It has been a year since the trio of Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman, then going by ARW, started touring (see our review from Oct. 12th, 2016), and 6 months since Yes’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Shortly after that ceremony, ARW announced a second run across North America and the change to the name Yes featuring Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman. The tour kicked off a few months ago and now was at its final date in Miami, FL. The beautiful Adrienne Arscht Concert Hall, typically used for Operas and Classical Music concerts, was a perfect backdrop for an exquisite evening of the classic songs of Yes performed by legendary musicians. The stage looked brilliant and acoustics outstanding.
For anyone that saw the tour on its first run, it was obvious the band were happy to be on tour and very loose. There were mistakes and timing issues, but they were so joyful to be back on the road, it hardly mattered. Now a year of shows under their belt, would their be a noticeable difference? Overwhelmingly, the answer is Yes. They were much improved as a unit and the performances were tighter, with one minor hiccup (we will get to that). The lighting and sound had been paid more attention to this time around, as well as the band tweaking the arrangements slightly to give some of the tunes their own flair.
The setlist was mostly the same, with 3 songs being changed out for others. They opened with the instrumental “Cinema” from 90125 and then went into “Perpetual Change” “Hold On” was next, another ’80s classic. They sounded great, but were just getting warmed up. They introduced “South Side of the Sky”, put into the set instead of “I’ve Seen All Good People” that was performed last time. This was followed be a breathtaking version of “And You and I”. Another change in the set was made with the removal of “Lift Me Up” from the Union album for the necessary inclusion of “Changes”, which was oddly left out of the early shows. The group were flawless to this point in the show, but in a moment of forgetfulness, Trevor Rabin, shredding with precision throughout the evening, started playing a different section of the song after the 1st chorus, sending the band into a bit of confusion. However, they never stopped playing after realizing the flub and calmly returned to the second verse and continued to tear the roof off the place. Anderson noted how funny it was to have done that on their last night of the tour.
The funny thing was, the show was even better from that point on.”Rhythm of Love” was once again a highlight as the band rocked out for an extended version that brought the house down. They continued with the Rabin-era by performing the Talk ballad “I Am Waiting”, truly a lost classic and one of the highlights of the evening; a brilliant addition to the show. The band then got ready for the homestretch kicking off the massive Yes classic songs with the all-time prog anthem “Heart of the Sunrise”. When this song is performed right, it is indeed one of the best songs ever written, and that was the case here. The rhythm section of Lou Molina and Lee Pomeroy were completely in synch allowing Wakeman and Rabin to do what they do best. Meanwhile, Anderson hit every not with ease and perfection, as he had done in the last 40 years. He was even more impressive leading the way through the lengthy epic “Awaken”. One thing becomes apparent every time you see Jon performing Yes songs, he is synonymous with Yes. He essence and voice are this music. His voice is one the greatest in rock history and it makes a difference hearing him perform these songs.
The group closed the show with the hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart” here performed over an extended 15 minute jam that included a brief section of the Cream hit “Sunshine of Your Love”. Then, of course, came the encore of “Roundabout” where Rabin, does an alternate opening to the traditional acoustic guitar bit played by on the original. The band finished the song to an raucous applause and brought their crew out for a full team bow before the audience, tour having been completed. Yes with ARW, are still only getting better and hopefully there is more to come. There are rumors of new music by the trio, which would be great. But if all they did was play these classics for years to come, that would be more than enough for fans of these incredible musicians.
Review by Joel Barrios
It is a safe bet that a few years ago many hadn’t heard neither of Dave Kerzner’s name nor about his music. Like others that jumped onboard Cruise to the Edge on November 2015, I already knew about his at-the-time only solo record New World, but that was pretty much it. His band was scheduled to play at The Spinnaker Lounge, and we decided to swing by and form an opinion straight from their live show. That was a day of “discovery”, which is a term I’m sure any avid music fan can relate to. They offered a great performance, with his long-time partner in crime Fernando Perdomo stealing part of the show with a unique and theatrical guitar-fest. The moment I disembarked I began digging to get wind on Dave Kerzner’s endeavors, and to my surprise I found he had been living in Miami for quite some time, where his studio is now located. Not only has he flown under my radar, he had also been a neighbor and I was completely unaware.
