HEADWAY FESTIVAL 2005
Fates Warning, Enchant, Last Crack, Shadowkeep, Guapo, Prymary, Transmission
2 & 3 April 2005
P60, Amstelveen, The Netherlands
Words and Pix by Andy Read & Debbie Hewitt
A promising new progressive act from Germany, plying a pretty straight style of 90s ProgMetal, in the vein of Dream Theater and Promised Land-era Queensryche. They have a good singer in the shape of Jan Roos - a spitting image of English comedian Alexei Sayle - and some heavy, instrumental interplay amid a healthy mix of hard rock melodies. Visually they are a bit dull and as with so many progressive bands, their stagecraft needs a lot of work. There was a pretty pointless ballad in the shape of 'One Day' but the epic 'Calling' and a new song 'Darkest of Days' held the attention well. As the line-up features two members of Chain (the band of Frameshift mastermind Henning Pauly) they decided to throw in the pairing of 'Incommunicado' from the band's debut and 'Never Leave The Past Behind' from last year's '.exe' album. However, as these were clearly the best songs of their set, I'm not sure if that was a good or a bad idea. Anyway their debut is due out later this year and with this showing, they should be well worth keeping an eye on.
Late replacement for British proggers Jadis, Guapo is a trio of musicians from London who have managed to release six albums without me ever having heard of them. Think Magma, King Crimson and Univers Zero with a certain Hawkwind-sorta-thing going on at times, this is the sort of band where you either head for the nearest exit or stay transfixed to the spot throughout. It's not my scene at all, but while in no way transfixed to the spot (I was sat at the bar actually), I did stay to the end out of sheer curiosity at the huge wall of sound created by a trio playing just keyboards, drums and bass. Easily the weirdest band of the weekend, their set featured a heavy use of joss sticks, a gong and a funny looking squeezebox. Incorporating elements of prog, avant-garde jazz, kraut-rock, minimalism and folk, there was certainly a hypnotic element and considerable energy to draw the listener in. Of limited appeal, but certainly not an unpleasant experience.
They get rather spoilt for gigs in Holland. This same evening, as well as this festival, for the Prog fans, the Flower Kings were in town and for the metal fans, there was the Judas Priest/Scorpions show. I'll put the latter down as the main reason why there weren't too many headbangers present when Shadowkeep hit the stage. A shame really, as I'm sure anyone into the heavier side of metal would have enjoyed their show. I'd previously seen them supporting SymphonyX in London last year and was impressed. Second time around and Shadowkeep did the business again, proving themselves great purveyors of slightly progressive but very heavy metal. Guitar duo Chris Allen and Nicki Robson dish out a fine line in crunching riffs and in American vocalist Ronnie Stixx, they have a great set of lungs. Mixing-up the sounds of SymphonyX, Sabbath, Helstar and Crimson Glory, their two albums 'Corruption Within' and 'A Chaos Theory' have built them a solid following across Europe. Their third album is being produced by Karl Groom (Threshold) and is due to hit the streets later this year.
For almost 15 years, this San Franciscan-based band has delivered a series of quality albums with a unique American mix of neo-prog and melodic rock. They've built up a respectable discography of seven albums, but despite repeated European tours, they've always had to make do with being the support act. At one point, it looked like Enchant was destined to be the perpetual bridesmaids of progressive rock.
However, the release of two superb albums in the shape of 'Blink Of An Eye' and 'Tug Of War', followed by last year's double live album, has seen the band finally start to get some long overdue respect. This appearance, was the penultimate date of their first-ever headlining European tour and from the opening beats of 'Sinking Sand' it was clear they were relishing the chance to finally be the bride. The thing that really strikes me about Enchant live, is the huge sense of joy that beams from the stage. There's a clear love of their music and of sharing it with an audience - something that you just can't help, but be totally captivated by.
If you've yet to come across the band and if by reading the word 'progressive' you think 'dull and boring', then think again. Sure, there are plenty of complex arrangements and instrumental passages, yet the great melodies and captivating rhythms more than balance it all out. And on stage, it's all delivered with such evident drive, energy and passion, that the two-and-a-half hours pretty much shot by. The ever-smiling Ted Leonard has an amazingly soulful, passionate voice. Doug Ott, maybe looks more serious, but his guitar just sings to you.
I generally prefer music on the heavier side, so Enchant isn't the type of band that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. But I must say, this was one of the most all-round professional and enjoyable live sets I've seen for some time. My girlfriend hasn't got a rock album to her name and was only intending to try a few songs so that she could say that she'd been to her ‘first ever rock concert’. Yet, she stayed to the end and like me, she came away rather Enchanted.
