prog rock

King Crimson Plays “In The Court Of The Crimson King”

King Crimson In The Court of the Crimson KingListen to this track by primo-prog pioneers and art rock template setters King Crimson. It’s “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, the title track from their 1969 debut record In The Court of the Crimson King. That record set the standard of approach to expansive musical ambition when it came to making rock records, later to be recognized as one of the primary albums that “built prog rock”.

Indeed, this band established the idea of creating artistic statements in the rock vein while avoiding established American R&B influences, and turning to classical and other European ingredients instead. Rather than coming from the gospel churches of the American south, this music is more aligned with the liturgical grandness of the Church of England. This record is where it all began where prog rock is concerned.

This was the first incarnation of the band; Robert Fripp on guitar, Greg Lake singing and playing bass, Michael Giles on drums and percussion, and Ian McDonald on multiple instruments, including the mellotron. It’s this last texture which is so important on this song, giving it an eerily orchestral, and portentous atmosphere.

I think it serves not only as an aural element that would go on to define a genre. But, it also serves the narrative as written by lyricist Pete Sinfield, which is one that matches the mythical with the political.

In the light of that, who is the Crimson King anyway?

(more…)

The Fierce & The Dead Play “666…6″

Here’s a clip of British post-rock instrumentalist four piece. It’s their track “666…6″, a feature off of their most recent EP, On VHS,  the first release to feature the four-sided version of the band; Matt Stevens (guitar), Stuart Marshall (drums), Kev Feazey (bass), and newcomer (but, old friend) Steven Cleaton on second guitar, keyboards, and “fx”.

The Fierce & The Dead (from right); Steve Cleaton, Matt Stevens, Stuart Marshall, Kev Feazey

The track reveals the range of influences, particularly those of guitarist Matt Stevens, with this track, and others, originally intended for his next solo record. Radiohead, Mogwai, Robert Fripp, and Celtic Frost (and others besides) all make up the band’s approach, marrying melodic, ambient, and hard-edged facets of progressive instrumental rock music that is gaining attention in prog circles, and beyond. These efforts were helped along by the recent Fierce & The Dead record If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe. This EP is a chaser to that record, turning up the intensity.

As a solo artist, and as a part of the band, Stevens has been a major proponent in putting his music across via a dedicated online fanbase, as well as generating a following offline as well, particularly in the last year when the band have been especially active as a live act. This video was created with a YouTube audience primarily in mind, featuring some pretty odd imagery that also helps to highlight the dynamism of each player.

This track in particular demonstrates how much varied textures are important to the band, with thundering riffs set next to more delicate fingerpicking, atmospheric electronic flourishes, crisp and dextrous drumming, and bald and brawny bass lines each taking center stage.

I personally appreciate the value of tightly arranged playing that still lets you hear the moving parts at the same time. It’s not an easy thing to pull off. And that’s what stands out for me on this track.

On VHS  is available for download right now. So, you should.

For more information, you should also investigate the official Fierce & The Dead website.

Also, check out this candid video interview with Matt and Kev of The Fierce & The Dead about their humble beginnings as blossoming musicians among other things, including the making of the new EP.

Enjoy!

Klaatu Performs “Sub-Rosa Subway”

Listen to this track by Canadian space rockers and Beatles reunion suspects Klaatu. It’s their 1977 hit single “Sub-Rosa Subway”, a song that bothered the charts less than the rumours surrounding it bothered the music press and rock fandom at the height of the “will-they-or-won’t-they” era of hoped for Beatles reunions of the mid-to-late ’70s.

And for Beatles fans, this tune was certainly a treat to the ears, making many a Beatles circa ’67 musical reference as it does. The song was a double-A side hit with another song of theirs, “Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)”, which would later be covered by the Carpenters, of all people. Both songs appeared on the band’s 1976 LP 3:47 EST.

