November 5, 2014 Inaugural Progtoberfest rocks Chicago, IL 10-25-14
Progressive Rock blew into Chicago, IL October 25th and 26th to give a new meaning to the “Windy City.” With no political agenda, the only goal was to rock music lovers’ face off. Prog fans came from near and far for this the first ever Progtoberfest at Reggie’s Chicago in the South Loop area. Reggie’s of Chicago, a once run down auto bumper repair shop, transformed itself in 2007 to become one of Chicago’s hottest Rock clubs in the city featuring two stages (Music Joint and Rock Club), a CD store called Record Breakers, restaurant Roof Deck, and a Rockin’ Bus fleet to get folks to events safe and musically sound. Putting a new name to October, Progtoberfest is featuring a lineup to satisfy every taste bud. Featured US Prog Rock masters, Spock’s Beard (InsideOut), had the honor to headline Saturday night, October 25, with Stick Men(featuring Tony Levin and other members of King Crimson) finishing off the festival Sunday evening, October 26th. Also appearing were InsideOut’s own Bigelf, TU (featuring Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelloto), Burnt Belief (featuring Colin Edwin of Porcupine Tree), Jolly, Presto Ballet, Cheer-accident, Tiles, Scale The Summit, and many others. Operating on two consecutive stages inside Reggie’s, with one stage at Rock Club and the smaller stage of Music Joint, attendees were free to roam between rooms at will to experience all the festival had to offer.
Saturday October 25th was kicked off in the Music Joint with a local favorite Riddle House, which is an instrumental Rock trio started by the passion of two brothers Rob & Ben Lerner. Do not let their youth fool, this trio can bring the Prog. Those which missed them should check them out as they are worth the time and support.
From there, fans had to ping pong over to the Rock Club for Thank You Scientist, a group forged from a music program at Montclair State University in New Jersey. This seven-headed monster was a force to be reckoned with during their performance. Their new album, Maps of Non-Existent Places, is out now to back up their abilities.
Moving on to Zip Tang in the Joint, which are another Chicago-based three-piece group founded in 2003. This band has been playing the local scene to much praise and their performance of extremely tight Progressive Jazz-Rock sound proved way. Following was Washington State’s Presto Ballet founded by Metal Church guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof. Their sound is highly reminiscent of 1970s Prog Rock band dedicated as a classic progressive sound such as Yes and Kansas. Their latest album, Relic of the Modern World (2012), is out now.
Meanwhile, Dream the Electric Sleep from Lexington, KY put on a show of genre-bending sound that will satisfy fans of Pink Floyd, Muse, Rush, and Radiohead. This group has a good range of style through various parts of the Prog spectrum. Their latest album, Heretics, is available now.
Keeping “the force” with the audience, the time had come for Bigelf to take the stage. Those living under a rock who have ever heard of this band, the best quote that describes them “Sounds like a militant version of Queen rallying for war with Sgt. Pepper!” Bigelf is in a class all of their own, in a genre of music we will call “Wonka Metal.” All but ready to call it quits after the tragic death of Andrew Butler-Jones, who slipped into a coma after suffering an attack of pneumonia, shortly after newer member Ace Mark left, after his father passed away and baby was born, Damon Fox (Bigelf founder) mentions, “The yolk has split, Bigelf were over.” However, that is not how some old friends will have it. As the song states, “The Gravest Show on Earth must go on,” and that it does. Bigelf is sounding Big-er and Elf-er than ever. The night’s lineup gave us Damon Fox (singer/keyboards), Duffy Snowhill (bass), Damon’s son Baron Fox (drums) and none other than John Wesley of Porcupine Tree (guitar).
