24 June 2010

NEARfest 2010...the last 5 bands

This meant it was time for...

THREE FRIENDS, essentially Gary Green and Malcolm Mortimore from Gentle Giant, with a bunch of other musicians. This was going to be a nostalgia trip, and nothing more, but it was a wonderful one. Gary’s a stunning guitar player, Mortimore was pounding the skins with abandon, and the rest of the current crew were excellent, playing very intricate and complicated Gentle Giant material like they were born to do so. I don’t recall the name of the guy who sang (they brought in a new singer 2 weeks before the show), but he was excellent. I was thrilled to hear Boys in the Band and The Advent of Panurge and Prologue/School Days and Proclamation and…so many other songs. Gary was dead chuffed to be on stage playing to 1000 people, and his comment about this being more than three friends now, and how that probably means having to do a new album (‘Oh shit, what did I just say?’) was met with much applause and laughter in the audience. They were wonderful to talk to after the show as well…relieved, I think, that it went off so well, and genuinely touched by the response they got.

Saturday night ended much like Friday…drive home, offload pictures (this time so tired I left the camera on overnight, plugged into my PC), sleep. Sunday morning came earlier than Saturday did, and again, I posted a few teaser photos, tried to eat breakfast, and we headed off, a bit later than the day before, but all in all not too bad. I did my last purchasing for the weekend, and ambled into the theatre for MORAINE. Coming from Cascadia (the Pacific Northwest), their music is occasionally melodic, occasionally angular, occasionally noisy, but played with a lot of skill and subtlety. I think they have loads of room to grow, and they have great potential to be a force in the years to come if their first album is any indication. I do not think this performance will be spoken of in the same kind of reverent tone as other Sunday openers from the past (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum 2003, Hidria Spacefolk 2004, Guapo 2006), but this only means that there’s time for them to grow and evolve and progress.

Lunchtime came again, and again it was a burger from the outside tent. I was too lazy to go anywhere, and it was too hot. In any case, the burger was again good, and I risked some cheese on it. It was nice to get some air, and relax, and talk to people, and not feel rushed at all. I had no idea how much fresh air I’d be getting.

Band 2 on day 3 was THE PINEAPPLE THIEF from the UK. I have 2 of their albums…the 2 CD compilation 3000 Days and the newest studio album Someone Here is Missing. I was somewhat less than impressed with the albums after repeated listens, but still was hoping that perhaps the band would be more energetic on stage. I went in with no expectations of hopes, and discovered something…it is in fact possible to have zero expectations and still not have them met. It was shoegazer music of the worst kind, with whiny vocals and a plodding morose mid tempo beat that only succeeded in beating into my head just how gray their music is. I don’t mind maudlin, morose music…I love the darker Cure stuff, and Depeche Mode, and Radiohead, and so on, but this was just blah in extremis. Comparing them to Radiohead is an insult…to Radiohead. In the end, and trying to say something positive…I enjoyed every minute of their performance…that I spent outside, getting fresh air. I didn’t like them, and am not ashamed to admit it.

For me, tension was starting to mount a little bit. THE ENID was the band I had most wanted to see (in case you’d not already guessed), and honestly I was beginning to think that maybe I was building myself up too much. I was trying to will the time to pass more quickly so they could hit the stage. When we finally got in there and were seated, I had about 90 seconds of pure, unadulterated, undistilled terror sweep over me…’there’s no way they’re gonna live up to my hopes oh dear sweet merciful Yahweh what have I done to myself?’ I had been talking them up to all of my friends, and how would I face them after they failed to live up to my glowing and running commentary?


The first 6 or 7 minutes were sublime. I was totally unfamiliar save for a listen that morning in sleep induced coma of the new album, so my first real listen was when they played. And it was interesting and different…a melding of Something Wicked This Way Comes and Six Pieces. Lots of layered, processed, vocodered vocals, and tympani and guitars and layers of keys, and I was getting into it, and…

Then disaster struck.