Yet, with this song it wasn’t just that the tune sounded Beatlesque. At the time, it was actually thought to be a surreptitious move on the part of the Fab Four themselves to reunite, with “clues” that were thrown around to make the “Paul Is Dead” rumours of a decade previous seem almost sensible.

But, Klaatu were a real band -Terry Draper, John Woloschuk, and Dee Long – albeit one that owed a debt to the Beatles on this song. Even they were surprised, and probably not just a little put out, to learn that a journalist had outed them as being a front for a real life Beatles reunion.

How on earth did this happen? (more…)

Querkus Perform “Half-Acid Lee”

Listen to this track by Winnipeg-based art rock duo Querkus. It’s “Half-Acid Lee”, a cinematic John Barry-meets-prog-meets-pop song as taken from the band’s 2011 debut album Spaces Between the Leaves Make Room For the Stars. The song is a part of a richly-textured record that pulls in all kinds of influences which range from that 60s film music sound that also fueled acts like Portishead and early Goldfrapp, to the progressive rock complexity of King Crimson, with splashes of PJ Harvey and Kate Bush in there for good measure.

The band is comprised of two creative minds in vocalist/keyboardist Karen Asmundson and guitarist/vocalist Edgar Ozolins. Both are interested in amalgamating disparate styles and sounds together into an ambitious whole. This song is a shining example of the results of their efforts; a large-scale, and decidedly menacing track that is marked by the contrast of Asmundson’s voice against the abrasiveness of Ozolins’ guitar.

After featuring this track on my recent Winter Indie Round-Up post, I got in contact with the song’s writer Karen Asmundson. She and I talked a bit about the making of this song, about how the Querkus sound is interpreted in a live setting, about the pressures of making a debut record, and about visions of some very angry trees …

Oh, and I thought it might be fun to give away some copies of the record to you guys here. Details at the end of the interview!

*** (more…)

Jon Anderson Sings ‘The Holly and The Ivy’

Listen to this track by high-voiced Yes frontman, and holiday season enthusiast Jon Anderson.  It’s the Christian-meets-pagan holiday favourite, and sang straight-up, “The Holly & the Ivy” as taken from Anderson’s 1985 Holiday-themed (sort of) LP Three Ships. This is a sort of stealth Christmas album, in that it also features some wintry, yet not specifically Christmas-related original songs by Anderson alongside traditional Christmas carols.

The song is clearly derived from a pagan past, with images of the titular holly and ivy having once been important elements to the religions of the late Roman empire, and also of Druidic religions that dominated the British Isles before they were Christianized.  This suits Anderson’s milleu perfectly, having been an old hand at using pan-religious imagery and language in his songs, both with Yes and without.

But, what of the songs on this album? (more…)

Genesis Performs ‘Entangled’ From A Trick of the Tail

Listen to this song by a post-Peter Gabriel, Genesis.  It’s ‘Entangled’, the second track from the 1976 album Trick of the Tail , on which a supremely gifted drummer becomes lead singer upon the departure of a charismatic frontman.   Such a turn of events in the life of a band of this stature is usually considered the beginning of the end.  Yet in this case, it turned out to be more like the end of the beginning where international popularity is concerned.

On Gabriel’s departure from Genesis in May of 1975, the reality of the situation came to light for the remaining four members – drummer Phil Collins, bassist Mike Rutherford, keyboardist Tony Banks, and guitarist Steve HackettThe New Musical Express and other music papers of the time called the band’s future into question, and fans were understandably concerned. It seemed prudent to look for a replacement lead singer immediately.  In the meantime, the instrumental tracks of this album were being recorded.

Collins was the most involved in coaching prospective lead vocalists on the band’s material.  After all, Collins had provided backing vocals, and occasional leads, since he joined the band in 1971.  He knew the cues.  And eventually, it was decided that Collins was the man for full-time lead vocals, even if Collins was initially reticent to be anything other than a drummer.

