Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Shadow Circus’

1375991_786211718411_1345542378_n

SETLISTS:

Shadow Circus
Overture
Daddy’s Gone
Whosit, Whatsit and Which
Make Way for the Big Show
Tesseract
Uriel
Camazotz
The Battle for Charles Wallace
Willoughby

Edensong
To See But Not Believe
Reunion
Cold City
Water Run
Nocturne
Years in the Garden of Years
In the Longest of Days
The Sixth Day
Beneath the Tide

After the successful outcome of their first festival, just one month ago, the unstoppable NJ Proghouse ‘staph’ have not been resting on their laurels, and have continued in their commendable mission of providing a showcase for the best progressive music at the local, national and international level. With an impressive series of shows already planned for the next few months (and some more yet to be confirmed) the group of passionate music fans based in New Jersey’s Raritan Valley have turned into a force to be reckoned with – especially now that they can count on the quaint yet welcoming premises of Dunellen’s Roxy and Dukes Roadhouse as a regular venue.

In a spur-of-the-moment decision, I decided to head north from my Northern Virginia home (though this time on my own) to attend the highly awaited debut of Shadow Circus at the NJ Proghouse, which also coincided with their very first outing with their new lineup. I had last seen the band one year ago at the Orion Studios, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and a few weeks before the official release of their critically acclaimed third album, On a Dark and Stormy Night – a show that had been plagued by a number of technical issues and had seen a less than stellar turnout. Unexpected lineup changes had prevented the band from performing again for quite a long time, in spite of the album’s positive reception. Understandably, this show right on their home turf was of paramount importance for the band led by guitarist John Fontana and vocalist David Bobick. For the occasion, they had teamed up with another local band, Edensong (who had performed at ProgDay 2009) – a very interesting pairing, seen as the two outfits’ approach to progressive rock is at the same time similar and different.

It felt oddly comforting to be back at Roxy and Dukes after a month that, for me, had been fraught with stressful events. The low-ceilinged, dimly lit interior of the venue, with its endearingly kitschy décor, looked much roomier with the tables arranged in groups of two or three  rather than in long rows, making it easier for people to move around. The turnout was not too bad for a late Sunday afternoon, and there were quite a few familiar faces among the audience. Indeed, the  Proghouse ‘staph’, together with the Roxy and Dukes staff, have created a warm, friendly ambiance for both performers and attendees, so that every show feels like a house party that invites people to linger rather than depart abruptly when the music is over.

Shadow Circus had been announced as performing their latest album in its entirety – which turned out to not to be strictly true, as the lovely, ethereal “Ixchel” was omitted for technical reasons (i.e. the lack of a female backup vocalist). However, the album’s overall impact was not lessened in the least, and the band’s two newest members – bassist Chris Valentine and drummer Campbell Youngblood-Petersen – looked perfectly at ease, projecting enthusiasm and self-confidence  as well as showing considerable skill with their respective instruments.

Decked in black as usual – with only keyboardist David Silver’s snazzy jacket’s bright red lapels adding a touch of colour – Shadow Circus delivered an energetic performance, deploying all the theatrical flair of their material and their trademark blend of classic symphonic prog and hard rock, powerful yet melodic and accessible. John Fontana – looking highly concentrated and just a bit tense – cranked out riffs and blistering solos on his trusty blue axe, while Silver’s impassive mien belied the exuberance of his Emerson-inspired keyboard runs (and that in spite of a few technical glitches). Sporting a purple-dyed beard and round mirrored shades, his microphone decorated with a large silver cross in pure Black Sabbath style, David Bobick handled his master-of-ceremonies duties with consummate ease. He introduced the album’s back story as soon as he appeared on stage at the end of the grandiose instrumental “Overture”, then put his theatrical training to good use while belting out the songs with gusto. The band wrapped up their set with one of their undisputed crowd-pleasers, “Willoughby”, which got the audience to sing along to the infectious chorus.

Originally formed in 2002 by guitarist/composer James Byron Schoen when attending Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Edensong have been through a myriad of lineup changes before and after the release of their full-length debut, The Fruit Fallen (2008), which included songs dating back from the early days of the band. Though not exactly prolific, they are very eclectic in their approach, blending classic prog with a host of other influences ranging from Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel to modern progressive metal. This eclecticism was amply displayed on the Roxy and Dukes stage, where Edensong proved that they are not just a heavier version of Jethro Tull (as some have labeled them). Obviously, the prominent role of the flute – used as a lead instrument as much as the guitar or the keyboards – will elicit comparisons with Ian Anderson’s crew, but Edensong’s music also possesses a keen contemporary edge  and an intriguingly dark, mysterious vibe.

