Reviews in this issue:
Rush - Rush in Rio [DVD]
Disc One: Tom Sawyer, Distant Early Warning, New World Man, Roll The Bones, Earthshine, YYZ, The Pass, Bravado, The Big Money, The Trees, Freewill, Closer To The Heart, Natural Sciences – Intermission – One Little Victory, Driven, Ghost Rider, Secret Touch, Dreamline, Red Sector A, Leave That Thing Alone, O Baterista, Resist, 2112, Limelight, La Villa Strangiato, The Spirit of Radio, By-Tor and the Snow Dog/Cygnus X-1, Working Man.
Disc Two: The Documentary – The Boys In Brazil; YYZ, O Baterista, La Villa Strangiato (multi-angle options)
I've never believed in love at first sight. But if this DVD was a woman, I would have asked it to marry me straight away! Shot with 22 cameras in Rio de Janeiro's Maracanä Stadium, this concert sees Rush playing to a 40,000-strong audience on 23 November 2002. And like my wife, it's utterly gorgeous!!
After a five-year break from the road, this was the last of three dates in Brazil and the final date of the tour to promote their 17th studio album Vapor Trails.
Rush In Rio is the first-ever live DVD from the band. Their previous live video, A Show Of Hands (1988) - filmed over two nights at the NEC in Birmingham - clocked in at 90 minutes. This is a musical marathon, capturing a show just nine minutes short of three hours!
The stormy, tropical weather and a tight timescale delivered huge production difficulties for the crew. When you also consider, neither the band nor the sound crew had time for a sound check, then it’s an amazing end result.
As you’d expect, the performances are world class – it never ceases to amaze me how many sounds just three people can make. However, what really lifts this live video into the premier league, is the audience. Rush had never played Brazil before and the three stadium shows attracted 120,000 people. The Sao Paulo show had been their biggest-ever audience – at 60,000, it far surpassed their previous best of 20,000 in Washington on the 1997 Test For Echo Tour.
But this was more than just a big crowd – the audience puts in a performance of its own. On songs like The Trees, Tom Sawyer and YYZ – it’s not just the front rows but the whole stadium that is jumping up and down, clapping its hands and singing, nay screaming along. To say they were pleased to see the band would be a huge understatement. The audience has a unified, intense, pulsing energy from beginning to end. Something that I’ve only ever seen at football matches before.
The magic of the moment is superbly caught by the cameras, with plenty of close-up shots, along with a steady flow of wide angle views and shots from the rear of the stage. Again and again, from the looks on their faces, you can sense the thrill of the band as they get swept along with such a partisan crowd.
I must mention however, that if you only buy the CD version of the show then this may actually be a problem. Lee’s vocals are a bit low in the mix and the crowd can be heard singing throughout. Without the visuals to tell the full story, I expect this could seriously distract from the music.
But what are the highlights? Well every Rush fan will probably have their own. Opening with Tom Sawyer, the band recycles other 1980s' tracks like New World Man, before launching into new material with Earthshine.
Closer To The Heart was a late and very welcome addition to the set-list, after Rush discovered it was their most popular song in Brazil. The Trees is just a song I will never tire of hearing. The often-neglected Natural Science precedes a brief intermission, but the band returns to the stage in spectacular fashion with a cartoon dragon on the main projection screen, perfectly-syncronised with fire effects to mark the beginning of One Little Victory. Indeed, throughout the set, the band’s more recent material is hugely impressive – the songs from Vapor Trails, in particular, having an unexpected crunch that has made me revisit the album with a fresh view.
The brooding Red Sector A segues into the main instrumental section of the show. This includes Neil Peart's solo O Baterista, an impressive piece that aims to present a narrative of drumming and drums. We also find Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson sitting down with acoustic guitars for a folksy arrangement of Resist.
It's mostly older material from here on, with the powerhouse Overture from 2112, a livewire rendition of The Spirit Of Radio, a medley of By-Tor And The Snowdog/ Cygnus X-1 (only the intro, though) and the curtain comes down with a track from the very beginning - Working Man.