And the result was this album, released in February 1976.  As this pristine, beautifully layered song ‘Entangled’ reveals, the album was something of a return to their early 70s sound, and a little less angular and psychologically knotty than the previous, Gabriel-led The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.   So, where the prog-rock strain of the band is still in place here, in some ways this record, and this song, was a kick-off to new era of pop accessibility.

The approach served them well during this time of transition. This album scored them the highest chart placements than they’d ever enjoyed before, with a number 3 in the UK, and a number 31 in North America.  With a popular frontman gone, and with a new lead voice in place, Genesis had beaten the odds and then some.

The four-piece incarnation of the band would see them through another album, Wind & Wuthering, and a two-disc live album in Seconds Out, which featured Yes/King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford helping out on drums with Collins singing out front.  Chester Thompson would perform a similar role on subsequent tours for decades to come, although Collins would continue as drummer as well as singer, both on tour and in the studio.

After the release of the live album, guitarist Steve Hackett would also leave the band to  pursue a solo career full time.  Hackett recorded a solo record before his departure, Voyage of the Acolyte, which featured, among other musicians, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford, and is often thought of as something of a lost Genesis album.  But, by all accounts Hackett’s share in recorded material on the Wind & Wuthering was less than he was comfortable with.  The freedom of a solo career seemed the obvious choice for him.

The band would not replace him, officially.  Much like the way Collins filled in for Peter Gabriel, bassist Mike Rutherford would double on guitar in the studio, and work with guitarist  in Daryl Stuermer in live appearances, joining Chester Thompson as a long-term touring musician.  The next album by 1978, … And Then There Were Three, was aptly named.  And the out and out pop song “Follow You, Follow Me” would mark yet another career trajectory; multi-million selling top 40 chart success as a trio.

Enjoy!

Porcupine Tree Performs “Piano Lessons”

Here’s a clip of neo-prog champions Porcupine Tree with their 1999 track “Piano Lessons” as taken from their album Stupid Dream.

This song is the track which  really introduced me to this band, which had been a going concern for a number of years before I came across them.  The group is led by Steven Wilson, who began the band as something of a fictional lost band from the early 70s, when prog, or progressive rock, was at the height of popularity.  But, in fairly short order, Wilson put out a string of records which borrowed from the early years of prog, and eventually added something of a hard rock edge as Porcupine Tree became more of a going concern as a 90s band.

“Piano Lessons” clearly pulls in a number of Pink Floyd stylistic references for which the group had become known on past releases, yet also brings out something of Wilson’s ability to balance style with accessibility.  So, ultimately this is a pop song in a rock setting.  The rest of the album follows suit, with the Floyd approach to creating atmosphere mixed with the aggression of hard rock and European progressive metal.

I first heard this song on a sampler, and couldn’t believe it was the band that I’d seen earlier at the Strawberry Fair Festival in Cambridge a year ot two before.  That group was more experimental, and slightly unfocused.  But, on this they got to the point without being dull.  Clearly, Wilson had evolved the band since their earlier period as an artier, more experimental band.  On this, Wilson shows his interest in putting across songs, instead of  just trying to capture a sound.

For more information about Porcupine Tree, check out the Porcupine Tree MySpace Page.

Enjoy!

Rush Perform ‘Xanadu’

Here’s a clip of Canadian math-rock progists Rush with their 1978 track “Xanadu” as taken from their album A Farewell to Kings.  Of any North American band who ever tried to match their European progressive rock counterparts for complexity and lyrical conception, it is Rush.   This track is a part of their middle-phase, when their high concept material and intricate playing began to define them.

The first phase had them as skilled Zeppelinists, pumping out hard blues-rock much like Zep, but not really nailing down a voice of their own.   By 1976, with their album 2112, and with the addition of a new drummer and lyricist in Neil Peart, their musical ambitions expanded with more rhythmic complexity, longer instrumental passages, conceptual lyrics, and approach to presenting their songs as a part of a greater whole.   And so was the second phase of the band’s career begun, with a slight shift from Led Zeppelin to something more akin to Yes with bigger cojones, and just as the prog rock was beginning to wane in Europe.  I think the success of the group lay in the fact that they built on their Zep-head roots, while adding something new to the prog landscape.

