Reviews in this issue:
Marillion - Brave Live DVD
Bonus Material: Band Member Interviews, Hidden track: The Fan.
Marillion has now released a new live version of Brave on both DVD and CD. The release of the CD version of Brave Live 2002 seems a bit redundant since the live version was already available on the Made Again album, and I doubt if there are major differences between the two versions. What's more, at the time (1994) I really wanted an audio live recording of Brave in my collection but when I finally had it I hardly played it because it added very little to the studio album.
Something I did miss however was the visual aspect of the show. Having seen the show during the Brave tour, I had very fond and vivid memories about it. A very powerful and emotional performance in a magical atmosphere created by the River pre-concert music (used a background music during the interviews on the DVD). Later I relived the experience when fellow DPRP editor BJ lent me a copy of a TV registration of the Brave concert in Mexico. Impressive but it didn't come that close to the actual concert feeling. So, you can imagine my utter delight when I heard that the performance of Brave at the Marillion Convention Weekend in April this year would be filmed and released on DVD.
It took quite a while to get the damn thing started. Unlike all my other DVDs it did not play on my PC. I'm not sure what the problem was but eventually an upgrade of my WinDVD software did the trick. As with the other recent Marillion DVD releases Shot in the Dark and Piss-Up in a Brewery the production was done by THE boom boom BOYS. After their nice visual and audio intro the menu of the DVD itself comes as a bit of a disappointment. The presentation is not animated and basically consists of still photographs from the performance and hyperlink-like menu and sub-menu items. These let you choose between playing the concert, selecting specific tracks and playing specific sections of the interviews with each band member.
Most of the elements of the original performance are still present:
Hogarths priest-like clothing, the flowers act during Runaway,
lipstick and the ponytailed girl act in Goodbye to All That
Hard as Love, the showmaster act in Paper Lies,
duting Hollow Man, etc.
Some new things have been added as well. The concert and opening titles start with some text explaining the start of the story. This is displayed on a rectangular projection screen above the stage which replaces the original three screens. Although the screen does display some new images, I find it cannot replace the atmosphere of the old setup and feels a bit artificial. The tabloid headlines during paper Lies work well though, though I always found this track to be rather misplaced on the album.
Strange enough the movies title Brave Live 2002 doesn't appear until after Living With the Big Lie, more than 11 minutes into the show. Another interesting point is that Made Again is presented as being an encore to the brave story, with the end credits being run after The Great Escape.
The presentation of the performances uses lots of overlayed images, combining mid-range shots with close-ups. The full-stage shots are a bit of a letdown and prove that the location is far from optimal for filming a performance like Brave. Not only is the stage quite low, resulting in a rather large portion of the screen being filled with the backs of people's heads whenever a full stage shot occurs, sometimes obscuring quite a lot of the band members. The stage is also rather cramped, resulting in rather 'busy' visuals with lots of band members in one shot, somethings blokking eachothers view. Imagine a shot of Steve Hogarth playing keyboards while a bass player's arm keeps popping in and out of view. Also, many shots contain rather distracting bodies of roadies and VIPS in the background, most disturbing of which three kids standing in the background looking as if they are being punished by watching the show.
There is also so much shifting of camera views at times that you hardly get a chance to enjoy a specific perspective. This often happens when a theatrical section occurs which I really wanted to see, but is replaced by relatively uninteresting shots. Also, at times Steve Hogath is playing a lead melody on keys the camera switches to Mark Kelly playing supporting synths ! Also, for one of my favourite tracks, The Great Escape, I had expected something more suiting than a sweaty, tired Hogarth struggling his way through the song.
Visual quality is okay, but not brilliant. At times the footage is rather blurred, especially when Steve Rothery or Peter Trewavas are filmed. Probably because there isn't enough light for a clear picture at times, which makes me wonder which they didn't use another camera at these times. The close-ups are quite good though, especially those of Steve Hogarth. At times however the pink/purple light really blurs the footage, e.g. during Lap of Luxury. Or the images are just too dark, as in the title track. Compared to for instance David Gilmour's recent DVD release this makes Brave Live really seem like a cheap home video.
Highlights ? Well basically the highlights of the DVD are those
the live performance of Brave the added value over the
movie and CD;
Steve Hogarth's theatrics. As such, The Goodbye to All That
with Steve's downright disturbing theatrics, and Hard as Love
best parts of the concert.
