Reviews in this issue:
Peter Gabriel- Secret World Live (DVD)
Bonus Material: Animated Menu's, Timelapse (3:19), Behind the Scenes (15:10), Quiet Steam Photo Gallery (6:25), Growing Up Live 2002/3 (7:41)
"Yes ! Finally !", that's exactly what I thought when I heard the news that the Peter Gabriel DVD Secret World Live was about to be released. My enthusiasm for this release went all the way back to 1994 when the original live CD and Video hit the market. I quite liked the Gabriel album US but for some reason I found the sound a bit dull and muffled. When the double live CD of the Secret World Tour came out I was pleasantly surprised how much more dynamic the whole thing sounded compared to the studio versions. For instance, a track like Secret World which I found utterly boring on US really came to life when performed on stage and has since become one of my favourite Gabriel tracks. Also, here was an artist that actually expanded on the music instead of playing note-for-note copies of the studio material. Secret World Live became, and still is, my favourite Gabriel album. And I can live with the thought that this is a recording was touched up in the studio.
And then on some random Saturday I turned on the TV to a national TV station and to my surprise they were broadcasting a special on Peter Gabriel, containing video clips and highlights from the Secret World show. I was flabbergasted. It was the day that I cursed myself for not having gone to that show. I had taped the program and cherished it for many years but never really got the official video since the broadcast already contained most of the tracks.
Then the DVD advanced and I was hoping they would release the show on this new format soon. It took a couple of years for it to arrive though, but now it is finally here, once again displaying the splendour of the show after almost 10 years.
And what a show ! This must be one of the most imaginative and enchanting shows ever created in rock music. Sure, the shows by Pink Floyd or U2 might have been even bigger scaled and overwhelming, but this (just like Peter's current tour) is a show that contains lots of smart elements and maintains a very human touch. Where Pink Floyd were just minor dots within a huge spectacle during the Division Bell tour, the band on the Secret World Tour partially makes the show and is the show. There's lots of contact with the audience and between band members, ranging from Peter and female singer Paula trying to reach each other from the different stages during Come Talk to Me to the whole band dancing around in songs like In Your Eyes. And such enthusiasm rubs off on the audience and the viewer of this DVD alike. Whenever I watch Secret World Live I get overwhelmed by feelings of joy, sadness and tranquility, depending on the track.
There's so much to see in every song. Each songs changes the set-up of the band and stage, using various props to create great effect, including the tree (Blood of Eden and Shaking the Tree), the phone booth (Come Talk to Me), the two stages with the conveyor belt between them (Slow Marimbas), the camera helmet (Digging in the Dirt), the rotating projection screen (Secret World), the raft (San Jacinto), the steam outlets (Steam) and the suitcase in which the band disappears (Secret World). There's too much going on musically and visually to describe in this review; you just have to see it yourself.
For those who already know the double CD, you know the high quality of the music. There's a great band, perhaps the best one Peter ever performed with, featuring 'oldies' David Rhodes and bass god Tony Levin, as well as Manu Katche on drums, Jean Claude Naimro on keyboards and Paula Cole doing a great job on backing vocals. Violin player Shankar, whom you might know from the Passion album, Doudouk player Levon Minassian and support act Papa Wemba and Molokai add some extra flavours to some of the tracks as special guests. And sure there's been some touching up, but with such a great end result, who complains about missing false bits and the occasional bum note.
The DVD features the same setlist as the double CD, although Red Rain has been switched for San Jacinto. Also, some versions differ from the CD version, either as far as length goes or the mix, most notably Digging in the Dirt (different mix in the intro), Sledgehammer (extended quiet intro) and Secret World (extended outro).
The concert comes in three sound mixes. You get to choose from either Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround or a DTS 5.1 mix. Unfortunately the DTS mix doesn't live up to its expectations. The mix between the front and rear speakers is rather unbalanced, especially where vocals are concerned, since these channels are completely separated. Especially Shaking The Tree suffers from this mix. Gabriel's lead vocals are mixed to the centre speaker, yet the backing vocals consist of recorded vocals of Gabriel himself, which play through the rear speakers louder than his own lead vocals! Finally the female vocals are confined to the right front speaker, but these are so low that they are barely audible. I had to spend a fair bit of time changing equaliser settings to get the whole thing right.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is somewhat better balanced, yet misses an active subwoofer channel and the 2.0 stereo... well, that comes close to the CD mix, which is fine. If you have a surround sound set-up you'd still do well choosing either surround mix, yet it's a pity that you have spend a bit of time setting equalising for optimal sound.