Dave’s musical resume is nothing short of impressive: a multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer ad engineer of high repute, he co-founded the award-winning progressive rock group Sound Of Contact with Simon Collins and co-wrote/co-produced their acclaimed 2013 album Dimensionaut; has worked with Steven Wilson on his album Grace For Drowning, Steve Hackett on his Genesis Revisited 2, Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn) on Mantra Vega’s Illusion’s Reckoning, Randy McStine on Lo-Fi Resistance Chalk Lines, Joe Lynn Turner on The Sessions, Simon & Phil Collins on The Big Bang, Billy Sherwood and Jon Anderson of Yes, Alan Parsons and many others. Dave’s background includes playing with Kevin Gilbert’s Thud in the 90s; he performed “The Lamb Lies down on Broadway” with Giraffe at Progfest ’94 and toured with Shankar on Peter Gabriel’s 1993 WOMAD festival. Back in 1996, he founded the sound development company Sonic Reality which has provided sound design for popular keyboard manufacturers, software instruments and some of the biggest names in music.
Now comes Dave’s sophomore solo release, Static. The album has just been released digitally and the physical CD version will be available mid-October. Static has been defined by Dave himself as “A progressive rock concept album and a rock opera about the distractions, chaos and clutter in everyday life and about navigating past this static interference in our heads toward clarity and happiness”. The album features Dave on vocals, keyboards and guitars and he is joined by top musicians, many of which have collaborated with Dave for the New World and New World Live albums. This includes the omnipresent Fernando Perdomo on guitars, bass and some drums, Randy McStine on guitars and FX, Derek Cintron on drums, and Durga and Lorelei McBroom on backing vocals. The list of guest musicians is otherworldly: Steve Hackett, Alex Cromarty (Mostly Autumn), Stuart Fletcher (Sea Horses), Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree), Billy Sherwood (Yes), Nick D’Virgilio (The Fringe, Spock’s Beard, Big Big Train), Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact), Ruti Celli, even Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) appears via some drums tracks recorded by Alan Parsons for Dave’s company Sonic Reality.
The first words that come to mind when trying to define Static are eclectic and monumental.Static doesn’t simply follow its predecessor New World, neither thematically nor musically speaking, it simply goes in a much darker and intense direction, one I could even label as sometimes aggressive. It is a concept album, with a common theme of exploration of various social and psychological states of being, and many flavors of rock are mixed in dramatic twists and turns: you are taken from dark moods to uplifting atmospheric pieces, from rich nostalgic sounds to modern alternative rock edges, from ominous and melancholic passages to poppy prog tunes.
The album kicks off with a short instrumental aptly titled “Prelude” which after mere 39 seconds gives way to the energetic “Hypocrites”, a groovy and pulsating song dominated by a gritty guitar riff, one that grabs the jugular right from the first note. The tune evolves exponentially from there, with Dave Gilmour-laden vocals wrapping the mood-altering everchanging melodies. The exquisite keyboards increase the percolating atmosphere, paired with Cintron’s pleasing and time-defiant drumming, and elevated by the additional vocals layers of McStine and Dorsey. The bombastic vortex builds into a cinematic kaleidoscope of sounds and effects that reach the final over an exquisite and high-flying solo, to later descend into a keys and drum driven slow finale.
The album title track and first single comes immediately, bringing a complete change of pace in the form of a soft and gentle piano-dominated ballad. If someone played this track for you without telling you where it comes from, you could easily say is a Pink Floyd tune. Gently gliding along from the outset, the melody is sublime, and yet so simple, well-constructed and smoothly delivered that it becomes instantaneously addictive.
