Reviews in this issue:
- Gentle Giant - GG At The GG
- Yes - 9012Live
- Transatlantic - Building The Bridge / Live In America
- Eric Johnson - Live From Austin TX
- Nick Barrett & Clive Nolan - A Rush Of Adrenaline
- Marillion - Colours And Sound
- SBB - New Century
- SBB - Live In Theatre
Gentle Giant - GG At The GG
Tracklist: BBC Sight And Sound In Concert January 1978: Two Weeks In Spain, Free Hand, On Reflection, I'm Turning Around, Just The Same, Playing The Game, Memories Of Old Days, Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It, JP Weathers Presents, Funny Ways, For Nobody, Mountain Time. Videos: Interview, Give It Back, I Lost My Head, Words From The Wise, Thank You, Giant For A Day. Old Grey Whistle Test 1974: Octopus Medley. Munster Germany April 1974: Handheld Super 8 footage featuring edited clips of The Runaway, Experience and Funny Ways.
Includes Bonus CD of the Sight and Sound Concert plus Old Grey Whistle Test performance.
The resurgence of Gentle Giant continues apace with this excellent DVD release of the last UK performance by the 70s progressive giants (excuse the pun!). Following on from the Giant On The Box DVD and the sumptuous Scraping The Barrel quadruple CD, plus the excellent 35th anniversary re-masters of several of the classic albums, this release will help to confirm just how intelligent, proficient and downright exciting a band Gentle Giant were. It also shows how they reached previously unheard of musical heights of musicianship and technical proficiency on the live stage, something never adequately captured on album or CD, particularly on the spate of low quality live recordings that are doing the rounds.
This BBC Sight and Sound performance has been available on official CD for quite a few years now, first as the (incomplete) In Concert CD and subsequently as the complete performance on the double disc Out Of The Fire. However, even those of you familiar with the audio recording will be taken to a different level by being able to watch the band as they perform these songs. The time restraints of the BBC recording, along with the less musically complex music the band were writing and recording at that, time meant that a full-blown GG extravaganza is not on the cards, however there is still sufficient musical interplay and switching of instruments to display the versatility of the band. The set list is such so that old favourites are mingled with new material and, somewhat surprisingly or those people who have dismissed the later albums as being rather lightweight, there is no real differentiation between the quality of the songs from different eras.
We are treated to the strings (Ray Shulman on violin and Kerry Minnear on cello), vibes (by drummer JP Weathers) and recorder (by guitarist Gary Green) during On Reflection with the famous white cello and violin making a return on the excellent Funny Ways (also featuring trumpet by Ray Shulman and some excellent vibe playing by Minnear), an acoustic guitar duet on the lovely Memories Of Old Days, the almost new wave rocker Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do it and a great version of possibly the last classic GG track For Nobody. All orchestrated by the ever strong vocals of Derek Shulman who also chips in on bass and other instruments when required. There is also a commentary track for this performance featuring all five members of GG back together again, which, irrespective of ones feelings of the value of such items is quite enlightening and historic.
The videos, three from 1976 at the time of the Interview album and three from 1978 and the Giant For A Day album portray the band 'live' in the studio (although one actually suspects they are miming!). The 1976 videos are straight forward films of the band while the 1978 songs have had a degree of post-production work applied to make them more commercially applicable - Giant For A Day is worth particular mention - quite a neat film when all is said and done. All in all a nice collection of tracks that were rarely performed. The Whistle Test performance from 1974 displays the band in their prime, including the infamous recorder quartet, while rather shaky and inferior quality Super 8 footage will no doubt be of interest to collectors.
The set is rounded off with a couple of galleries of photographs, one set to a mostly instrumental version of Memories Of Old Days, the other a series of static pictures. A nice touch is the menu music, brand new recordings in the Gentle Giant style by Kerry Minnear laid over original JP Weather's drumming taken from the band's multi-track archives. And Jolly good it is too. The bonus CD is a bit perfunctory as any self-respecting GG fan will already have the Out Of The Fire CD (which also includes a 1973 BBC concert) and the addition of a bonus audio cut from the DVD soundtrack is nice but not essential. Still, at least it shows the band are committed to giving value for money.
