Category Archives: progressive

Opeth Builds a World of Nostalgia and Trance

Opeth has made waves in recent albums as longtime fans noted a change in theircreative direction.  Any time Opeth is mentioned it provokes the debate of whether or not it’s for the best.  Regardless Opeth still knows how to synthesize a visually appealing aesethetic and a set list bound to appease even the most stringent fan.

I won’t deny that there is a major difference between Opeth’s older music and their newer stuff.  It’s obvious.  Their newer stuff has more pronounced jazz and rock elements and subdued more modern aspects of metal.  I feel like much of it is a nod to music from the ’70s.  Given I really enjoy music from that era I see it as a boon.  What did make it feel like a ’70s throwback were the psychedelic visuals and emphasis on red and yellow lighting.  It certainly harkens to a different period, and I question the meticulous attention to detail.  There seems to be a clear purpose in going this direction but I can’t figure out if it’s for artistic or personal preference. 

 As for their older content it stands strong in its own merit.  Ot was amazing to watch the audience dynamic go from a subtle rocking out (at least compared to the rest of the night) to the same frenzy found with the other acts.  When the older songs were played the frenzy came out.  It even led to a few hilarious moments where Mikael Åkerfeldt demonstrated just how well he can handle hecklers.  That is the first time I saw anyone handle hecklers with deft and poise.

Opeth was able to handle more than just hecklers and visuals. The set list itself was created in such a way where the audience truly gets lost in the musical experience.  It may be the answer to my earlier ramblings about why the meticulous recreation of ’70s aspects.  I’ll be honest it was just as easy for me to get lost in the moment there as it is for me to get lost in ’70s music.  It may just be about creating an experience rather than any particular aesethetic.

Whatever the reason Opeth provides powerful music tempered by melodic tones.  In doing so it provides the audience an experience that permits not only getting lost in the music but a sense of nostalgia and, for me, lots of enjoyment.

Technique- 4

Presentation-3

Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0

Total-10

The Devin Townsend Project Brings a Tour de Force of Social Awkwardness 

This isn’t my first time reviewing The Devin Townsend project, but I will start it off probably the same way.  My bias in favor of them still stands.

Musically The Devin Townsend Project offers a plethora of styles, all of which deliver with tenacity and artistry only matched by a frontman who pokes fun at his own idiosyncrocies.  The powerhouse vocals tied together earth shaking drums and rolling bass lines deliver the poetics found in prog metal with the gritiness found in extreme metal.  This isn’t easy to pull off, and sometimes the timing was off due to excessive banter or missing the high notes.  Despite overdoing it to the point of hindrance that over the top embellishment added to the songs and brought something to folks already familiar with the work. 
 Not only was it more engaging, it was obvious the years of experience brought a clear command of audience interaction.  Whenever it seemed like he was losing the audience Townsend found a way to rile them up again, be it singing along, counting down to “March of the Poozers”, or cracking jokes about being out of place and a dad possibly out of his element.  Any mishap was handled by distracting the audience so well I didn’t even catch it (I only know it happened because he admitted to it, so kudos for getting one past me).  Even the sound quality was a far cry better than last time, which I would expect from a decent venue and incredible sound engineers.  

There was something that I felt was a little off about this area: the set list.  I honestly expected more from the “Transcendence” album, though I welcomed hearing music from “Z2” and older albums.  I also didn’t expect to hear songs like “Deadhead” so soon in the set list (that song was fourth if I recall).  I surmise that it had to do with the flow of the energy, which this set kept constant.  Regardless everyone had a good time, myself included.  

Technique- 3.65

Presentation-3

Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0.25

Total-9.9

Tycho Alba: Similar but Not Quite Like Tycho

Coming all the way from Colorado to grace The Replay Lounge is Tycho Alba. I’ll admit I couldn’t help but make a horrible wordplay on the artist Tycho in the title of this article. In reality the only similarities they share are something with Tycho in their names and tend to create ambient music.