“Reckless” is next, and it clearly shows how many influences are meshed into the creative process of the record. It begins with some pure alternative guitar chords and builds from there over a lazy groove with a bit of Zeppelin influence, a mix of moody, and an almost funky/80s clamor adorned by vocals samples that reminds one of Queensrÿche’s “Empire”. There is a mid-section where keys and drums alternate the spotlight’s pyrotechnics and then the song returns to the same initial structure and fades away slowly.
“Chain Reaction” follows, bringing a retro pop-infused sound, some sort of progressive mash-up between Radiohead, Queen and The Beatles. It somewhat reminds me of Perdomo’s solo works, with its upbeat main melody and a vintage, catchy and irreverent chorus.“Trust” comes in with an atmospheric intro on piano and keys and is the first track reminiscent of Kerzner’s first album New World. There’s a classic late 70’s Pink Floyd vibe to it which flows from one section to another, a gorgeous tune built over a melodic piano line, with a beautiful and restrained guitar solo that serves the song quite nicely and showcases Perdomo’s ability of never overdo his guitar parts. The album continues its journey over a myriad of soundscapes: nostalgic synth solos, choppy instrumentals, booming crescendos, rollicking organ runs, polyphonic drum fills and slick bass works abound in the next 8 tracks (Yes, you read well, this is a mammoth opus clocking on 75 minutes long) a journey I encourage you to take instead of me trying to ineffectively describe it.
Two other outstanding songs very worth mentioning are “Dirty Soap Box”, a full-blown progressive and hooky tune with a slashing rhythm (one of the highlights of the album) sporting a venturous and soaring solo by Mr. Steve Hackett and Nick D’Virgilio’s precise trademark drumming, and the closing song “The Carnival of Modern Life”, which is also the customary prog-epic at 17 minutes long lyrically divided into 5 parts. A chameleonic track plentiful of changes, is way more diverse and complex than anyone can describe using words. From its opening drenched in moody psychedelia to the cinematic middle sections, passing through elaborated choruses and charming keyboard episodes, exploring a breeze of slicing sounds and shifting harmonies whilst bringing back the recurring initial riff of “Hypocrites” the song is a truly lavish piece of music, one that closes with a grandiose ending permeated with brilliant and beautiful guitars full of drama and contrast, while the verses “Break down, look at yourself” creep slowly from the background to later die into some static noise.
With extremely meaningful lyrics, a first-class production, stellar musicianship from all the musicians involved (Perdomo, McStine and Cintron are particularly stunning throughout the whole record), and a gorgeous artwork courtesy of well-known artist Ed Unitsky, Dave has created a massive piece of psychedelic prog-rock with Static. For many it will take repeated listens to fully appreciate the complete magnitude of the album, as it somehow favors a gloomier ambiance, hence lacking the directness and pop-sensibilities of New World, but make no mistake, Static is a multifaceted beast. Is it a better album? No, is simply a different one, one that feels more like a truly collaborative effort, with a definite lively band feel mixed with Dave’s introspective creative vision as a solo artist.Merging elements of a twisted Broadway musical with familiar vintage rock flavors like that of King Crimson’s “Red” or Genesis’ “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, Static is Dave Kerzner’s most opulent and ambitious work to date and undoubtedly will serve to cement his position as one of the most creative artists in the progressive rock spectrum of his time.
Dave and his band will embark on a US tour starting with headlining the ProgStock festival on October 14th in New Jersey where they will be performing all of the album Static live and then head over to Chicago for the Progtoberfest at Reggie’s on October 20th. From there they will join forces with fellow American proggers District 97 to continue on their “Static-Vaults Tour” playing in other cities around the East Coast. In February 2018, the Dave Kerzner Band will be performing on Yes’s “Cruise to the Edge” for the third time with plans to do a short tour of Europe in the spring.