Though I was somewhat tired when they got on stage, I could not help admiring the dramatic intensity of their sound (albeit with a strong undercurrent of melody) and their impressive stage presence. The youthful quintet’s bohemian appearance, which reminded me a bit of The Tea Club, intensified the music’s emotional impact.  Bare-chested flutist Barry Seroff very physical approach to his instrument matched the engaging antics of bassist TD Towers (a dead ringer for a young Ian Anderson, clothes included), and keyboardist Stefan Paolini drew the eye with his bright red pants. Drummer Tony Waldman kept up with Towers’ unflagging energy, while James Byron Schoen himself, though more sedate in demeanor, cut a striking figure with his red beard, jaunty hat and Steven Wilson-like bare feet. While his voice may be a bit of an acquired taste, I found it fit the music really well, and his edgy yet melodic guitar playing was not at all affected by this double duty. The band performed a selection of songs from The Fruit Fallen and their 2010 EP Echoes of Edensong, plus three songs (“Cold City”, “Years in the Garden of Years” and “In the Longest of Days”) from their forthcoming new album, which will be based on the concept of time.

As usual, attendance could have been higher, especially considering that the show ended no later than 9.15 p.m. Unfortunately, it seems that any band who does not feature attractive young women or members of prog’s old guard will have to be content with drawing no more than 50 people. On the other hand, it was heartening to see two bands sharing the stage on equal footing (no headliners and openers, and the same time allotted to both) and obviously admiring and supporting each other’s work. This was my fourth time seeing Shadow Circus perform live, and I am glad to say that the band has grown both in self-assurance and musical stature. As for Edensong, I will be looking forward to their new album, and hope to see them again on stage soon. On the whole, the evening was definitely worth the trip, and my only regret is that Roxy and Dukes is not closer to our home.

Links:
http://www.njproghouse.com

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

1505

No doubt about it: 2012 was a difficult year for most of us. True to the Italian saying about leap years being unlucky, 2012 ran the gamut from weather-related disasters, wars and other acts of random violence to political malfunction and economic near-collapse, sparing almost no part of the world. There was no lack of disruption in my own little world either. In spite of all my good resolutions, the year started with a few weeks of less than stellar physical condition (nothing serious, but enough to grind most of my projects to a halt), and then I was hit by a double-whammy of bureaucracy-related problems that –  while obviously not tragic – caused enough distress to cast a pall over the remaining months.

It is not surprising, therefore, that in 2012 I have been less prolific a reviewer than in previous years, or that the views on this blog have somehow decreased, though not dramatically so. Constant stress can wreak havoc on inspiration, and at times it was hard to come up with a coherent sentence – let alone an 800-word review. However, in spite of the seemingly endless stream of worry and general annoyance, music has remained a source of delight and (as the title of this essay points out) comfort when things got really tough.

The number of progressive rock-related albums released during 2012 was nothing short of staggering. The second decade of the 21st century started indeed with a bang in 2011, and, at least for the time being, the trend does not show any signs of being reversed. Many of those albums were made available for streaming (at least for a limited time) by websites such as Progstreaming, Bandcamp or Soundcloud, allowing the often cash-strapped fans a “test run”. On the other hand, the sheer volume of new releases made it necessary to pick and choose to avoid being overwhelmed. While confirming the vitality of the genre, this also showed one of the downsides of the digital age – the oversaturation of the market, and frequent lack of quality control.

As my readers know, I do not do “top 10/20/50/100” lists, leaving this exercise to people who are interested in arranging their choices according to a more or less strict order of preference. From my perspective, there have been milestone releases, and others that – while perhaps not equally memorable – still deserve a mention. On any account, even more so than in the previous year, 2012 has emphasized the ever-widening gulf between the retro-oriented and the forward-thinking components of the prog audience. Sometimes, while looking at the reviews pages of some of the leading websites of the genre, I have had the impression that (to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling) the twain shall hardly ever meet. In the US, such a split has been detrimental to the festival scene – though the void left by NEARfest’s demise may lead organizers to step out of their typical audience’s comfort zone in order to attract a more diverse crowd.

