered black Fender Strat he regularly manages to enchant the audience. And if he really gets into it there’s no stopping him; in those moments his legs go in all directions, and the expression on his face is priceless. What a great band, tight as a drum. There is plenty of room for individual skills, all the musicians play solos to their heart’s content, regularly forcing an appreciative applause from a grateful audience of connoisseurs.

After the break the band kick off with Two Numbers written by guitarist Brown and the beautiful and understated Heather provides for the much needed breather for both band and audience. But not without anecdote about Michael Brecker who turned up late and without any preparation to provide this number with a valued contribution on the original album. They then leave the stage for the drum solo of the bandleader which is in turn followed by Quadrant 4/Spectrum which closes the regular part of the show. The band is recalled by an enthusiastic crowd for the encore after which the well-known Red Baron, also from “Spectrum”, is played.

King Billy sits on his throne like a real Red Baron. The namesake of this track played as an encore, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, probably the most famous fighter pilot ever, has many similarities with the drummer/composer. Cobham is truly an ‘Ace of Aces’, one of the best if not the best among his peers. Although Cobham is not of noble birth, he sat on his throne, his drum stool, fully in control of all his instruments, in this case a fifteen-piece Tama/Sabian drumkit. Just like the pilot of the double-decker, he is the driver of a double bass drum, he also knows how to hit his snare drum with force and eerie precision, as if it were the machine gun of a fighter plane. Moreover, in a natural and gentle way he leads his squadron of highly competent co-pilots, the bandleader hardly ever steps in the foreground. But there is one big difference: the celebrated pilot died in harness in 1918 in Amiens aged 26 and the master drummer is still alive, fortunately.

I'm not a big proponent of extended drum solos but still I would like to make an exception for the maestro. Especially the solo at the end of the show was fascinating, the ease with which he plays is staggering. What a suppleness, even with quadruple drumsticks, tasteful without showmanship, swinging, really impressive. There were some slight problems with the electronic drums, on two occasions he kicked out the plug when leaving the drum stage but these problems could be resolved quickly without being distracting. Anyhow, tribute to De Boerderij, sound and lights were again of a high standard. No busy light show this time but subdued lighting, better suiting the atmosphere and musical content, well done. Always nice to see some good, solid jazz rock being performed in Zoetermeer. Hopefully the Red Baron will return to its stage once again in the near future.

Review: Alex Driessen ©2017

Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash at De Boerderij Zoetermeer, 21 January 2017

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I am a big fan of the music of Wishbone Ash and its distinctive guitar duets. Iron Maiden founder and bassist Steve Harris admitted that this was the inspiration for them to choose in favour of a line-up with two guitarists. Although I witnessed the band with the official name perform live several times since the eighties, I actually never saw Martin Turner’s band, bassist and founder of Wishbone Ash in 1969. The concert at the Boerderij on a cold January evening gave me the perfect opportunity to put things right. I was acquainted with the music of Turner, although he lost the lawsuit for the name of the group to opponent Andy Powell, obviously no one can stop him from playing his own music. Resulting in some excellent (live) albums on which the music is played in an outstanding manner, with highly capable musicians. His solo work varies in quality but his latest studio album, "Written in the Stars" from 2015 was well received by both press and public. This may very well be the result of the fact that he has remained relatively close to the original blueprint. During the concert some of the songs of this album were played live. 

This applies to opening track The Beauty of Chaos as well as title track Written in the Stars which was played next. After that, we go back more than forty years in time for Lady Jay from 1974. The instrumental The Pilgrim from the album "Pilgrimage" from 1971, clocking at over eight minutes, gets a huge applause from the grateful audience. Mystify Me is also from the last studio album of Turner and friends but You See Red is met with considerably more enthusiasm by the audience. Referring to the original composer/guitarist Laurie Wisefield, this song, dating from 1978, is performed with panache by Willson, he takes on both vocals and guitar solo. The blues of Blind Eye and the rock of Living Proof goes down really well with the crowd, however small in numbers. Slightly disappointing, this low turnout, just over 100 men and women have made the effort to brave the freezing cold in January. But this in no way affects the enthusiasm of those present, as a matter of fact, the applause sounds at least twice the size of the audience, much to the delight of the band. 