The extra's on this DVD are quite good and add up to more than half an hour of additional material. All items on the DVD can be accessed via animated menus which contained looped bits of music from Passion fragments of the show and in the submenu's nice little animated thumbnails of the options.
Best of the extras is the 15 minute documentary Behind The Scene's about the making of the Secret World show. It contains lots of interesting bits and pieces I hadn't thought about, for instance the philosophical reason why there are two stages in the show and why some songs are performed on one stage and some on the other. Or that Peter had intended to use a huge tree on the round stage instead of the 'pint sized' version, giving him a Spinal Tap moment during the actual show (remember the Stonehenge scene ?).
One of the reasons why it probably took so long to release this DVD might be the growing Up Tour which was well on the way when the DVD was released. As one would expect this DVD also contains a 7+ Making of Growing Up clip. A very nice souvenir if you have already seen the show. If you haven't and are still planning to go see it, don't watch this clip ! It basically demonstrates all of the show elements and therefore is one big spoiler from beginning to end. Good stuff if you don't plan to go or have already seen it though.
I did find it shocking to see how much dear Peter has aged when watching the two Making Of movies.
The Timelapse movie is good fun as well, in 3 minutes it shows you how the stage is built and deconstructed, from the time the first flight case arrives to the time when the last flight case leaves the venue. Highly informative it gives you an insight in the actual enormous production behind a 2 hour show. It could have been even better if they had included a digital clock and some music instead of the noise.
Finally there's a photo gallery slide show which plays over the music of the Quiet Steam remix. It features about 30 pictures ranging from good to mediocre and it actually tries to create an atmosphere much more than display the show. As such you spend several seconds staring at zooming in cables and wheels of flight cases. From that perspective I found the audio (Quiet Steam) of this extra more interesting than the visual side.
The DVD comes with a 16 page booklet with lots of pictures. For those who already have the CD; nothing new here, it is basically the CD booklet in bigger format.
All in all, May 2003 was the month that my favourite Peter Gabriel album was joined by my favourite DVD. Secret World Live is a must-have for all Peter Gabriel fans and proggers that appreciate a good, imaginative stage show with a human touch - get it now !
Conclusion: 9+ out of 10
Never trust a first impression when it comes to music. That would be what I have learned from this album. I like my prog on the heavier side, but once it becomes harder to detect a melody or any vocals behind a wall of guitar and drum sounds, it stops being interesting to me.
I listened to The Devin Townsend Band and tossed them into the corner of: too heavy, too little melody, not interesting. Based on what I read on their respective websites, most members of The Devin Townsend Band have previously played in metal bands. I never base a review on just listening once - so it would become hard for me to write this review. Because I had to listen a second time. So I listened again, and again and again.
And yes, in some songs the vocals are way back like in the end of the street while the guitars are standing right in front of your face. By yelling, the vocals hope to reach you. Exactly the thing that would scare me off most of the time. Most of the time, not this time. Somewhere in this wall of guitars there is music to be found and good music, mind you.
At the time I began to recognise the lyrics (at first only the chorus of course) I knew this album would stick. This is not an album for the faint hearted, if Dream Theater or Pain Of Salvation are too heavy for your taste I think there is no point in buying this album. If you like these bands then The Devin Townsend Band might also blow you away, like they blow me away every time I listen to this album. Because this album does not compare to any album I own or know, it is hard for me to help you out on that point. Furthermore no samples can be found on their website, so maybe you should do your listening in the record store. I have subsequently found some brief samples at Amazon - just click the link above.
The tracks on this album are all very progressive but this does not lie in the fact that heavier and calm are varied. But in varying from heavy to heavy. The only tracks that have this more traditional composition (and I do not mean 'not original' here) are Away and maybe Slow Me Down both tracks that stand out for me. Other tracks that stand out: Depth Charge, Storm and Deadhead. In Storm the vocals are really good, at the end of Deadhead the yelling becomes too much for me. A problem that Random Analysis suffers from also although this is musically interesting enough.
Never trust your first impression. This is a great album.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
John Edmonds - Subzerosonic
On his new CD Subzerosonic, John Edmonds composed, recorded and played all instruments including the Kurzweil PC2 and most notably, Chapman Stick. He doesn’t play your garden-variety 10-string stick like most of us stick players use either. Mr. Edmonds uses the 12 string “Grand Stick”, and does so quite adeptly I might add, throughout this collection of ambitious and complex progressive space-rock compositions.
The music on this CD is instrumental, with ponderous synthesizer draperies and interesting intricate and convincing programmed percussion laying the foundation for John’s superb stick-work. As one listens to this CD, it is easy to get caught in the trance-like worlds that unfold. Challenging time signatures intersect and weave together seamlessly as the music expands and contracts organically. To make comparisons to other artists here would be an injustice to the music, due to its originality.
