I live in the great state of Ohio. We aren’t what you would consider a prog capital, though I suppose we’re known for liking rock music (that’s more or less a myth). Usually, I don’t get to see many of my favorite prog acts come through my little slice of the world, but 2015 proved to be the best year ever for me, concert-wise. I managed to see five different shows this year; four of the acts being in my top 10 favorite bands! Now, that’s really something, and kinda shows how popular progressive music is starting to become. Without further rambling, though, here are some thoughts about each show.
The Moody Blues: April 7, 2015
It was a Tuesday night, and I was finally going to see one of my favorite bands ever. The Moody Blues were mentioned often in my house growing up, but it wasn’t until recently that I fell for them. My little sister, Tabitha, and I were going together to see them at the E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron, Ohio. The theater was jam packed with people more than twice our age, and we sat in the very back, but the show proved to be a real gem.
Sure, they played their hits, like “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights in White Satin”, but it was the personality and the lesser known tracks that really kept me on the edge of my seat. Songs like “Gypsy”, “The Story in Your Eyes”, and, one of my personal favorites, “Isn’t Life Strange”. Hayward and Lodge still sound great vocally, which was a big surprise.
While the vocals were wonderful (including some poetic moments from Edge), you could tell that the musical ensemble they brought with them was doing most of the work, especially for Edge on drums. Once I tucked that away in my head, I was able to enjoy what was a fantastic show, despite even the drunk guy directly behind me who didn’t really seem to know what band was on stage.
Haken: April 25, 2015
I’m a huge fan of Haken, and no four hour drive was going to keep me and my brother-in-law Josh from seeing them live for the first time. Haken played at the Token Lounge near Detroit, MI. This was a huge show, featuring four bands in total.
Tiles came on stage first. This older prog band surprised me by being very technical and also very enjoyable, even though the lead singer wants to be Geddy Lee something fierce. In fact, I think they played “Spirit of the Radio” with good ol’ Bluebeard Portnoy on drums, even though I thought their band mate Mark Evans was a better drummer. I always evaluate a new band by whether or not I’m interested in listening to them later on after the concert, and Tiles definitely made that impression on me.
Next came Imminent Sonic Destruction. This band is progressive metal with some interesting harsh vocals. I feel they were out of place here, unless they were there for Next to None. Either way, I was pretty impressed. Their music is pretty great, with huge riffs and some fantastically complex moments. Weirdest thing? The singer looked like he was dressed for work at Bob Evans or something.
Finally, the moment I dreaded came. Next to None took the stage and ended up puking out whiny lyrics for what seemed like forever. Heavy, kinda, and definitely annoying, I found their music to be the equivalent of an emo Dream Theater. They usually like to describe themselves as Dream Theater + Slipknot, but I really didn’t get much of the latter in there. In the end, I was paying so little attention that I didn’t notice when Max “Animal from the Muppets” Portnoy threw his drum stick (or whatever it was—some dude scooped it up pretty quickly) and hit me in the chest. Yeah, right back at you, bro.
Haken finally took the stage, and all was well in the world. My expectations were high, and they beat them, even without Henshall, whom had gotten hung up in the USA’s stupid visa policies. Anyways, Haken blew me away. Everything sounded perfect and towering, and Ross sounded way better than he even does on the albums. The moment of the night came when they played “Drowning in the Flood” off their debut. From the moment the huge riffs hit, I was completely lost in Hakenland. Then, the tranquil underwater sensations of the middle portion of the song came, and I was whisked away to who knows where. Ross played that for all it was worth, singing with all his might. The concert, even though they played “Crystallized” instead of “Snow”, was truly a spiritual experience. It was like I was brother to every drunk guy in the room. No hugs required. Pretty sure my brother-in-law saw a different side of me that night. Oops.
Evergrey: August 27, 2015
As you probably know, Evergrey is one of my favorite bands ever. They were the very first progressive metal band that I loved (followed closely by Redemption), and Tom’s voice is still one of the best ever, in my opinion. They made their way to the Agora in Cleveland on August 27 for what would be one of the biggest, most satisfying shows I’ve ever experienced. Four bands played that night (one additional band pulled out at the last second, thank goodness), and all four were sensational. My little brother Josiah, my brother-in-law Josh, and I were in for a great time.
Oceans of Slumber were the first to take the stage. The only female-fronted band that I saw this year, they did not disappoint. Their singer, Cammie, is incredibly serious about her job. She sang her heart out like few others do. Yet, the music around her was very, very heavy and also extremely complex. Somehow, the band made all of this work—it should have been a chaotic mess.
Next came one of the bands I was dying to see, Borealis. More of a power metal band with Evergrey influences, Borealis is my #1 favorite power metal band. These guys played with heart and skill, and, to my dismay, were cut short because of time. I got the chance to speak with singer Matt before the show for awhile, and he was very excited about the tour. After their set, the guys seemed depressed because they didn’t get to complete their set (they had to cut “Regeneration”, one of their best songs). I tried to console them a bit, and had a great conversation with bassist Jamie. I bought two albums and a shirt. Maybe they were able to eat dinner that night.
