Published on 13th July 2017
Midsummer Prog Festival 2017
Openlucht Theater Valkenburg, Netherlands
Saturday, 24th June 2017
Photos courtesy of Gerianne Brentners
The final weekend of June saw the inaugural running of the Midsummer Prog Festival. Apparently, organising a Prog festival in The Netherlands has been a burning ambition of Rob Palmen, owner of Glassville Music and long-time lover and promoter of prog, which finally came together in collaboration with Muziekgirterij and Openlucht Theater Valkenburg.
Before getting onto the music, special mention of the Openlucht Theater – it is a truly lovely place! Imagine a mini-Loreley, if you would, as it has a similar feel, but only seats 750 people (sold-out well in advance) which lends it an even more relaxed and intimate atmosphere. Organisation was excellent, with friendly staff (apparently all volunteers), food was decent and beer was great. On top of that, it was a very short-walk between acts to wander into the historic town of Valkenburg, with its winding streets, bars and restaurants – really nice! I have to admit that getting to the venue was a little chaotic though, due to it coinciding with the annual Caveman Run, which made things a bit confusing, but we got there in the end, with ample time to spare.
Bang-on schedule, first to hit the stage were Caligula’s Horse from Brisbane, Australia. These young lads already have three albums of intelligent prog-metal under their belts, with a new concept album, In Contact, due out this September. This is a band I’ve fallen in love with over the last few months and I had high expectations for seeing them live, which they totally fulfilled. Singer Jim Grey immediately had the crowd on his side, with his relaxed Aussie sense-of-humour – “put up your hands who knows our second album. Ah, well this song is for the fifteen of you”. They gave a flawless and lively performance, drawing mainly from their last two albums, Bloom and The Thief. The lead-guitar work of Sam Vallen particularly impressed during the more technical passages, but the band are more than just crunching riffs, arpeggios, tapping and unisons – they mix up the heavier stuff with some superb melodies and strong lyrics. In many respects they remind me of Leprous, with a little Haken thrown-in, although they by no means copy either band.
I don’t think I would have chosen a better set for myself, pretty much all my favourites were present and I was totally stoked that they included Water’s Edge. Marigold and Rust from Bloom also got the pulse racing – amazing quality for an opening act, which didn’t let-up for the whole 45 minutes they played.
Needless to say, they went down a storm, the audience erupting in a standing ovation at the end and then swamping the band when they made an appearance at the merchandise stand, and judging by the amount of swag they sold, the number of people with their last album went up by an order of magnitude. Quality act.
Setlist: Marigold, The City Has No Empathy, Dark Hair Down, Water’s Edge, Firelight, Daughter of the Mountain, Rust
After a civilised 45 minute break, Iamthemorning took to the stage with full band including cello and violin. If you don’t know Iamthemorning then you should imagine a darkly depressing version of Tori Amos/Kate Bush, played by chamber orchestra on a cold winter’s day in St. Petersburg. As singer Marjana Semkina points-out, multiple times, “our songs are about death”, or from their Twitter feed: “Mixing prog with classical music and writing songs about death”.
I have to admit that I struggled with them a bit, but this isn’t to say they aren’t good, no, they are incredibly good. Marjana’s voice is very sweet and her stage presence excellent, kind of commanding and very fragile at the same time as she cavorts about, swishing her pretty dress around. Added to this, Gleb Kolyadin is an incredibly skilled classical pianist, very technically adept. Maybe that’s the issue with them, it’s perhaps a little too much to take on-board in a live setting unless you’re familiar with the songs already, which I’m not (although I did listen to their albums a few times to prepare myself). It seemed that many in the audience were familiar though and although they didn’t get the raucous applause of Caligula’s Horse, there was rapt attention to all-round – clearly many appreciated them very much. Certainly a band to investigate a bit more from their three studio albums, the strangely entitled ~, Belighted and Lighthouse – they need a quiet space and total attention to be appreciated fully. Prog comes in many flavours…
Marjana and Gleb stayed for the rest of the festival, sitting in the crowd, happy to chat to people and clearly enjoying the other bands. It’s always good to see this and demonstrated the relaxed atmosphere of the event very nicely.
Setlist: Inside, Scotland, To Human Misery, Romance, 5/4, Os Lunatum, Sleeping Pills, Libretto Horror, Matches, Chalk and Coal, K.O.S.
Pain Of Salvation
Pain of Salvation up next, with Daniel Gildenlöw immediately commanding the whole amphitheatre. “Are you ready for this? Are you ready for this!?”, he cried as they launched into Full Throttle Tribe from the latest album, In The Passing Light of Day. It was clear that everyone was ready for it, very much so, waves of energy flowing to the band, which they clearly felt judging by the performance they gave us. Intensity is the word and intense they were, taking no prisoners in a heavy-as-fuck rendition of Reasons. This was Pain of Salvation at their very best – brutal and in your face.
Meaningless, also from The Passing Light followed, before we were treated to three tracks – A Trace of Blood, Rope Ends and Beyond the Pale – from the magnificent and ever popular Remedy Lane, which is always guaranteed to get the crowd going. After their “hit-single”, Ashes, two more from The Passing Light – On A Tuesday and the title track – the former once again bursting with energy and aggression, the latter, dedicated to Daniel’s wife, a sombre, albeit life-affirming, lower-key end to a super performance.