Released on Sept 28th, 2017
Key Tracks: Dirty Soap Box, Carnival of Modern Life, Chain Reaction
01 Prelude 00:39
02 Hypocrites 08:28
03 Static 05:18
04 Reckless 05:38
05 Chain Reaction 04:43
06 Trust 04:46
07 Quiet Storm 02:07
08 Dirty Soap Box 05:43
09 The Truth Behind 07:11
10 Right Back To The Start 01:49
11 Statistic 02:53
12 Millennium Man 03:30
13 State of Innocence 04:48
14 The Carnival of Modern Life 16:52
Dave Kerzner – Lead & Backing Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar, Drums, Bass
Fernando Perdomo – Guitar, Bass, Drums, Backing Vocals
Derek Cintron – Drums
Randy McStine – Guitar & FX
Durga McBroom – Vocals
Lorelei McBroom – Vocals
Ruti Celli – Cello
Steve Hackett – Guitar on “Dirty Soap Box”
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums on “Dirty Soap Box”
Matt Dorsey – Bass on “Reckless”
Colin Edwin – Bass on “Static”
Ewa Karolina Lewowska – Vocals on “Static”
Alex Cromarty – Drums on “Chain Reaction”
Stuart Fletcher – Bass on “Chain Reaction”
Chris Johnson – Guitar on “Chain Reaction”
Concert: Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress
Venue: Irving Plaza, New York City, Sept. 24th, 2017
Review by: Kyle Fagala
Photos by” Cesar Mendiburu
I. Once in a Lifetime
A week ago today, I boarded a plane for a quick, 24-hour jaunt to the Big Apple. This is something I’ve never done before – to board a plane by myself, with no luggage, to see a single concert. Only crazy fanboys do this sort of thing, right? I’m not saying that I’m not a huge fan of Mike Portnoy and Prog. I’ve been on two music cruises, attended all four MorseFests, and seen 9 of Mike’s different bands in concert. But, for me to get me on a plane to see a single concert (and more importantly, for my wife to give me the permission), it needed to be something special, something once in a lifetime. This concert, without a doubt, was just that sort of event.
On Sunday, September 24th, Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress played a sold out show at the Irving Plaza in New York City, performing Dream Theater’s Twelve-step Suite along with songs from Awake and Scenes From a Memory. It was the only headlining stop in the United States, and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
II. Looking in the Mirror
Before I go into the details of the night, I want to first consider together the bigger picture in all of this. When I analyze the Shattered Fortress set, the image that keeps going through my head is that of a mirror. There are multiple allusions to mirrors and glass throughout the night, all of which reflect the general themes of addiction, duality, and recovery. Much like oranges in Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy, mirrors and shattered glass carry significance that is deeper than you first suspect.
Mike chose to open his set with the original film score from “Psycho”, which is no surprise considering how big of a film buff he is. But, I think it goes deeper than that. I believe Mike included the theme from “Psycho” because of the way that Hitchcock uses mirrors and shadows in his film to represent the duality of man – the idea that we all have good and evil inside of us. Marion and Norman, the main characters in Psycho, both possess a dual nature. Marion stole $40,000 while Norman did something much, much worse. They both appear innocent on the outside, but when faced with a mirror, the characters, and we as the viewers, get a glimpse into their true selves.
It’s no coincidence that Mike chose to place “The Mirror”, the unofficial prologue to the Twelve-Step Suite, immediately before “The Glass Prison.” Further, his inclusion of “Strange Déjà Vu” and “Home” make sense because of their related subject matter. In “Strange Déjà Vu” Nicholas, under hypnotherapy, first sees himself as Victoria in a mirror, and even mentions later that “the mirror’s shattered the girl.”
“Home”, the next song in the set from Scenes From a Memory is all about The Sleeper Julian’s struggles with his inner demons and addictions. His evil side and poor decisions drive Victoria into the arms of his twin brother Edward, but only temporarily. Jealous and hurt, Edward breaks a window before killing Julian and his former lover Victoria.