Though I am most familiar with albums that I have reviewed, or otherwise own, there are others that have left enough of an impression to deserve a mention in this post. As my choices have been mainly informed by personal taste, I will apologize beforehand for any major omissions. While I may consider those albums essential listening, some of my readers will certainly disagree with me, and suggest their own personal picks –and this is exactly how things should be. Indeed, as the French would say, vive la différence!

Although I have built a reputation as a fan of the more “difficult” stuff, one of my favourite albums of the year (and one that is likely to be featured in many top 10 lists) is an album that, in many respects, is not even “prog” in the conventional sense of the word. However, Echolyn’s self-titled eighth studio album – unlike so many true-blue prog releases – is a masterpiece of songwriting, instrumentally tight without any concessions to self-indulgence, and packing a huge emotional punch. Another highly awaited, almost unexpected comeback – 18 years after the band’s previous studio effort – Änglagård’s third studio album, Viljans Öga, reveals a keen, almost avant-garde edge beneath its pastoral surface, well highlighted in their impeccable NEARfest appearance.

2012 was a milestone year for what I like to call the “new frontier” of prog – less focused on epic grandeur and more song-oriented. In the second decade of the 21st century, “progressive rock” and “song” are not antithetic concepts any longer, and going for 5 minutes instead than 15 is not a sign of sell-out. Three albums in particular stand out: 3RDegree’s The Long Division, a perfect combination of great melodies, intelligent lyrics and outstanding musicianship with the added value of George Dobbs’ Stevie Wonder-influenced vocals; the Magna Carta reissue of MoeTar’s 2010 debut From These Small Seeds, a heady blend of catchy hooks, edgier suggestions and Moorea Dickason’s stellar, jazz-inflected voice; and Syd Arthur’s delightful “modern Canterbury” debut, On And On – infused with the spirit of early Soft Machine and Pink Floyd.

As in the previous years, in 2012 the ever-growing instrumental prog scene produced some outstanding albums. Canadian multi-instrumentalist Dean Watson wowed devotees of high-energy jazz-rock with Imposing Elements, the second installment of his one-man project – inspired by the industrial Gothic paintings of Toronto-based artist Ron Eady. In the early months of 2012, French seven-piece Forgas Band Phenomena made a triumphant recording comeback with the exhilaratingly accomplished Acte V. Another two excellent Cuneiform releases, Ergo’s second album If Not Inertia and Janel & Anthony’s lovely debut, Where Is Home, while not immediately approachable, will gradually win over the discerning listener with their deep emotion and lyricism. In a similar vein, A Room for the Night by drummer extraordinaire John Orsi (the mind behind Providence-based collective Knitting By Twilight) provides a veritable aural feast for percussion lovers. On the cusp of prog, jazz and metal, the aptly-titled Brutal Romance marks the thunderous return of ebullient French power trio Mörglbl, led by Christophe Godin’s humour-laden guitar acrobatics. Leonardo Pavkovic’s Moonjune Records specializes in instrumental music of a consistently high standard of quality, and this year’s landmark releases were no exception: Indonesian powerhouses Ligro (Dictionary 2) and Tohpati Bertiga (Riot), Canadian quartet Mahogany Frog’s rivetingly eclectic Senna, and douBt’s towering Mercy, Pity, Peace & Love – all of them true melting pots of rock, jazz, avant-garde and psychedelia. Also very much worthy of exploration, Kotebel’s Concert for Piano and Electric Ensemble revisits and updates the marriage of classical music and progressive rock with a heady dose of traditional Spanish flavour.

The left-field fringe of the progressive rock spectrum was spearheaded by the tireless efforts of dedicated labels such as Cuneiform Records and AltrOck Productions. One of  2012’s musical milestones – the long-awaited sixth studio album by seminal US Avant outfit Thinking Plague, titled Decline and Fall – was released in the very first weeks of the year. Mike Johnson’s monumentally intricate, intensely gloomy reflection on humankind’s impending Doomsday was complemented by a Thinking Plague-related project of a vastly different nature  – the charming, Old-World whimsy of 3 Mice’s Send Me a Postcard, Dave Willey and Elaine Di Falco’s transatlantic collaboration with Swiss multi-instrumentalist Cédric Vuille. By an intriguing coincidence, almost at the tail end of the year came the stunning live album by one of the foremost modern RIO/Avant outfits, Yugen’s Mirrors – recorded at the 2011 edition of the Rock in Opposition festival in Carmaux (France). A special mention is also deserved by Cuneiform’s touching tribute to RIO icon Lars Hollmer, With Floury Hand (sketches), released four years after the artist’s untimely passing.

