(I considered calling this post "The Top 11 bands of ProgDay Ď08",
just so everyone would respond to it...)
Anyway, I have no idea if anyone still reads r.m.p for the actual prog
rock content (what prog-rock content?), but I just got home from
this yearís ProgDay and figured Iíd post some recollections. I
apologize in advance for any factual errors - itís hard to remember
three full days worth of music without getting some of the details
wrong, especially if you drink heavily each evening. I'm also
working on about 14 hours of sleep over the last four days, so...
The weekend kicked off with the traditional Friday night pre-show at
Local 506 in Chapel Hill. The first band was Kinetic Element, who
started by announcing how honored they were to be playing the opening
notes of ProgDay weekend. Their music is heavily inspired by ELP,
with lots of keyboards - the keyboardist actually started out as a
solo act, then hooked up with a drummer and bassist to play live
shows. They played an ELP cover at one point, but I forget what song
it was. The music was about 75% instrumental, and the bits with
lyrics usually had religious themes but werenít preachy.
The other half of the pre-show was played by Speechless, an
all-instrumental fusionish band. They played well, but for some
reason decided to crank the volume up way, way louder than the tiny
nightclub room could accommodate. Made it hard to stay in the
performance area - I ended up going out to the bar and watching them
through the plexiglass half-wall that separates it from the stage
area. The band played most (if not all) of the material from their
CD, and some new songs slated for their next disc. They also did a
cover of Rushís "La Villa Strangiato" and a medley of music from
"Jesus Christ Superstar". Their second to last song was also a
medley, starting out as Roundabout and then going through pieces of
Carry On Wayward Son and other songs by Rush, Queensryche and
probably others that Iím forgetting. It was a good set, itís just a
shame that it was so frigginí LOUD it was hard to listen to. The
show wrapped up around 12:45, and by that time most people had
already left to get some sleep before the early start on Saturday.
The next morning arrived with 200% humidity and temperatures in the
90s. It was ugly. Really, really ugly. Driving out to Storybook
Farm, I almost missed the entrance because I was looking for the
nearby radio tower, but it was hidden in a thick mist. Looking over
the vendor tables before the first band started, my glasses kept
fogging up. It was really, really humid. The sun eventually burned
the mist off, but by mid-day, everyone was hoping for clouds because
the sun was just baking. Mother Nature did not cooperate this year
The first band up on Saturday was Von Frickle. They perform dressed
in all-white outfits: white jumpsuits, white "caps" that cover their
entire head and white plastic masks. The only visible part of each
band member was their hands. I donít know how they could stand
keeping those masks on in the heat and humidity, but they wore them
through the whole set. Their music is hard to describe - kind of
fusiony, kind of spacey - all over the map. Half the time the
guitars sounded like keyboards, so it was hard to tell who was
generating what sounds. Very interesting stuff - I ended up buying
all four of the CDs they had for sale at their table. That night at
the hotel, I overheard someone ask the bassist where the name "Von
Frickle" came from, and with a totally straight face he explained
that their space ship had crashed in an area with a lot of German
immigrants, so they took that name to remain inconspicuous.
The second band on Saturday was Holding Pattern. They were a
guitar/keys/drums power trio, with the keyboardist sometimes
switching to bass. Most of the songs were basically life support for
an extended guitar solo. The guitarist was really good, but I have a
fairly low threshold for "guitar hero" type music, and the sun was
absolutely brutal by then (they had the dreaded early afternoon
slot), so I ended up getting lunch in the pavilion and doing some
more CD shopping - anything to stay in the shade.
Saturdayís third band was the "pop-prog" band of the weekend,
Abigailís Ghost. What Iíve heard of their studio tracks sounded
almost exactly like Porcupine Tree. Performing live, they didnít
come across as quite as much of a clone, but I just wasnít into them.
After the first couple songs, I listened to the rest of their set
from the back of the field while smoking a cigar and reading a book.
The only thing I remember is the big, grungy guitar parts and someone
yelling "Let me hear you make some NOISE" a couple times to get the
crowd fired up. Just not my sort of band at all, but most people
seemed to like them.
The final band on Saturday was Ain Soph from Japan. They went on in
the early evening, just as cloud cover arrived to block the sun.
Their music was all instrumental and fairly jazzy, with lots of
guitar and keyboard solos. Thereís almost a new-agey element to
them, which made for a fairly mellow, laid-back set. I liked them,
and they seemed to get a good response from the crowd, but that
evening I heard a couple people saying they thought the set was a
little too mellow and kind of boring. Personally, I thought it was a
good change of pace after a couple loud and raucous type bands.
Right at the very end of the set, the clouds that had saved us from
the sun turned on us and stared pouring down rain. Ain Soph played
their last song as the audience quickly packed up their lawn chairs
and ran for cover.