Sure, “Xanadu” is complex, and dependent upon source material having to do with the English Romantic poetry of Coleridge more than with the riffage of Chuck Berry.  But, it doesn’t forget to rock, as well as build a story.  So, the stoners bought in, but so did the musos and sci-fi geeks.  That’s quite an achievement for a little band formed in Willowdale Ontario, just north of Toronto.

Ironically, the single taken from this same record is “Closer to the Heart”, marked with the same lofty lyrics as anything else on the album, and looked upon as something of a signature tune even today.  It was certainly a radio staple.  And perhaps it was the success of CTTH that the band began their third phase, which was about radio-friendly singles with only a hint of their progressive rock leanings, as opposed to the unabashed, arguably long-winded ‘prog’ as found on “Xanadu”.

As such, they rode out the backlash against big, generic corporate rock shows by continuing to pursue the three piece hard rock of their roots, matched with an embrace of technology – keyboards, MIDI technology – that sustained them into the 1980s.  By the next decade of course their appeal was cemented.  Today, they’re an institution, true prog/hard rock survivalists who have gained pan-generational appeal; a rare thing indeed.

For more information and music, check out the Rush MySpace page.

And of course, check out the official Rush website for more fan goodness, tour dates, and more.

Enjoy!

Genesis Perform “The Lamia”, from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Listen to this Genesis’ song, “The Lamia” taken from their 1974 concept album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

The story which is threaded through the songs on this album is a sort of phantasmagorical quest myth, based as it was on a series of dreams that frontman and lyricist Peter Gabriel was having at the time. Also, the band had made a trip to New York City the year before, and the cityscape had made an impression. This contributed to the lead “character” in the story, Rael, a homeless New York street urchin who is swallowed up by a mysterious phenomenon while exiting an all-night movie theatre in Times Square. He’s cast into a  series of  subterranean adventures (literal or psychological? You be the judge) , while trying to locate his brother John, who may in fact be a facet of his own identity, rather than an actual person (again – you be the judge).

Genesis the Lamb Lies Down on BroadwayAmong the many odd adventures Rael has is his encounter in an underground cavern pool with the Lamia, seductive beings with bodies of serpents and faces of beautiful women. Stay with me, now, good people. They entice him to have a four-way, inter-species romp with them in the pool. They bite him (and he “feels no pain”) and drink some of his blood. Unfortunately, his blood is poisonous to them, and they die (who knew?). So, what does our hero do? He does what anyone in his position would do; he eats their remains, which apparently taste of garlic and chocolate. It may surprise you to learn that this is a really bad idea, leading to all kinds of Freudian consequences.

You can read the lyrics to the song here, and follow along.

The full story of ‘The Lamb’ album itself was compelling enough for Exorcist film director William Friedkin to approach Gabriel about a proposed film, which never came to fruition. As murky and weird as the story is, what really counts here is the atmosphere the band creates to supplement their established musicianly chops. They’re able to get a sort of dream-like effect which is true to the lyrics, with the help of one Brian Eno on board who creates something of a sonic backdrop. All of this allowed them to create what many consider to be their definitive statement as a five-piece.

The group would tour the album in 1974-75, the final bow of an era before Gabriel quit Genesis to “grow cabbages and raise children”. He legitimately intended to quit being a musician, before reconsidering and returning in 1977, having completely re-invented himself as a solo artist.

Here’s an interesting site that has recreated some of the “scenes” from the Lamb album via a series of paintings, including the Lamia episode.

Enjoy!