On the Zeuhl front, founding fathers Magma made their comeback with the short and unusually low-key Félicité Thosz, proving once again Christian Vander’s versatility and seemingly endless reservoir of ideas; while the US produced an astonishing example of Zeuhl inspired by Aztec mythology – multi-national outfit Corima’s second album Quetzalcoatl. Eclectic albums such as Cucamonga’s Alter Huevo, Inner Ear Brigade’s Rainbro (featuring another extremely talented female vocalist, Melody Ferris) and Stabat Akish’s Nebulos – as well as chamber-rock gems such as Subtilior’s Absence Upon a Ground  and AltrOck Chamber Quartet’s Sonata Islands Goes RIO – reinforced AltrOck’s essential role in the discovery of new, exciting talent on the cutting edge of the progressive rock scene. Also worthy of a mention as regards the Avant-Progressive field are the politically-charged Songs From the Empire by Scott Brazieal, one of the founding fathers of the US Avant scene; the exhilarating Sleep Furiously by English outfit Thumpermonkey;  the wacked-out return of cult Finnish band Alamaailman Vasarat, titled Valta; and French quartet Jack Dupon’s energetic double live CD set, Bascule A Vif . The Avant-Progressive scene was also celebrated in the second episode of José Zegarra Holder and Adele Schmidt’s documentary film series dedicated to progressive rock , Romantic Warriors II – About Rock in Opposition.

The year was also noted for hotly anticipated comebacks from high-profile acts:  first of all, Rush, who were also finally inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for the joy of their substantial following. Their Clockwork Angels, while not a life-altering masterpiece, is definitely their strongest effort in almost 20 years. 2012 also saw the release of Ian Anderson’s Thick As a Brick 2, mixed by none other than Steven Wilson (also responsible in 2012 for the 40th Anniversary edition of King Crimson’s seminal Larks’ Tongues in Aspic) – a solid, well-crafted album, though not on a par with the original. While King Crimson seem to have been put on hold indefinitely, Robert Fripp has not been idle, and the elegant Travis/Fripp CD/DVD package Follow offers a complete aural and visual experience – suitably rarefied yet spiked by almost unexpected electric surges – to diehard fans of the legendary guitarist.

On the “modern prog” front, standard-bearers The Mars Volta’s sixth studio album Noctourniquet marks a return to form for the band, as it is their tightest, most cohesive effort in quite a long time. The Tea Club’s third album, Quickly, Quickly, Quickly confirms the status of the New Jersey band (now a trio) as one of the most interesting modern outfits, with a respectful eye towards the golden age of the genre; while Gazpacho’s deeply atmospheric March of Ghosts offers another fine example of English label KScope’s “post-progressive” direction. In a more accessible vein, Canadian/Ukrainian duo Ummagma’s  pair of debut albums, Ummagma and Antigravity,  will appeal to fans of Kate Bush, Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins with their ethereal yet uplifting feel.

Though I cannot call myself a fan of progressive metal, the debut albums by female-fronted German band Effloresce (Coma Ghosts) and Israeli outfit Distorted Harmony (Utopia) made enough of an impression to deserve a mention here; while Diablo Swing Orchestra’s Pandora’s Piñata – the band’s most mature effort to date – transcends the boundaries of the genre.  At the very beginning of the year, Steve Brockmann and George Andrade’s opus AIRS: A Rock Opera updates the classic rock opera format while deftly avoiding the cheesiness of other similar efforts, concentrating on a moving tale of guilt and redemption interpreted by an array of considerable vocal and instrumental talent.

