Published on 24th October 2018
Union County Performing Arts Center, Irving Street, New Jersey, USA
5th to 7th October 2018
The Progressive Aspect were delighted to be able to attend the second Progstock Festival in New Jersey at the beginning of October. The quality line-up ensured a good weekend of entertainment in a classic theatre venue with an enthusiastic crowd who seemed so grateful to be able to see some fine Progressive rock acts in a vast country in which great swathes of the nation are starved of such music.
This is a friendly, informal festival clearly run by fans for fans – akin to the ever popular (and best) progressive rock festival in the U.K., Summer’s End. Progstock 2018 and Summer’s End 2018 chose exactly the same weekends to have their festivals, meaning that this reviewer missed Summer’s End for the first time in some years. OK – being 3,000 miles apart the chances of fans being able to go to both festivals are relatively slim, but there may be some and it may also lead to some competition for booking quality acts in future. These festivals do appear to be kindred spirits with a real sense of warmth between the fans and a closeness with the artists that some other more corporate or commercial events may not provide. The venue for Progstock is the beautiful old Union County Performing Arts Center, which was a former vaudeville-era silent movie theatre built in 1928, more recently restored as part of a multi-purpose arts hub. The Art-Deco interior is certainly impressive, and for many the availability of seating made it a comfortable weekend, unlike some Prog events which can sometimes require considerable stamina in standing!
This review will feature the four main artists seen by The Progressive Aspect. TPA confesses right now that it did not attend the whole festival, but that is not a reflection on the acts that we did not see – it’s just that this reviewer was also being somewhat of a tourist in nearby New York!
One of the undoubted highlights of the whole weekend was the absolutely stellar performance on the Saturday night from legendary British progressive rock band, IQ. This was a band on fire with a setlist of their classics to die for from across their career, including a real blast from the past in the encore with the wonderfully Gothic Widow’s Peak from The Wake, first released in 1985.
IQ punctuated their set with nearly all the tracks from the their 1993 classic album Ever, including a great rendition of the very rarely played epic Further Away. Ever has very recently been re-released in a stunning new remix, and it was fantastic to hear nearly the whole album threaded through the show, rather than played as a block. The only Ever track omitted was Came Down, which was rather a pity and was probably a victim to early concerns about over-running after lengthy problems setting up. However, midway through the show the message came through that the time restriction was lifted so the crowd was treated to a lengthy set of high quality progressive rock by masters of their craft.
Mike Holmes was in great form on guitar with his ability to play with great technical clarity and emotion. Alongside him Neil Durrant was outstanding on keyboards, equally adept at titanic swathes of sound or delicate piano pieces. Tim Esau’s bass skilfully underpinned the whole show as Paul Cook’s controlled drumming drove the band along with power and skill. Pete Nicholls was his usual charismatic self as a fantastic front man in great voice, switching smoothly from witty charm in between songs to sinisterly conveying menace and drama for songs such as Failsafe from Subterranea or the chilling Road of Bones. The triple screen video visuals were fascinating and magnificent, and the sound production by their veteran sound man Rob Aubrey was excellent. IQ just had to be one of the ‘Bands of the Weekend’ and the audience were in raptures at such an outstanding performance. These guys are legends for a reason – the Progstock crowd got to see why – SHEER CLASS!
The Darkest Hour
From the Outside In
The Road of Bones
Leap of Faith
Until the End
Out of Nowhere
Peter Nicholls – Vocals
Mike Holmes – Guitars
Neil Durrant – Keyboards
Tim Esau – Bass Guitar
Paul Cook – Drums, Percussion
This was an incredible final night performance from these Canadian masters of heavy melodic progressive rock, which delighted the crowd. The man who created Mystery and leading songwriter for the band, the legendary Michel St.Pere, played scintillating guitar with touch and emotion throughout the show. His guitar interplay with Sylvain Moineau in a fantastic and skilfully balanced double guitar attack was outstanding. Jean Pageau, wonderful vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, mesmerised the auditorium with a great performance in which he combined vocal power and feeling with a sense of drama, and a great ability to warmly engage with the crowd. The ever smiling Antoine Michaud provided the keyboard colours to the dazzling Mystery sound palette. Mystery excelled with a performance that ranged from heavy rock power to mellower, more subtle passages. ‘JS’ Goyette was a powerhouse behind the drum kit and Francois Fournier dexterously underpinned the whole band with his bass. This is a band which is very slick and polished, their evident enthusiasm and sense of joy in their music proving infectious with the crowd.