Overall this is a very impressive release, well packaged and presented with lots of nice extras to tempt even the most casual of fans. GG have always seemingly been amongst the second tier of progressive bands, this release will certainly help in the re-evaluation of the band and help to prove that they were one of the most innovative, experimental and exciting bands of the 1970s. Thoroughly recommended.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Yes - 9012Live
9012Live [68.19]: Introduction (1.04), Cinema (1.48), Leave It (4.17), Hold On (7.07), I've Seen All Good People (7.00), Changes (7.52), Owner Of A Lonely Heart (5.07), It Can Happen (7.09), City Of Love (7.00), Starship Trooper / End Credits (19.49)
Bonus Material: Director's Cut [same tracklist as main feature] (68.19), Roundabout (7.01), Access All Areas [Documentary] (23.58), Band Interviews (34.43)
As far as the press was concerned by the start of the eighties Yes were completely written off. They did have a point to some extend, as the band had become a bit of a joke with the amount of line-up changes. Jon Anderson had left the band in 1979, and when the band failed to to deliver (both commercially and critically) with replacement singer Trevor Horn on their next album Drama and the subsequent tour, the band split.
Three years later the punk revolution had happened and prog was deemed dead. When it was announced that the new project of Chris Squire and Alan White with original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye and the relatively unknown Trevor Rabin had attracted Jon Anderson as vocalist and they would record again under the Yes moniker it was greeted with lukewarm reactions.
In hindsight it is seem cynical that 90125 would become the band's most commercially successful album, with Owner Of A Lonely Heart the band biggest hit single to date (and as of 2005, also their second-biggest hit)
At the beginning of the 90125 tour in 1983 the band commissioned a young and unknown film-maker called Stephen Soderbergh to create a tour documentary and concert film, seemingly with the intend to show the world Yes was still alive and very much kicking. With 129 dates this tour was to be their longest tour since 1971 and the footage of this film was filmed towards the end of that tour, at the Edmonton Coliseum Bowl.
Yes is a band which always seems to have been a bit camera shy. Their concert films always have the concert footage interspersed with other images and 9012Live is no exception. They had a company called Charlex create images which were at the time undoubtedly state of the art, but which have nothing to do with the music on display. Basic computer generated images, split screens and snippets from movies and TV series... in 2006 these images look horribly dated (in fact, they already did when I first saw this movie in 1990) so it is a good thing that you also have the option of watching the "director's cut" of the film, which doesn't contain the Charlex images
The film is a document of its time, with white tennis shoes, permed hair, eye-liner and a 38 year-old Tony Kaye posing as sex symbol. The band is on fine form, and seem to be enjoying themselves onstage, with all five members bouncing around the stage whenever they get a chance. Much has been said about Trevor Rabin's influence in the band and the way he interpreted (some say destroyed) classic Yes songs. However, while that may be true, the truth is also that with Howe and Wakeman the band was never as energetic onstage as they were in this particular line-up. In fact, you could almost rate the band as cool! You have Trevor Rabin playing guitar solos on his knees, with his guitar high up in the air, and Tony Kaye with a rotating keyboard stand, long before Jordan Rudess had his. So it is striking that this era is perceived by both fans and press alike as the band's weakest, but at the same time it was also the most energetic and powerful live version of the band.
The picture quality is fairly good. Though the footage suffers from that typical eighties video bleakness, the team behind this DVD did a good job re-mastering the picture and giving it back some colour depth.
The sound is also well re-mastered. In the credits at the end of the film it is explained that the original master-tapes were lost a long time ago and the soundtrack of the VHS release served as a basis for the soundtrack of the DVD. This stereo mix has been up-mixed to a 5.1 surround sound, which works quite effectively. Of course this being a big live production some of the sound has inevitably been tinkered with. Leave It for example doesn't sound the slightest bit as a live rendition and I am pretty sure most of the a cappella backing vocals come from a tape. Jon Anderson's voice on the other hand hasn't been over-dubbed and at times sounds strikingly shrill in contrast to Trevor Rabin's.