In terms of design, it’s easy to work through the DVD. Playing in both Windows Media and Real Player, it doesn’t seem to allow you to skip from track to track in ‘play’ mode. Instead, if you click on the next track button you are taken to a track listing that allows you to select which one you wish to move onto.
At nearly three hours, Rush In Rio is magnificent entertainment, complete with Peart's staggering variety of rhythms, Lifeson's warbling rant about jazz, and Lee's unusual stage-décor of washing machines! Incidentally I don’t know what wash cycle they were on, but how come they only stop running a few songs from the end? Or did I really see someone coming onstage in a boiler suit and putting a coin in the slot halfway through?
If you look carefully they've even got mics in front of them as if they are substitute amps. Is that how the band gets such a clean, clean sound?!
The other big selling point on this package is the documentary of the Brazilian adventure. A professionally-filmed and scripted programme by long-time Rush photographer and director Andrew MacNaughton, it mixes fly-on-the-wall style snippets of the band on tour, with some live footage, vox-pops with fans (including members of Brazilian thrash band Sepultura) and formal interviews with each member. Even though it runs for almost an hour, it is tightly edited and in giving a very intimate profile of the band as both individuals and as a unit, it makes fascinating viewing. Lifeson in particular comes across with a quick wit – lots of jokes about soup? There’s also a great insight into how the band operates – to draw up the set list they actually listened to all the albums in lee’s home and started off with a shortlist with four and a half hours of music.
You certainly get the feeling that they never expected the level of reaction that they got in Brazil. ‘The last thing we expected was fans at the airport,’ comments Lee. 'It's not like we’re Justin Timberlake or anything!’
It doesn’t shy away from a few difficult issues – why Peart chose not to do any media work on the tour – nor does it strive to show the band in only the best light. There’s a bizarre clip of Lifeson taking an early morning phone call in bed with his wife followed by him brushing his teeth!!
Having seen many attempts at tour documentaries on DVDs in the past year or so – this professional effort makes the others look like the clumsy, amateur attempts that they were. The documentary is a key part of the package and captivated my attention from start to finish.
And it doesn’t stop there. There’s an MX multi-angle option for the show's main three instrumental tracks. With separate views focusing on each of the band it allows you to follow the movements of each of the trio, depending on which ‘camera’ you choose. This will be of special interest to the musicians among you who like to the trio at work in more detail. For the rest it’s a bit of fun to play director once or twice until the novelty wears off. There are also two hidden extras: a By-Tor cartoon and a rare promo film of Rush's Anthem (from 1975). The liner notes include nicely written tour commentary by Peart and it’s all so gorgeously packaged.
So all in all – if there’s ever been a better DVD produced, then I’ve yet to see it. And if you haven’t got a DVD player – then this is the best excuse you’ll ever likely to find, to go out and buy one. Absolutely essential!
PS - This DVD coincides with the release of a three-CD live album (also titled Rush In Rio). It features two tracks (recorded at other venues on the tour) not included on the DVD. Between Sun And Moon is followed by a rendition of Vital Signs.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Manning - The View From My Window
Tracklist: Phase (The Open And Widening Sky) (7:23); The View From My Window (9:07); The Rut (8:04); After The (Tears In The) Rain (5:18); Blue Girl (6:14); Suite: Dreams – ((i) Dreamian Rhapsody; (ii) On The Carousel; (iii) In Slumbers; (iv) A Visit To The Sandman; (v) REM; (vi) From Slumbers) (20:03)
Guy Manning is one of those prog musicians who, having arrived on the scene a few years back, seem to be keen to make up for lost time by maintaining a heavy work-rate. This is his fifth release in as many years (the fourth under the Manning banner) and comes fast on the heels of his last album, The Ragged Curtain. In addition, Manning has appeared on a number of albums from his contemporaries, the latest being the superb The Music That Died Alone release from The Tangent.
Manning here maintains his core band of Rick Ashton (bass), Gareth Harwood (electric guitar) and Laura Fowles (saxophone). Apart from a few guest appearances (including one from Andy Tillison, prime mover in The Tangent), the rest of the instrumentation is handled by Guy Manning himself, including vocals, drums and a veritable battery of different keyboard-type instruments.
