Your occasional source for heavy metal, progressive rock and hard rock coverage. Whenever I feel like it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Concert Review: Drama-Free Yes at Town Hall

Sunday night's show at Town Hall marked the return of Yes as a working, recording band. Throughout his band's history, founder and bassist Chris Squire has always done what was necessary to keep Yes going. And in this case, the injection of fresh blood into their lineup may ensure that music lovers will be hearing Yessongs for another four decades.

The revamped band features new lead singer Benoît David and new keyboardist Oliver Wakeman. Anchored by the powerhouse trio of veteran members Alan White, (drums) Chris Squire, (bass) and Steve Howe, (guitar) this band has all the flexibility, power and majesty of the classic lineup. The two and a half hour show included the rarely performed "Astral Traveller" and even featured two songs from the 'lost' Yes record Drama, songs which Jon Anderson refused to sing live since he was replaced for that 1980 record by Buggles vocalist Trevor Horn.

Benoît David has no drama issues. His voice is ideal for the material, a high, pleasing countertenor that is comparable to Anderson sounded about twenty years ago. It's a sharper instrument, more laser-like but with a pleasing tonal quality. Anyway, he sounded great on the dizzying high notes on "Heart of the Sunrise", and the quiet parts of "Yours is No Disgrace." David even strapped on an acoustic to provide support for Steve Howe on "South Side of the Sky" and "Machine Messiah." The Québécois singer (whose last gig was in the tribute band Close to the Edge) is a welcome addition to the band, providing a much-needed spark of energy to their brand of classic progressive rock.

Oliver Wakeman proves equal to his father's legacy. Surrounded by a bank of keyboards, he added textures and body to the Yes songs, producing a delicate touch on "Onward" and a blazing guitar-keyboard duel with Steve Howe on the extended "South Side of the Sky." The show climaxed with an epic one-two punch of "Roundabout" and "Starship Trooper", as the band stretched out the material and made the venerable walls of Town Hall shake.

Here's the set-list:
Intro: Firebird Suite
Siberian Khatru (from Close to the Edge)
I've Seen All Good People (from The Yes Album)
Tempus Fugit (from Drama)
Onward (from Tormato)
Astral Traveller (with drum solo) (from Time and a Word)
Yours Is No Disgrace (from The Yes Album)
And You And I (from Close to the Edge)
Steve Howe solo: Masquerade/Second Initial ("Masquerade" appears on Union)
Owner of a Lonely Heart (from 90125)
South Side of the Sky (from Fragile)
Machine Messiah (from Drama)
Heart of the Sunrise (from Fragile)
Roundabout (from Fragile)
Encore: Starship Trooper (from The Yes Album)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rush and the Vancouver Games

Neil Peart: Soulscape. Oil on canvas by painter Tom Noll.
Image © 2009 Tom Noll. Available as a limited print from his website

So last night was the opening night of the Olympics. The opening ceremonies consisted of a musical and visual tour across Canada, and backstage rumors (courtesy of the folks at Rush Is A Band) had everyone's favorite Canadian progressive power trio tabbed to play in the "Ontario" section of the show.

That would have been cool, right?

However, the untimely death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili caused the evening's schedule to be changed, and the "Ontario" section was cut out of the show. In other words, there were a lot of disappointed Rush fans, this author included. It is entirely possible that the boys will be asked to play the Closing Ceremony in two weeks.

Meanwhile Rush fans excited about the possibility of the band's plans for a new release in 2010 followed by a tour should check out the Rush Petition site, which allows fans to pick five songs that they really want to hear the band play. These are songs that the band hasn't played recently, although in my 20 years of going to Rush shows, I've seen them do several on the list, including "War Paint", "Scars" and "Marathon". For the record, the top ten Rush requests are:

  1. "The Camera Eye" from Moving Pictures
  2. "Jacob's Ladder" from Permanent Waves
  3. "Hemispheres: Cygnus X-1 Book II" from Hemispheres
  4. "A Farewell to Kings" from A Farewell To Kings
  5. "Middletown Dreams" from Power Windows
  6. "Marathon" from Power Windows
  7. "Fly By Night" from Fly By Night
  8. "Kid Gloves" from Grace Under Pressure
  9. "The Weapon (Part II of Fear) from Signals
  10. "Presto" from Presto

Guess people want to hear the title tracks.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Top Ten List: Songs by The Who

The Who have always been one of my favorite bands. Pete Townshend's lyrics and power-chord heroics have guided me through a lot. (What does it tell you that I still program Who's Next in my IPod to play in the "cassette order?") True, they're not the same band that they used to be, but with Pino Palladino and Zak Starkey on drums they have somehow solidified into a working unit that's pretty powerful, considering that Townshend and Roger Daltrey are now in their mid-sixties.

So without too much more ado, here's a list of my Top Ten Who Songs:

(and no, they're not all on Who's Next)

  1. "This Song Is Over" from Who's Next.
    OK, some of them are. This gorgeous leftover from the Lifehouse sessons incorporates part of "Pure and Easy." Sad, and wistful.

  2. "Music Must Change" from Who Are You.
    Story goes that Keith Moon was too hammered to play the tricky 7/8 meter on this ambitious track. So there's no drums--just a passionate statement about songwriting and the future of the music industry.