The thriving contemporary psychedelic/space rock scene also produced a slew of fine albums that combine modernity and eclecticism with an unmistakable retro touch: among many others, Øresund Space Collective’s mellow West, Space and Love, Earthling Society’s eerie pagan-fest Stations of the Ghost, Colour Haze’s Krautrock-influenced double CD set She Said, Diagonal’s fiery The Second Mechanism, Astra’s highly awaited (though to these ears not as impressive as the others) second album, The Black Chord. Fans of Krautrock, and Can in particular, should also check out Black and Ginger by Churn Milk Joan, one of the many projects by volcanic English multi-instrumentalist Colin Robinson (of Big Block 454 fame); while Australian band Tame Impala’s Lonerism will appeal to those who like psychedelic rock in a song-based format.

As prolific and varied as ever, the Italian progressive rock scene produced a number of remarkable albums ranging from the classic symphonic prog of Höstsonaten’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Pt. 1, Alphataurus’ comeback AttosecondO and Locanda delle Fate’s The Missing Fireflies (featuring both older and new material) to more left-field fare such as Nichelodeon’s live album NO, Stereokimono’s Intergalactic Art Café and Daal’s Dodecahedron. Another of Fabio Zuffanti’s many projects besides Höstsonaten, L’Ombra della Sera, presents an appealingly Gothic-tinged, almost completely instrumental homage to the soundtracks of cult Italian TV series of the Seventies. Aldo Tagliapietra’s Nella Pietra e Nel Vento, his first release after his split from Le Orme, a classy, prog-tinged singer-songwriter effort, boasts a splendid cover by Paul Whitehead. The prize of most impressive RPI album of the year, however, goes to Il Bacio della Medusa’s ultra-dramatic historical concept Deus Lo Vult, with side project Ornithos’ eclectic debut La Trasfigurazione a close second.

Of the many “traditional” prog albums released in 2012, one in particular stands out on account of its superb songwriting: Big Big Train’s English Electric Pt 1, an effort of great distinction though not as impressive as its predecessor, 2009’s The Underfall Yard. Autumn Chorus’ debut The Village to the Vale also celebrates the glories of England’s green and pleasant land with a near-perfect marriage of pastoral symphonic prog and haunting post-rock; while Israeli outfit Musica Ficta’s A Child & A Well (originally released in 2006) blends ancient and folk music suggestions with jazz and symphonic prog. Released just three weeks before the end of the year, Shadow Circus’ third album, On a Dark and Stormy Night (their first for 10T Records), based on Madeleine L’Engle’s cult novel A Wrinkle in Time, fuses symphonic prog with classic and hard rock in an exhilarating mixture. On the other hand, Pacific Northwest trio Dissonati’s debut, Reductio Ad Absurdum, gives classic prog modes a makeover with influences from new wave and avant-garde. Highly touted outfit District 97’s sophomore effort, Trouble With Machines, proves that the Chicago band is much more than a nine days’ wonder, showcasing their  tighter songwriting skills, as well as vocalist/frontwoman Leslie Hunt’s undeniable talent and charisma.

With such a huge wealth of releases, it was materially impossible for me to listen to everything I would have wanted to, and my personal circumstances often impaired my enjoyment of music, as well as my concentration. Among the releases of note that I missed in 2012 (though I still hope to be able to hear in 2013), I will mention Beardfish’s The Void, Anathema’s Weather Systems, Dead Can Dance’s comeback Anastasis, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (another comeback, released after a 10-year hiatus), AranisMade in Belgium, The Muffins’ Mother Tongue, Alec K. Redfearn and the EyesoresSister Death, and Motorpsycho’s The Death-Defying Unicorn. All of these albums have been very positively received by the prog community, even if they will not necessarily appeal to everyone.

As was the case with my 2011 retrospective, quite a few highly acclaimed prog albums will be missing from this article. This implies no judgment in terms of intrinsic quality, but is simply determined by personal taste. Albums such as The Flower KingsBanks of Eden, Marillion’s Sounds That Can’t Be Made or IZZ’s Crush of Night (to name but three) –although thoroughly professional and excellent from a musical point of view – failed to set my world on fire. A pure matter of chemistry – as further demonstrated by my lack of enthusiasm for Storm Corrosion’s self-titled album (which reflected my reaction to Steven Wilson’s Grace for Drowning in 2011), or Mike Keneally’s undoubtedly outstanding Wing Beat Fantastic, co-written with Andy Partridge of XTC fame.

