NEARfest 2000

With: Transatlantic, Happy the Man, Par Lindh Project, Anekdoten, Il Balletto di Bronzo, Iluvatar, Thinking Plague, DFA, Nexus & North Star

June 17th & 18th 2000 at the Zoellner Arts Center, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

By Todd Crane

What a wonderful venue. Chad and Rob are to be commended for their efforts and ability to pull off a top notch show. Compared to last year, the timing went with nearly 100% precision. Considering all that goes on, the fact that they were about 30 minutes behind each night is impressive. One minor suggestion. Ushers should have been posted at the main side entrance to prevent folks from walking in and out of those doors while the show was going. The blast of light coming through that door every 5 seconds was extremely distracting. Folks that want to come in and out should have been directed to the mezzanine level entrances that were left open, thereby cutting way down on the disturbances.

Now the music:

Northstar - Considering they haven't played together for several years, they did a wonderful job. Nothing new or overly impressive to speak of. Although the King Crimson like "Bathroom by the Bongos" (??) was a lot of fun. A solid, if not a bit bland of an opener.

DFA - Very good. The keyboard player was "The Man" in this band, and given that he was the first virtuoso key player of the weekend, he really got the crowd going.

Iluvatar - Terrible. I hate to say it, but they just were not good. I've seen these guys three times now and this was by far their worst performance. Given that I've driven 6 hours to see the guys in the past, I would consider myself a big fan, but the guitar was WAY TOO LOUD. It single handily ruined their performance. If the guitar player has control over his volume, it should be taken away from him because he abused it. If not, then someone at the sound board dropped the ball.

Anekdoten - A disappointment. I have "Vemod" and "From Within" and more or less enjoy these discs. However, their performance lacked any kind of interesting dynamic. For me, their brooding material simply did not translate well in a live sitting. I often listen to their discs while working on the computer, so I guess I prefer them as background music. If we prog fans get on pop bands for not playing more than 3 or 4 chords 90% of the time, then Anekdoten should not be immune from the same criticism.

Happy the Man - A fantastic surprise. I bought their first two discs a few months ago. After a few listens I had a feel for what to expect, but their live performance, unlike Anekdoten, transcended their studio material. Great presence on stage. A fun blend of musicianship and humor. A must see if you can.

Nexus - An eye-opening act to start of day two. Great musicians, but the keyboardist clearly worships the ground Keith Emerson walks on resulting in a collection of largely stolen and/or stale bits. I'm not saying it wasn't fun. It's just stuff that we've all heard before...25 years ago. Also, the keyboard solo was a collection of disjointed riffs that really didn't take the listener anywhere. Fine lead female vocalist, despite the fact that I couldn't hear or understand 60% of what she was singing.

Thinking Plague - Clearly, they are all wonderful musicians. Although, I'm not sure of the lead singer. Is she a poet or a singer? She's a decent poet, but hardly a singer. I guess it's just their style. I should have spent more time with their cd to fully appreciate their performance. As it was, their set featured moments of brilliance surrounded by lengthy periods of incoherence.

Baletto Di Bronzo - At this point, the bombastic keyboard works off all these fantastic musicians was losing it's wonderment. Their keyboard player and band leader was an accomplished musician, and an interesting performer. I didn't really understand what he was doing half the time (he seemed to staple the folks in the first row and then rain some propaganda leaflets on them toward the end...?), but their set was entertaining.

Par Lindh Project - Superb. Par Lindh, unlike Nexus, understands how to write flashy and melodic keyboard work which serves the entire music. I saw these guys at ProgDay '99 (I think it was '99), and their performance then was much more timid then, especially the female vocalist. In contrast, their NEARfest gig was loose and exciting. They easily could have served as a headlining act.

Transatlantic - A very good gig. By no means was it perfect, but it was very good. Their four across set up was unique and provided a good view of all the musicians. They performed all the TA songs except the PH cover (a wise decision). Their performance was close enough to the studio material to be followed, yet different enough to sustain a live performance.
Unfortunately, distracting feedback cut into some of the quieter parts. They did a medley covering the various "mother groups" of each member and it flowed together nicely. What didn't flow nicely was their transition from Watcher of the Skies to Firth of Fifth during the encore, but their hearts were in the right place. The definite highlight was "My New World." Simply stunning. I have a feeling their future gigs will get tighter as they learn each others tendencies in the live setting.


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