Unfortunately not much of the lightshow remains on the film. Some of the footage from other gigs which can be seen in the documentary show lasers and fireworks, yet none of this can be glimpsed on the main feature. Having said that, the majestic finale of Starship Trooper has the immense lighting rig above the stage tilting and a huge 90125 logo appearing, which is hugely impressive.
Even for a concert video 9012Live has a very lean running time. The DVD boasts final encore Roundabout as an extra, but it is a real pity songs like Soon, And You And I and Hearts could not be unearthed.
As for the remaining extras, for any self-respecting Yes fan these alone are already worth the price of this DVD. The backstage documentary shows what the band was like before and after the gigs, confirming popular belief that bands able to fill Market Square Garden and who travel on private jet while on tour can get a bit arrogant. Though I have no proof of this, I reckon the honesty and shamelessness of some members have caused this documentary to be shelved for such a long time, as it has never been released in any format until now.
The 35 minutes of assorted band interviews are a revelation. The band had reunited after the only proper break-up the band has ever had (all subsequent line-up changes and AWBH adventures were never seen as "the end of the band") and makes for very interesting statements. Tony Kaye is particularly open about his dismissal from Yes in favour of Rick Wakeman in 1971. Also Jon Anderson is very open about his departure from the band and why he did return for 90125. The interviews are a lot more open and honest than those on the dreadful Yesspeak DVD.
Regardless what you think of this particular era of Yes, this DVD is a great document of that particular time. And in that respect it is an almost flawless release, which should be part of the collection of every Yes fan.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Building The Bridge / Live In America
Building The Bridge Across Forever [116.27]: Intro (16.35), Duel With The Devil (41.22), Suite Charlotte Pike (14.32), Bridge Across Forever (6.53), Stranger In Your Soul (27.42), Shine On You Crazy Diamond (9.01)
Live In America [94.45]: Intro / Backstage (2.54), All Of The Above (29.19), Mystery Train / Magical Mystery Tour (7.31) Strawberry Fields Forever (6.29), We All Need Some Light (7.40), Honkey Tonk Woman (1.48), Watcher Of The Skies / Firth Of Fifth (11.23), My New World (17.43), Medley: There Is More To This World / Go The Way You Go / The Great Escape / Finally Free / She's So Heavy (18.26), Credits (1.25)
Bonus Material: Flying In Parts (2.31), The Mouse House (2.03), Motherless Children Choir (2.50)
An indispensable release to satisfy fan demand, or an easy way of making money by milking a dead band already milked dry? Probably a bit of both. The material of this DVD (excluding the six minutes of bonus material) has already been released on separate videos, so if you already have the videos, there isn't much new under the sun.
The first two hours of the DVD are taken up by Building The Bridge, a documentary about the making of the band's 2001 album
Bridge Across Forever and is compiled mainly from Neal Morse's camcorder which seems to be running day and night. If you've seen the Spock's Beard Making Of V DVD then you know what to expect. The footage shows the band writing, rehearsing and recording the album, as well as interviews with the band-members (recorded a while after the album had been finished, it seems). The whole thing is cut in a logical order following the five tracks on the album.
There is a bit of an emphasis on Neal Morse as he delivered the bulk of the material. It is a pity none of the others had taken a camcorder along to the studio - Stolt is known for filming hours and hours of footage while on tour, so where was his camera this time?. So when it comes to overdubs and the likes you only get to see the input of Neal Morse. Nonetheless I'm glad that these parts of him alone in the studio are there, because it is great to see him at work and the incredible (seemingly) ease with which he adds his keyboard tweaks and twiddles to the original recordings.
The whole album was written and largely recorded in just 10 days. If you see this documentary it becomes clear how incredibly rushed they were and you can only begin to wonder what it would have sounded like if they'd had taken a bit more time and good producer. That was my major criticism about the album, and watching the video only strengthens this sentiment.