The glass metaphors become more obvious throughout the 56 minutes of The Twelve-step Suite, with the most conspicuous references being found throughout the opening song “The Glass Prison.” A more interesting connection can be found in “This Dying Soul” and again in “Repentance” when we get the lyric “Hello, Mirror – so glad to see you my friend” which lines up perfectly with “Hello, Victoria – so glad to see you my friend” from “Regression.” These two lyrics effectively connect “The Mirror”, Scenes From a Memory, and the Twelve-Step Suite, especially if you interpret the lyrics of “The Mirror” as references to alcoholism and the idea of seeing one’s dark side reflected in a mirror. The final song in the suite “The Shattered Fortress” combines all these metaphors with “Look in the mirror, What do you see? The Shattered Fortress, That once bound me.”
III. The Shattered Fortress
I initially didn’t buy tickets to see the full Shattered Fortress show because I was fortunate enough to see its debut on Cruise to the Edge, where the band members and The Twelve-step Suite were revealed for the first time. That #MP50 concert also featured an incredible performance of three Liquid Tension Experiment songs with Eric Gillette tackling sole duties on the guitar. The most common criticism I’ve heard of Shattered Fortress is that it ostensibly takes three guitarists to do what one John Petrucci can do. Petrucci is undoubtedly a guitar god, and he deserves full credit for writing these parts, but the point of Shattered Fortress is not to replace John, but rather to pay homage to him and his music. I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job of honoring and nailing the original guitar solos than Eric Gillette, the most talented and humble guitarist I know. Let’s be clear though – Eric could nail these guitar parts by himself if he needed to, but having three guitars on stage means that nothing from the original recordings gets left out. When a solo comes in, the rhythm guitars stay put. The effect is a wall of sound that literally surrounds you, giving this particular Prog performance something extra that I’ve never experienced before.
There’s also nothing I can say about the gents from Haken that hasn’t already been said before. Suffice it to say that there isn’t a group of musicians better suited to perform this music. Ross Jennings takes on the unenviable task of replicating James LaBrie’s vocals and Mike’s phonebook of lyrics, and does so with gusto. Charlie Griffiths, Richard Henshall, Conner Green, and Diego Tejeida are clearly professionals at the top of their game, but most importantly, they are fans of this music. I caught them singing along to the songs throughout the entire concert. Charlie was even at Dream Theater’s first ever performance in London back in 1993! The only thing that separated these musicians from the fans in the crowd was a few feet, and of course, countless hours of practice on their respective instruments.
The concert was also a family reunion of sorts. The bulk of Mike’s family was in attendance. Marlene, Melody, Max, his sister Samantha and her husband Peter – even John Petrucci’s wife and daughter were there. And that doesn’t include all the friends and fans who have come to see Mike perform over the past 30 years. Obviously, John, James, John, and Jordan weren’t there, and how great it might have been had they been able to, but there was no regret in the air that night, only excitement.
The night began with Next To None. In classic Prog form, they made 5 songs last 45 minutes, displaying musical talent that is well beyond their limited years. Max, or should I say Mike’s reincarnated self from 30 years ago, is an extremely gifted and entertaining drummer. He’s a sweet, funny, and gentle soul offstage and a dynamic, hard-hitting, drum hero onstage. Lead guitarist Derrick Schneider is also one to watch. He sings, looks great on stage, and plays extremely well for his age, or any age for that matter.
One unexpected detail was the house music that played in between sets. Mike is a renowned archivist and bootleg collector of the music he has recorded and was thoughtful enough to share some of the demos and alternate mixes from Dream Theater’s catalog with us. If only that music could be released officially someday!
Once the crowd was properly amped, a recording of “Regression”, mixed in with snippets from other famous Dream Theater songs, kicked in along with a masterful video screen designed and edited by Christian Rios. “Regression” was the first Dream Theater song I ever listened to. I was 16, sitting in the back of a school bus, and headed to a basketball game at some crappy gym in rural Arkansas. I remember my friend Kyle Dickerson handing me a black disc with “Dream Theater”, “Produced by Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci”, and a dagger printed in yellow. By the end of the album’s 77 minutes, I had a new favorite band. 17 years later, to hear that same tick tock intro again, this time live and in person, was nothing short of miraculous.
