Prog review of 2013 (originally posted 29/12/13)

By ProgBlog, Apr 20 2014 08:51PM

I’m not a great believer in lists like ‘my top 10 albums of all time’ because, although I do have favourites, I generally rely on rationality and it’s virtually impossible to apply a set of rational, logical conditions when it comes to something as emotive as music in its myriad forms. However, as this blog has been running for a few months and we’ve come to an (un)natural watershed, that is new year, I’m going to do something lazy and look back on what, from my perspective, has been a good year for progressive rock. It’s not a top 10 list but I think it stems from the same principle: laziness! On the other hand, we don’t learn unless we reflect...

The release of La Maschera di Cera’s Le Porte Del Domani and the simultaneous English version The Gates of Tomorrow at the beginning of the year was momentous because it referenced classic progressivo Italiano, both stylistically and conceptually. PFM, Le Orme and Banco del Mutuo Soccorso all released English language versions of some of their albums in the 70s but this release was conceived as a follow-up to the story of Le Orme’s twin planets Felona and Sorona. This was a risky strategy, inviting comparisons with what many regard as one of the greatest RPI albums of all time but Le Porte Del Domani had an epic, almost cinematic scope and I believe the gambit was a major success. I had two trips to Italy in 2013; a Tuscan trip based around Pisa and the pre-Christmas Venice trip. I picked up a variety of CDs and a couple of books, in Italian, about progressivo Italiano. It’s interesting that it’s quite easy to find classic RPI in record shops but it’s not so easy to find more recent releases. I’ve got two Maschera di Cera albums as mp3 download only and I’d really like them on CD.

The Steven Wilson release and subsequent two-part tour of The Raven that Refused to Sing and Other Stories cemented him as the dominant contemporary prog act. Backed by some eminently able musicians, Raven displayed some great song-craft and remained forward-looking while referencing some early influences. This is how I like my prog. I was fortunate enough to get to see the live show at the Royal Albert Hall in October and it didn’t disappoint – from introductory video to Gong-like extended jam encore, so much excellent music was crammed into the performance.

It was altogether a good year for gigs. The week following Steven Wilson, I went to see a reformed Camel played a reworked Snow Goose in its entirety at the Barbican Hall. The short tour represented something of a personal triumph for Andy Latimer, able to perform live again after his lengthy recuperation following stem cell transplantation for myelofibrosis, brought on by the progressive blood disorder polycythaemia vera. The concert was mostly taken up by Snow Goose but also included highlights from the Camel canon. It was good that Latimer has recovered sufficiently to carry on playing live but the weather almost prevented the audience from attending. Public transport had been shut down the preceding evening in anticipation of exceptionally high winds and it barely got going by the time of the show. It hardly mattered that getting home by rail was problematical - the concert had been really enjoyable.

Back in April I’d gone to see The Musical Box recreate The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Though there are hints that the classic Genesis line-up might get back together, The Lamb is not the favourite album of too many of the former band members so I felt it was not unreasonable to have a snap shot of 1974 performed as accurately as possible by an amazing cover band. The preparation for the live show is unbelievably detailed, including the between song banter that was pieced together from recordings of Peter Gabriel’s original stories and the band’s costumes. They even had the original triptych slide presentation. It goes without saying that The Musical Box are very, very good musicians and, apart from some difficulties with the vocals, I imagine this was just like being back in the 70s watching the real thing.

Van der Graaf Generator playing at the Barbican at the end of June was a great gig. The trio belted out recent material and some classics, including the entire Plague of Lighthouse Keepers suite. I preferred them as a quartet but Hugh Banton and Peter Hammill somehow make up for the lack of the woodwind player, and with such power! Watching them live is like an aural tour-de-force.

The best gig of the year was Steve Hackett on the Genesis Revisited tour. Having missed out on the Hammersmith show, Jim and I embarked on a Boy’s Weekend Away and went to see Hackett in Dublin. As a youth I wrote essays for English based on travel to fictitious gigs and this was a kind of real-life example, without any of the dramatically necessary mishaps. The venue, Vicar Street, is set up cabaret style, but the hall has a high ceiling (reminiscent of the Komedia in Brighton) and the sound was bright and clear. Having just witnessed a cover band playing Genesis material, and then seeing the former guitarist revisiting his past was interesting. I preferred Hackett by a mile. Perhaps The Lamb recreation was too controlled especially compared to Hackett who was able to put all his feeling into guitar parts that he’d written. It was also great to hear a wide range of Genesis songs played by one of the main protagonists again – obviously his live shows include some Genesis material – but this was something really special. The Guardian’s music critic didn’t get the point of this tour, but then I don’t imagine he was the right age to have sat listening to the original vinyl albums, gatefold sleeve opened before him, following the lyrics... Tickets for the Hammersmith concert in 2014 have already been purchased.

2013 has been very productive in terms of personal progressive rock experiences. Tickets have been acquired for a couple of shows for next year and if it’s anywhere near as good as 2013, 2014 is going to be another great year for prog.

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I was lucky enough to get to see two gigs in Italy last summer while the UK live music industry was halted and unsupported by the government, and the subsequent year-long gap between going to see bands play live has been frustrating - but necessary.

The first weekend in September marked the return of live prog in England, and ProgBlog was there...

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