Reviews in this issue:
- Erik Norlander - The Galactic Collective [DVD]
- Syzygy - A Glorious Disturbance [DVD]
- Devin Townsend - By A Thread: Live in London 2011 [DVD]
- Love De Vice - Silesian Night 11.11.11 [DVD]
- Mangrove - More or Less...An Acoustic Evening [DVD]
- Osada Vida - Where The Devils Live [DVD]
- PBII - PBII@Boerderij.org [DVD]
Erik Norlander - The Galactic Collective [DVD]
CD 1 - Arrival (1:46), Neurosaur (4:56), Fanfare for Absent Friends (6:07), Sky Full of Stars (9:42), Astrology Prelude (5:40), Trantor Station (6:21), After the Revolution (12:08), Garden of the Moon (5:13), Dreamcurrents (5:33), The Dark Water (20:48)
CD 2 - Space 1999 (5:09), Sky Full of Stars (9:57), Garden of the Moon (5:53), The Dark Water (24:33)
DVD - The Galactic Collective, Behind the Wall of Doom, The Synthesizers of the Galactic Collective
Erik Norlander, Mark Matthews, Nick LePar, John Payne, Mitch Perry, Mark McCrite, Ron Redfield, Freddy DeMarco and Lana Lane; what you have created here is nigh on perfect. What I experienced within this package sent shivers down my spine. This is entertainment of the highest order that can't be faulted. Erik Norlander has taken the said works listed above, compositions written for Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane and his own solo ventures, and offered new interpretations, alternate and extended versions, re-imagining them into a single unified production that links all these pieces together. This release is full of pomposity and keyboard pyrotechnics that will absolutely amaze all those who listen.
Make no mistake, the star of the show is Mr. Norlander and his amazing arsenal of classic analogue synthesizers (including 6 Moog instruments), Hammond organ and an incredible Steinway model B grand piano. The inclusion of the other musicians (one bass player, one drummer and five guitarists) really sets the whole affair alight majestically. Let's not forget Lana's choral vocal addition that adds some flavour to the proceedings.
Across both disks we are offered spatial soundscapes, rapidity, passages that conceive and develop the mind, musical permutations that stimulate both the conscious and unconscious mind's eye. It doesn't stop there; ones emotions are also pricked as the lush atmospheric, powerful, sedate and exciting structures caress and enrich the listener's ears. This really is what music is all about.
The recording and production work on this release capture every nuance with perfect clarity, which re-enforces the strength of the music presented here. You can hear and feel the love that that has been allocated to this project, instrumentals that have been nurtured in Erik's mind, where he has gained possession and control over every note played, something that has allowed him and his fellow band mates to excel to a different level.
As if this wasn't enough, the collection comes enhanced with an in studio filmed DVD of the music being played. Between the songs Erik offers his thoughts and feelings on each song and how they were constructed which is interesting and enlightening, an approach that won't just appeal to the die-hard fans and something that adds an extra dimension.
The Synthesizers of the Galactic Collective documentary goes into the technicalities of the keyboards used in this project, which in all honesty lost me somewhat, but confirms that Erik certainly knows his stuff, even down to an almost train spotter level, which I will probably be chastised for stating.
The footage is excellent as is the soundstage, the obligatory 2.0 stereo and more importantly the 5.1 surround, which is the way this music should be played.
I am not going to pick my favourite tacks here as in all honesty I can't; there is absolutely nothing I do not like about this release. Make no mistake Erik Norlander is a master craftsman and this release is a master class on how it should be done.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Syzygy - A Glorious Disturbance [DVD]
DVD Tracks - 2009 3RP Festival: Vanitas, Mount Ethereal, Strange Loop II, Dreams, M.O.T.H.
2010 Day of PROG - Darkfield, Circadian Rhythm, The Coronation, Beggars Tale, The Sea, In the Dead of Night, Burn
Bonus DVD - Carl Baldassarre interview, The Writing of Realms, Mark Boals interview, Band roundtable
CD Tracks - Vanitas, Mount Ethereal, Circadian Rhythm, Strange Loop II, Dreams, Darkfield, The Coronation, Beggars Tale, M.O.T.H.