A highlight of the show followed “The Mirror” when Mike took 5 minutes to step out from behind the drums, and address the crowd. Clearly, this was an emotional and nostalgic night for him. He recounted his first Dream Theater concert in New York City, a showcase for Mechanic Records at U.S. Blues in 1988, that he admitted no one else attended except for the guys from Fates Warning. He then listed off the 7 other times Dream Theater performed in New York City, with increasing response from fans in the crowd who had been at each show. Mike has definitely played some landmark shows in New York City: 2000 at the Roseland Ballroom for “Live Scenes From New York”, the 2002 “Master of Puppets” show, 2006 at Radio City Music Hall for “Score” (wearing the same custom Knicks jersey he wore on this night), and 2010 at the Madison Square Garden, opening for Iron Maiden.
Perhaps the craziest thing about all of this is how Mike, a drummer, is able to tour the world and sell out venues on his name and reputation alone. How many other drummers could do that? The answer is “not many”, but then there aren’t many drummers like him. Mike is an exceptional drummer and plays the drums with a “beat these drums into submission” style that few other drummers possess. Names like Keith Moon, John Bonham, Carmine Appice, Neil Peart, and Dave Grohl come to mind, but Mike still has his own thing and has blazed his own trail musically. Mike is also always connected to his fans, and according to the people who know him best, his greatest concern on tour is with giving his fans the best possible show, because he feels they deserve it. Mike is a workaholic and one of the most prolific musicians working today, releasing 16 studio albums since leaving Dream Theater in 2010. So, what better way to end a set headlined by a drummer than with the drum solo from “Finally Free”?
IV. One Last Time
When Mike Portnoy wrote The Twelve-step suite as a member of Dream Theater, I’m sure that the image he had in his mind of eventually performing that suite of 5 songs, released over 7 years, on 5 different albums, was far different from what was pieced together on stage in 2017.
Things are different because the grand image that was Mike Portnoy in Dream Theater – a mirror, if you will, that had largely remained intact for over 25 years, suddenly shattered apart, only to have its pieces swept up, dropped into a bag, and tossed in the trash.
Most progressive rock fans, myself included, have hoped to see that broken glass pieced back together, so we could enjoy the memory of Dream Theater just one more time. But, that hasn’t happened. At least not yet, and after Sunday’s performance, I’m at peace with the idea that it may never happen. Why? Because, on September 24th, Mike Portnoy’s fans got a good, 2-hour look at one remarkably beautiful image of the music of Dream Theater. Was it the same mirror we grew to admire over 25 years? No, but it was beautiful in its own way.
The good news is that the mirror is no longer broken. It’s actually been replaced with a new mirror, and the image this mirror reflects is just as beautiful as the one you remember. Some might say, it’s even more beautiful than before.
“Great to see some of the original members doing it the right way.” – Steve Hackett
The Security Project has once again reinvented itself, this time with vocalist Happy Rhodes. Together with Jerry Marotta (drummer from Peter Gabriel’s first five records), Trey Gunn (King Crimson), Michael Cozzi (Shriekback) and NY keyboardist David Jameson, the group continues reimagining the early work of Peter Gabriel (and also, on this disc, Kate Bush), but with Happy’s impressive four-octave vocals adding an entirely new dimension.
The Security Project will be releasing their new live album “CONTACT” on November 18, 2017! The material is culled from shows in the US and their recent Japanese tour. The band will be touring the US in support of the album release in November.