The highlights of the video are the parts where they were discussing the direction of the album or certain parts of songs and the camera just rolled. There are some particularly (in hindsight) hilarious bits where Neal Morse tells the others that he "don't want to make a long song just for the sake of it being long". Judging from the way the two epics on the album are created he did get back from that a little.
Live In America was shot in Philadelphia during the band's first tour in 2000. It shows the band in a rather under-rehearsed state and definitely not entirely at ease playing with each other (it was only their third gig together).
The set is a blend of tracks from their debut album and popular covers. Their common love for The Beatles is expressed by adding Magical Mystery Tour to their track Mystery Train and Strawberry Fields Forever straight after it. The other cover is their orde to Genesis with Firth Of Fifth, which has the intro of Watcher Of The Skies attached to it - a somewhat odd combination.
The band also played a medley consisting of songs from their 'other' bands, so you get Stolt singing the first part of The Flower Kings' There Is More To This World, which nicely flows into Spock's Beard's Go The Way You Go sung by Morse, which then gives way to Marillion's The Great Escape, sung (terribly) by Trewavas, with the final part being the ending of Dream Theater's Finally Free, which strangely enough gets sung by Morse and not Portnoy.
After the great first half this medley is rather messy and performed seriously below par. A pity, as it looked so good on paper...
For me the highlight of the Live In America video is Neal Morse. His vocal performance is a tad weak, but this is compensated by his incredible charisma and great performance on keyboards. There aren't that many keyboardists who can act as the frontman of a band and look cool doing it!
The bonus material on this DVD consists of some outtakes which didn't make the final cut of the documentary. The Flying In Parts is quite entertaining as this has Neal Morse listening to the overdubs Roine Stolt did in his own studio.
His enthusiastic reaction to the church bells and some keyboard parts which Stolt added to Duel With The Devil, is particularly fun to see (and sincere, seeing that all these parts were left in the final mix).
In conclusion this is an ok release, which fans will probably enjoy, but it probably won't get many repeated viewings. Live In Europe for that matter is a much better release. Then again, this is a great testimony of the greatest prog happening of the last decade, and for that matter certainly worth a consideration.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Eric Johnson - Live From Austin TX
Tracklist: Righteous, Love Or Confusion, Steve's Boogie, Trail Of Tears, Western Flyer, East Wes, C.W., Camel's Night Out, Emerald Eyes, Cliffs Of Dover, Desert Rose, Zap, Are You Experienced?
Although recorded back in 1988 (14th December to be precise), it has taken some considerable time for this insightful view of the young Eric Johnson to find its way onto the commercial DVD shelves. The concert was originally recorded for the Austin City Limits television shows which were broadcast for 30 minutes. However this DVD captures the full hour show and has been remixed, re-mastered in stereo and 5.1 surround.
There may be some who might be questioning the inclusion of Eric Johnson within the DPRP reviews section. Surely he is a blues player. Isn't he? Well there is no denying that "the blues" is with Eric, but there is much more to this unique guitarist. And one run through of this DVD confirmed this to me (not that I need much persuading). The informal setting sees Eric Johnson looking like a member of Duran Duran, complete with New Romantic jacket and "big" groomed hair. However as soon as the first notes emerge from his sunburst Strat, all this is forgotten.
Now the word genius is somewhat over used and normally inappropriate word attached to gifted musicians - I personally prefer the word unique. What makes them unique is that they have their own "voice", and one that is instantly recognisable as them. Taking guitarists as an example - Allan Holdsworth, Dave Gilmour, Al Di Meola, Steve Howe (and there are a few more), all have instantly recognisable styles and sounds, and this for me is what distinguishes them from the rest. Like 'em or not. Eric Johnson is another member of this elite group.
Anyway, what about this DVD.