This long awaited DVD set features two shows, the band's 2009 appearance at the 3RP Festival, only the second show with singer Mark Boals, and 2010's Day of Prog show, and succeeds in showcasing Syzygy at their best in a live environment. Coupled with the bonus disc it gives a lovely insight into the workings of the band and the way their songs are put together making for a lovely and well presented package. As you would expect from Syzygy, the performances from all concerned are superb, the instrumental line-up of long-standing members Carl Baldassarre (guitars), Sam Giunta (keys), Paul Mihacevich (drums) and Al Rolick (bass & vocals) being the same for both shows.
The DVD is in mightily impressive 5.1 Surround and Stereo with 16:9 aspect ratio. For the 3RP show the sound is great throughout and the footage uses a multi-camera set up although it is not hugely dynamic. The show captures the band clearly enjoying themselves reproducing music from all three of their albums to date (if you include the 1993 Witsend album Cosmos and Chaos). The band are very professional, generally concentrating on the music with not too much in the way of performance but it is the music that matters after all. Baldassarre grins throughout and is the genial focal point for much of the performances, Boals is off stage for the instrumental portions of the set but his vocals and performance are very strong giving the band an added dimension.
The 2010 show again features tracks from all three albums but the set-list is different to the 3RP show and includes encores of cracking versions of U.K.'s In the Dead of Night and Burn by Deep Purple with Boals doing his best Gillan on the high notes (even though the original featured David Coverdale!). The encores are excellent and pulled off with style, a fun way to end the performance.
I found the 2010 set to be slightly more organic, the band on a smaller stage and the filming featuring more hand-held roving camera shots. The performances are once again excellent with back projections used to add to the visual impact. For the DVD there are some added effects, black and white, widescreen and split-screen sections that add to the visual interest.
Some of the material differs from their original versions in that Mount Ethereal, Strange Loop 2 and The Coronation were all originally instrumental pieces that now have lyrics added which add to the variety and gives Boals more presence. The Coronation is in fact a variation of the first movement of Journey of Myrrdin from Allegory of Light, these versions only appearing on this A Glorious Disturbance set which is another fine reason for getting hold of it. Baldassarre takes the lead vocal on Circadian Rhythm from the first album and Beggar's Tale from Allegory..., the latter accompanied by acoustic guitar.
As noted the performances are excellent and the sound and visuals spot on making it, together with a nice cross-section of their material, a great record of a fine band that has not been particularly prolific but has produced some wonderful music that has thrilled their many fans. The added CD features 9 of the live tracks in a handy slice which is a nice if not essential addition. Overall, if you have enjoyed any of Syzygy's previous releases you are sure to enjoy this one and for those of us outside the U.S. it is probably the only chance we'll get to see this band live, although I live in hope that they may be able to make it to Europe some day.
The second DVD disc features a multitude of special features that add much to the worth of what is already a very enticing package.
We get a chatting style interview with Carl Baldassarre, an engaging and very good natured talker who oozes enthusiasm for his band and music. The discussion ranges through their history from CB's first meeting with Sam Giunta and Al Rolik, their time as Abraxas in the late '70s working as a hard rock covers band, on through the involvement of Mihacevich and the move to the more progressive sound of Witsend in the mid-'80s then forward to Syzygy, all supported by still images and video from the time. Although the discussion of the early days is very interesting there is little discussion of the development of Syzygy after the name change from Witsend which is a shame and something of a missed opportunity.
Next up is a discussion of the development of the track Dialectic from Realms of Eternity, supported by video of the recording in Paul's house, followed by a discussion of the A Glorious Disturbance DVD which is an odd bit of advertising given that the viewer is already in possession of a copy but, again, CB's enthusiasm shines through. We also get a discussion of 'progression' in prog rock taking in technology and music development and how 'progress' has again become part of prog during the third phase of the genre's development.
The second phase of the special features package is an in depth look at the making of a number of tracks from Realms of Eternity, CB and Sam Giunta (with engineer Chris Keffer also appearing to discuss how you should treat your Theremin like a woman) sat at a mixing desk. The discussion is an interesting look at the way that the music was put together and developed with example track segments broken down into their component parts and instruments to help understand what is going on. This is a must for anyone with an interest in the band's music, accompanying video again making for a more visually stimulating presentation.