Initially, I wasn’t as interested in seeing Voyager play live. Don’t get me wrong, I love their combination of 80’s pop with progressive metal with attitude, but I just had other bands I wanted to see more. Boy, was I in for a surprise. Voyager, helped by a perfect audio mix, sounded truly immense. That 80’s attitude came through in the hooks and especially the on stage humor, making for a truly memorable performance. My brothers each promptly went and bought an album from them. I had run out of cash already.
Evergrey finally took the stage pretty late. I had seen them a few years ago at another venue in Cleveland, but this time I was getting to see the classic line-up. These guys simply ruled the place. The sound was pristine, the song choices were great, and Tom sounded marvelous. Playing their more popular songs didn’t bother me, especially because the new album is so good, and the chance to see “The Grand Collapse” live was a moment I’ll never forget. Yet, songs like “When the Walls Fall Down” and “Missing You” were tender and truly emotional. These guys rock harder than most newer bands, and they do it without resorting to meaningless technical filler. Yet, they also know how to reach out and grab you by the heart strings. I salute you, Evergrey. Oh, and I refuse to be that creepy fan that follows the band around the venue afterwards; a quick little conversation and a picture, and I left Tom alone with his beer.
Riverside: September 25, 2015
Wow, what a bittersweet day this was. I lost my job the morning of this concert, and my wife, Tiffany, and I still decided to go. This show was to have three bands total, and I was surprised at which ones I liked.
Wixor took the stage first. I was prepared to sit back (the venue gave us chairs because my wife was prego, so we sat in the back with the old people) and take a huge snooze, but Wixor actually grabbed my attention. The music was reminiscent of Mudvayne and other bands I listened to in my teenage years, and so I genuinely appreciated it. It took some time, but I was kinda wanting to buy an album by the end. Singer Paul is an amazing showman, giving out free shirts, talking to the crowd, and generally reminding me of Chris Farley, for some reason. He was instantly likable.
Next, The Sixxis played their set. I had heard one of their albums prior to the show, and thought it was okay. Nothing prepared me, however, for how incredibly boring their live performance would be. Yes, I did doze off once or twice. No energy. No fire. If that’s your style, you need to make up for it with some great music or at least a novelty or two. We got nothing. The Sixxis got up there, played a half hour of generic wannabe progressive rock, and bored the crap out of everyone in the process, even with the singer’s weird penchant for singing through his hair. And just when I thought their set was over, he announced they “only” had three songs left. Argh.
Of course, Riverside was worth the wait. Easily the best set I saw this year, Riverside blew the top off the house, even though Mariusz was sick (on his birthday no less—don’t worry, we sang Happy Birthday to him to make him feel better). Hearing songs from their new album was a treat, but also hearing oldies, like my much wished for “The Curtain Falls” simply made this the best show I probably have ever seen. I was seriously impressed with how much better they were live since I last saw them in 2012 in Chicago. The sound was perfect. The lights were surreal. The energy was really, really high, but the emotions were palpable, too. They even played “Reality Dream IV”, and it was really something to see all of them going crazy on stage with their respective instruments. Afterwards, I got the chance to talk to guitarist Piotr. T’was a great night.
Steve Hackett: December 4, 2015
For the second year in a row, I was blessed to receive a +1 press pass for the Steve Hackett show in Northfield, OH (near Cleveland), so I once again took my Genesis-freak of a brother, Josiah. The Hard Rocksino proved once again to be a superb place to see live music, with amazing acoustics and a speaker system that really punches you in the chest.
Steve Hackett was the only artist playing that night, but he did split his performance into two parts: solo and “Genesis stuff”, as he called it. Honestly, after hearing his solo work live, I can do without any more Genesis for basically forever. Opening with “Spectral Mornings”, he proceeded to play some tracks from his earliest albums as well as his brand new one, “Wolflight”. Each and every song was an ominous, towering spectacle. Songs like “Every Day” and “Star of Sirius” put my heart into my throat instantly. All the musicians that travel with Steve are incredibly talented, from Roger King to Gary O’Toole to Rob Townsend to Roine Stolte to Nad Sylvan (I’d talk about them all, but this is supposed to be a shorter blog), and to hear giant harmonies between Steve’s guitar and piercing clarinet from Rob was simply one of the best musical moments of the year, if not ever, for me. The music was so immense and nuanced that it was almost too much in that it was a very emotional experience. His solo work (of which I’ve been a fan for some time) was clearly too much for some of the people there, presumably just to see Genesis stuff. Their reactions were priceless, though, because they could barely keep from giving standing ovations for every single song. It was certainly one of the best sets I’ve ever seen.
The second half of the show was the Genesis stuff. They had some surprises in store, however, playing songs like “The Cinema Show” and “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, much to the joy of all the old guys there. Ending the show with his own “Clocks” and, of course, “Firth of Fifth”, Steve once again made a big impression on me. Afterwards, I got the chance to talk to him and also Nad Sylvan. I asked Steve about the difference in emotion and impression that his solo work seems to have over the old Genesis music, and he told me that he specifically writes his solo music to be huge in a live setting. I found that very interesting, and it was definitely true. I’m not sure I’ve heard music that literally made me feel like crawling under the chair—in a good way.
This year turned out to be amazing for concerts. I’ve heard rumors of bands like Redemption, Votum, Riverside, Anathema, and others all coming my way in 2016. I certainly hope so, and I hope I can afford it all. Keep supporting live music so that we can keep getting all this terrific music, friends!