Johnson is joined by long time cohorts Kyle Brock (bass) and Tommy Taylor (drums) and these three musicians fuse their take of rock, jazz, blues, elements of country and (with a smattering of prog) into a highly enjoyable performance. There are no pyrotechnics, (well at least not the exploding type), or an ornate lighting show - in fact the setting is intimate and warm and just captures three great players. The music just speaks for itself. Having listened to Eric Johnson for many years now, it was a pleasure to watch his playing in this setting. The guy has such a great tone for his lead work, but for me it was the melodic structuring of his chordal work that was such a pleasure to watch, and listen to of course. No better demonstrated than in the intro to Cliffs Of Dover.
Highlights - loads. Personal favourites. Johnson's tribute to Wes Montogomery, East Wes; the simply delicious Trail Of Tears; or perhaps the infectious romp that is the Cliffs Of Dover. But you need to check-out that intro as well! I just goes on and on - Kyle Brock's great country tinged bass solo. Although I was less enamoured with the two Hendrix tracks, but hey...
The audio and film quality is very good, as might be expected from a TV broadcast. The DVD also comes without extras of any kind - great! So no tedious footage of roadies carrying in black flightcases, no unamusing "parochial" interviews or glorified travelogs. Just the concert.
I finalised the majority of this review listening to the excellent Venus Isle and the equally enjoyable Ah Via Musicom albums. So if you are into great guitarists and haven't tracked down Eric Johnson, then do yourself a favour and buy either of the two albums mentioned above - although I would suggest that Venus Isle is the most progressive EJ release. Or simple just buy this DVD.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Nick Barrett & Clive Nolan - A Rush Of Adrenaline
Tracklist: The Walls Of Babylon (7:29), A Man Of Nomadic Traits (5:49), [Don't Forget To] Breathe (4:37), Alaska (7:19), And We'll Go Hunting Deer (5:11), Mindgames (5:41), Paintbox (5:33), Shadows Of Fate (4:57), Lightshow (4:23), Two Roads (3:50), The King Of The Castle (4:27), Jigsaw / The Kruhulick Syndrome / Ring Of Roses (7:04), The Voyager (7:48), Nostradamus (4:13), The Black Knight (7:25)
Bonus Material: Interview (31:23), Photo Gallery (3:58), Biographies, Discographies
In June 2005 the acoustic combo of Nick Barrett and Clive Nolan played a show in Katowice, Poland, supporting jazz musician Gordon Haskill. There was a TV crew present who were keen enough to film the Barrett/Nolan performance as well, resulting in this excellent DVD.
The acoustic duo shows of Nick Barrett and Clive Nolan are always a great opportunity to showcase some material from their collective bands which doesn't get played that much. So while the focus lies on Pendragon, there are also songs of Arena ([Don't Forget To] Breathe), Shadowland (Mindgames, Ring Of Roses medley), Nolan/Wakeman (Shadows Of Fate) and even Nolan's early nineties project Strangers On A Train (Lightshow).
The footage is excellent, especially when considering it's just two guys with an acoustic guitar and piano, occupying only half a stage (they were a support act after all) with hardly a lightshow to speak of. The whole thing is very professionally shot and edited by a local TV crew, which seem to have become the in-house crew at Teatr Slaski in Katowice as many a prog band has been recording their DVDs in the same venue lately (Arena and Landmarq DVDs are to be released later this month).
There are two sound options available: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround. With only a guitar, piano and some vocals to play with the 5.1 Surround mix isn't anything spectacular, but it is effective nonetheless.
As for the performance itself, it is a nice light hearted affair. Considering the band is 'only' the support band they are remarkably relaxed, with plenty of in between song banter. The set is also pretty long for a support act: a good ninety minutes of stripped down prog classics.
The highlight for me is when Nolan picks up the microphone and sings Mindgames (and later Ring Of Roses as part of a Shadowland medley). Not so much that he is a good singer, but it is nice to hear someone else sing besides Nick Barrett. Other Nolan compositions like [Don't Forget To] Breathe are sung by Barrett though.
The catchy Mindgames is also the song that gets the audience going, clapping and cheering along.
The DVD also contains a nice and extensive interview with a good humoured Barrett and Nolan. There are some insightful anecdotes about the history of Pendragon.
The biographies and discographies are a bit superfluous though (not to mention incomplete).