“The Security Project live is a beautifully reverential and creative reinterpretation of these Peter Gabriel classics!” – Kevin Killen, engineer of Gabriel’s “So” record
The Security Project:
Happy Rhodes – Lead Voice
Jerry Marotta – Drums, Vocals
Trey Gunn – Touch Guitar, Vocals
David Jameson – Keyboards, Eigenharp
Michael Cozzi – Guitar, Vocals
Mid-West/East Coast US Fall Tour Dates:
November 2, Thursday – Kingston, NY (BSP Front Room)
November 3, Friday – Newton, NJ (Newton Theater)
November 5, Sunday – New Hope, PA (Havana)
November 7, Tuesday – Northampton, MA (The Iron Horse)
November 8, Wednesday – Pawling, NY (Daryl’s House)
November 10, Friday – Boston, MA (Regent Theater)
November 11, Saturday – Schenectady, NY (Van Dyke Lounge)
November 12, Sunday – Syracuse, NY (The Lost Horizon)
November 14, Tuesday – Cleveland, OH (Beachland)
November 15, Wednesday – Louisville, KY (Headliners Music Hall)
November 17, Friday – Indianapolis, IN (Emerson Theater)
November 18, Saturday – Auburn Hill, MI (Callahan’s)
November 19, Sunday – Chicago, IL (Jerry Marotta drum clinic, info & venue TBA)
November 20, Monday – Milwaukee, WI (Shank Hall)
November 21, Tuesday – Chicago, IL (Reggie’s)
Show: Haken w/ Mammoth and Sithu Aye
Venue: Delmar Hall, St. Louis, MO, Sept 22, 2017
Review: Jason Turner
Pics: Jon Fiala
I have been a fan of Haken, the progressive metal band hailing from London, England, for just over three years. I initially came across their music through Amazon’s suggestion bar, of all places, a coincidence which I have a hard time labeling chance or fate–it could go either way. Being that I am a dedicated listener and consumer of band’s such as Opeth, Fates Warning, The Mars Volta, Steven Wilson, The Dear Hunter, and Dream Theater, the algorithmic wizardry of the dot-com behemoth placed Haken’s third album, The Mountain, in the ‘you might like this’ scroll, and on a whim I purchased it, something I had never done before, or since. I immediately became a fan, and have over the past few years delved into the rest of their catalog with fervor and abandon, two attributes which are certainly needed to gain a full appreciation of this intense, complex, mystical music.
On Friday night, September 22, I saw Haken live for the first time in my hometown of St. Louis, MO, at the relatively new and decidedly top-notch Delmar Hall, a venue that seemed the perfect fit for Haken. Situated in The Loop neighborhood of St. Louis, a bustling strip of bars, restaurants, movie theaters, music stores, book stores, and smoke shops, Delmar Hall is a pristine venue which holds 750 people comfortably. It’s as if the creators of Delmar Hall wanted to streamline the concert going experience; there is not a bad spot to watch from in the building, the sound system is state of the art, and the acoustics are spectacular. When I heard Haken would be playing there I thought, “Yeah, that’ll do just fine.”
The atmosphere upon arrival was relaxed and convivial. While the crowd was sparse early on, the room eventually filled to (roughly) three quarters capacity. In between sets I struck up conversation with several of my fellow concert goers, bantering about the usual prog show topics; favorite DT album, favorite DT song, is DT still good without Portnoy (yes it is, damn it!), etc. One guy had driven in from Columbus, OH, to catch the gig with a friend, while another, a student at Washington University, attended the show by himself. “I don’t know anybody else who likes Haken,” he told me somewhat shyly. “Don’t feel bad,” I responded. “Neither do I.”
The two opening bands, Mammoth and Sithu Aye, were intriguing in similar ways. Both were instrumental acts, both were progressively experimental, and both were enormously talented. I had never heard of either of them before arriving to the show, but made a note to check out their respective catalogs’ over the next couple of days.
As Haken took the stage at ten o’clock, the crowd transitioned from the polite appreciation it had shown the openers into displaying an outright enthusiastic devotion, coming to life with hoots and hollers and ear-piercing finger-whistles. The excitement was tangible, and I personally experienced a sense of relief; the previous week in St. Louis had been filled with protests and civil unrest over the acquittal of a white police officer who had killed an African-American man after a car chase, and several concerts had been canceled at Delmar Hall and its neighboring venue, The Pageant. Had the protest returned to The Loop, I have no doubt the concert would have been called off.
