RPWL, 28th April 2002
Moritzbastei, Leipzig, Germany
By Andreas Vogel
A New Hope - that's what RPWL constituted for the progressive rock community back in 2000 with their album God has failed. Now, episode two of the band's oeuvre has entered record stores worldwide, entitled Trying to kiss the Sun. With this new effort, the Germans have ventured into a slightly more modern vein, while retaining most of their style.
I must admit that when I first heard the album in the record store, I was rather disappointed. With God has failed, I had had the strong feeling that the greatest potential the band had lay in their instrumental work, their skilful creation of the most touching moods, and in their more adventurous compositions. Trying to kiss the Sun, however, seemed to ignore these strengths and failed, in my eyes, to make progress in one way or other. Although the opening track delighted me from the start, I perceived the rest as a tiresome collection of some run-of-the-mill tunes, which sported some good instrumental backing, but were ruined by extremely mediocre vocal melodies and a lot of sweet icing to top it all. It took me another two try-out listens until I realized that there was a little bit more to it. It was enough to make me purchase the CD, but still: it was only a little bit.
The people who gathered in the same tomb of Leipzig's Moritzbastei that saw Porcupine Tree one year ago, made a curious (and not too large) audience: many of them were old men in Jeans who were obviously in search of the heirs of the late Pink Floyd. Well, RPWL have been hailed as being just that, but I feel this is not quite right.
RPWL were co-booked this evening with Timothy Pure, a band I had read a lot of praise for. However, I hadn't heard a single one of their songs, and given the fact that I don't trust a lot on first impressions, I refrain from pointing out in detail how I experienced Timothy Pure's music. Sure, that first impression wasn't bad at all. Lengthy compositions, good build-ups, moods ranging from fragile to very intense.
RPWL's opening title wasn't hard to guess, but it was a good choice at any rate: Trying to kiss the Sun is a fine song, well balanced and rousing in its structure. While it was pounding along, I had a look at the band. Chris Postl, the 'P' in RPWL, was replaced by a man who tried to look freaky by a combination of a bald head, a camouflage waistcoat, and a skirt. Yogi Lang, responsible for vocals and moog solos as well, reminded me of Steve Hogarth at times, probably because of his gestures. Keyboarder Andreas Wernthaler was sitting (!) behind his instrument, Phil Rissettio did so behind his drum kit, and Karlheinz Wallner played the guitar.
I don't know (what it's like) was next. It is one of those songs that are neither really bad nor really good. Waiting for a Smile, on the other hand, comes a little closer to the latter assessment, although here, as almost everywhere on the new album, the band's weakness becomes quite apparent: the lyrics. It's not that the topics are bad (although they are somewhat cheesy and not at all strikingly interesting), but it becomes painfully obvious that Yogi Lang has a limited vocabulary at his disposal. The verses tend to utilize a language so simple that one cringes with embarrassment. Well, alright, the boys aren't native English speakers, but hey: there are dictionaries.
Sugar for the Ape has a more sophisticated title, or so it seems. Too bad the German idiom "Gib dem Affen Zucker" doesn't exist in English. Anyway, the song bursts along with a raw energy one wouldn't associate with RPWL. My first impression was that the band was desperately trying to impress by using some fashionably distorted vocals and developing a rough edge for a change. But as time wore on, the song really grew on me. Its last part, with its alternating tough and mellow parts belongs to the finest material the band has to offer.
The band continued with a couple of 'old' songs. Strangely enough, I felt at home immediately and really enjoyed the nicely extended rendition of Spring of Freedom. In your dreams has never really done a lot to me, but It's alright then convinced me once again that the God has failed material is superior to the new stuff. This song has strength.
Yogi Lang used a gloomy voice when he announced the next title: Welcome to the Machine. A great murmuring went through the crowd. Expectations rose. It is always kind of risky for a band to play another band's classics, as the audience will inevitably notice how classy the interpreting band is NOT. Be that as it may, the song was a delight. The use of a quadraphonic system showed to advantage, with spooky sound effects revolving around the crowd. And as the lightshow did its bit, and the boys displayed sombre enthusiasm, the crypt was struck by a huge Floydian impact. Great thing.
The band stayed with their 'old' material for two more songs: Who do you think we are and The Fool. Although these are not exceptionally good, it has to be appreciated that the band does not slavishly stick to the album versions of their songs. Who do you think we are, for instance, included a nice extension of the 'dream again' part. There followed a trio of new songs, the titles of which are certainly not apt to win the first prize in the innovation contest: Tell me why, Believe me, Home again.
The soaring guitar solo of the latter song was of course the obvious and good choice to end the main set of the show. The encores started off in a likewise well-chosen way, having the now-familiar intro to Hole in the Sky send waves of excitement through the crowd. Sunday Morning was next, during which Andreas Wernthaler came to shine with some splendid piano work. As the final encore, RPWL performed a second rendition of Trying to kiss the Sun. It escapes me why, but the atmosphere prevented me from getting too bored.
All in all, this was a decent concert. I maintain my opinion that RPWL's first work is the musically better one. Their second may be more modern, but that remains the only significant ambition which becomes apparent. Instrumentally, the musicians are truly capable, but here, their talent somewhat dwindles between compositions that do not fully convince and, not least, by exceedingly mediocre lyrics. However, as even the worst tunes win something in a live environment, RPWL succeeds in creating a pleasurable evening.
I greatly appreciate that new bands like RPWL try to absorb and develop classic progressive material in their own music. And some of them succeed in creating brilliant, congenial material. However, after the concert had ended, I found myself rushing home and indulging once again in at full blast.
Trying to kiss the Sun
I don't know (what it's like)
Waiting for a Smile
Sugar for the Ape
Spring of Freedom
In your Dreams
Welcome to the Machine
Who do you think we are
Tell me why
Hole in the Sky
Trying to kiss the Sun