In all this is an excellent release, recommended to all Pendragon fans. Provided you like acoustic concerts that is.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Marillion - Colours And Sound
Disc 1: Colours And Sound [109:47]: Introduction, The Campaign, The Single Release, Tell Me About Touring, The Load In, Sound Check, Playing Live, The Load Out, On The Bus, Life On The Road 1, The Changing Faces, Gathering Momentum, The Bubble, Life On The Road 2, The Crew, Home Charlie! Bonus Material: Extras: Band Commentary, The Music Of Marbles (29:21), The Art Of Marbles (23:39), Easter Eggs
Disc 2: The Crew: Quinner (20:37), Erik Nielsen (20:41), Steve Finch (18:56), Colin Price (20:04), Ian Bond (19:50), Richard Lee (22:16), Roderick Bunton & Jason Birnie (11:07), Phil Brown (20:09), H At The Piano (36:42), Anatomy Of A Single (24:44), Technology On Tour (7:24), Easter Egg
In 2004 Marillion undertook their largest tour in years. For the first leg of their Marbles tour their loyal film crew THE boom boom BOYS followed them around the European continent, filming every aspect of the shows, both on-, off-, front- and backstage. When a year ago the DVD Marbles On The Road was released I was surprised that there was nothing 'on the road' about the DVD - in fact the DVD contained footage of only two shows in London's Astoria. The documentary that logically would have graced the second disc of a DVD release called "on the road" has now been given its own release, with a staggering six and a half hours of material spread across two DVDs.
The main feature Colours And Sound is a 110 documentary largely about touring. There is some talk of the different successful Marketing schemes Marillion deployed in recent years (tour fund, pre-orders, the You're Gone hit single) but the main focus lies on the aspects of touring; the bus, the amenities at venues, the crew, the load-in, the load-out, and more of that stuff.
I've never been particularly fond of the works of THE boom boom BOYS, but with this documentary the boys clearly bit off a bit more than they could chew. The documentary lacks any form of cohesion or structure. There are no voice-overs or chapter cards which could make some sensible story out of the whole thing, the documentary just goes from one subject to the other, and then back to the first again. Though a serious and considerable attempt has been made to edit the tons of footage into something worth watching, I hate to say that they have miserably failed. The whole thing is just tedious to watch, and while it is nice to meet the crew behind the band, and have them have their say about certain things, there really is no point in having 8 or 10 crew members all state how hard life on the road is, but how happy they are to be doing it. Half the time they are talking it could be about any band, not necessarily Marillion.
I have never seen a documentary about a band with so little music in it. The band toured around Europe, being followed by a camera crew and there is virtually no footage shot of the band being onstage. There is some backstage and sound-check footage, which is immediately the highlight of the documentary, which for the rest focuses largely on the technical and logistical aspect of the touring.
Obviously the documentary is targeted at fans, and not so much the casual Marillion listener or a journalist for that matter. But even the most hard-core fan will have to work hard to find enough enjoyment in this documentary to watch it more than once or twice.
Watching the documentary with the band commentary on is much more fun. Even though they don't 'comment' that much, it is more as if you're watching the DVD in the room with them. There is a fair bit of joking going around and though the band dare not to criticise the film-makers, they do mock pretty much everything else.
The extras are mainly more documentaries which use the same footage as basis (though not much repetition, fortunately). Though in itself still overlong, the documentaries on Marbles' music and artwork are a lot more interesting than the main feature.
The extras on the second disc are also of mixed quality. H At The Piano is also a nice documentary on the writing of Marbles, with H explaining about lyrics and chord progression while sitting behind a grand piano. Though once again, had this included some footage and explanations from the rest of the band, and a bit more music than talking, it could have been a great and insightful doc.
Anatomy Of A Single is an explanation how today's technology affords a band to edit down a song for single release while on tour, using little more than a laptop computer. Mark Kelly and Steve Rothery worked on their versions separately, and from what is heard of the Steve Rothery version it would have been great had this been added to the DVD as some sort of extra, as Rothery not only chopped the song up, but he also did a little re-mixing. Mark Kelly also gives some insight into his live set-up in Technology On Tour and this seven-minute ditty may be the most interesting feature of the whole six hours. It would have been nice to have a similar feature on Steve Rothery's set-up, but alas.