The vocals are really great tonight. Especially Danny Willson, a member of Turner's ensemble since 2008, excels. With his wide vocal range he more than often comes to the rescue of his bandleader. His guitar style is closest to that of veteran Andy Powell, hence he takes on most of the soloing. And in splendid style, I might add, just close your eyes for a moment and you will have no problem in seeing the leader of the original band in front of you. Without Flying V, however, he stays with Gibson but plays the whole show on a beautiful natural wood ES 335, without missing a note and extremely close to the original sound, tribute. There was clearly chemistry on stage, mutual joy and excitement, particularly between the two guitarists, really contagious. The unison guitar duets are fantastic, both in terms of timbre and timing, there is no doubt: we have highly competent musicians at work here. 

During the entire concert Turner plays his iconic white Gibson Thunderbird IV bass. Nikolic, originally from Serbia and since 2015 working for Turner, alternately plays two Fender Stratocasters while Willson uses the previously mentioned Gibson ES 335. I shouldn’t forget young master Tim Brown, playing as tightly as possible on his small sized Mapex drum kit. The band leader and namesake announces that after the break the legendary "Argus" album, dating from 1972, will be played in its entirety, something even the original band never got round to, according to him. Although not in the original order, Blowin 'Free is played as a last song, but that would not spoil the fun. 

So we start with the epic Time Was, after which during Sometime World Danny Willson’s vintage guitar and Martin Turner's melodic bass get the chance to excel. The King Will Come is announced by Turner as "something from the Bible as it's almost Sunday," while the lovely Leaf and Stream is provides Nikolic with an opportunity to showcase his capabilities. Warrior is a song about war and despotism written by Turner to which libra Turner hastily adds that he had written the next song, Throw Down the Sword, as a peace-loving counterpart. The harmonies from the "Twinkle Twins' Willson and Nikolic save Turner during this track, visibly struggling with the vocals. As mentioned previously Blowin 'Free is played as a closing number, a lighter song, which led to protests from the other original band members at the time it was written. 

After about 100 minutes the official part of the show is over, but the band returns quickly to the stage for the encore after just a few minutes. To kick off with the instrumental FUBB, one of my personal favourites. Actually a nice long jam session of more than 10 minutes with probably the longest guitar duet ever. Doctor tells the story about the girlfriend of Turner’s, who, in his own words, introduced him to drugs, booze and sex. Perhaps that’s the reason partly why he had trouble with the vocals, resulting in a weaker version of this song from 1973. During the final song, Jail Bait, including nuns joke, it's time for the usual audience participation. 

Turner, now 69, is a good performer and looks young in his rock outfit with his flowery pants, a somewhat questionable choice, but this is compensated by a very cool jacket. Crazily grimacing and blessed with a healthy dose of (self) humour, he makes his way through the well-known repertoire. The vocals of frontman Turner can be qualified as reasonably good, although at the end of the show it gets increasingly difficult for him to reach the right (high) notes. However, the harmony vocals are perfect, as already noted, often two or three vocals, sometimes we can even hear four voices at the same time. Vocally this band can easily stand the comparison with the band with the original name. Involuntarily you make this comparison and with reference to the vocal part this ends up in favour of Martin's band, sorry Andy. 

In total, the band plays a respectable 2 hours and 10 minutes, including encore, not bad. Sound and lights were once again of high quality at the Boerderij, but by now we have come accustomed to it. An energetic and solid performance by the band that I feel is closest to the original music from the 70’s. And for me personally a pleasant introduction to the man who hopefully will keep on burning the Phoenix’ fire. I will have to divide my attention between two bands in the coming years, it seems.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017