And for those being interested in the background of the album the 45+ minutes of interviews are very interesting as well. Not to mention being the best stylistic filming of the whole DVD. Personally, I found some of it being the most interesting and touching part of the DVD. And for an avid Brave fan like me the actually are the best part of the DVD because they actually offer something new which I didn't already experience or own. As for instance really getting the feel of the importance of Castle Marouette for the album. Or maybe it's just the thing of band members doing soul searching and sharing a bit of their inner selfs. Like Hogarth?s reaction to 9/11 or the fan convention, Pete Trewavas admitting to Holidays in Eden being too commercial, etc.
I do keep getting slightly annoyed by the 'we are auch a poor band' attitude and a certain person continously seems to be going at self pity. As such, the best and most informative bits of the interviews are Steve Hogarth's and Pete Trewavas'.
All in all I found that the Brave Live 2002 could not
meet my (high
I could probably best sum it up by saying that this is a case
of 'while we
are playing this .... we might as well film it' instead of 'let's
really high quality live DVD of a classic piece'. A typical case
chance to get it right while the circustances are far from perfect'.
might be a nice souvenir for those at the convention weekend,
but for me,
having seen the show in a perfect setting such as Vredenburg
in Utrecht, The
Netherlands, this DVD version doesn't even come close to capturing
feeling. As a matter of fact, at times the mexican TV version
did a far
better job !
Okay, you might argue about budgets but it would have been a far beter decision to film a live rendition of such an important piece of work at the right venue, with the right lighting rig and the right number and positions of camera's. Unfortunately it ended up being a DIY instead of a professional product. Interestingly, Peter on the DVD says that the show has been filmed a couple of times but never was deemed to be good enough for a commercial release. I wonder what the old footage must have been like ...
It's also a shame that neither the Brave movie and Making of Brave documentary which were previously released on video plus the full audio of River, which still works as a marvellous relaxation piece for me, were not included on the DVD. That would at least have made up for all the flaws in the live footage. Unfortunately they cannot be found on this DVD, I assume because of copyright issues.
So here it is, from an internet cafe in Mexico City, a second opinion:
When reading Ed's extensive comments I admit that I agree with most of them, however, they didn't bother me as such. I had already come to terms with the poor venue and ridiculously low stage when I saw the show live at last year's convention. Naturally the fact that I was actually there when the show was filmed helps in appreciating the DVD.
I think, in comparison with the other two DVDs released through Marillion's own Racket Label, this one certainly looks a lot better and more professional. True, when watching these DVDs one might assume the band has a particular liking for small, cramped stages, but one must understand that these are the kind of stages the band plays nowadays, especially in the UK. The days of huge stages with massive lightshows, like for example can be witnessed on the Hooks In You promo video (which can be found on the Singles Collection DVD, also released earlier this year) are certainly over.
I for one liked the quality of the pictures (which are in 16:9 widescreen format), and certainly the quality of the sound (unfortunately still no 5.1 surround mix though). Unlike on Shot in the Dark THE boom boom BOYS have created a genuine live video, instead of a collection of videoclips, even though they still like to add the odd image or titles in between the songs. Furthermore, the amount of camera positions is also far more than any normal live video would have (I counted eight).
The interviews are also quite interesting, honest and funny at times. I quite like Mark Kelly's defence against popular belief that it is Steve Hogarth who is responsible for the more commercial tunes the band produce.
To top it off there is an hilarious hidden feature to be found, in which Mark Kelly - with typically British sarcasm - tells the account of the band's worst fan...
So in conclusion, I agree with Ed that it's a shame that none
of the original Brave shows have ever been professionally filmed
for release. The Mexican pay-TV show would have been great (also
for the duration of that concert and its set), but since copyrights
are not the band's best friend, this is not to be. So in that
respect this DVD is certainly a good alternative.
Like Ed, I don't think many of the people who haven't been to the convention will care much for the companion live CD, but this DVD is definitely a must have in every Marillion collection.
Steve Howe - Skyline
In the recent years, several Steve Howe releases have seen the light of day. Beside his works with Yes, he has released several solo albums, the most recent being his tribute to Dylan (Portaits Of Bob Dylan, 1999), and an all acoustic guitar album (Natural Timbre 2001). His newest solo album is Skyline, recorded with the help of keyboardist Paul Sutin.
Steve Howe has always been my favorite guitar player. I have all his solo albums (and the "Interactive" CD-Rom), took part in his guitar Masterclass, and saw him on stage several times. I particularly like his work with Yes, but some of his solo albums are also quite interesting.
His new album Skyline is definately not a typical prog rock album. In fact it's not even a rock album, and not another so called guitar virtuoso-album. It would seem that Howe saves his more proggy material for Yes. On his new solo album, he walks a very dangerous line between New Age and Jazz. There's nothing against some good New Age or Jazz, but the combination of these styles can result in some (very painful) 'easy listening' style of music. And unfortunately, this is exactly what happens on this album ...