Next up is a brief interview with Mark Boals where he gives his first impressions on hearing Syzygy, his feelings concerning singing with them at 3RP and the dedicated work ethic of the band as a whole.
This is followed by a band roundtable discussion by the beach with Baldassarre, Giunta, Rolick and Mihacevich talking about the history and future of Syzygy including some video footage of Witsend from 1990. Included are comments that the band have received from the likes of Steve Hackett and Patrick Moraz which may be a little self-congratulatory but they are clearly overwhelmed by the attention they have garnered from these legendary musicians. The discussion turns to memories of the 3RP performance and thoughts on the 5.1 mix of the DVD. The band acknowledge that they are currently writing for the next Syzygy album and I'm sure that there are many like me who can't wait for that. There is a positive attitude and enthusiasm to this band that is palpable and with their depth of experience and knowledge they more than have the tools to make it something special. The band seem to be on the same page and there is a good team spirit which could be an object lesson to many other bands where such basics seem to be lacking.
So there it is, a particularly nicely put together set in a gatefold sleeve holding the three discs and a fold out inlay of band photos, both on and off stage, plus lyrics. Plenty here for the Syzygy fan to get their teeth into whilst waiting for the next album and an excellent record of quality live performances as the band acknowledge their past and look to the future and the next stage of their development.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Devin Townsend - By A Thread: Live in London 2011 [DVD]
DVD 1: Ki - A Monday, Coast, Disruptr, Gato, Terminal, Heaven Send, Ain't Never Gonna Win, Winter, Trainfire, Lady Helen, Ki, Quiet Riot, Demon League, Coast (Take 2), Synchronicity Freaks, Deep Peace
DVD 1 Extras - Ki photo slide show, Devin's show commentary, Coast video
DVD 2: Addicted - Addicted!, Universe in a Ball!, Bend It Like Bender!, Supercrush!, Hyperdrive!, Resolve!, Ih-Ah!, The Way Home!, Numbered!, Awake!, Pixilate, Life, Kingdom
DVD 2 Extras - Addicted photo slide show, Devin's show commentary, Bend It Like Bender video
DVD 3: Deconstruction - Praise the Lowered, Stand, Juular, Planet of the Apes, Sumeria, The Mighty Masturbator, Pandemic, Deconstruction, Poltergeist, Fake Punk, Wallet Chain, Metal Dilemma
DVD 3 Extras - Deconstruction photo slide show, Devin's show commentary, Juular video
DVD 4: Ghost - Fly, Heart Baby, Saloon, Feather, Kawaii, Ghost, Blackberry, Monsoon, Texada, Seams, Infinite Ocean, As You Were, Fall, Radial Highway, Watch You
DVD 4 Extras - Ghost photo slide show, Devin's show commentary, Kawaii video, Ghost show day feature, By a Thread - interview, Barcode and Other Identifiers
The Devin Townsend Project (DTP) released four albums in less than two years, but it is easy to lose sight of the magnitude of that accomplishment in the light of the prolific Devin Townsend's back catalogue. Occasionally a reminder comes along. One such was in November 2011, when the DTP performed four sold out shows in London over consecutive nights, each night dedicated to one album.
For anyone who had the pleasure of being part of any of those shows, By a Thread, a four DVD and five CD live album that chronicles those four shows is a necessary purchase. For anyone who did not have the pleasure of being part of any of those shows, By a Thread is a necessary purchase.
The DVD premiered at London's Prince Charles Cinema in June 2012, at an event hosted by Townsend himself. "My quest for perfection always leads to imperfection", Townsend later told me. He was speaking about the premiere, where sound problems dogged the entire event. Not to be overshadowed by technical glitches, Townsend picked up the microphone and turned the evening into an informal gathering of some three hundred friends. It did not matter that the shrill sound system obscured the well balanced sound quality of the mix. Nor did it matter that the edited disc intended for the screening was not compatible with the sound system at the theatre. Townsend simply reached into the crowd, borrowed a DVD from an audience member who had just purchased a copy, sent it up to the projectionist's and took requests from the audience on track selection. It was a fitting tribute to the atmosphere of the shows themselves.