I must admit that I feel this album gets off to a less than promising start. Opener Phase (The Open And Widening Sky) is something of an eighties-style polished rock song. Manning’s rather husky voice sounds a little like Ian Anderson’s, and indeed the song could be compared to something Jethro Tull might have put out at the time of A Crest Of A Knave or Rock Island. However, unlike Anderson, whose voice I like, I must admit to having some difficulty with Manning’s vocal delivery, especially on the more up-tempo and harder edged material – I don’t think the voice necessarily suits the music, and his intonation and phrasing I found a little off-putting. To be fair though, his delivery on the softer tracks, where he adopts a much cleaner vocal style, is far more effective.
Overall, Phase… is pleasant enough, but goes on way beyond its natural length. The same could be said about the title track, which despite a promising middle eastern-style intro, develops into a rather bland, mid-tempo ballad – its clearly going for epic, but misses the mark. Both these songs would be acceptable as short, three minute-odd tracks, but at a combined length of over 16 minutes rather outstay their welcome.
Things look up once the dark, moody strains of The Rut kick in. This is more like it – a fine mid-paced track with sharp, sinister guitar work, plenty of symphonic overtones and a classy chorus. The classical-style ‘string section’ (actually handled from Manning’s bank of keyboards) is very effective, as indeed is the extended instrumental section as a whole, allowing all the musicians room to stretch out within a vastly more interesting framework than that offered in the first two songs.
The shorter (in relative terms!) tracks conclude with After The (Tears In The) Rain, an acoustic-led ballad, which harks back to Manning’s days as a solo singer-songwriter, and Blue Girl, an upbeat pop / jazz song which swings along nicely and allows Laura Fowles a chance to shine on the saxophone. Both are pleasant, if hardly essential. However, once the opening strains of Suite: Dreams are played, the step up in quality is marked. Opening with some wonderful piano playing by Andy Tillison, the first section Dreamian Rhapsody is best described as a lullaby, with Manning’s voice here at its very best. Gradually Tillison’s piano leads, via a jazzy interlude, into a swirling orchestral mass which heralds the excellent instrumental section On The Carousel. This is a wonderful piece, Manning’s keyboard work and the general theme of the track leading to favourable comparisons to mid-70’s Genesis, particularly Mad Man Moon. The mood switches from playful to dreamy with ease, and includes a superb (if short) electric guitar solo from Gareth Harwood that proves you don’t need a million notes to make an impact. This section gradually merges into the warm vocal section In Slumbers, with Manning again on improved vocal form (armed as he is with far stronger vocal melodies than on some of the previous songs) and hitting the hammond rather heavily, always a good thing in my opinion. This part ends with some great fiddle playing by guest musician Tim Moon. The two instrumental sections that follow see the band moving more into slightly darker, Van der Graaf Generator-esque territory, particularly on the sax/ keyboard duals. Tillison fires off a suitably swirly solo, before the extended finale of From Slumbers ties things up in the usual crowd-pleasing fashion.
Overall then, this is a good album of solid prog rock. In Manning’s favour is the warm, full sound he’s captured here, and the obvious skill of himself and his band as musicians and arrangers; against is the stretching of many songs beyond their natural length, and the ‘love it or loathe it’ nature of the vocals. If you’re already a fan of Manning’s work, I imagine you can purchase this with confidence; if not, perhaps try some of the samples first, though I would say that if you’ve got some money burning a hole in your pocket and are a fan of the prog epic, it might be worth splashing out on this just for Suite: Dreams, which really is an excellent epic in the best prog traditions.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Splinter - Reflections [EP]
Tracklist: Twist Of Fate (5:59), Reflections (9:26), Above All Things (4:34)
Splinter could prove to be one of 2003's most promising finds, certainly based on this brief offering from the band. This is the second mini -album from the band and hopefully the next will be a full monty. The band, originating from Holland, have in a relatively short period of time, hown out a tight, polished and accomplished sound.