The album starts quite promising with Small Acts Of Human Kindness. It has that typical Howe-style bombastic sounds, some 'nana' vocals (the album is instrumental), and a big sound with pleasant walls of guitars. What immediately strikes you is the absence of a real backing band. Instead, we get a lot of synthesizers. These synths are all over the album, mainly providing a supporting background to Steve's guitar playing. The synths are played by Paul Sutin (who also worked with Steve on his earlier New Age albums: Voyagers and Seraphim). I was never too impressed by these two albums, and I must say the same goes for the new one. The synths all sound a bit "cheap" or "demo-ish" (not unlike those on Steve's two Homebrew albums, with demo tracks and home recordings). Also on this release, they give the music a second hand band sound.
But is the music good? I must say that this is another disappointment. According to the record company "Listeners are lifted to a spiritual plateau as high as the stars". Sounds quite promising, but it suggests that the music is spacy and stellar. Personally, I think 'jazzy easy listening background music' is a more adequate description.
The 12 tracks are all played in a very/overly tasteful style, missing a real edge. From a prog rock point of view, it made me wonder what Steve is trying to do here. Some of the compositions are simply very cheesy, like Shifting Sands or Moment In Time (this last track even reminded me of Rick Wakeman's much criticized Rhapsodies album). Other tracks are more like relaxed jazzy pieces, like Meridian Strings, Secret Arrow or Avenue De Bel Air.
As a whole I found this album very dissappointing. The few tracks that stand out are the ones that are done in the more familiar Steve Howe style (Small Acts Of Human Kindness, the spacy Moon Song, Resonance, and The Anchor). They reminded me of Howe's 1993 solo-album The Grand Scheme Of Things (his best real prog rock album). But even on these tracks, a real backing band is sorely missed. And on the album as a whole, I think there is quite some unspecial or uninspired guitar playing (to the high Steve Howe standards, I hasten to add).
So I would recommend this album only to the real fans of Steve Howe. Just realise this is not his best solo album. If you're not familiar with his solo works, I would recommend you start with the excellent Not Necessarily Acoustic (1994) or Pullings Strings (1998), both live recordings, mainly with the maistro on acoustic and electric solo guitar.
Conclusion: 6- out of 10
The California Guitar Trio - A Christmas Album
Only days after Rob had received his copy of the latest CGT release CG3 + 2 did the postman drop another package containing a CGT CD on DPRP's doormat. Since the other album wasn't really Rob's cup of tea, he asked me to take care of this one, which turned out to be a christmas compilation album. Now, let me share a little secret with you ..... I'm an absolute sucker of Christmas and Christmas songs. Though not really any type of religious believer I adore the atmosphere, the decorations and the warmth of Christmas. As far as the music goes, I really like the Phil Spector approach of some of the Christmas songs, which really put me into somewhat of a cuddling mood (I know, I probably am a big softy at the end of the year). As such, I didn't have any objections regarding reviewing a Christmas CD.
Almost all of the songs are renditions of old Christmas classics, whether traditional songs like Oh Christmas Tree or the excessively covered God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (of which every guitarist on earth seems to have his own version), classical compositions by Bach and Handel, or pop songs like Lennon's Happy X-Mas or Sakamoto's score to Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. Now, as far as the proggy point of view is concerned, don't expect a lot. Most of these renditions feature mainly acoustic guitars and don't offer any real suprises. The only exceptions to this turned out to be the improvisation in the middle of Greensleeves and the uptempo rock & roll version of Jingle Bells. Still, any version of Happy X-Mas without Yoko Ono (read: Oh No !) gets my two thumbs up.
If you are into the combination of Chistmas music and instrumental guitar renditions of classics you might find this an interesting release. However, I doubt if this CD has more to offer to the average prog fan than any of the X-mas CDs in department store's bargain bins, which often turn out to be complete strangers playing covers of popular originals. Not being very familiar with the style of CGT, to me this is just another one of such CDs of cover versions, and with it's 24 minutes a rather short one as well. Depending on the price at which this album is sold this could be reasonable or a complete ripp-off.