While not likely to appeal to the tastes of all listeners, this music will certainly thrill lovers of ambient music, space-rock, and instrumental fusion. As a matter of fact, the only criticism I have of this CD is purely subjective, and applies to all music of this nature. And that is the fact that in the wrong mood I might find the music not able to hold my attention for too long, because it is not obvious. This is subtle music, movie music for the mind. One needs to pay close attention and at the same time get lost in this music to really appreciate it: focused relaxation. Sparse, at times desolate, detailed yet defying gravity and toying with time, this collection of hypnotic works is recommended for all those with a penchant for wide open sonic spaces that breathe and keep you feeling like you’re grooving through the ether.
One of the more obvious functions of a Duo article is to offer two contrasting view points upon the same material in front of the respective reviewers, and by this offer a better appraisal of the music to hand. As is often the case, the opinions vary widely, and it is hoped that a greater picture is garnered. Sometimes however, the opinions are as one, as is this case here. The music of John Edmonds striking a similar chord with both reviewers.
The merest mention of any form of Chapman Stick within the prog fraternity conjures up Tony Levin's name, rightly or wrongly. On this occasion the first applies as on the first listen through, King Crimson sprang to mind often. As a pointer, and if I were to pick one of KC's tracks that best typified Subzerosonic it would be The Sheltering Sky from the wonderful Discipline album. John's album exhibits many of the elements which can be found within that track. The gently undulating rhythms, the warm percussion sounds, both of which combine effortlessly with the textured guitars, bass and keyboards.
In the accompanying press kit John suggests that "Dancing to Subzerosonic is risky", as the complex time signatures are often too complex for this activity, however he didn't mention that you may find it difficult not to groove along with the music. Again using some of his own words to describe the music - "Subzerosonic is progressive ambient fusion for Chapman Stick and electronic orchestra". This has been achieved solely by himself, combining both excellent programming and instrumental performance. One final note of praise must be offered on the clarity of the mixing and production.
As Chris mentions, this may not appeal to all tastes, but I can tell you that it did appeal to these two reviewers. What I found most rewarding is that the tracks seamlessly combined both complexity and accessibility so easily. It is therefore possible to enjoy Subzerosonic on different levels and whilst reviewing this CD I found that I could pop the headphones on and just drift along with the mesmerizing rhythms and soundscapes. Contrasting this is the underlying complexity of the pieces, many of the odd but subtle timings being beyond this reviewer, but all the more fascinating for the want of trying to work them out. This album was a joy to review and I feel sure it will be played for pleasure many times in the future.
Omnia - Hormonal
Omnia are an Argentinean Band consisting of: Federico Fernandez – Drums, percussion and some keyboards; Hernan Naccarato – Bass; Nicolas Nunez – vocals; Pablo Sangineto – Keyboards; and Sebastian Perossa – Guitars. Rodrigo Socolsky guests on flute on one track.
Hormonal is their second album, presenting a conceptual work, which follows the cycle of life from birth to death. Sung entirely in Spanish, the finer points of the concept remain a mystery to me, and the brief English synopsis (to be found on their website) seems to have suffered somewhat in the translation process and does little to aid one’s comprehension. That being said, Nicolas Nunez is an emotive and expressive vocalist, managing to convey a range of emotional feelings despite the language barrier.
The tracks are divided equally in number between songs and instrumentals but with the latter tending to be shorter than the vocal pieces.
Conoce A Tus Enemigos kick-starts the album with strident riffing from the keyboards and drums. This then alternates with quieter passages and vocal sections. There is also some tasty and inventive bass work here. The prevailing atmosphere is of 70’s symphonic rock, but trimmed of the worst excesses and enlivened with a more energetic delivery that has hints of the more modern prog-metal style, without ever actually becoming prog-metal. Los Primeros Ojos is the first and longest of the instrumental pieces and is a refined duet for piano and flute, having a vague air of Camel or possibly German neo proggers Rouseau, and conjuring a mood of quiet reflection. The flute, in particular, is very tastefully handled, making for a charming, classically flavoured piece.
The title track is next, and again starts with fairly intense keyboards and frenetic drumming. Nunez is on top form here – whatever it is that he’s singing, it sounds like he really means it! The vocals and drumming are high in the mix, but sometimes the rest of the instruments are almost lost in a slightly muddy production. This aside, the track is full of melodic twists and turns and stop-start riffing. As with the first track, there is a strong classical undercurrent here, in the vein of some of the great Italian bands like Banco.