2012 was also a great year for live music, with both big names and new talent hitting the road. While we missed some of the former (such as Rush and Peter Gabriel), as well as this year’s edition of RoSfest,  the one-two punch of NEARfest Apocalypse and ProgDay 2012 more than made up for it. Unfortunately, the all-out Seventies bash named FarFest, organized by a veteran of the US prog scene such as Greg Walker, and planned for early October 2012 – was cancelled due to poor ticket sales, reinforcing the impression that the era of larger-scale prog festivals may well be coming to an end (in spite of the announcement of Baja Prog’s return in the spring of 2013). On the other hand, the much less ambitious ProgDay model is likely to become the way forward, as are the smaller, intimate gigs organized by people such as Mike Potter of Orion Studios, the NJ Proghouse “staph”, and our very own DC-SOAR.

With an impressive list of forthcoming releases for every progressive taste, 2013 looks set up to be as great a year as the previous two. In the meantime, we should continue to support the independent music scene in our best capacity – not just by buying albums or writing about them, but also attending gigs and generally maintaining a positive, constructive attitude. I would also like to thank all my friends and readers for their input and encouragement, which has been invaluable especially whenever the pressures of “real life” became too hard to bear. If this piece has seen the light of day, it is because you have made me feel that it was still worth it.

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Overture (8:09)
2. Daddy’s Gone (5:56)
3. Whosit, Whatsit and Which (6:33)
4. Make Way for the Big Show (8:42)
5. Tesseract (5:20)
6. Uriel (5:50)
7. Camazotz (6:22)
8. Ixchel (4:39)
9. The Battle for Charles Wallace (7:00)

LINEUP:
David Bobick – lead vocals
Jason Brower – drums, percussion, backing vocals
John Fontana – guitar, orchestral and incidental keyboards, keyboards (8)
Matt Masek – bass, cellos, backing vocals, 12-string guitar (2), nylon string guitar (8)
David Silver – keyboards

With:
Roo Brower – vocals (7, 8, 9)

Formed in 2006 in the New York/New Jersey area by guitarist/keyboardist John Fontana and vocalist David Bobick, Shadow Circus might have ended up as one of the many progressive rock projects limited to the four walls of a recording studio. Instead, right from day one, Fontana and Bobick’s vision involved a full-fledged band that would perform on stage as often as possible, emphasizing the theatrical component introduced in prog by Peter Gabriel-era Genesis (as well as some lesser-known outfits). Though not without hiccups (i.e. frequent lineup changes), the band have managed to hold to their initial aim, perfecting their stage craft whenever given the opportunity to play live.

Although often tagged as “retro-prog”, Shadow Circus are quite unlike the many outfits that sound like a tired retread of Seventies – albeit with a modern veneer. While their debut album, Welcome to the Freakroom, took an eclectic yet accessible approach, Whispers and Screams upped the ante in terms of “prog quotient”, half of it dedicated to the seven-part suite “Project Blue”, which, in its 34 minutes, summed up the band’s musical vision. On a Dark and Stormy Night (released on Georgia-based label 10T Records) takes up where “Project Blue” left off, expanding and developing the format in a compact 58 minutes, each track flowing organically into the other without any noticeable breaks, in classic “rock opera” style. Indeed, this is the first time  that the band have taken the “concept album” route, basing their third recording effort on Madeleine L’Engle’s young adult fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time – a fitting tribute on the book’s 50th anniversary. Literary inspiration is a fil rouge that runs through Shadow Circus’ six-year history– starting with  the band’s own name, which references Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes; additionally, “Project Blue” and “Journey of Everyman” (the 12-minute epic included on their debut album) are based on Stephen King’s The Stand and The Talisman.

Though concept albums as a whole, in spite of their enduring popularity with prog fans, can easily result in an overblown mess, Shadow Circus have navigated the potential pitfalls with admirable skill. The finished product is solid and cohesive, striking a fine balance between engaging melodies, fiery instrumental cavalcades and atmospheric, meditative moments. While a good proportion of the album is instrumental, the contrast with the generally catchier vocal parts is handled with a light touch, without creating the dreaded “patchwork” effect that mars many overly ambitious efforts.

