NEARfest 2007-The Midlights: Izz, Pure Reason Revolution, La Maschera di Cera, Hawkwind, Alan Holdsworth

NEARfest ended this past weekend. Here’s some more impressions from this Progressive Rock conclave. I talked about my over-the-top faves yesterday, but here’s some other bands that made an impression. They also provided some of the best variety and most tantalizing directions of the festival. But there was also the specter of bands who are over the hill.

Nearfest Logo

Here’s some with The Midlights:
Izz, Pure Reason Revolution, La Maschera di Cera, Hawkwind, Alan Holdsworth

Space Ritual Take Me to Your Future
Hawkwind was the real throwback group of NEARfest 2007. They’ve been playing psychedelic space rock since the early 1970s, but only vocalist and guitarist Dave Brock remains from the original incarnation which is now down to a four-piece. They ran through their early catalog, playing tunes like “Orgone Accumulator.” They were sorely in need of a lead guitarist and many of their gimmicks, like the spoken word voice of God intros, should have been relegated to the scrap heap by now, or at least delivered with some kind of irony. They were also plagued by the worst sound mix of the festival. Fun, but hardly vintage and a little bit sad. The phrase, “acid-casualty” kept coming to mind.

The Dark Third Cautionary Tales for the Brave
Pure Reason Revolution on the other hand, revealed the promise of youth. This English quartet was the most conventionally rock band at NEARfest, though their songs had epic dimensions. The comparisons I’ve heard to Pink Floyd were mostly tangential here. Outside of a few moments of deep echo slide guitar, they laid down riffs as heavy as NeBeLNest, but all in the service of actual songs with strong vocal harmonies from guitarists Jon Courtney and Jamie Willcox and bassist Chloe Alper, at least they seemed strong when they emerged out of a muddy, guitar heavy mix. I thought they were more Emo, than prog, with roots in the New Wave and one of the few bands at the festival that sounded like they listened to music recorded after 1979.

However, there’s no denying La Maschera di Cera’s progressive rock heritage. They’re one of those overwrought, theatrical Italian symphonic bands. Alarmingly skinny singer Alessandro Corvaglia, wearing whiteface, brought a certain charm to the proceedings and flautist Andrea Monetti added some fleet improvisations. It was an enjoyable walk through a sound that saw its glory days 30 years ago.

I Move My River Flows

But one later-day incarnation of that sound showed some promise. Izz is a symphonic prog band from New York that turned in an energized performance highlighted by Paul Bremmer’s head-twisting guitar solos. The band has two drummers, though it seemed like either could’ve handled the job themselves. Fronted by keyboardist/vocalist Tom Galgano, the group mixed dramatic singing, with vocals often swapped between Tom Galgano, his brother, bassist John and the two female singers, Laura Meade and Anmarie Byrnes. Meade and Byrnes seemed regretfully underemployed, often leaving the stage for long stretches while the band powered through instrumental passages or the Galgano’s vocal refrains. The one song where they took the lead featured some powerful, soaring harmonies that made you want more.

The Best of Allan Holdsworth Then! Live in Tokyo

Allan Holdsworth hails from roughly the same era as Hawkwind, but there was no sense that he was over the hill. Headlining Progressive Fusion Friday, he’s a phenomenal guitarist whom I followed in the 1970s and 80s as he played with Gong, Soft Machine, Tony Williams and UK. As a solo artist, he’s never floored me. Too meandering, not enough focus in his solos and a guitar tone, with lots of cut-off, volume pedal attacks producing a sound that becomes tiresome. His longtime bassist Jimmy Johnson drove me up a wall. A post Jaco player, he lacked melodic invention and couldn’t seem to find the bottom with his trebly, chunky attack. But did I mention that Holdsworth is a phenomenal player? He makes the ridiculously complex seem effortless.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the lowlights and two that I missed, which doesn’t prevent me from saying something about them.

Comment posted by
at 7/28/2007 7:41:28 PM

Holy cow, Hawkwind is still touring? Didn’t know that. I had tickets one time to see them in 77 or 78 when I still lived in Belgium, and when my buddies and I got to the concert venue, we were told that the show was cancelled due to illness. That’s the closet I ever got to seeing them. I had Space Ritual and other albums from the 74-79 era, and then bought Space Ritual again on CD. Still listen to it one or twice a year.

Thanks for the great review of NEARFest. I had never heard of it, so I’ll be checking that out.

Comment posted by
at 6/28/2007 1:07:36 AM

How refreshing to find some commentary online that is well-written, insightful, and accurate. I have often been befuddled why so many have made virtuosity the “holy grail” (or *one* of many) of musical performance—or “music” in general.

Geesh. Like, get over it. The best analogy I can think of is in sports, like, hmm, basketball, where you may find an *incredibly* gifted athlete who (seemingly) can’t figure out how to pass, defend, or otherwise execute those basic skills that make the difference between a team winning or losing.

Make no mistake about it; Holdsworth *is* a phenomenal talent. But, in the final analysis, his music rarely held my interest, let alone compelled me to purchase it.

I’m bookmarking this site and making note of the reviewer as someone who can be useful to me in the future. Personally, I’m very weary of “critics” who have tin ears and knee-jerkingly rate artists as “great” because they are obscure, or rail because they are “popular.”

Since when is something automatically “bad” because many like it, or “good” because so few appreciate it?

Some times, I get the feeling that the majority of those in position to review—publicly—are caught up in their own, self-perceived importance.

What a refreshing change of pace to find intelligent and useful commentary on the word wide web.

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