They confidently played every song from their impressive new album Lies and Butterflies, and such was the quality of the songs and the verve of their performance that playing relatively new and less known songs did not seem to diminish the impact on the audience who bought in entirely to their excellent brand of melodic progressive rock. One of the highlights of the set was the masked and caped performance from Jean Pageau on the Gothic theatrical set piece of the older song Shadow of the Lake. New album epic finale Chrysalis was similarly costumed and dramatic, a spectacular highpoint of the show. Delusion Rain and Preacher’s Fall were great encores leaving the delighted crowd pleading for more. It’s amazing that this fantastic Canadian band somewhat bizarrely have not played in America for years and seems to find more of a reception in Europe. Hopefully this assured and confident show will open the door to other American gigs… certainly the Progstock crowd will know the power and skill of this French Canadian band. Bravo!
Looking for Something Else
Come to Me
How do You Feel?
Shadow of the Lake
Dare to Dream
Where Dreams Come Alive
Travel to the Night
Something to Believe in
A Song for You
The Preacher’s Fall
Michel St-Pere – Guitars
Jean Pageau – Vocals, Flute, Keyboards (including ‘Keytar’)
Francois Fournier – Bass Guitar
Jean-Sebastien Goyette – Drums
Antoine Michaud – Keyboards
Sylvain Moineau – Guitars
On Saturday Enchant put on a very impressive performance of heavier progressive rock with songs drawn from across their whole career, dating back to 1993 debut album A Blueprint of the World. Fronted by vocalist Ted Leonard showed why he was later recruited by Spock’s Beard, a class act on vocals, but he originated with Enchant. Fresh from reportedly performing excellently the previous evening as the majority of the band for Saga’s singer, Michael Sadler (sadly on too late for a rather jet lagged TPA scribe!) Enchant showed real class as a band capturing the heart of the audience with a high energy set of rock.
The musicianship from all band members was excellent, particularly Douglas Ott on guitars, as he rippled out solo after fluid solo. Ed Platt was outstanding on bass, playing with skill and like a lead instrument at times. The powerful drums of Sean Flanagan were the rock upon which they performed catchy melodic rock songs with skill. Bill Jenkins provided the balance of subtlety and touch on the keys. Kansas, Rush and Marillion were clear influences, but Enchant put their own distinctive mark on the music and as veterans (who recalled supporting IQ back in 1994) they showed all their experience in an assured show. With no recent album to promote Enchant had ample excuse to play a wide range of their songs, encapsulated on their recently released career spanning box set A Dream Imagined.
The graphics for the show were entertaining, and one of the main highlights of the show was a cool take on the ‘Guitar hero’ game in the muscular instrumental Prognosis, with outstanding fretwork from the guitarists matching the graphics in the background.
In all honesty, this reviewer did not know the material of this Bay area band, but that did not matter as their accessible songs were enjoyable, and their enthusiasm and energy were engaging enough to draw in unfamiliar audience members. Definitely a band worth exploring more in future – it would be interesting to see them in Europe where they have rarely played.
What 2 Say
Follow the Sun
Deserve to Feel
Ted Leonard – Vocals & Guitar
Douglas A. Ott – Guitars
Ed Platt – Bass & Bass Pedals
Sean Flanagan – Drums
Bill Bo Jenkins – Keyboards
On the Friday night there was a promising debut performance by Dave Kerzner’s new band, with members drawn from an impressive array of other bands and also saw him team up again with bassist Matt Dorsey and Randy McStine from Kerzner’s former band Sound of Contact (‘SoC’).
This felt like quite a challenging performance for the audience who were presented with a performance of largely unknown material from their imminent debut album, Acceleration Theory, a science fiction concept album which was originally intended as the basis for the aborted second Sound of Contact album. It is a brave thing for a band to play an unreleased album, and this may have made it a little difficult for some audience members (including this reviewer) to fully connect with the music, but artists have to debut their material at some point!