The remainder of the second disc is taken up by interviews with the key members of the crew, which mostly seems to serve as the band's acknowledgement and thanks to the crew. I wonder what the point is though. There isn't much added value to having two-and-a-half hours worth of interviews/specials with the key members of the crew. Especially when these same crewmembers are already all over the main documentary (up to and including the bus driver!)
Finally there are some easter eggs in the form of (below par) acoustic radio performances and the set-up of an open air gig, which, you guessed it, doesn't contain the slightest bit of actual live footage.
In all this is an extremely disappointing package. The creators of this DVD should be forced to watch music documentaries like U2's Rattle And Hum, Metallica's Some Kind Of Monster as well as the documentaries on the Roger Waters - In The Flesh and Dream Theater - Live At Budokan DVDs and then give it another go. The footage is there. It is just direction it lacks.
Once again I wonder if it is such a good idea that the band has control of every aspect of the Marillion business, without the slightest independent (outside) input. With some advice and direction from someone who isn't part of the Marillion crew, this DVD could have resulted into something interesting. Had the main documentary, The Music Of Marbles, The Art Of Marbles and H At The Piano, been cut into one documentary, interspersed with live footage and possible some footage of the band recording or rehearsing in the studio, *then* it could have resulted into something worth recommending. Now it is just a dull affair which is best avoided by all but the hardest core of fans
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
SBB - New Century
Tracklisting: Golden Harp (5:47), Music Is My Life (4:56), New Century (6:02), Stary Czlowiek w Milczacym Ogrodzie (4:48), Duch Pokolen (5:32), Wojownicy Itaki (5:25), When Was the Last Time? (3:58), Carry Me away (15:38), PAJO (3:19), Rock for Mack (1:43)
Some of you might know that Poland is a very fertile country for prog. After having listened to fantastic bands like Riverside, Satellite and Quidam I became more and more interested in the polish prog rock scene. A few months ago, I was having a chat with a Polish friend of mine and asked him "How come? How can there be so many great bands in your country without an established prog tradition?" Of course I had no idea that this country had deep roots in prog rock. My friend first introduced me to the wonderful neo-prog of Collage and he went on with SBB.
SBB started as Silesian Blues Band, but later on changed their name to Search Break Build. Well, SBB again... Since 1974 they recorded dozens of studio and live albums. Their first two albums were comprised of wonderful symphonic prog rock, but later on the band's sound evolved into some kind of jazz-rock with some hard rock moments here and there. Too bad that this legendary band is not well known, but I suppose it's all steel curtain's fault. Mastermind Józef Skrzek (keys, vocals and bass) should have been considered as one of the prog legends, but c'est la vie I guess. The good thing is that they're still together and still release records.
The drummer spot of the band has never been quite stable but they managed to get Paul Wertico for that spot. Those who are into fusion certainly may know him from the Pat Matheny Group. With him and the two core members Józef Skrzek, Apostolis Anthimos is the line-up of today complete.
First of all let me tell you that the new studio album of SBB is not the typical prog album with epic songs, wild improvisations, complex arrangements or technical prowess. This introduction of course leads to the question "Do they offer prog at all?". I asked this many times to myself, too; but still couldn't find any satisfactory answer. Anyway, in order to maximize the enjoyment you'll get from this album, you should take "No" as the answer and continue reading on...