To conclude, this is certainly not a must-have for prog fans and only comes recommended for fans of CGT and Christmas music completists.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
La Tulipe Noire - Faded Leaves
The Greek La Tulipe Noire, originating from Athens, offer Faded Leaves as the follow-up to their album Shattered Image from 2000 and is the third album of the band, who had their debut in 1997 with In The Gates Of Dream. Like Faded Leaves, Shattered Image was released by the French label Musea and earned a spot in the former DPRP column CDelight with a worthy appraisal, not as much because of originality but especially because it was a highly enjoyable album. Opinions differ in the duo-review that was published on DPRP around the same time.
La Tulipe Noire is a classical-built quintet and has not changed line-up in the past 2 years. Perhaps that's the reason why their music hasn't really gained originality since. The neo-progressive rock is very recognisable, especially because of the clear female vocals of Ima with a light Greek accent and a paper-thin vibrato. The band still leans heavily on the classical albums of Marillion as far as melodies and the usage of keyboards and guitar are concerned, though a search for Pink Floyd seems to have been launched as well.
The first half of Faded Leaves drags on with slow prog rock, rather predictable in rhythm and structure. Since the open production really lays the sound of La Tulipe Noire bare, especially the layers of keyboards and the at times emotional voice of Ima are highly enjoyable. Silence, Castle on the Sand up to and including Carnival in Venice are beautiful songs. Especially the moving Winter in your Heart with a wide range of moods and varied passages is something to be heard. Still, along the way the listener is lulled to sleep somewhat by LTN's lightly depressing 'autumn' sounds. The band sticks to slow rhythms. The powerful pounding of drummer Kassavetis, sticking to the end of the beat resulting in heavy accents, only strengthen this slowness. With A Beggar's Tale the band shifts gear, probably shocked by the fact that more than half an hour has already passed since the first notes. Not a real highlight but certainly a welcome diversion.
Le Fond du Ciel is the most creative piece on the album. Starting with a beating heart and the horrifying scream, this track emerges into the best composition with a fine structure, self-willed rhythms, beautiful supporting 'brass', all working towards a climax in which the whole band finally seems to find itself. So LTN can do it after all ! Unfortunately the intelligence of the compositions collapses again with the remaining two tracks, resulting in the band offering too little diversion and variety to really captivate your interest.
A sober flower for the autumn days for those preferring melancholic sounds.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Mysterkah - Fresq
Mysterkah are a new band on the progressive rock scene with their album Fresq, actually being a concept album. The band itself is a trio led by female vocalist and keyboardist Yleah White, guitarist/bassist Alec Hudson and drummer Xavier Richard. The storyline revolves around this being, a mutant, who seems too come from another planet and who is immortal. This person takes it upon himself to find out who he is and why he is different and researches endlessly, oblivious of what happens around him. His solution to an end to immortality is cryosis via which he sleeps his way to the future during which time the world has gone through a nuclear winter and life is pretty much back to the Stone Age. Awakening he finds himself a companion and endeavours to help humanity by dedicating his life to researching for the benefit of others.
Though interesting, Fresq seems to suffer from a number of faults that inevitably crop up when a band is still exploring what the recording of an album entails. The band are not devoid of musical ideas, yet they have not mastered the art of delivering the right dose of these ideas within the framework of a song resulting in some pieces to be rather overdrawn, overstaying there necessary duration. Furthermore the album suffers from a homogenous sound which works well for a few tracks but over the arc of a whole album becomes slightly tedious and taxing to the ear resulting in everything sounding pretty much the same.
Even though the album does come in for a lot of criticism, there are quite a number of high points on this album which are worthy of merit. The band seem to gel well together and combine the individual guitar and keyboard solos well. Furthermore, White's vocals are crisp and blended in beautifully giving the sensation of vocal harmonies as well as a duetting feel on tracks such as on the opening Prelude. There is a nice crunching feeling throughout much of the album such as on Misanthrope and Broken World which have the band lending to an almost prog-metal attitude with the guitar belting out the power chords as the keyboards act mainly as a filler, possibly to allow White the duties of vocalist.
Sometimes White's vocals seem to be lost amidst the instruments, though on pieces such as the intro to The Immortal or on Cryosis where she engages in a duet with some deft guitar licks, her voice really comes through. Unfortunately the album as a whole lacks a certain depth in production, especially when it comes to the sound of the drums and bass. The trebbley sound does become somewhat of an irritant and with the keyboards remaining within the same register, this is possibly one of the main flaws of the album.
Some pieces such as New Day would have been best left out whilst other such as The Survivor and the Finale show that the band actually DO have some interesting ideas which are definitely worth exploring. With the experience of having recorded an album in their belts, Mysterkah can actually iron out their teething problems. As I mentioned, the band does possess many interesting ideas which auger well for the future and I look forward to their next step, which hopefully will be in the right musical direction.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10