Coming all the way from Southern California, Prymary certainly ensured it was a worthwhile journey, winning plenty of new admirers with an hour of very technical, very heavy progressive metal delivered with 100% conviction. Running from grandiose to straightforward, their set provided a good mix from their self-titled debut and its forthcoming successor 'What Little Girls Are For'. Having opened for bands like KingsX, Quiet Riot and Seven Witches, Prymary is an incredibly tight live unit. Mike DiSarro proves both an excellent vocalist and animated frontman while Chris Quirarte was highly impressive behind the drums. The rest of the band though, weas rather static and so it was really a matter of letting the music do the talking. As such, it was the first time I'd heard their stuff and it was the new material, especially 'In My Shell' and 'Runaway' that showed the greater refinement and appeal - boasting some good melodies among complex rhythms.
Another totally new band for me and again one that left a good impression. Often cited as a hugely-influential underground band for their ability to blend a multitude of genres within a slightly manic attitude, Last Crack won a dedicated fanbase across the world with the release of three albums before going their separate ways in the mid-90s. Re-uniting for a few live shows in late 2002, they enjoyed it so much, that they decided to stick together and record some new material. A live double album of the reunion shows entitled 'Burning Funkhouse Live' is due out soon, to be followed by a full-length record later this year.
Pretty much the original line-up from the classic albums 'Sinister Funkhouse #17' and 'Burning Time', they dealt out rock that was certainly very underground bringing to mind Pearl Jam on a number of occasions. There was an appealing balance between subtle and heavy but with the addition of a rather funky groove. The crowd seemed a good mixture of long-standing fans and total newcomers. And as the noise noticeably increased after each song, you can be sure that there were a good few who acquired their first ever Last Crack album afterwards! Definitely back in business!
The terms 'influential' and 'legendary' are constantly far too easily used by fans and critics alike. But few can deny, that in the course of their 10-album career, Fates Warning have done more than enough to warrant the use of both words - and tonight more than showed why.
Not the most prolific of bands, I sadly only 'discovered' them with the release five years ago of their sophomore album 'Disconnected'. Sadly this festival was their only Western European date in support their current album - the hugely impressive 'FWX'. So with the band never having headlined the UK, the chance to finally see them play live was the main reason for attending this festival. And boy was it worth the journey! The previous month, Jim Matheos and crew had played a few dates and filmed a possible future DVD in Eastern Europe. That show lasted two hours. When I say that they played the same set and even crammed an additional song into just 90 minutes here, you'll know this was a no-time-to-take-a-breath onslaught on the senses.
The set list of today has nothing from the John Arch era - the oldest track being a very welcome 'Quietus' from 'No Exit' - the first album to feature current singer Ray Alder. Ray can't get the very high notes anymore - and thankfully doesn't try. But despite clearly suffering from a bad throat, he proved that the rest of his range still packs a punch. From beginning to end, he was a buzz of movement, leaping madly or swaying gently as the mood of the music demanded.
Before a packed hall, it was great to see Frank Aresti back in the ranks to play the heavier guitar leads, while Matheos, looking cool and relaxed to the side of the stage, handled the band's lighter shades. With the brilliant Mark Zonder having left for pastures new, his seat behind the kit was taken for this one show, by a certain Mike Portnoy. With just one day's rehearsal, it wasn't perfect but he certainly added to the power!
Fates Warning is a much heavier proposition live than I'd expected. The sheer power and energy coming from the stage - especially on the newer numbers like the skull-numbing 'One' and the new pairing of 'Simple Human' and 'Heal Me' - took the show to another level for me. Tracks such as 'Life in Still Water', 'The Eleventh Hour' and 'A Pleasant Shade of Grey' are absolute musical treasures. With the added power and energy that you get from the live setting, then tonight, the treasures absolutely sparkled. Only the rather ordinary 'Face The Fear' and the two opening encores from Matheos' disappointing (in my book) OSI project, allowed my emotions a chance to take a break.
In over 20 years of regular gig going, only seven or eight bands have ever managed to grab me in a way that I become totally and utterly submerged in the passion and energy of their music. This was one of those rare gigs, where for most of the show I just closed my eyes - for 90 minutes there was nothing else in my world other than the music. A truly amazing gig by a truly legendary band.
And finally..... I don't know what it is about the Dutch but they seem to have a copyright on producing great festivals that celebrate music of a metal and progressive nature. Towards the end of every year we have the Progpower Festival in the east of the country. And at the start of the festival season, there is this two-day event held just outside Amsterdam. I attended the first Headway event two years ago when it featured Pain of Salvation and Freak Kitchen as headliners. Now in its third year, although I was only familiar with three of the bands, I had no hesitation about making the journey again. The P60 club holds around 800 fans with a super sound system and clear views of the stage. There are also two separate bars to relax in which stay open well after the show and outside is a huge town square with cafes and shops. The line-up was a great mix of new and established bands which attracted fans from as far away as Japan, Brazil, Iceland and the States as well as several groups from the UK. It's extremely well organised and a huge thankyou to Freek and the rest of the crew for making us feel so welcome. A cracking weekend of great music in great company.
A Pleasant Shade of Grey PtIII
Life In Still Water
Pieces of Me
Face The Fear
The Ivory Gate Of Dreams Pt IV Quietus
Another Perfect Day
The Eleventh Hour
Point Of View
Through Different Eyes
The New Math
Nothing Left to Say