New Century, overall, carries a melancholic atmosphere with many slow (almost Kuschel Rock) songs. The song structures are quite straight-forward, but this doesn't necessarily mean that they are all bad. All of them carry a certain quality with good melodies and an emotional touch. Most of the time you get nice surprises as well, such as a blues flavoured guitar solo, new age signatures, some kind of an Eastern-European ethnic touch in the beginning of a song, a harmonica solo, an improvisational jazz rock frenzy, Polish and English singing or sometimes just a minimalistic song with vocals accompanied by a gentle piano. But it should be noted that Skrzek's singing is not the best one you have ever heard. Singing has never been the band's strength, but with an album comprised of so many vocal parts, this may get rather irritating at times. Anyway, he makes up for it with his theatrical and expressive style, and of course his Minimoog, Hammond and piano. Wertico on the other hand is the star of this album. Even though New Century consists of mostly 4/4 patterns, he is able to create big differences with just little touches. His gentle and versatile drumming is really of note.
New Century has also some other interesting facts. It's produced by none other than Mack (previously worked with Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Queen!!!). He also contributes with his guitar playing and backing vocals. The album even ends with a rock 'n roll song which is called Rock For Mack to honour him I guess. Not for my taste, sorry. I love rock 'n roll, but this track is utterly useless and destroys the atmosphere of the album. Not to forget is Carry Me Away... It is the English version of the band’s legendary track called Odlot! Also, the info paper I received from the record company states that the album was recorded mostly in a live setting. The absence of over-used studio technology surely strengthens the natural feel of this record.
Fans of the band will certainly like it, since it still represents some of the old key elements of the band's sound. For the rest of our readers I suggest to be patient when listening. If you can get past that question I mentioned in the beginning, the result will pay off. Not an essential record, but it’s worth listening, especially for its supreme emotional content.
PS: New Century is also available as a DVD-A and a limited edition with two bonus tracks.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
SBB - Live In Theatre
Tracklist: Stary człowiek w milczącym ogrodzie (5:48), Odlot (14:06), Wolność z nami (7:35), W kołysce dłoni twych (8:04), New Century (11:24), Wojownicy Itaki (6:03), Całkiem spokojne zmęczenie (5:34), Paul Wertico's drum solo (6:04), Memento z banalnym tryptykiem (9:26), Golden Harp (5:40), Z których krwi krew moja (7:32), Music Is My Life (4:54), Walking Around The Stormy Bay (9:10), Pieśń stojącego w bramie (5:17), Rainbow Man (7:09)
Live In Theatre 2005 is SBB’s first DVD release ever. Its main section contains a live performance, in which the band showcases some of their classics as well as many songs from their new album New Century.
115 minutes of good music sounds like a good deal; but as you’ve already read above, SBB is a trio, and since Skrzek cannot play keys and the bass at the same time, either the keyboards or the bass is missing all the time. This is one of the reasons for this DVD sounding a little sterile. Since SBB’s sound is so rich, an only three piece band cannot reveal the full glory of their music in this setting. Also, the performances of the members are mediocre at best (Paul Wertico as an exception). Anthimos’ guitar solos sometimes contain way too many faults, and he mostly fails to switch the guitar tones fluently. Skrzek, while being excellent on keys or bass, not rarely fails to hit the notes correctly in his vocal duties. Since it is known that he is not the uber-singer, it is somewhat acceptable; but if an accomplished guitarist such as Anthimos does so many faults, it really ruins the experience. It may give the feeling of a natural, intimate and not an overly processed show; but this in my opinion doesn’t make the end product more professional.
Wertico on the other hand is shining throughout the performance. His commitment to the music, his joy can easily be felt from his gestures. Well, let’s not forget his brilliant drumming, especially in the two drum solo spots on this DVD. In one of them he and Anthimos play drums on two drum sets. I cannot say the same things on Anthimos’ drumming, since it’s... not very good. I do not understand why there’s a drum duet at all. Who needs drum duets anyway, if it doesn’t contain two virtuosos of the same level?
Overall, it’s a fine release which showcases the band’s live performance in a good picture and sound quality. Although a guest musician for keys or the bass could have improved the enjoyment to a whole new level, this DVD still delivers a solid feeling of an SBB performance. There’s something mystic about the band’s performance that makes you forgive all the faults they do while playing. A must for SBB fans, since it also contains a video clip for Music Is My Life, some gimmicks and 25 minutes long interview with the band members; but others should approach with caution.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10