Tycho Alba captures ambient music vibes and mixes it with atonal vocals (though I suspect at times the singer just missed the pitch) and synth elements reminiscent of 80’s electronic music. At times they varied on this by pulling from disco or jazz (and in one song power chords) in order to create a sound that I can only really describe as both playing into ambient music and a new wave revival. They also go as far as to create dissonance within their music while not compromising the tranquility of the music. One song in particular featured a very staccato rhythm with the smooth, connecting elements of ambient melodies. However, one of the pitfalls of ambient music is its monotony, and Tycho Alba can’t escape it. There were times where the songs sounded too much alike where, had they been played consecutively, I would have figured was a long song. However I think this band’s aware of this pitfall and at least came prepared to keep the audience’s attention.

As I’ve said in other reviews I find it hard to review an ambient performance. The point of the music is to be relaxing and trance-like. Playing at a venue that tends to be lively proves challenging, especially for music that provides a relaxing atmosphere. It can put a show at odds with the surroundings. These guys were able, from what I could see without a crowd, show some enthusiasm with their music They also joked a bit with audience and engaged further with special effects. At least, I think fog machines fall under special effects. Either way they used it, and boy did it release a lot of fog! The audience didn’t seem to mind, though.

The audience, in fact, seemed somewhat engaged. As I noted they gathered closely around the stage so I had a hard time watching the performance. There was a bit of cheering and applauding throughout, and it seemed fairly consistent with the exception of one or two songs. As I said, playing ambient music live can be tough, especially at a lively venue.

Overall Tycho Alba are able to add to ambient music by incorporating at times very dichotomous elements. Even though they still fall into the trappings of performing ambient music at times they still manage to captivate the audience as much as the genre is capable of doing.

 

Technique- 2.5

Presentation-1.5

Audience Interaction–1.5

Brownie Points-0.5

Total-6.0

Putting on a Show with Heidi Gluck and The Pony Show

As of late The Replay Lounge has some act where they play ambient music every time I visit. I’m not sure why that’s the trend, but I found myself catching a band who has Michelle Bacon (locals probably know her from quite a few other bands such as The Philistines). Since I’ve enjoyed other bands she’s played in I felt I was in for a treat. I learned some stuff after the performance when I went to research the band. Based on research it seems Heidi Gluck is a multi-talent solo act who recruited musicians for her live performances. I’m presuming then the songs are written by her and will address that aspect as such. In spite of this being more of a solo work I feel Heidi’s work is both unexpected and familiar.

I applaud Heidi Gluck for tying soothing ambient aspects and gritty alternative rock with vaudeville theatrics. I can’t recall if I’ve heard that combination before and I feel it’s pulled off well. She put a lot of thought into their sound and it’s a welcome change from the typical ambient music I’ve heard at The Replay Lounge lately. The weakest point musically came from not the unique blend, but the pitfalls of being creative: at some point one’s musical influences show up in one’s own work. Unfortunately the influences stand out too much and take the foreground periodically. There were times I felt the lyrics and other parts of musical composition were so familiar, as if they came from songs I’ve heard. I couldn’t tell if that was on purpose, but it detracts from the music for me. Pairing up what I suspect is an issue with composition is while aesthetically and creatively strong, lyrically they’re weak at times. While I do enjoy metaphors comparing love to target shooting –a metaphor fleshed out the entire song – I didn’t feel the juxtaposition lyrically added anything to the music.

I’m giving them leeway in the presentation aspect with some extra points because I had a hard time actually seeing them play. From what I could hear, though, there were moments where we got to see everyone on stage interact with the audience, such as the proud announcement for Heidi (for which I envy you). These little moments help bring out a performance. I do have one thing that I feel goes into this category that is important to note. I’d like to suggest rearranging the set list for venues like The Replay Lounge. In particular, while the audience may have been gathered around, at this venue there’s a lot competing for their attention. You are dealing with televisions, pinball machines, anything that’s going on out on the patio, and sometimes more. Starting off with ambient music when the set list contains other songs that are more energetic and unique are a disservice to the performance.

