Album Reviews

Issue 2022-060

Duo Review

Robert Berry's 3.2 — Alive at ProgStock

CD: 54:08, 53:32; DVD: 109:06
Robert Berry's 3.2 - Alive at ProgStock
CD 1: Life Beyond L.A. (5:01), No One Else to Blame (6:10), Desde La Vida (7:34), Powerful Man (4:53), Last Ride Into the Sun (9:58), Minstrel in the Gallery (5:27), You Do or You Don’t (3:29)
CD 2: CD 2: Roundabout (7:38), Can’t Let Go (3:58), Somebody’s Watching (5:10), Talkin’ Bout (3:59), Eight Miles High (5:28), Deck the Halls (4:38), Watcher of the Skies (8:08), Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression, Part 1) (9:10)
DVD: Life Beyond L.A. (5:01), No One Else to Blame (6:10), Desde La Vida (7:34), Powerful Man (4:53), Last Ride Into the Sun (9:58), Minstrel in the Gallery (5:27), You Do or You Don’t (3:29), Roundabout (7:38), Can’t Let Go (3:58), Somebody’s Watching (5:10), Talkin’ Bout (3:59), Eight Miles High (5:28), Deck the Halls (4:38), Watcher of the Skies (8:08), Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression, Part 1) (9:10)
Geoff Feakes

Robert Berry is a name that should be familiar to DPRP readers. Like current Yes bassist Billy Sherwood, he is a multi-talented American musician with a history of involvement with UK acts and producing tribute albums. In 1988, he formed the band 3 with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer, effectively replacing Greg Lake. They released just the one album, To The Power Of Three, and a belated follow-up was abandoned in 2016 due to Emerson's untimely death. Berry revisited the album in 2018 and released it under the 3.2 banner as The Rules Have Changed, followed by Third Impression in 2021.

In 2019, Berry took 3.2 on the road across North America, and this three-disc set captures the band at the Third International ProgStock Festival in New Jersey on the 11th October. Berry handles bass, acoustic guitar and lead vocals, supported by Andrew Colyer (Circuline) on keyboards and vocals, Jimmy Keegan (Spock's Beard) on drums and vocals, and Paul Keller (3) on lead guitar and vocals. The set list is a selection of material from Berry's long and varied career, including songs from 3, 3.2, Ambrosia, December People, solo albums, and several audience-friendly cover versions.

The first thing that strikes you, is what a fine band this is. I'm not sure how many dates they played before ProgStock, but considering they don't perform together on a full-time basis, they're incredibly tight. That's evident from the punchy opener Life Beyond L.A., an Ambrosia song that dates back to 1978. Keegan really muscles his way through this song, as he does on the tuneful No One Else To Blame, which Berry co-wrote with Steve Howe for an aborted second album by GTR. Keller does an amazing job of recreating the Yes guitarist's distinct tone.

With two Keith Emerson fans in the band (Berry and Colyer) it's evident that there's going to be several nods to the keyboard maestro. Colyer captures his spirit to perfection during Desde La Vida, a highlight of the To The Power Of Three album. He's more than a copyist however, something he displays on the majestic Last Ride Into The Sun with its myriad of time changes and superb piano, organ and synth soloing.

Robert Berry's 3.2 at ProgStock 2019. Promo photo by Brian Tirpak.

Berry has a knack of combining tuneful melodies with prog-rock sensibilities, which explains why he's been so successful in America. Powerful Man is ridiculously catchy, while Can't Let Go is a personal song about separation. Despite the subject, it's in the upbeat style of Asia. The infectious Talkin' Bout was deservedly a hit single for 3 in 1988 and it was here that I realised how similar Berry's voice is to Chris Thompson of Manfred Mann's Earth Band fame.

Although they're scattered across the two CDs, I've left the cover versions until last. Thankfully, the band don't slavishly copy, instead they put their own spin on these classics which generally are given a harder, more contemporary edge. Berry demonstrates his acoustic guitar picking talents on Minstrel In The Gallery before an almost unrecognisable Roundabout opens the second CD. Colyer creates eerie keyboard effects, before the rest of the band come crashing in with the familiar syncopated rhythm and a pumping bass line. The vocal harmonies on the choral hook are superb and the Hammond solo is replaced by Keller's shredding, which puts it closer to Yes-West than it does 1970s Yes.

Despite it being a Byrds classic, Eight Miles High has that unmistakable Emerson touch, particularly when it morphs into Fanfare For The Common Man to close. Deck The Halls sung by Keegan is a whimsical diversion, and is combined with another Christmas perennial Three Ships, but in the powerhouse style of Rush. Watcher Of The Skies is likely to divide Genesis fans, even though the gothic keyboard intro is intact. The song itself builds from slow, moody beginnings, before getting into its majestic stride, complete with the familiar staccato rhythm.

Perhaps fittingly, 3.2 bow-out with the first part of ELP's most acclaimed work, Karn Evil 9. It certainly provides an explosive finale, full of pomp and drama, and even if you're familiar with the original, you can't help but be impressed by the speed and agility of these guys. The songs on both CDs are preceded by Berry's informative introductions which, thoughtfully, have been put on separate tracks; so if you so choose, they can be bypassed using the skip button on your remote.