The set was punctuated with some more well-known ‘SoC’ songs, particularly the intense and cinematic instrumental Cosmic Distance Ladder, which was a real highlight of the show as it was played by a very tight and skilled band. Marco Minnemann, more well known for his membership of the Steve Wilson Band and The Aristocrats, was absolutely outstanding on drums. He amazed and entertained the audience with a dazzling drum solo full of power, precision and even a little humour – a true master of his art. Randy McStine (also of The Fringe with Nick D’Virgilio) and Fernando Perdomo provided an interesting contrast in guitar styles, combining well on the melodic rock songs. Dave Kerzner was clearly the driving force of the band, skilfully painting musical pictures on his keyboards, and acting as the ‘Narrator’ vocalist in this Sci-Fi tale. Joe Deninzon of Stratospheerius joined In Continuum on violin for one song and his spectacular, intuitive playing style was a real highlight of the set. Kerzner seems to thrive on collaborating with a variety of musicians.
Vocal duties were mainly from Gabriel Agudo of the Steve Rothery band, and he was joined by Leticia Wolf for some duets, most notably on the reggae tinged ‘SoC’ song Beyond Illumination which segued on from the outstanding Cosmic Distance Ladder. However, in all honesty my view in this performance these singers lacked sufficient power or vocal clarity to fully do justice to the songs and struggled to front an impressive band of high class musicians. Perhaps it was the nerves of a debut performance – but others in the crowd had another perspective as this couple seemed to gain an enthusiastic response from some in the crowd. In Continuum were joined by Michael Sadler (of Saga) for the excellent ‘SoC’ song Omega Point and the contrast was rather clear as he showed excellent vocal quality singing this fine song. Finale ‘SoC’ song Not Coming Down brought most of the crowd to their feet with many singing along with this catchy number.
It will be interesting to hear how the new album Acceleration Theory will sound on record when released. The accessible melodic rock songs, vocal harmonies, impressive instrumental passages and a cinematic feel of the songs played at Progstock were clearly reminiscent of the style of the sadly one and only Sound of Contact album Dimensionaut. In Continuum certainly have a fine pedigree, full of talented, skilful and imaginative players – it remains to be seen whether this group can be moulded in to a successful band with material to match their undoubted talent.
I Remember Two Moons
Be the Light
Cosmic Distance Ladder (Sound of Contact Song)
Beyond Illumination (Sound of Contact Song)
You Don’t Know How it Feels
Omega Point (Sound of Contact Song)
Not Coming Down (Sound of Contact Song)
Dave Kerzner – Keyboards & Vocals
Marco Minnemann – Drums & Percussion
Randy McStine – Guitars
Fernando Perdomo – Guitars
Matt Dorsey – Bass
Gabriel Agudo – Vocals
Leticia Wolf – Vocals
Joe Deninzon – Violin
That concludes The Progressive Aspect’s view on Progstock – it’s not fully comprehensive as this bloke was also busy being a tourist! We missed some notable performances, particularly a reportedly outstanding and supposedly final ever live show by Eddie Jobson of U.K. and Jethro Tull fame (amongst others). Sadly the late running time of the festival (and lack of stamina on this reviewer’s part!) and other factors made it difficult to get to everything. Progstock is a young festival, only in its second year, with some teething problems to iron out. For example, the lengthy set up issues and very late finish of the IQ set (after 1am) and subsequent ‘Meet and Greet’ meant very, very late nights for many festival goers. It may be useful to learn from the experience of other fan-led festivals, but it is always a challenge for any festival to keep to time, especially with the complex and elaborate set-ups often associated with Progressive rock acts.
However, such quibbles should not detract from very positive feedback for an excellent festival which gives many fans the opportunity to see artists rarely seen in the U.S.A. The friendliness and informality of this event, largely run by enthusiastic volunteers, will attract festival goers to return and hopefully the crowds will grow (as somewhat strangely some of the shows were not sold out) – but these things take some time to grow as a festival gains its reputation and momentum. It is certainly a good venue.
The Progressive Aspect thanks Progstock for a fine festival and for its hospitality – I wish I could say we’ll definitely be back next year but it’s a bloody long way from England!
If there’s any justice and if North American Progressive rock fans really want to support great music then next year it will be an even more successful and bigger event. You never know, there may even be some more Prog fans from the U.K. and Europe next year!!
All photos by Mike Strauss, Jerry Watson Photography and Leo Trimming, used with their kind permission.