I couldn’t see how the band performed, but I did see how the audience reacted. The very fact they crowded the stage to watch is great. As I said, though, there’s more to a concert than performing well. It’s not just about great music and looking cool, it’s about actually getting the audience to engage with you as well. They were somewhat engaged early on, which was evidenced by cheering and clapping. It increased more when the music got less ambient and more vivacious.

I think there’s a lot of creativity and ambition in Heidi Gluck and she will go very far. Musically my only input is to make sure the creativity is paired with meaning and authenticity so the work will blend into something deeper and unique.

 

Technique-3

Presentation-1

Audience Interaction-1

Brownie Points-0.5

Total- 5.5

Shi’s Music Reviews: Digest #1, 9/13 at the Granada

This is probably a one-time deal, but I thought I’d experiment with a review post as more of a digest in lieu of posting numerous times some very small reviews. I’m not sure how much I’ll like it, but there you go. Hell, I almost didn’t post any of these reviews because I felt they were lacking and even incoherent (not to mention this is the first time in almost 5 years I’ve reviewed anything). I was persuaded otherwise with gluten-free cookies and promises of sippy cups in lieu of my usual dirt bottles I suck.

I’m starting of with my reviews from September 13th, 2012 at the Granada in Lawrence, KS.

Stolen Babies

Paradise Lost

Katatonia

The Devin Townsend Project

Stolen Babies

Stolen Babies is one of those acts that is best described as slightly unpredictable but entertaining.  Their musical style contains some metal elements, some influence of hardcore (mostly in the focus on breakdowns and rhythm),  hints of polka (both instrumentally and rhythmically), and goth lyrics tied together with zaniness and showiness of cabaret. Not every band can combine the following while utilizing the ensuing dissonance to their advantage. It’s unique, unusual, and pulled together cohesively without the fallbacks or the triteness found in those genres. The result is an interesting and intense sound reminiscent of a soundtrack from a Tim Burton film.

Despite a limited performance space, the band has an equally quirky stage act that filled what space was available. Some of the elements of the stage were utilized fully in the way instruments were hung (such as the bass drums on chains), and some of the storytelling elements conveyed throughout the songs and in between. Unfortunately, the band’s uniqueness wasn’t enough to engage the audience at first. As the set progressed with stronger elements of musical breakdowns, complex rhythmic structures, and thrash elements the audience warmed up and got into the spirit of the music.

This band’s performance is not without some of its issues. While it was resolved some of the lighting actually got distracting and sort of complicated watching it. I’m into the ambiance that lots of darkness adds, but not so much I feel as if the set’s in total darkness. There was also an issue with some of the sound. I’m not sure if this is an issue with the venue or not, but there was also some complications with the sound system where the bass overpowered everything but the drums. Sometimes this type of loudness works, but in this case it was a disservice since it overpowered the vocals at times. Since this was a common problem with every band that night I’m willing to cut some slack.

The overall performance is one which is memorable and fun. Stolen Babies provides something unique and quirky without compromising musical integrity. Sometimes the characteristics of the band proved a disservice at times but were easily resolved. The talent inherent in this band is immense and shows in their performance.

Technique: 3

Presentation: 2.75

Interaction: 2

Brownie Points: 0.5

Total: 8.25

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Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost has an interesting musical history, so much I wasn’t sure what to expect from a live show. What I should have tried to predict instead was how much the audience would contribute to the dynamic of the concert since they were an incredible driving force. That said, the band brought forth a powerful performance of their own with the sheer vigor of their music.

The vocals are strong enough to compliment anything from their more melodic songs to more raw songs filled with breakdowns, strong bass, melodic riffs, and blastbeats. Paradise Lost unapologetically display their versatility to perform songs that range from simplistic but powerful to raw and heavy. The nature of the vocals also reflected the mood of the song—be it entrancing melodies or pulsating rhythms—without sacrificing integrity. This enthusiasm was fueled by the band but kept strong with audience participation.