In April, guitarist Ragnar Zolberg left the band, to be replaced by former member Johan Hallgren, but regardless of your thoughts on this change, it’s as though Johan never left and has picked-up the new material incredibly quickly. “Fuck fear. Fuck hate”, said Daniel as they left the stage – damn fine words in our current times. It’s a shame, however, that the band didn’t come out to greet the fans, but then again, there might have been a stampede. Great to see PoS in such top form!
Setlist: Full Throttle Tribe, Reasons, Meaningless, A Trace of Blood, Rope Ends, Beyond the Pale, Ashes, On a Tuesday, The Passing Light of Day
Now Gazpacho are a band that defy categorisation, with their eclectic mix of folk, rock, prog and ambience – they really cover many bases, and I’m not altogether certain they work best in a live, open environment, with some of the subtleties of the songs not necessarily coming across. This is only the second time I’ve seen them perform and I was looking froward to it very much, but ultimately wasn’t totally satisfied with what I heard. I think this might be somewhat down to the setlist, with four songs coming from my least favourite albums, Missa Atropos and Molok, a bit of a head-scratcher there as I know I’m not alone with such opinions – to be more precise, I find both albums lacking melody and it’s so difficult to remember any of the tracks.
Enough of the negatives though, the rest of the setlist was very enjoyable, The Walk, Parts 1 & 2 beautifully washing across the audience in the warm summer evening, I’ve Been Walking (Part 2), from the magnificent Demon album, Dream of Stone and Upside Down from Night – these three tracks in particular showcasing Jan-Henrik Ohme’s unique voice and haunting melodies. I was a little disappointed not to hear Valerie’s Friend, but I’ve been told in the meantime that it doesn’t quite suit Jan-Henrik – serves me right for not getting out on the last tour, where they did play it. The band wrapped-up with Winter is Never, from Tick-Tock – another evocative piece that did work very well in the setting.
Overall a competent and enjoyable performance, but it lacked a little spark. This might be because the band haven’t played live for a while and were a bit rusty, or might be that the aforementioned songs put me off a bit. When they did hit the spot, they were sublime, but issues with the sound and mix spoiled things at times too. It was also disappointing that they didn’t play more from Demon and nothing from March of Ghosts. All this being said, they went down a storm with the crowd, so perhaps it’s just me!
Setlist: Vera, The Walk, Part 1 & 2, Know Your Time, I’ve Been Walking (Part 2), Dream of Stone, Upside Down, Splendid Isolation, Winter Is Never
Anathema headlined the event and I will admit straight away that I no longer regard them as a Prog band, if indeed they ever were. From their roots in doom-metal, through the more indie albums, to somewhat proggy-new-age pop, they’ve now morphed into a pure pop band, OK, maybe pop-rock, but Prog they aren’t. In my opinion, I think they’ve become too predictable with their music from Weather Systems onward, each album sounding much like the last; their peak, for me, was with We’re Here Because We’re Here – which they played three tracks from this evening.
All this being said, they do put on a strong live show with a lot of energy and they’ve very good with the crowd; up until this moment, the audience had avoided the front of the stage (I think by direction of the organisers), but following the opener, Untouchable, Daniel and Vincent lambasted people to get up, get down and get dancing, which they did, in fairly large numbers – those at the front almost nose-to-nose with the band! This made for a great atmosphere and I couldn’t resist to join them myself, somewhat weary, but soaking-up the good vibes.
Several songs from the new album, The Optimist, were on display. This has been hailed as a “return to form” by many pundits, but I can’t say I totally agree. For sure they’ve added some ambient sounds and some pulsing electronica parts, but it’s still lacking the grandeur of earlier albums. My personal highlights were the three tracks from the aforementioned We’re Here Because We’re Here: Thin Air, Dreaming Light and Universal, followed by the title-track and Closer from A Natural Disaster – the former being a particular favourite of myself and clearly everyone present.
Regardless of my reservations, Anathema are a lot of fun live and this was a great performance, a rousing and energetic end, and very popular with the audience.
Setlist: Untouchable Part 1 & 2, Leaving It Behind, Endless Ways, The Optimist, Thin Air, Lightning Song, Can’t Let Go, Dreaming Light, The Storm Before the Calm, The Beginning and the End, Universal, Closer, Springfield, A Natural Disaster, Distant Satellites
There’s absolutely no doubt that this new little festival was an tremendous success, and a personal triumph for Rob. The 2018 event was announced before the end of the show (with Riverside the first band now confirmed) and are already selling strongly . The venue was magnificent and the organisation overall very good, with timings of the bands as advertised – always nice when you have such long gaps between the acts.
Highly recommended for anyone that can make it and doesn’t want to chew-up a whole long weekend going to Night of the Prog. If I had to make any suggestions for improvement for next year I’d stick with more up-tempo bands, work on the sound a bit – bass was overwhelming at times – ensure there’s more beer available (they ran out of the good Tongerlo stuff!) and please don’t allow smoking inside the event – it’s a disgusting habit and a few selfish people make it very unpleasant for the vast majority.
Midsummer Prog Festival – Website | Facebook
Anathema – Website | Facebook
Gazpacho – Website | Facebook
Pain Of Salvation – Website | Facebook | Twitter
Iamthemorning – Facebook | Bandcamp
Caligula’s Horse – Website | Facebook