The DVD video footage is crystal clear with several camera angles including close-up shots of drums and keyboards which is always welcome in my book. Visually, the band's phenomenal technique can be fully appreciated, and unless my eyes deceive me, Berry plays a 5-string headless bass guitar. The only disappointment is that there is not a single shot of the audience, although judging by the enthusiastic response to each song, they are there and they are clearly enjoying themselves. This excellent three-disc set is sure to elicit a similar response.

Jan Buddenberg

Robert Berry probably needs no introduction. Personally I know him from his contributions to various tribute albums issued by the illustrious Magna Carta label (e.g. Tales Of Yesterday, Supper's Ready) some 20 years ago and the obvious involvement with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer, which resulted in the short-lived project 3.

Berry recently took the show on the road for a 29-date North American tour entitled Night Of The Living Prog, also taking him to the 2019 edition of the International ProgStock Festival at The Union County Performance Arts Center, New Jersey. Alive At Progstock is the beautiful registration of that wonderful night.

I have to confess that over the past decades I mostly watched Berry's (solo) career from a sidelines, sometimes peeking into his playing field when for instance an interesting collaboration like All 41, with Terry Brock of Strangeways fame came along. No particular reason as to why not more often, for most of his musical escapades are quite appealing. It just happened that way. The very first Facebook-only promo shared for Alive At Progstock made sure I had no other choice than to secure me a VIP ticket into his arena!

The clip shown encompasses the first seven minutes of 3.2's ProgStock concert and sees an engaging Berry (vocals, bass and acoustic guitar) walk up to the microphone and address his audience in a humble, thanking and relaxed way, thereupon inviting his three musical alliances on stage one by one.

A few sound adjustments later, this amazingly-gifted foursome then surpasses my wildest dreams as they knock it out of the ballpark with a blasting version of Ambrosia's Life Beyond L.A.; one of my much cherished and all-time favourite compositions. An awesome surprise to say the least and to make matters worse for my yearly music budget, it's not the only surprise in this live set. They say that sometimes stars align, well the night of the 11th October 2019 is a wondrous testimony to this.

The biggest surprise is the set's overall enjoyment factor, with songs that jump out off one's speakers or screen. Captured in calm and steady camera work, highlighting the musicians perfectly from multiple angles, it shows a band on fire which combined with a great sound quality, and Berry's humour-laced elaborations on the various origins of the songs is a feast for ear and eye.

Some stage lighting is fairly dark, which renders Berry's black bass almost invisible at times, and some applause transitions on the CDs could have used some smoothing, but these are only minor aspects that prove to be of little consequence.

Life Beyond LA isn't the only cover played, for one also finds potent performances of classic cuts like Watcher Of The Skies and Eight Miles High, the latter seguing into a snippet of ELP's Fanfare For The Common Man. Equally great are the rock-fuelled versions of Roundabout and Minstrel In The Gallery, each receiving a new life through their lushly altered and partially unrecognisable structures as recorded all those years ago on the various Magna Carta tributes.

Robert Berry's 3.2 at ProgStock 2019. Promo photo by Brian Tirpak.

Amidst these covers, the band soars through a set of beguiling songs, each one more beautiful and enchanting than the last. Keeping momentum after the shows divine opening, we hear Keller silencing the audience with an astonishing performance in No One Else To Blame, written for GTR's never-realised second album and featured on Berry's Pilgrimage To A Point, while Berry's powerful voice resonates in a marvellous John Wetton way. Together with the energetic dynamics of the song and zest in performance I'm reminded of Asia's debut album, still their finest achievement in my book.

The daringly complex and prefectly played Desde La Vida follows, which shows as to why Berry was recruited by Emerson and Palmer all those years ago.

Colyer obviously has his work seriously cut out for him, having to interpret and replicate the intricate and daunting parts of Emerson, Wakeman and Banks but his performance is phenomenal throughout.

The acoustic You Do Or You Don't provides a short resting point before they dive into a fiercely played and catchy Can't Let Go, once again emitting a sublime Asia feel thanks to Keller's excellent solo. Somebody's Watching soars into the crossover pop of Talkin' Bout and splashes down on the completely reworked Eight Miles High, which oozes ELP in extremis and brings exceptionally fine interplay with a fantastic guitar/keytar duel to boot.

The gallery play continues in Deck The Halls, a December People composition sung by Jimmy "I brought my A-game" Keegan. Set in a truly remarkable Rush spirit, this chiming Christmas song marks an excitingly fun segment in the set and is a superb testimony towards Berry's amazing arrangement skills. The show ends on a definite high with ELP's Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression, Part 1).

Seeing Colyer juggle and fly all over his synths and Roli Seaboard on this brilliant closer, is a marvellous sight. These final minutes represent a fabulous finale destined for those lucky men and women who attended the show, to become a story you tell your grand-children for years to come.

To say this sublime set has taken me by surprise is quite an understatement, for I'm blown away by the energetic sensation enclosed within this marvellous career retrospective. Embedded with honest purity and fantastic musicianship, this to me is an ensured top ten contender of which I Just Can't Get Enough. It has also made me aware of several bygone efforts by Berry and his companions that I need to take a much closer look at. Meanwhile, Berry's future plans look equally promising, having joined forces with Ian Crichton (Saga) and Nigel Glockler (Saxon) for Six By Six.

Fans of symphonic rock/prog, especially those in favour of ELP, Asia and Yes, should add this extraordinary package to their collection and enjoy it for years to come. I know that I will!

Album Reviews