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CalProg 2008 – What a Blast!

Jerry Lucky Commentary November 2008

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2008 All Rights Reserved

 

This was the second time I’ve had the opportunity to attend Calprog. The previous occasion was in 2005 and that being my first

experience at a progressive rock festival it holds a special status of its own. This time I was more aware of what to expect and what

I needed to do. Mainly mix and mingle. Shawn Gordon from Prog Rock Records had agreed to sell copies of my new book The Progressive Rock Handbook and I offered to be at the venders table helping to hawk my wares.

 

I already have a bit of a soft spot for Los Angeles because I’m a movie buff so being there for a progressive rock music festival just adds to the excitement. Days, weeks and months leading up to the festival I kept a close eye on which the bands were going to be performing. That after all lies at the heart of whether one attends or not, right? And slowly the bands were disclosed…Presto Ballet, then IZZ, then Sylvan, and finally Echolyn. Four great bands in one day! That was it…I had to make this work.

 

Calprog is staged in an intimate theatre in Whittier California, a theatre that seats a mere 400 people and honestly there isn’t a bad seat in the house. You’re never very far from the stage.

 

At 11 am sharp things got underway with Presto Ballet whose CD I’d had the chance to listen too only once before seeing them live. Interestingly enough, before starting their set, they let it be known that their keyboard player had left them but rather than cancel (that would have been the second time) they chose to record the keyboard tracks on the computer and play along with the bed. Now, you need to understand the keyboards play a major part of Presto Ballet’s sound so this was either going to work or be a big mess. In the end the band made it work although I’m sure that it took away from the spontaneity of the performance somewhat. This is a band that comes off much harder in the live arena but even so I loved the set. They were like the best Styx, only Styx never wrote material this varied or complex. I came home listening to the new CD with a new-found appreciation for the band’s style and technique.

 

Next up was one of my favourite bands, IZZ. I saw them perform at Calprog in 2005 and was exited to see them again. This is one of those bands that DOESN’T sound heavier live than on record. Their music is so layered and arranged with loud and soft segments that my ears were given plenty of time to enjoy the full package. They performed a great selection of material off of every CD and then topped it off with a couple of encores: the traditional Calprog cover, this time being “Trilogy” from ELP and then “He Knows You Know” from Marillion. It was pretty amazing to see the band perform from such a wide spectrum of music. I got the feeling the band really connected with the audience and this being their third time at the festival, they were appreciated much like a house band.

 

After the set up and sound check it was time for Sylvan. Coming all the way from Germany, I think this was only the second time they’d performed in the United States. And somewhere along the way someone forgot to bring a power-converter. All the band’s gear was set for the European power standards. This was remedied in something short of a few minutes showing once again the professionalism of the CalProg crew. This was the only technical glitch of the whole day, so that’s not bad. When it came time to perform Sylvan really shone on stage. Their prog style was clean and clear and they came off very polished. Personally the album that won me over was Posthumous Silence and they did the full set playing what seemed like the full CD. It was a moving experience. And for a band playing such sombre material they really seemed to be having a good time.

 

Last up, I guess you could say in the headliner spot was Echolyn. This is one of those bands that have achieved top rank status. Not only have they been around for many years, their musical output has maintained a very high standard. If memory serves they launched into their set with “Georgia Pine” from Cowboy Poems are Free and they ROCKED. The band was so tight it was beyond belief and when the song ended cold….there was a second where the crowd simply gasped and then immediately erupted into applause and cheers. Not a bad start for a stellar set that included many favourites’ from their extensive catalogue.

 

I spent a good portion of the in-between time working the ProgRock table in the vending room showing off my new book The Progressive Rock Handbook. In that time I had a chance to have a great chat with Michael Sadler about his departure from Saga and his new life as a dad first and musician second. It was also great to renew acquaintances with Chris from Echolyn and all the guys from IZZ and to finally meet in person Peter from Evolve who’ve recently been signed to ProgRock Records. One of the things you do at a prog festival is check out the other vendors and it was great to meet Greg from Syn-Phonic after all these years. He’s certainly seen a lot of my money over the past couple decades so it was nice to finally shake his hand and pick up my two Anthony Phillips remasters.

 

All in all it was a great day. Twelve hours of great music and great friends. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. You may want to consider attending CalProg yourself.

 

Jerry Lucky

(11.1.08)

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