The DVDs in the set are presented in chronological order, with the performance of Ki at the University of London Union (ULU) starting proceedings. Despite the slick packaging, the DVDs themselves present the shows as they were, warts and all. This is apparent less than ten minutes into the show, when Townsend stumbles at the beginning of Coast. The encore consists of a re-take of Coast, a special moment of collusion between band and audience. Or so it seemed at the time. In the editing room, Townsend decided to leave everything as it was. After all, as he himself said, "It has to be a document of that period of time. Those were the mistakes we made and to try to hide them doesn't make any sense to me". Townsend's work exudes honesty and sincerity, and By A Thread captures that aspect of his work perfectly.
Each show is punctuated with videos featuring Ziltoid, a character created by Townsend for his 2007 album Ziltoid the Omniscient, who has now become a mascot for Townsend. The videos, shot by Townsend himself using a Ziltoid puppet in various locations embody the grassroots nature of the band and are usually endearing, especially live. On the DVD, they do affect the flow of the albums, most notably on Deconstruction. The presence of a large number of the people who performed on the original albums adds a sense of occasion to the shows. Anneke van Giersbergen's voice is an integral part of the Addicted! album, and her performance does not disappoint. Drummer Dirk Verbeuren's performance on Deconstruction demonstrated why Townsend chose him to play "the inhuman stuff" on the original album. Verbeuren is also featured on the Ki DVD, displaying his versatility on songs like GATO and Trainfire.
A section of this review does need to be devoted to the mighty performance of Deconstruction. "This is going to be a hell of a thing" says a slightly apprehensive Townsend at the beginning of album opener Praise the Lowered. It is a draining experience just watching it on DVD, which does a very good job of capturing the mood of that show, and the sense of cathartic release at the end. The encore to that show was particularly telling - three chord punk songs from Townsend's first solo album, the punk parody Punky Bruster.
The commentary tracks are largely disappointing. Townsend is one of the finest and most genuinely funny frontmen in the world, and is a delight to talk to. Unfortunately, these commentary tracks seem to have caught him at his least energetic (the Addicted! session was on a Sunday morning). That is a real shame, because if there is one person who could sell a live DVD based purely on a commentary track, it is Townsend. There are still plenty of interesting nuggets, and even at his worst, Townsend is an entertaining speaker, but the soporific tone of his voice ruins the mood, and is especially incongruous on the Addicted! DVD. One wishes the commentary had been even half as interesting as the live banter provided by Townsend at the premiere.
But these are minor quibbles. By the time the last notes of Watch You, an out-take from the Ghost sessions waft through the air of London's Union Chapel, the sheer enormity of the project is overwhelmingly apparent. The performances are human, compelling and, ultimately, brilliant. The picture quality is not the best and there is the occasional hiccup in the performances, but By A Thread is still an absolute treasure for anyone even peripherally acquainted with the twisted world of Devin Townsend.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Love De Vice - Silesian Night 11.11.11 [DVD]
Extras: Interview with Andrzej Archanowicz and Pawel Granecki, Foggy Future video, Biography, Discography, Photo Gallery, Desktop Images
Polish rock band Love de Vice release their first live DVD, Silesian Night 11.11.11, which was recorded at the Silesian Theatre, Katowice and what a nice little package it is. The band quite bravely took this opportunity to hit the stage on this special night to present to their audience several new songs from their forthcoming album along with a few older tunes as well. New keyboardist, Jack Melnicki (LSD Project, ex-Riverside) also appears with the band which really adds a new warmth and depth to their music. Based on what is presented here the band was on fire, offering an outstanding performance.
As ever their music is rich and spacious, music that is filled with passion and emotion. Of the nine tracks played, four were unknown entities as such, which fitted well within the confines of the rarely played Megiddo, With You Now and Letter in A Minor, all from their 2010 DPRP recommended album Numaterial. On top of this the band demonstrated their craftsmanship with their interpretation of Deep Purple's When A Blind Man Cries. Just to give some clarity about the new material the opening track, Another Day, really evokes a feel of Pink Floyd whereas Frosty Morning calls to mind early King Crimson. It doesn't stop there as the oriental inflected Winter of Soul sits perfectly with the more rock orientated Say No. As a band they are certainly not short of ideas, style or class; long may this continue.