The evening’s magical mystery tour gave spectators a wide variety of their musical catalogue stretching back to 2003 with some great stuff off Hex. The tracks “Madhatter” and “Pain Killers” really cut loose, while the band touched on fan-favorite album, Cheat the Gallows, with “Money, It’s Pure Evil,” “Blackball,” and “The Evils Of Rock & Roll,” to name a few. They performed tracks off their latest album Into the Maelstrom (which features Mike Portnoy on drums), treating the audience to some timeless classics such as “Hypersleep,” “Alien Frequency,” “Vertigod” and “Edge of Oblivion.” Damon and clan delivered one hell of a performance, showing that the time they have been gone has not changed a thing for them. “We plan on taking Bigelf to the next level” mentioned Damon. John Wesley (Porcupine Tree) filled quite nicely as he works out the kinks for his first Elf performance. The only thing time off has affected is the need for Bigelf to get on the road and really show fans that they are back for good. Bigelf has performed select tour dates already overseas and are on a European tour that will feature Mike Portnoy on drums for select dates. Bigelf also promises that they would be back in the US for more shows, so fans may not have to wait long to hear this “Incredible Time Machine” called Bigelf again.
The hero’s of the day, Spock’s Beard, hit the stage around 11 PM. Spock’s Beard was formed in 1992 by brothers Neal (vocals/keyboards) and Alan (guitar) Morse. They teamed up with fellow musicians Nick D’Virgilio (drums) and Dave Meros (bass) and released their debut album, The Light, in 1995. Later joined by veteran keyboardist Ryo Okumoto, Neil departed in 2002, with D’Virgilio taking over lead vocals until his departure in 2011. Now consisting of Alan Morse, Meros, Okumoto, vocalist Ted Leonard, and drummer Jimmy Keegan, who had toured with the band since 2002 as live fill-in for D’Virgilio, Spock’s Beard are stronger than ever. Active of recent, touring to support their 2013 release Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep, they kicked off the year with a very classic reunion on Progressive Nation at Sea in February. On the last evening of the cruise spectators were able to see Alan’s brother Neal rejoin the group for one miraculous set that still has fans reeling. However, this night brings on new memories with Spock’s Beard headlining day one of this first ever Progtoberfest.
Spock’s Beard was off to one incredible journey, possibly where no man has gone before. Starting off with 1999 album title-track “Day for Night,” the seven and a half minute epic bliss was just spot on. It just always amazes how talented this group is with their perfection and preceded timing they deliver night in and night out. Allowing no time to settle down, from there they went right into 1996 album title-track “Beware of Darkness.” Thereafter, they went on to a song off the new album Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep called “Hiding Out,” which possessed a classic Spock’s Beard style. Filled with textures layering within the synths, mellotron, and organ layering, the rendition made for a very sophisticated sound. The energy kept flowing with “Harm’s Way” off the 1998 album The Kindness of Strangers. With another classic off the new album, “Something Very Strange” came with a synthesized voice, then Okumuto’s Hammond kicks in and was joined swiftly by Meros’ nimble and athletic bass runs and Keegan’s drums. Finally, Morse’s guitar joins the mix, making the song as rich and enjoy as the recording.
Continuing on with “In the Mouth of Madness” and a “Snow” medley that brought tears to fans eyes, kicking off with “Made Alive Overture,” “Devil’s Got My Throat” and concluding with “Carie,” which brought Keegan out from behind his kit to sing the lead with a very heartfelt angelic voice. Taking the breath away from the audience, the band returned back to Brief Nocturnes to perform a Leonard written number called “Submerged” with its chorus of “Throw me a line I’m sinking fast.” It is a song that deserves a listen as it features a beautifully constructed Alan Morse guitar break, short but oh so sweet. Then they continued with “Waiting for Me,” and then finished out the evening performing “The Healing Colors of Sound” in its entirety. Fans truly felt the healing power after this set and they left the venue totally satisfied. There was no stone left unturned and smiles were seen all around as the crowd started to hit the windy city evening still humming along with the sounds that filled their ears.
The first day of the inaugural Progtoberfest seemed to come off as a huge success as far as the bands and music that were selected. Spock’s Beard finished off the night not missing a beat and performing to their followers for over two hours, helping remind them of why they are still fans of this tremendous band.