Progventure Part 10: Night Of The Prog X, Loreley, Germany, 17-19.07.2015
|Event:||Night Of The Prog Festival X: 10th Anniversary|
Night Of The Prog 2015 - Loreley, Germany, 19.07.2015 by Ivor (90)
Night Of The Prog 2015 - Loreley, Germany, 18.07.2015 by Ivor (100)
Night Of The Prog 2015 - Loreley, Germany, 17.07.2015 by Ivor (95)
On the mesmerizing banks of the river Rhein, on the top of a huge rock called Loreley, Night of the Prog celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. For the first time it spanned three days over the weekend bringing listeners 21 bands in total. Too few, you say? Given only one stage, it's more like 21 individual full concerts in a row - a speciality of the event that is becoming a must-visit summer festival for anyone into prog.
Coincidentally, it was also 10 years ago that I happened to make my first festival trip abroad to Graspop which, also coincidentally, was the location of probably the first Metal Storm meeting ever. Much time has passed and many meetings have been held since then. This story is, sadly, not about another meeting. This is, however, a story about what started for me back then, something that I've been calling Progventures in recent years.
The primary reason for travelling to Graspop in 2005 was Dream Theater, a cornerstone of my prog listening preferences at the time. While listening habits change, in 10 years prog music has undoubtedly been a catalyst of many of my travels abroad and, as Night of the Prog proves, it still is. During this decade I've seen quite a decent amount of bands play which, by some measures, is still peanuts. There will always be a lot more bands that I haven't seen, that I'd want to see, possibly again and again. However, this amount and a decade of trips is enough to grow a bit reflective and philosophical about how I view music, the bands and the people that play it.
Night of the Prog is an interesting event in its being so alike and so unlike many others. It's a bridge between generations where a lifetime of experience meets fresh musical passion, where old and young people enjoy music side by side. On one hand it's like any other festival that invests in the crowd-drawing power of established acts for tail end of days. On the other hand there only is one stage and you never feel that the festival is living many separate smaller lives at the same time. There's only one rhythm to which the whole festival breathes. There's also a feeling of deep respect in giving each artist at least one hour of stage time.
Neal Morse & Mike Portnoy - The Neal Morse Band
In a way, this festival became a meeting point of ideas and their carriers, a ground where memes prosper and take measure. For clarity's sake it's probably worth noting that the term refers to an idea or a concept that spreads from person to person as if having an agenda of its own, rather than referring to the more simplistic Internet image memes that are so widespread nowadays. So, while the bands were given decent play time, I was given ample time to reflect on how it all translates into memes, and what actually appears important to me in different cases.
What got me started on this whole concept of memes was Mike Portnoy performing with Neal Morse on the first day. Despite being plagued by a multitude of technical issues, The Neal Morse Band delivered an exceptionally good show, and alongside Neal (well, obviously), a key element was Mike. His presence on stage and in the band made me aware of what is missing in Dream Theater nowadays. It'll be a pages long argument to explain it in detail - and it's somewhat awkward to think of Mike Portnoy as an idea or a concept - but it kind of comes down to the conclusion that while Dream Theater was not Mike Portnoy, and Mike Portnoy was not Dream Theater, it was nevertheless Mike who breathed life into the band. What is missing in today's Dream Theater live shows was present in force on stage with The Neal Morse Band.
An example of similar nature was Anneke van Giersbergen who made her appearance with The Gentle Storm, albeit without Arjen Lucassen. Anneke shines regardless of being under the weather, which she curiously was for the second time in a row I've seen her sing. As with Mike, it's rather more important that it's her performing than the music she is with on stage. In retrospect it's also been like that at The Gathering's last show before she quit the band, their special 25th anniversary show, her appearance with Devin Townsend, as well as her acoustic performance on The Gentle Storm album promo tour, either solo or with Arjen. It's her stage presence you're going to be enjoying and apprehending. However, it's not just all about Anneke in all of the cases above, and there's definitely more to be said about The Gentle Storm in the context of memes but I'll get to that later on.