My first impression of Haken was one of confidence and concentration. The six band members, dressed mostly in black (the notable exception being Ross Jennings, the band’s singer, sporting a neon green necktie over his black ensemble), took their places on stage with an air of focus and control. With the opening notes of Affinity.exe/Initiate I knew that we were in for a special night, were in fact going to witness a band at the peak of prowess and passion, a perfect representation of a group of staggeringly talented musicians celebrating ten years of making music together.
It is one thing to hear top-shelf progressive music on an album, but something completely different to behold in person, particularly when you are familiar with the music being performed. It has been my experience that there is always an aspect or quality of the band/music that you don’t fully appreciate until you see and hear it live. In the case of Haken, the in-person surprise happened to be their drummer, Raymond Hearne.
Dude was a revelation.
Towards the beginning of the show, through the songs In Memoriam and 1985 (two of my personal favorites ), I was marveling at how amazing the band sounded, but my attention kept drifting back to the drum kit. “He sounds really good back there,” I found myself saying, over and over again. As the show progressed I found my attention zeroed-in on Hearne, trying to categorize the qualities of mastery I was beholding. There was a fullness and power to his playing and presence, like Matt Cameron on Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, matched with the precision of, say, Danny Carey’s work on Tool’s Aenima. But even those comparisons fell short of Hearne’s stick and foot work, as there was a unique quality to his playing; to say he sounded like such-and-such doesn’t do him justice.
Seeing Raymond Hearne play drums on September 22nd, 2017, was like peeking through a window into the higher potentials of Form and Idea. Not to be melodramatic about it, but it was like bearing witness to the manifestation of the human soul. Plato would have been proud. There was not only no flaws in his playing, but his playing was imbued with a sense of rarified personality, a rhythm and pulse that was undoubtedly the backbone of the band, yet nonetheless completely individuated from it. It was the definition of magnificent.
This is not to take anything away from the rest of the band. Each and every member was in top form, technically and sonically. And each band member had their moment to shine–Ross Jennings’ singing of the somber As Death Embraces comes to mind, as well as Diego Tejeida’s epic keyboard solo during the joyride that is 1985. As for the guitarists, Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths, well, their stoic demeanor belies the fire in their bellies and fingers; their synchronized and juxtapositional playing sent my mind cascading through realms of futuristic supercomputers and tryptamine-esque hallucinatory landscapes.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the bass work and impressive backing vocals of Haken’s lone American member, Conner Green. In fact, now that I think about it, the entire band’s backing vocals were deeply impressive. Their live recreation of complex harmonies embedded forever digitally on CD and MP3 left me shaking my head in delight, especially on my favorite song of the evening: Cockroach King.
In reality, though, to actually pick a “favorite” song of the night would be silly. Every song was stirring in its own way. Which was better? The Architect or Cockroach King? The Aquarius Medley or Visions? Really, it’s a matter of opinion and disposition, a relativity prone to change with moment and mood.
In any event, there was a prevailing spirit gliding above and diving through each and every song. You could not only feel the joy the music induced in the crowd, but in the band itself. Haken likes their music, too. A lot. In fact, I would go so far as to say they love it, not in a narcissistic, self absorbed way, but in an ecstatic, spontaneous, joyous way.
I keep thinking back to the smile on Diego Tejeida’s face, standing behind his keyboard rig. All night he was smiling, happy to be sharing his occult compositions, forged in dedication and tribulation with his brothers in sound, with strangers in St. Louis, MO, a city ravaged by problems all-too earthbound. It makes me think of a single word: affinity. There is an affinity found in the sounds of progressive music, a natural liking of and attraction to minds that meet on the edge of discovery. And it doesn’t matter if you are on this side of the musical instrument or that. We are all sharing in the same field of experience, the same field of understanding.
It just so happens that Haken are bloody good at being on that side of the instrument.