The PC that handled the band’s effects and sound processing/shaping crashed. The band stopped. There was no way they could continue. And I died a little inside. Whilst the crew tried to get them band off and running again, the audience began calling out for a drum solo. Dave Storey obliged, adding in Summer Holiday as last seen on the Hammersmith live DVD. I think the fact that they didn’t all leave the stage, but tried to entertain and keep the audience happy in the midst of crisis, was a huge factor in their favour. When things finally got up and running again, instead of picking up where they left off, the band started from page one and began their set all over again. Journey’s End was intense stuff, and at the end of that part of their set they got a loud and rapturous ovation from a very appreciative crowd. The second part of their performance was a selection of mostly older material, going all the way back to In the Region of the Summer Stars. They started things off with Judgment and Under the Summer Stars, and my jaw dropped when the tympani drum opening on Judgment led us into the second set. I see that as an encore piece for some reason, so it was ballsy (to me) to kick things back off with it. Robert John Godfrey also offered up a lovely piano rendition of The Lovers, also off In the Region, and Sheets of Blue was another excellent piece. At some point I did start floating around the theatre…I was gobsmacked.

I know after the performance people asked me if my expectations had been met, and honestly, as lofty as they were, not only were they met, but exceeded. So much so, in fact, what when RJG and the band got up to the tables, I had a hard time expressing how much the music meant to me. I got to hug RJG as well, which is insufficient means for expressing my love of his music, but it has to do.

Dinner break, last day, and most of us went our separate ways. I ended up at Campus Pizza, as I usually do, and had a couple slices. I was already beginning to feel the crash coming as the end of the weekend approached. Finally making it back to the venue, I ran into Jon Yarger, who asked if I was ready to have my ass musically kicked. I said that honestly I was probably gonna end up hanging out with Brett Kull in the recording booth, and was told he’d not be there, as the headliner had specifically demanded no filming or recording. This, coupled with the strict no cameras policy for his performance, started leaving a bad taste in my mouth…a bad taste that would be build up as an 830 pm start slipped to 9 slipped to 930…when we were finally let into the theatre. As we waited, another film showed, similar to the one screening each morning, about how NF is all about the people, and this is where I got nervous. I had images of ill-advised chestbumps on screen, and when I saw the first one, I feared mine would be in there. I was relieved that instead people were only subjected to me saying this was my ninth NEARfest,and my rambling semi-lucid ramble about why NEARfest is so special. Then I watched as Ray and Jim and Kevin and Tom, in my eyes clearly uncomfortable, began stalling for time. I don’t care who you are, there’s no excuse for rock star attitude and prima donna acts. I was growing increasingly disgusted with the situation, and when the lights finally went down, and I watched 5 lighting trusses descend to the stage, I think I was done.

I still gave EDDIE JOBSON AND THE ULTIMATE ZERO PROJECT (alternatively Eddie Jobson and the Eddie Jobson Ultimate Eddie Jobson Zero Eddie Jobson Project, starring Eddie Jobson) a chance. 7 minutes of noise which I assume was actually impressive (to someone) violin playing led into individual introductions for Billy Sheehan and Mike Mangini and T.J. Helmerich and Marco Minnemann. The band shifted into King Crimson’s Indiscipline, and while I’ll admit the song choices were good (a bunch of UK, including Ceasar’s Palace Blues, Nevermore, In the Dead of Night, Danger Money, and more; Crimson’s Indiscipline and Starless; ELP’s Bitches Crystal), the playing left me cold, save for Billy Sheehan’s always enjoyable bass playing, and Minnemann’s excellent drumming. Jobson was more impressive on keys than violin, but on Starless all the life and space was sucked out of it, leaving it dense, overpacked, and less than the original. When you have a guy like Helmerich who can play 8-finger tap guitar, you do not have him playing the staccato violin part while you play Robert Fripp’s lines. It was a vanity and ego stroke of epic proportions, and it feels awful and horrible saying this about a band signed as a headliner, but I felt nothing from it. At all. So much nothing, in fact, that not only did I step out early, I didn’t go to get any signatures. Instead I spent the last hour of the performance talking to some friends and hanging out. After the festival finally let out, and most everyone queued for signatures, I waited, chatted with a few more people (Adam and Don and Andre, Cyndee and Jeff, Jen from PE, Adam, and far too many others to remember them all), and started feeling the comedown actually coming down.

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