Anneke van Giersbergen - The Gentle Storm
Yet another and probably a more powerful example of a person being a meme, was unquestionably the headliner of the second day: Fish performing Marillion's Misplaced Childhood. The reason is not actually the album being delivered in full but Fish himself. Fish is a showman if there ever was one, a Scottish character of powerful bearing, meant to appear on a bigger stage before a sizeable audience. And while to his audience it probably is important what tunes Fish delivers, the man rises rather above the content. It could as well have not been Misplaced Childhood, he'd have fared equally well, at least in my eyes and ears. It's just that the two together amplified the experience.
So, the first conclusion I reached, that of a person being a meme, confirmed two things. Firstly, the proverb suggesting to follow the musician rather than the band has a very valid point. Secondly, it's not necessarily the music said musician creates but something we call character and charisma that attracts us. We've all got our favourites, and we will always find new favourites if we're open to it. But once hooked on somebody, we're often prone to cherish their performances regardless of the context and content.
The second revelation, if you will, came while listening to Pain Of Salvation. My first reaction when the band entered the stage, was of utter bafflement. For all my love for this band, I could not remember that they had switched their bassist, keyboardist as well as guitarist since the last time I saw them. Some of it kind of rang a bell but all that at once seemed rather a large change. However, by their second entrance to the stage after having blown out the amplification - which by the way Neal Morse also almost but not quite managed - I kind of had it figured out what makes this band what it is.
I think you also know the answer. Pain Of Salvation is Daniel Gildenlöw. Without discrediting or meaning any disrespect towards the past, the present or the future members of the band, the truth is that without Daniel there just is no band. They are inseparable in this meme. This is the third different line-up incarnation I've seen over the years and while I figured it deeply mattered when the drummer left all those years ago, I've come to realise that the musical legacy is tightly tied up with Daniel and it doesn't matter that it's older material performed with new members. Frankly, of the couple of shows I've seen, this was one the strongest I've seen the band appear. Quite possibly the reason behind it is that they played a hell of a lot of old stuff being heavily biased towards Remedy Lane.
Daniel Gildenlöw - Pain Of Salvation
A passable reference at this point could probably be made with Steve Rothery and Marillion being synonymous. However, Marillion having a long stable line-up speaks a bit against that parallel. However, even more vocal is the fact that when Rothery paid tribute to Fish with "Lavender" off Misplaced Childhood, you had to admit that Fish had been rather more powerful and engaging, and as far as that album is concerned, it's Fish you'd want to make synonymous with Marillion. To appear on stage with Rothery was probably a dream come true for the Marillion tribute band Stillmarillion's singer Martin Jakubski.
One could probably also argue that Camel and Andrew Latimer are by now synonymous, but since I'm not really in touch with Camel's music, there were other observations I was making during their show. It became evident that it's really mind-boggling how many modern prog bands have been heavily influenced by Camel, the sheer amount of familiar sounding musical ideas that have been reiterated nowadays that I could recognise was just astounding.
Which brought me to the third conclusion, a thought that got fully confirmed when Steve Hackett was on stage playing Genesis for the very last time. I purposefully omitted Hackett in prior arguments even though he is unquestionably a character in his own right. More so probably than anyone else present at the festival. His skills and his bearing are of master class few can ever hope to achieve. However, the material he played lives a life of its own. The ideas originating with Genesis and also Camel have become so powerful that it oftentimes doesn't matter if they are used in the context of source of inspiration, derivation, blatant copying, or a tribute. Many of the tunes are just that good.
It could be speculated, that the ultimate level of greatness a musical meme can achieve, is that of independence, of complete separation from the author and the original performer. Think of classical music. Think Bach or Mozart. If you love their compositions, it matters less by which orchestra their works are performed or who conducts the orchestra. I'm not implying it's not important at all but you will inadvertently accept different takes if these takes are good. Going further, think of all the contemporary renditions of their compositions.