In essence Love de Vice are fundamentally a rock band who layer out their music with some rather interesting approaches that have some progressive tendencies; it would be wrong to define them as a pure progressive rock or progressive metal band, something which I think the band would agree with. One thing that is for sure is that when these guys get together something special happens. One of the real highlights of the show was the inclusion of Mateusz Szmyt on cello and Tomasz "Ragaboy" Osiecki on dilruba, an instrument that really adds power to the whole affair and giving more eastern flavours to the musical soundstage.
The quality of the footage is without question as is the audio soundstage, both DD 5.1 and 2.1 options are offered along with a 16:9 ratio. The band has embraced the opportunity to offer some nice extras too; an interview with Andrzej Archanowicz and Pawel Granecki that has English subtitles, (as does the live show when Granecki converses with the audience between songs) and the video for Foggy Future.
This is a perfect window into the world that is Love De Vice, which will allow you to see what they are all about and where they are going and it will have you investigating their other releases too which is a win-win situation.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Mangrove - More or Less...An Acoustic Evening [DVD]
Bands playing acoustic sets was a hot item not too long ago. These so called unplugged sessions are generally not completely unplugged affairs and this recording of a Mangrove theatre show at the Gigant in Apeldoorn is a good example of a semi-acoustic set.
Oh yes, most of the instruments used are acoustic but their sounds are picked up by microphones and fed through amps to establish the sound that is to be heard in the venue otherwise audiences would need to be very small and silent for that matter.
Again a semi acoustic set is nice to see this. Mangrove is a band with what I call attitude; they have a certain feel and touch in entertaining their audiences. The appearance of the band is a good example and for this concert the whole band take the stage in white outfits.
For people that don't know Mangrove, they are a Dutch progressive rock band who have already established a name for themselves in the prog scene and many of us will know the Beyond Reality album. The line-up of the band is Roland van der Horst (acoustic guitar, vocals), Pieter Drost (acoustic & fretless bass), Chris Jonker (grand piano, keyboards) and, as a special guest, Aldert Glas(drums & percussion).
Hearing and seeing well known Mangrove songs performed acoustically is a happening in itself. The arrangements need to be slightly altered to enable a correct performance of the songs. I can only say that after seeing this DVD I wish that I had been there for the actual performance. The slightly different arrangements suit the songs very well, and the afore mentioned entertainment factor of the band does the rest. Mangrove all are good musicians no doubt.
The DVD is almost 2 hours long, as was their performance, the packaging is suiting the purpose, a showcase With a few photographs a four page booklet with an introductory story by band member Chris Jonker.
The sound is good and there are no additions or enhancements on the DVD. It would have been nice to have something else but it isn’t missed a bit.
If you don't know Mangrove you can do worse than starting here and buying yourself a copy of their acoustic set, you're sure to find good entertainment value from this excellent Dutch band.
The performance dates back to 2010 and the DVD was released in 2011 but a review is worth while even after such a long time.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Osada Vida – Where The Devils Live [DVD]
Tracklist: Remember Your Name (Intro) (4:23), Hard Boiled Wonderland (6:22), Uninvited Dreams (4:57), Brain (Mind On Cloud Nine) (4:37), Muscle (Strong But Powerless) (5:47), Bone (My Name Is Bone, The Single Bone) (11:55), Is That Devil From Spain Too? (9:29), Everyday Ltd. (5:18), Neverending Dream (9:15), Childmare (A Goodnight Story) (10:32)
Where The Devils Live is the first DVD from Osada Vida, the multi-faceted Polish band who apparently derives their namesake from an African village whose inhabitants sacrifice their babies to pythons in exchange for protection. Makes more sense than throwing babies in the rubbish bin, but interesting nonetheless.