Of the three tracks featured on Reflections, the first track immediately grabs the attention, the opening section bringing Swedish rockers A.C.T. to mind, albeit without the quirkiness. From the fairly sparse piano dominated opening, the song grows in intensity. Nice contrast is offered by the gentle keyboard and acoustic solos, before we enter the middle instrumental. At this point we move into area's of DreamTheater, with Didier Kerckoff adding some Petrucci-esque guitar to this punctuated interlude. Twist Of Fate then descends into a piano and vocal outro, reminiscent of Neal Morse period Spock's Beard.
Reflections is then segued into Twist Of Fate, only the odd metering of the piano ringing out the changes and before leading into the vocal section. This brief vocalisation takes us into a lengthy instrumental break, replete with Hammond organ, guitar riffing and concise solo sections. Menno Broer and Didier Kerckoff sparring well off each other in-between the more symphonic parts of the music. Shades of a legendary 70's Dutch group being invoked. Rhythmically all is held well in balance by Berry Vink on the kit and Marcel Everts on bass guitar. The track then returns to the vocals and Ron Hoekstra, who adds some nice inflections during the quieter sections. Perhaps slightly more could have been made of the backing vocals here.
The final track Above All Things begins as a gentle ballad, lead by some melodic guitar, which acts as a pre-cursor to the vocals. However rather than remaining with this steadily building and over-used format the track moves from the softer verses to a more up-tempo and catchy chorus format.
Having listened to Splinter's sound samples taken from their first mini CD (2002), I couldn't help thinking what a difference a year has made - which surely must bode well for the future. I was also enamoured by the sound which was not overly cluttered by 'big' string sounds, but left the piano to form much of the keyboard presence within the music. Also noteworthy was the variation within the guitar, at times heavy but never muderous and fluid but never overly self indulgent - very refreshing.
If I were to offer any advice to Splinter, it would be their name, which has been used (not to successfully in the past), but may prove to be a bit of a set-back. Taking this aside, a nice taster and reasonably priced from the bands website - take a listen to the MP3's and decide for yourself.
One to keep an eye out for during 2004.
Conclusion: Waiting for the full album?
Seventh Key – The Raging Fire
Tracklisting: The Sun Will Rise (4:37), Always From The Heart (5:13), You Cross The Line (6:50), An Ocean Away (4:30), The Raging Fire (6:10), Sin City (5:10), It Should Have Been You (5:27), Run (4:18), Pyramid Princess (5:20), Winds of War (6:07)
Seventh Key started off as a side-project for Billy Greer, bassist with symph-rockers Kansas and renowned Streets/Steelhouse Lane guitarist/producer Mike Slamer. However, such was the response to their self-titled debut a couple of years ago, that with the release of their second album you get the feeling that this is a project with a long future.
The debut album was one of the best melodic hard rock releases of recent years. This more than matches it. Like all follow-ups, artists must strive to take their sound to another level and to their credit this is exactly what Greer and Slamer have done - but without losing any of the elements that made the debut such an enjoyable record. Whereas this doesn’t quite match the debut in terms of the peaks – it has a lot more in terms of variety and thus far more strength-in-depth overall.
The Sun Will Rise opens fire in the expected way, with a perfect, pump-your-fist-in-the-air, harmony-filled hard rocker. Always From The Heart starts slow, with Billy's vocals floating over an acoustic intro. The song builds in mood and tempo, before bursting into a huge high-tech fill which leads into another memorable hands-in-the-air chorus.
You Cross The Line is one of my favourites. It starts very softly and atmospherically – very dark and moody - before exploding into a fired-up rocker with another hook which delivers the knockout punch. The title track is also a less than straight-ahead number – clocking in at six minutes and featuring a dark, moody vibe and an eerie piano ‘riff’.
Elsewhere there are several nice harmonised hard rockers that bring to mind the likes of Van Halen, Tesla and especially Hardline. It Should Have Been You is the sort of mid-album rock ballad that Foreigner used to pen and would be a sure-fire hit, if radio was interested in rock. Meanwhile the close, high harmonies that make up Run is prime-time Styx and Kansas, yet with a very Tesla hard, bluesy groove.