Mi Hermano Yo Mismo slows things down for a largely piano led song, with another good vocal performance, and fine ensemble playing from all concerned. There is some nice, loose jazzy piano and acoustic guitar to round things off. 40 Horas is another instrumental, powered by metallic, almost industrial percussion and some great synth work. I think this one is meant to symbolise the drudgery of the working week, but I might be way off the mark here.
Los Peores Ojos has Pink Floydish pulsations beneath a pleasantly noodley guitar for a brief instrumental. Whilst Tren En Movimiento packs a lot into just over three minutes, with some orchestral sounds, and a slightly more Neo-prog approach, having a more conventional song structure than elsewhere. By contrast Ocaso is a short minimalist interlude for piano, having a very calm atmosphere and some wordless vocals buried way back in the mix.
The last song on the CD is El Tunel and features some funky basslines. Nunez excels himself here, his voice effortlessly shifting up and down the octaves. The electric guitar is also more prominent here than on previous tracks. Again, I think the playing and compositional strengths (the pacing and dynamics are well handled throughout) are let down slightly by the production. The closing track is a very brief coda of strings with found sounds and vocal samples.
I recently reviewed the self titled CD from fellow Argentinean's Anima (also on the Viajero Inmovil label) and, though I liked that CD, I would have to say that this is the better of the two, being much more consistent and inventive, with a more complex, classically inclined approach that reveals hidden melodies with each successive listen. Omnia have managed to come up with a fairly distinctive and original sound whilst operating broadly within the field of 70’s Symphonic Art rock, and although there are flashes of other bands (Genesis, Pink Floyd for example) to be heard, they end up with a sound that is entirely their own.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Aeolus - Dust On The Mirror
The two main drivers behind the wheel of the musical vehicle known as Aeolus, have been making music together for 20 years - since they were 12 and 13! Little surprise then, that you get the distinct impression that this album is the result of a very strong chemistry of ideas that only such a long relationship can develop.
The music of Aeolus has a very unique, strong, individual character - challenging, yet accessible; sometimes difficult yet always an interesting listen. Guitarist Jurrie Teeuwen and keyboardist Michael Kramp are the main songwriters behind these 11 tracks, of what I can only describe as Prog with a regular swig of metal and an occasional but very noticeable dash of Nu-Metal.
More recent additions to the Aeolus family have been Raymond Van Kooten who delivers some very thoughtful lyrics and drummer Matthijs Hekking. The band has recently recruited a new vocalist in former Junkfood singer Bart Fekkes, but it's Van Kooten who appears on this disk and puts in a strong performance with a good range of styles and emotions - something that the music really demands.
Reference points here are early Marillion, IQ, Genesis and Floyd with a raft of more lightweight metal influences and Steve Vai and Joe Satriani being the staple diet for Tuuewen.
For me they are at their best when they mix and match a few different styles but keep a sense of structure and melody to their songs. Take the longest track Fate. A mix of Peter Gabriel and say Coldplay in its melody, with a lovely Marillion keyboard run and a slightly funky off beat chorus. Indeed the keyboard runs of Kramp are a real treat. The Punch and Judy-style riff on Come Here My Love and a similar effect on Tears reminds me why early Marillion was such a good listen.
The one track that really stands out however it the title track. Dust on the Mirror starts off with a cool 80's hard rock riff in the mould of Toto/Survivor with Van Kooten's voice taking on a more blues/soul tinge that I really like. Then halfway it changes into a guitar pop driven Nu Metal beast. This track is by far and away the most mainstream and annoyingly catchy on the album and the one likely to get the band some airplay. But while Nu-Metal elements crop up once or twice elsewhere (and I've no problem with that), it isn't really very representative of the bulk of the material on offer.
For me, now and again the band does adventure a little too far off the beaten track. Take the rap sequence that kicks off It's Not Impossible or the dark/gothic feel to Forbidden City. Not bad ideas but it tends to lose the coherence or common thread that an album really needs. Perhaps that's the idea. But to these ears, they just don't sit comfortably within the album as a whole.
There also need to be a few more memorable hooks to stay in the memory and demand those repeat listens. Anonymous Embrace has a pleasant, laid back vibe and builds into a nice atmospheric ballad, but doesn't really have a focus - doesn't really go anywhere.
One final grumble - almost throughout the disc the backing vocals are very weak both in terms of delivery and the mix - something to build on next time? However this is a solid start, of interest for anyone who likes their Prog served up in a more modern dress. Aeolus must be praised for creating a disk very much in their own unique mould. If they can look in the mirror and build on their strengths whilst getting rid of a bit of the dust, they could well be playing together for another 20 years.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10