This is my first run with the Osada gang so I don't have any background to draw from. Somehow this band has escaped the renown that would have given them some exposure, but this is an exceptional act musically. I don't think I have heard before a band that draws upon this much diversity and incorporates it so well into jazz blended jams that lean as much on the prog scene as it does the jam band scene.
A crude representation for this band would be as if an American jam band such as Phish or String Cheese Incident grew up on such notables as Porcupine Tree and The Tangent and then made something to pay tribute to all of the above. It is a diverse sound that just as easily can drop down into a Pink Floyd sounding moody keyboard groove as a thickly laid metal riff bar set.
The sound quality for this live presentation is fairly well done. It is especially suited to carrying the more delicate guitar work while keeping the setting close and intimate. Every detail is captured from the drum set, but to me, this type of music asks more from the drummer. It really sounds like the setting was captured and puts the listener right there; although when the drummer and the bassist should be setting a deep groove to lay the foundation for the jams, they seem to not communicate very well and lose their footing.
Normally, live shows captured without a huge budget fall into the trappings of using gaudy and distracting effects, but not here. The camera angles and effects are not overdone and capture the great light show without creating a visual annoyance. It would have been nice to have broader sweeping camera views to better capture the entire stage show when the songs open up and pull away from individual efforts.
This DVD is equipped to deliver 5.1 or 2.0 audio, interviews, warm up before the show, a biographical segment, photos, and desktop images (CD-ROM). None of the extras are too fancy or critical to the product; the concert footage is enough to justify this DVD.
To conclude, Osada Vida really shine as a jam band of very proficient technicians, especially at the guitar. They also come off as mediocre while plodding through song intros on their way into the flow of the jams (the vocals don't help). My next task is to catch up on the catalogue. This truly is a nice display of prog/jam band prowess that makes full use of a vast array of musical genres and melds them together for a dramatic and artful composition worthy of their influences. The eventful signatures and dramatic long songs make this act a contender here in progland.
Good variety, good songs, but maybe this act would be better suited stepping even closer to the category of "instrumental".
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
PBII - PBII@Boerderij.org [DVD]
DVD - Book of Changes, In the Arms of A Gemini, Loneliness, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Ladrillo, Criticize the Critics, It's your Life, Fata Morgana, Living by the Dice, Cradle to Cradle
Extras - Weak Turns to Strong, Here Comes the Flood, Have a Cigar, Countdown, 1000 Wishes, Never Old, Plastic Soup (video)
While I am writing this review of a concert DVD to support the launch of the debut album from PBII, 2010's Plastic Soup, listeners are already enjoying their new project, 1000 Wishes, theatre shows for which are still ongoing. Despite the DVD being released in 2011 it is still well worth reviewing after such a long delay.
The packaging is very good, the menu on the DVD looking like the PBII website, or maybe that should be the other way around. But what of the footage? Great musicians, a great venue and an ample performance. As this was a launch for the album, PBII made every effort to make it an evening not to forget. Michel van Wassem, Ronald Brautigam, Tom van der Meulen and Harry den Hartog invited a few guests to enlighten the evening even more. They had John Jowitt and John Mitchell performing with them and as an additional visual enhancement Heidi Jo Hines sings with the band on two songs.
The registration of the concert is absolutely fabulous, the addition of extra visuals with The Great Pacific Garbage Patch for instance makes the experience even better.
My interest was especially taken with Ladrillo, a bass solo by Harry den Hartog. The sheer beauty of this piece can make everyone understand what can be achieved on bass guitar. The guitar solo played by John Mitchell in Cradle to Cradle ends with a fantastic duet with Ronald, smashing to see and hear that. That John Jowitt is an excellent bass player becomes very clear when plays on Fata Morgana and Heidi Jo sings as if it was her life in It's Your Life.
In the extra additions we see the guests all return as singers, Hines in Weak Turns To Strong, Mitchell for Here Comes the Flood and Jowitt in Have A Cigar. To make everything complete the video for Plastic Soup is added to the extras as is a trailer demo for the now released 1000 Wishes project. Another song, Never Old, sees Alex van Elswijk play bass and Ronald Slakhorst on lead vocals making way for what is to come.
All in all PBII@Boerderij.org is a great record of a live performance by an excellent Dutch Neo prog band.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10