Genesis Fronted by Peter Gabriel Perform ‘Dancing With the Moonlit Knight’

Here’s a clip of the classic Genesis line-up (Peter Gabriel on vocals, percussion, and flute, Phil Collins on drums and backing vocals, Steve Hackett on guitars, Mike Rutherford on bass and rhythm guitars, and Tony Banks on keyboards) doing their epic track “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight” taken from (arguably) their best album of their early period, Selling England by the Pound from 1973.

Peter_Gabriel The Moonlight_Knight

Peter Gabriel in 1974, portraying “Britainia” the Moonlit Knight. It would be these personas and costumes which would define the visual presentation of the whole band before Gabriel departed from Genesis in May of 1975.

Note the odd monologue before the song starts – a common practice which Gabriel used to entertain the audience, or at least hold their attention, until his bandmates tuned up.

Before ‘Sledgehammer’, ‘In Your Eyes’, and WOMAD, and certainly before ‘Land of Confusion’ and ‘Sussudio’, Genesis was a premier-league act in British progressive rock, or (affectionately) ‘prog’, along with King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and Yes.

The group started at Charterhouse school in Surrey, England in 1966 when Gabriel, Banks, and Rutherford were still in their teens. But even after they’d been signed, and had put out their first two albums by 1970, they were considered as ‘studenty’ and dull on stage – playing their instruments while sitting down, and approaching the music in an academic way, rather than in a balls-out rock n’ roll fashion. Having read a review about how boring they were as a stage act, Gabriel took this as a challenge to up his game. So, the next show they did, he appeared on stage as as usual, but for the red dress and fox head mask, a figure which was featured on their 1972 album Foxtrot. And the rest of the band was just as surprised as the audience – he hadn’t told them about his costumes.

Gabriel would turn himself into several fantastic creatures while fronting the band until 1975 – the bat-like Watcher of the Skies, the ‘Flower’ as taken from the group’s apocalyptic epic “Supper’s Ready”, and most outrageously of all, the Slipperman which was one of the deformed characters from the band’s epic two-disc concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. His compatriots in the band began to feel that Peter’s theatrical approach to his duties as frontman was beginning to upstage the music. For instance, Peter’s Slipperman costume covered his entire head, making it difficult to get his microphone near his mouth.

The group would transform a number of times over the course of its life. Gabriel would leave in 1975 to pursue a lucrative solo career, and Hackett would follow his example in 1977. Collins, Rutherford, and Banks would re-fashion the band at the end of the 70s, slowly jettisoning its prog roots in favour of a more keyboard-driven r&b pop approach with every record. Ray Wilson would replace Collins in the 1990s as frontman for one album. Because of all of these personnel and stylistic changes, the question of whether or not one is a fan of Genesis is not quite as simple as the question would be if it centered around another band. It often depends on which stage of the band’s development that is being talked about.

For me, this 1971- 1975 period is the band at its most interesting – musically ambitious and skilled, kind of weird too, and with a better sense of humour than most bands of its ilk. And Gabriel is magnetic as a performer, but also as a vocalist. The influence of prog would continue to the twenty-first century, its mantle passed on to (to me, less interesting…) band’s like Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater, and Tool, albeit with a harder edge. Many of the elements of prog would be there – complicated rhythms, costumes, epic-length song suites, and more. But, it would never have such a charismatic figure to champion it.

For more Gabriel-era Genesis, check out Canadian tribute band The Musical Box, who have recreated, and even re-used, some of the original costumes and sets from this early period in the band’s history. For those not old enough to catch an original early 70s Genesis show, this is (apparently) the next best thing. Both Phil Collins and Steve Hackett have sat in with the group during performances of the original material. And Gabriel has attended their shows. How’s that for an endorsement?

Enjoy!

[Update, March 21, 2014 - for an even more expansive idea of this era of the band's history, take a look at this article announcing an unearthed 1973 concert of Genesis playing Shepperton Studios, now in HD no less. At the time of this writing, you can watch the concert in full on an embed found at the bottom of the article.]