The audience loved them the moment Paradise Lost stepped onto the stage. There was a fervor for the band that lasted throughout the set while the band incited more audience participation. The band seemed to ask the audience to participate too often for my tastes, but no one else seemed to mind; the band’s performance didn’t seem to suffer for it either. If anything it seemed to keep the band’s enthusiasm going despite sound issues (everyone seemed to have sound issues at this venue that night, so I’m cutting everyone some slack). As with any experienced performer they rolled with the punches and knew what they were doing. This band knows which songs, attitudes, and moments will charge the crowd enough to keep the energy going throughout the set.

Technique: 3.5

Presentation: 2.5

Interaction: 2.75

Brownie Points: 0.5

Total: 9.25

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Katatonia

I thought Katatonia put on an impressive show. Between the music and the intensive stage production I’m still processing everything that happened in that set (and this happened well over a week ago. Thank god for notes!) This band brings to the stage intricate rhythms paired with melodic parts. It gets heavy, but adds a touch of progressive metal. One thing that really got me was how there some subtle nuances that stood out to me but added new layers to the songs. I found it incredible how those little details were often part of the transitions into something calmer and melodic, then back into the intensity. It happened almost effortlessly. The deep bass added to this combination that adds to the abrasiveness of their music.

When Katatonia delivers a show, they go all out. They supplied everything from fog and strobe lights to their own stamina. The only complaint I have was how the lights cut out at the end of several songs. Sometimes the effect provided the extra “oomph”, other times it felt a little contrived. Basically it was hit or miss. The audience didn’t seem to mind, and in fact seemed to multiply compared to the other acts playing that night; it was clear whom they wanted to see. Almost everyone loved what they saw and heard and that’s all that mattered.

Katatonia delivered an intricate style while maintaining a heavy sound. This sound reflected in their overall performance to bring something intense, complex, and at times intimidating. However, that last part is most likely because I’m a wuss. Beyond that I’m not sure how else to sum up this review save, “wow!”

Technique: 3.5

Presentation: 3

Interaction: 2.5

Brownie Points: 0.5

Total: 9.5

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The Devin Townsend Project

My note: I seriously considered not posting this review for various reasons, including my strong bias in favor of Devin Townsend and scant note-taking. After various taunts from my peers and the promise of a sippy cup I’ve decided against my better judgment.

Devin Townsend brings to the stage an incredible virtuosity with musicians capable of complimenting his bravado and skill. He and the rest of the project knew how to flow with everything thrown at them from flubbed pitches (and the prevalent sound issues) to nailing songs with the necessary power and volume. There is one issue where I can’t tell if I fell under the power of suggestion with Devin Townsend’s banter or if he truly is tired of the song “Lucky Animals” because I felt like he just plodded through the vocals. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt because that seemed to be the only thing truly lacking in that song. Despite a few blunders these guys nailed the set.

The entire performance delivers something on both a visual and auditory level. One clever way this is pulled off is by a screen projection of various graphics and animations, especially during the setup since it becomes a distraction and a way to excite the crowd. Later it’s another layer to the performance. The level of participation from the audience was phenomenal and one where Townsend used it to his advantage. He incorporated any heckling into his act, even if he used it as a statement of his artistic intentions; the audience loved him for it. What I loved probably more than anything was his willingness to take the harmony on some of his songs so the audience could sing the melody. I don’t know how common it is for musicians to do that, but it isn’t in my end of the woods. The audience enjoyed themselves, the project enjoyed themselves, and it was an overall great way to end the concert.

These guys put on a great performance, and I think I’ve repeated that fact every way I can. Yes, there were a few flubs here and there. Most of these flubs were handled well and sometimes even incorporated into the performance. The audience didn’t notice or care because they found a way to become as much a part of the performance as the musicians on stage.

Technique: 3.75

Presentation: 2.5

Interaction: 3

Brownie: 0.5

Total: 9.75

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