Back at the hotel Saturday night, there was a bit of a party out by
the pool. Members of Von Frickle, Abigailís Ghost and Cheer Accident
were there at one point or another, and around midnight all the guys
from Secret Oyster came out and were joking around with the few folks
still out there.
Sunday morning arrived without as much humidity (no mist), and
possibly a little cooler, but the sun was still blazing. There was
occasional cloud cover, but most people spent most of the day watching
the bands from whatever shady spot they could find.
The first band up was Cheer Accident. Where have those guys been all
my life? Probably my favorite band of the weekend, because I like
the weird stuff. Speaking of weird, the band was introduced by stage
managers Geoff and Jay, with Jay wearing nothing but a jester cap and
tie-died underwear and speaking in a fictional language. Geoff
translated it into English, but it mostly came out as a collection of
the titles of Cheer Accidentís songs and albums. Then the band came
out and played a wicked set of avant prog, with intricately composed
pieces combining with bizarre guitar solos, toy megaphones and exotic
dancing. I must have taken at least three dozen pictures during their
set, because there was always something odd going on. The three main
band members stayed on stage the whole time, with four other
musicians coming and going as needed to sing or play trombone,
trumpet, guitar, drums, etc. Just a brilliant set - I hope I get a
chance to see them again some day. After the set, I went straight to
their merchandise table and dropped $50 on CDs, and only bought about
half of the dozen or so albums they had available. I should have
bought more - no sense bringing money home...
The second band of the day was Pinnacle. From the sample track they
had up on the ProgDay web site, I wasnít expecting to like them at
all - it sounded very neo-proggy, and I generally hate neoprog. But
their set wasnít bad. A little more mainstream than I generally go
for, but not bad. Drum, guitar and keyboard trio. They played for
about 45 minutes, then asked the ProgDay organizers if they had time
for one more, which turned out to be a cover of "Here Comes the
Flood" that was re-arranged enough that I didnít recognize it until
the vocals started.
Next up was Canvas Solaris. They were about as close to prog-metal as
we got this year, but it was a very technical sort of metal, with
interlocking guitar parts and stop-on-a-dime precision. Very crunchy
for the most part and also fairly complex. There was one bit where
the keyboardist was playing a wild improvisation on a Moog, and the
rest of the band were just standing there - but every so often they
all suddenly blasted out a chord or two, all together and all
perfectly timed. The drummer wasnít tapping a cymbal or anything to
keep time as far as I could see, and the band members werenít even
looking at each other. They must have been counting it out in their
heads, but the timing was just amazing.
Canvas Solaris played for just over 40 minutes and then stopped. The
crowd yelled for an encore, but they were done. I asked one of the
band members later why the set was so short, and he said that theyíve
found that most people start to zone out after more than 45 minutes
or so of their style of music, so they play short sets. I later
heard that the band had informed the ProgDay folks that they were
only going to use half of their allotted time, so Pinnacle was
brought in to fill the other half of the set.
The fourth group on Sunday was Mirthrandir. They were another band
that I didnít think I was going to like all that much based on the
sample track on the web site, but they were better than I expected.
Probably the most typically symphonic prog band of the weekend. I
think they might have been the only band with a dedicated vocalist
(as opposed to one of the instrumentalists also singing), although I
think Mirthrandirís singer also played some trumpet. Anyway, like
Kinetic Element, they had some vaguely Christian-rock sounding lyrics,
but nothing preachy. They definitely went over well with the
symphonic prog fans.
The final band this year was Secret Oyster. I ended up dropping $75
at their merch table. They were that good. I think most people were
expecting a good set, but they exceeded everyoneís expectations.
Incredibly tasty, flowing, jazzy music with excellent guitar, sax and
keyboard solos. They probably played for close to two hours, but it
seemed like it was over far too soon. After their main set, they got
the expected encore, but then after that the crowd just wouldnít stop
applauding and calling for another encore. The band was done - they
were standing by the stage and had already started drinking beers,
but the audience just wouldnít give up. The ProgDay organizers
finally talked them into going back up and playing one more song.
Later that night at the annual Sunday night pool party back at the
hotel, when the guys from Secret Oyster showed up they got a
spontaneous ovation from everyone at the party. Iíve never seen
anything like it. Man, were they good.
There were rumors floating all weekend that this might be the final
ProgDay, and from what I heard the ticket sales were a little
underwhelming this year. But when Secret Oyster finished their
second encore, Steve Sly took the stage to thank everyone for coming
and said something about maybe seeing everyone again next year.
Hopefully it will happen. Despite the heat, humidity and rain, it
was still a fantastic weekend. Iím glad I went, and Iíll be there
next year if there is one. If youíve never gone to one, get your ass
to Chapel Hill next year. You wonít regret it.
If my audience recordings turn out OK, I'll eventually get them
posted to Dime a Dozen for those who are interested.