The album actually reaches its climax at the end (natch). Pyramid Princess is the real ace in this pack. An epic hard rocker with a bombastic drum passage that reminds me a lot of Deep Purple’s Perfect Strangers. Meanwhile Winds of War is another track that starts slowly, but again, thanks to Slamer’s superb production, builds to a tasty, yet edgy rocker.
One of the surprises of the debut, was the voice of Greer – who has never taken lead vocals with Kansas. On The Raging Fire he is even better. There is increased warmth in his voice and a real confidence in the delivery.
Mike Slamer's guitar style and production sound has always been major league and again he picks out some breath-taking - nay awe-inspiring – guitar solos. Personnel on the album also includes Jamie Thompson on drums and Terry Brock (The Sign, Strangeways) on background vocals.
As the Prog content is a minimal, I’ll refrain from awarding any DPRP points – but rest-assured this would have been edging above nine-out-of-ten. Any fan of the debut or either of the pair’s former bands, is going to be well impressed with this release. And if, like me, you’re a tad impartial to adventurous, hard-edged, melodic rock then this will be one of the best releases of its type this year.
Conclusion : None Given
The Gak Omek - Alien Eye
Tracklist: Black Holes Colliding (10:33), Here Comes The Aluminium Man (9:02), Tourniquitte Of Roses (9:24), Moonburn 3am (8:33), Baby Gotta Visegrip (6:54), Dancing Bologna (6:15), Robotomy (4:34), The Squiggly Parameter (5:24)
The strangely named "The Gak Omek" is fundamentally the work of one Robert Burger, and although a supporting cast of musicians are mentioned in the sleeve notes the "tongue in cheek" names quickly revealed Mr Burger's scam :-). The only other musician to be credited on this instrumental album is Dave Cashin(?), who supplies the keyboards for Robotomy. As for any further information on Robert, I can offer none, other than he is based in New Jersey - USA!
I had initially contemplated including this album in the recent DPRP guitar special, as the principal instrument here is the aforementioned six string beast, however the music on Alien Eye appears not to be solely written for the purposes of displaying guitar prowess, but more as a fundamental part of the music.
Black Holes Colliding opens with a somewhat lengthy atmospheric synths and "spacey" noises section, followed by an infectious riff, which in turn is followed by a return to the atmospherics. As the track develops and presumably the "black holes" eventually collide, the piece becomes slightly more dissonant whilst building in intensity. The music comprising of elements taken from electronica, Space Rock (apt) and also touches on areas of guitar fusion, although it should be noted that the album does not delve greatly into this area. A similar pattern, is adopted in Here Comes The Aluminium Man and the less intense Tourniquette Of Roses (shades of the riff from Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun here) - an infectious and enjoyable track. These three instrumental offerings pretty much set the mood for the album, combining most of the elements to be found within the remainder of the CD.
As I see it, Alien Eye is fundamentally a mixture of contrasting musical styles with infectious, often hypnotic keyboard riffs, atmospherics and spacial effects - all of which serve as a canvass for Robert to paint over his guitar themes. Personally I would have liked to see some pruning of the longer tracks, as often the ideas seemed to be spread a little thin over ten minutes. I had the feeling that Robert Burger had become totally absorbed within the tracks and therefore allowed the tape (or PC nowadays), to just keep running. Moonburn3am being an excellent example of this - a track that meanders on, with the guitar themes and solos layered across the music. Still, a pleasant track to chill-out too.
The stand out track is the tension building The Squiggly Parameter, with some nicely constructed bass parts and Burger's guitar work offering a nicely constructed Q&A format with some excellent sampled trumpet sounds. One of the shorter tracks from Alien Eye and one that conjurered memories of Pat Metheny's work with Lyle Mays.
I can offer little in terms of comparisons, however those familiar with Steven MacCabe's Elegant Simplicity, may well find something interesting in Alien Eye. Samples of all the tracks can be found at Blue Cube Music (Listen), which coincidentally is where the album can be purchased from.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10