26 September 2010

CD/DVD RETRO REVIEW: Erik Norlander - Live in St. Petersburg (2006, Think Tank Media)

(NB: this review was originally published 9 October 2006)

Erik Norlander has a reputation as a killer keyboard player. Live in St. Petersburg, his newest release (and first ever DVD release) offers a plethora of evidence to support this reputation.

On this live release, Norlander is joined by a number of his regular musical collaborators, including wife Lana Lane (vocals), Kelly Keeling (bass guitar, vocals), Peer Verschuren (guitar) and Ernst Van Le (drums). The show documented here was the final date of his 2004 tour, and was performed before a rapt audience at Manezh in St. Petersburg, Russia on 16 October 2004.

Among the highlights on this package is the opening track, “Fanfare for Absent Friends Part 1.” A stately instrumental, the piece was written as a tribute to the victims of the September 11, 2001 tragedy. It serves as a touching and appropriate opener for what was a solid performance. Other performances of note include the Norlander original “Mariner,” which benefits from Kelly Keeling’s emotive vocals. A respectful cover of the Procol Harum classic “A Salty Dog” follows this piece. Keeling acquits himself well on this cover; while he is certainly no Gary Brooker, his intonation comes pretty damned close...enough so that your humble reviewer got some serious goosebumps listening.

Instrumentally speaking, Verschuen and Van Le both get solo spotlights to showcase their skills. Norlander does not give in to taking his own extended solo, instead shining throughout the performance, especially on “Sky Full Of Stars,” where his synth playing is smooth, effortless, and memorable.

Lana Lane, a well respected solo performer as well as long term Norlander collaborator (and wife), finally takes the stage on “Alexandria,” a track written by Lane and originally on her solo album Secrets of Astrology. She is also showcased as lead vocalist on a cover of King Crimson’s “In The Court Of The Crimson King,” recorded live at CalProg in 2004 and contained on the documentary “The Road To Russia,” which serves as a bonus on the DVD. The documentary includes some additional live performances from throughout the 2004 tour, as well as interviews with the musicians involved on the tour.

The accompanying audio CD offers up much of the same material as on the DVD; some cuts were made, mostly to excise material already on previous live releases. Filling out the disc are two new studio recordings; the first is a rendition of “Fanfare for Absent Friends Part 2,” while the second is a cover of the James Bond movie theme “From Russia With Love.” Appropriate in title, this cover is a showcase for Lana Lane’s theatrical vocals, and suits her well. A video for this track is also included on the DVD.

The audio tracks on both DVD and CD are well mixed. Thus it is a shame to complain about the video quality. While the video is presented in a letterboxed 4:3 format, the performance is intercut with special effects footage, nature footage, and artificially desaturated black and white or sepia tone, often fading into and out of colour, or with other effects overlays on top. This detracts from the recorded performance, removes the viewer from feeling like they are there watching and listening, and detracts from the overall package.

Despite my complains about the video production, Erik Norlander’s Live in St. Petersburg is a worthy addition to his lengthy curriculum vitae, and an excellent addition to any prog fan’s DVD library.

Erik Norlander - keyboards
Kelly Keeling - vocals, bass
Lana Lane - vocals
Peer Verschuren - guitar
Ernst Van EE - drums
and Don Schiff - bass and NS/Stick on the two studio tracks

Track List (DVD):
1. Fanfare for Absent Friends Part One
2. Neurosaur
3. Dreamcurrents
4. Mariner
5. A Salty Dog
6. Sky Full of Stars
7. Alexandria
8. Guardian Angel
9. Oblivion Days
10. Peer's Guitar Solo
11. Beware the Vampires
12. Secrets of Astrology
13. Fallen
14. One of the Machines
15. Fanfare for Absent Friends Part Two

"The Road to Russia" documentary contains performances of the songs:
1. In the Court of the Crimson King - Cal Prog 2004 festival
2. Sky Full of Stars - 2004 European Tour
3. Mariner - 2004 European Tour
4. From Russia With Love - new studio recording with video montage

Track List (Bonus Audio CD):
1. Fanfare for Absent Friends Part One [2:19]
2. Neurosaur [5:51]
3. Dreamcurrents [5:59]
4. Mariner [7:12]
5. A Salty Dog [4:42]
6. Sky Full of Stars [11:32]
7. Alexandria [7:01]
8. Guardian Angel [6:56]
9. Peer's Guitar Solo [2:04]
10. Beware the Vampires [5:37]
11. Fallen [5:35]
12. One of the Machines [5:42]
13. Fanfare for Absent Friends Part Two [3:59] new studio track
14. From Russia With Love [4:51] new studio track

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