Need closer examples? Think of blues where musicians do a lot of reinterpretation of older tunes. You learn to appreciate both sides, the song in its new incarnation as well as the musician performing. Which brings us back to Genesis in particular. Indeed, it matters that it's Hackett playing those songs, and that it's his reinterpretation of his older tunes. But I've also seen a fair share of these songs being performed by the Italian band The Watch and it was great each time. It's just the scale, the strength and the ability to take root of the original music that is different. But the legacy, either as complete songs or inspiration, will live on after the great minds who created them pass on. In this regard, the music of Camel and Genesis are already flying high in one form or another.
This, in turn, also brings us back to The Gentle Storm, or Arjen Lucassen. On a lesser scale, his music is also flying free because, as time goes on, it seems to matter less who his music is performed by. Maybe it's because the man himself doesn't really do shows anymore. Maybe it's because I've been lucky to have seen him perform. Or maybe it's because a lot of his music has nigh uncountable amount of guests and most of the musicians comprising The Gentle Storm have appeared on various albums of his as well as played live shows with him, shows that I have happened to see either in real life or in video. So it can as well be that this familiarity is enough to accept the music without feeling cheated or disappointed. However, while "Valley of the Queens" is still only truly acceptable with Anneke, "Isis and Osiris" is Ayreon even with this band performing. Would have loved to hear Fish on that one, though.
Another class of concepts living in this ecosystem includes the bands as a whole. While in the case of Riverside you could say it's Mariusz Duda without whom there would be no band, seeing how well the band functions, I have hard time picturing the unit without any of its current members. Nor would I consider attempts at their music by others as serious at the present time. However, don't think less of Riverside as a meme because it's members and the music are tightly knit together. Night of the Prog seems to bring out the best in many performers, and Riverside did the best show I've seen them play. Not only that, it was one of the best of the festival.
I've also come to treat Beardfish as a whole unit, as well as Lazuli and IO Earth. The former of these because I've come to recognise the skill of its members, the latter ones because I've not yet learned where to draw the line. Haken also feels like a whole which was especially proven by their new bass player. As technical as these guys are, as irreplaceable as any of them appear, it's still Haken and their music together that is important. This could also be said about smaller bands that haven't yet managed to establish themselves and their music as a force of their own, or the band unknown to me. Usually in those cases it's the unfamiliarity with the band that makes me treat them as a whole. Although, there are exceptions, like The Enid whose present vocalist Joe Payne is by far better than the music he performs with. The spirit of Freddy is strong in this one.
As I said in the beginning, for me this festival transformed itself into an ecosystem of memes floating around and interacting. It's of lesser importance what these memes exactly are, whether it's a single musician or a band as a whole, whether it's the original music or its derivatives in one form or another. The strength of these ideas, however, comes not only from within but also from without. True greatness also needs recognition. It needs carriers. It needs belief. It needs carriers that accept it and truly believe in it. This particular thought was drawing itself to two novels the whole time I contemplated about music in terms of memes. In my mind I kept returning to Neil Gaiman's American Gods and, yes, Terry Pratchett's Small Gods, the latter being less serious reading than the former but no less insightful because of that. There are ideas in both novels that can be applied to the discussion at hand.
Which is all not to say that I didn't enjoy the performances on individual levels; either band or musician, or the festival as a whole. I liked more bands than I am able to describe in this essay of an overview but not everything lends itself well to furthering discussion at hand. I will, however, be remembering this festival for more than just its individual shows. The enjoyable company I travelled with, the surprising fact that there were 16+-1 Estonians at the event, and most of all for the intense heat that almost made us all suffer all contributed to the experience. Night of the Prog is a strong concept in its 10th edition, the first as a three day event. Let's hope they keep it like this in future iterations as well. Definitely more fun this way.
Written on 18.08.2015 by
I shoot people.
Sometimes, I also write about it.
And one day I'm going to start a band. We're going to be playing pun-rock.
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