  3. "Sally Simpson" from Tommy.
    One of Pete's best 'story' songs, this examines the price of fame, religious mania and the (literal) scarring effect it has on a young fan. A lesser-known track that is often overshadowed by the brilliance that is Tommy.

  4. "The Punk Meets the Godfather" from Quadrophenia.
    All the confusion and rage of adolescence--for me this sums it up even better than "My Generation"--which it references. Daltrey howls against the powerhouse Entwistle-Moon rhythm section. Try counting it off.

  5. "Drowned" from Quadrophenia.
    From the dark second half of Townshend's "mod" opera, this song deals with the tricky subject of wanting to annihilate and sublimate one's own spirit. One of Pete's better spiritual songs. I like the live solo version from The Oceanic Concerts (featuring just Pete on acoustic guitar)

  6. "Dig" from The Iron Man: A Musical.
    Although this appears on a Pete Townshend solo album, it is one of the few original Who tracks to be recorded in the late '80s. Always liked it and found this an uplifting song.

  7. "After the Fire" from Under a Raging Moon.
    A lot of the songs on this Roger Daltrey solo album (including the title track) deal with the loss of Keith Moon. This one's written by Townshend, and therefore counts as a "Who" track in my book.

  8. "Won't Get Fooled Again" from Who's Next.
    Pete Townshend's best political song and Roger Daltrey's powerhouse scream. Everything gels on the last track on the Who's best album.

  9. "Tattoo" from The Who Sell Out.
    A humorous look at the early days of the body modification craze and "what makes a man." One of the many highlights of this great concept album which plays like a pirate radio broadcast, complete with faux commercials for Heinz Baked Beans, Odorono detergent, and othet products.

  10. "Tea and Theatre" from Endless Wire.
    Just when you thought they were done--this gorgeous acoustic track from their recent concept album looks back on the Who's extraordinary career. Daltrey's voice has aged like good Scotch.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Asia from Alpha to Omega

John Wetton and Geoff Downes in the heat of the moment.

Progressive rock super-group Asia have a new studio album on the way. The album, called Omega is the follow-up to their 2007 effort Phoenix. We're assuming that the record will have a cover designed by Roger Dean. No word yet on whether the art will show up in a planned sequel to Avatar.

Omega, whose title is an obvious reference to the band's second album Alpha, is the second release by the original lineup of Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, John Wetton and Carl Palmer since reuniting in 2006. The band is scheduled for European tour dates and a short tour of Japan, and then will probably cross the pond to play the States later in 2010.

You can find out more about Asia at OriginalAsia.Com.

Photo © Marcello Gormez,

Avatar vs. Relayer?

The floating islands from a Roger Dean landscape.

Today's Academy Awards nomination for Best Picture has put a spotlight on James Cameron's extraplanetary epic Avatar, specifically on its art design, also nominated for best picture.

The floating islands of Pandora from Avatar

An article on Classic Rock magazine's website has illustrator Roger Dean (famous for his work with Yes, Asia and  many other bands) up in arms about the floating islands, flying beasts and other otherworldly images that make up the fantasy world of Pandora featured in the film.

According to the Classic Rock article, the illustrator was not contacted for permission to use his designs in the film. The article goes on to say that while Dean may be considering legal action against James Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment, but nothing definite has happened yet.

Top image © Roger Dean.
Bottom image © 2009 Lightstorm Entertainment.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Movie Review: Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Sacha Gervasi's exceptional documentary elevated the Canadan band Anvil from the cut-out bins to the silver screen. Simply put, this is one of the best rock documentaries ever made, and deserves a place next to This is Spinal Tap and Penelope Spheeris' Decline and Fall of Western Civilization series.

The movie opens with several metal luminaries: Slash, Lemmy, Tom Araya, Lars Ulrich and others talking about the influence of Anvil and their early success with albums like Metal on Metal and Forged In Fire. Then, the film shifts from the band's triumphant appearance at a Japanese festival to the present day. Lead singer/guitarist Lips now works in a Toronto suburb as a children's caterer. Drummer Robb Reiner (no relation to the director) is a construction worker who paints Edward Hopper-esque landscapes in his spare time. Both are committed to their band, but at 50 years old with 12 albums under their belt, they are not sure about the futute of Anvil.

The movie hronicles the band's disastrous tour of Europe, (a particularly memorable scene involves a Prague promoter who refuses to pay them) their attempts to secure funding for a new record (This Is Thirteen) and the day-to-day struggles with being relegated to obscurity. Lips and Robb are naturals in front of the camera, at times funny and at times full of anger and frustration. They're natural movie stars, helped by the superb direction and editing of Gervasi, whose past work includes the very funny The Big Tease

The most poignant moments are when they fight amongst themselves, angst scenes that are better than anything you'll find on reality TV. The film is a saga of guts and determination even in the face of overwhelming odds, angry relatives and an uncaring record industry. And the music is pretty kick-ass too, a powerful blend of boogie and speed metal that has been a trademark of the Anvil sound since they dropped on us in the 1980s.

Anvil are currently touring to promote This Is Thirteen and are planning a new album, Juggernaut of Justice. Tour dates are as follows--you get to see the movie and then they come out and kick your ass for 90 minutes.

Tour dates and more information are available on the band's official website,