sQuare 4 is a relatively young new band from the "Gooi" (which is basically the posh middle-part of Holland). When I received an invitation to come and see this band at a festival held in Hilversum, less than 5 kilometres from my house, I couldn't refuse of course.
The Tagrijn, *grin*, I was last in this alto/punk joint when I was about 16 years old, and it didn't surprise me that the average age hadn't changed much since. How well would prog music go down here?
When I arrived the band was already on stage, sorting out their instruments and doing a bit of a soundcheck and I positioned myself next to the PA for the best sound and a good view on the stage.
Meanwhile I had a look at the bands' instruments. A rather simple drumkit (in prog terms) but it wouldn't surprise me if all bands had to play with the same kit that night. The keyboardist had a very respectable amount of three keyboards with him but it was the bassist that caught my attention. Was that a seven-string bass? Now that's a dangerous toy for a starting band, as it can either turn you into a John Myung impersonating clown or into the most impressive man onstage™.
While the band was sorting out their gear my attention was drawn to the music that was playing through the house speakers. It turned out to be the band's first demo cd and all of a sudden the band started playing along with the music. The lights were still on, the music was still playing... speaking of weird openings. Fortunately it turned out to be just a short soundcheck.
Then an announcer came on stage and announced the real start of the gig. The lights went off and some spooky sound effects with keyboard sounds and a heartbeat played. Guitarist Juan Sánchez came in with a roaring Sorrow-like guitar and they got my attention completely!
The Floyd comparison stayed when Juan started a Gilmour-esque riff, but when the rest of the band kicked in it became obvious that they had been listening to a completely different band: Dream Theater. As I jotted down "rather predictable" in my notebook the instrumental track took a direction that was far from predictable as the Dream Theater bit turned into a bombastic IQ-type rhythm, then quieted down, almost into reggae, a brilliant piano piece, some Porcupine Tree type percussion and an ending more in the vein of Madness.
Eh.. Wow... did I use the word predictable just then?
The singer Nanette Krijnen came onstage for the first vocal track of the evening: Left Alone, which is also the first track the band has written together with Nanette.
I'm not entirely sure about Nanette as a singer, but that could be personal. She has a rather low voice, and her fast, chaotic way of singing (low-high-lower) reminds me of Dutch singer Anouck - not really my cup of tea.
Musically the track is quite allright and the exact opposite of standard rock: heavy music during the verses and very clean and calm choruses. I agree with the bands decision to use this track as a potential single.
The next track Wasted is a bit more straightforward head-bang rocksong with some very cool bass tricks. Bassist Dennis Orsel certainly knows how to use those seven strings!
I was also pleasantly surprised by the unexpectedly good soundquality in that little venue. Not too loud and very clear. Furthermore I was happy for the band that they got such a good response from the audience. Unexpected really, seeing they were the only prog band in a predominantly metal and alternative line-up.
Nanette announced how their next song was a love song: Never started very slow and quietly, which resulted in the inevitable talking in the back - a pity. Again, musically the song impressed me a lot, but Nanette's vocals just couldn't convince me. The song built up to a firing middle part, very Dream Theater-style with the drums following the guitar melody, rather than the other way around. This was followed by an excellent keyboard solo from ex-Triangle keyboardist Martin Remmelsvaal, also pretty much in DT-style.
It's a pity that Nanette has such a low voice, because when she came back for the final verses she did this in the same low, mumbling way as before, rather than the high-pitched long-stretched singing you'd expect after such an instrumental break.
Again, I'm not saying she's a bad vocalist, it's just her style that's not my cup of tea and in my opinion doesn't entirely match the music. I'd be interested in hearing her in a studio recording though.
Time for another instrumental: Duke of Puke (a bit more work on those titles, guys!). Once again they'd had a good look in the Dream Theater kitchen, with excellent Petrucci-style guitarplaying by Sánchez and great slap-bass by Orsel. The whole thing made me think of Rush' Where's My Thing? a bit.
Technically this is an excellent track, but a bit overlong.
Nanette came back and announced the final track already - this being a festival each band only had 45 minutes. Gasp For Air features delightful heavy basses and the keyboards sound like vintage Marillion, Pendragon or even Ayreon.
It all sounded quite familiar and a bit cliché, but at the same time, the band manages to give a nice funky new twist to old-fashioned ideas. At the end each bandmember played their obligatory solo and Dennis Orsel once again stole the show by giving a tremendous bass-solo, which gained him a big applause from the audience.
I must say that in any case the band should pride themselves lucky with tonight's crowd. This being a festival and all, with mainly bands that walk along the other side of prog, they were received with a remarkable enthusiasm. Great to see how prog can be popular, so long as you don't let the people know they're listening to "prog". Only the guy at the merchandise-stand had the expected sour expression on his face. But then again, he works here every week, so he can be forgiven. Brainwashed by the music that gets normally played here...
In conclusion I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the talents of this young band. Some of their material needs a bit more work, and their music is obviously heavily influenced by Dream Theater, but they can't be written off as just a Dream Theater-clone. With the instrumental 4-20 and the long Never as two songs that certainly impressed me a lot (even though Never needs a bit more work on those vocals) I'd say they are certainly a band to look out for in the future.
Waiting for that demo!