Though Shadow Circus’ previous releases have often elicited comparisons to the obligatory Yes, Genesis and ELP (as well as more radio-friendly bands such as Kansas or Styx), On a Dark and Stormy Night develops the strong hard rock vein openly displayed on Whispers and Screams by tracks such as “Captain Trips” and “The Seduction of Harold Lauder”. In fact, the album’s core lies in remarkable synergy between John Fontana’s guitar – capable of sharpness, yet consistently melodic – and David Silver’s commanding keyboards, reminiscent of the epic duels between Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord immortalized by Deep Purple’s In Rock and Machine Head.

On a Dark and Stormy Night is bookended by two longish tracks with a deeply cinematic sweep, both of them referencing some of the main themes of the album. Introduced by ominous sounds of rain and thunder, “Overture” builds up slowly with orchestral grandeur and soaring guitar until it erupts in a wild guitar-organ ride in Deep Purple/Uriah Heep style. The following trio of songs showcase David Bobick’s confident delivery, rooted in AOR and classic rock rather than traditional prog. “Daddy’s Gone” juxtaposes a catchy, almost radio-friendly vein with a wistful note, enhanced by elegant piano and an emotional guitar solo at the end; while the jaunty pace and infectious chorus of “Whatsit, Whosit and Which” lead the way to a powerful Hammond solo. The longest track at over 8 minutes, “Make Way for the Big  Show”- based on a theme composed by drummer Jason Brower – is a stately, melodic piece that combines an almost classical feel with suggestions of vintage Kansas and Supertramp, dominated by Silver’s splendidly flowing piano and Bobick’s soaring vocals.

The 5-minute rollercoaster ride of “Tesseract” is strategically placed in the middle of the album, signaling a shift  into decidedly more adventurous territory. Eerie electronic effects complement echoing, chiming guitar lines that recall Porcupine Tree’s iconic style, then the Deep Purple vibe resurfaces for a fiery guitar-organ duel, adding a hint of Iron Maiden along the way. “Uriel” provides a momentary respite with the lyrical cello and piano at the beginning, then swiftly turns into an upbeat, dance-like tune enlivened by a great vocal performance by Bobick; while the martial, menacing pace of the über-eclectic “Camazotz” morphs first  into a soulful, bluesy chorus, then into a space-rock workout that pushes Matt Masek’s powerful, dynamic bass into the spotlight together with the guitar and keyboards. The lovely “Ixchel” – a soothing moment with a haunting Celtic tinge – wordlessly conveys the healing atmosphere of the titular planet through gentle acoustic guitar, sparse piano and Roo Brower’s ethereal vocalizing. In sharp contrast, closing track “The Battle for Charles Wallace” surges along like a triumphant sci-fi soundtrack, spotlighting the intense keyboard-guitar interplay, while Brower’s imperious drums set the pace; then vocals return, reprising the “Big Show” theme, and an expressive guitar solo wraps up the album.

By an interesting coincidence, On a Dark and Stormy Night’s official release is scheduled just a few days before another adaptation of a well-known young adult novel – J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Though Shadow Circus’ third album will probably not meet with same worldwide success as Peter Jackson’s film, it will probably feature in quite a few “best of 2012” retrospectives. Impressively well-structured and cohesive from both a musical and lyrical point of view, the album shows a band that have finally attained full maturity. Although On a Dark and Stormy Night is quite unlikely to please everyone in the increasingly fragmented prog community – and those of an elitist bent would be well advised to handle with care – those who approve of paying homage to the golden age of prog without sounding like a carbon copy of those modes will find a lot to appreciate. This is also a good “gateway” album for fans of classic and hard rock, and obviously recommended to those who like musical adaptations of literary material.

Links:
http://www.shadowcircusmusic.com/

http://10trecords.com/

http://www.madeleinelengle.com/

Read Full Post »

Ephemeral Sun
Theme from Top Gun
Untitled #1
Prism
Harvest Aorta Part I
Untitled #2
Winter Has No Mercy
Harvest Aorta Part II

Shadow Circus
Overture
Daddy’s Gone
Whosit, Whatsit & Witch
Make Way for the Big Show
Tesseract
Uriel
Camazotz
Shadow Circus
Captain Trips
The Long Road
Big Fire
The Seduction of Harold Lauder

As I announced a couple of months ago, the DC Society of Art Rock (DC-SOAR) has organized two shows at the Orion Studios in Baltimore to raise funds for its activity, which hinges on the promotion of progressive music in one of the most densely populated urban areas in the US. The first of the two events, scheduled for November 3, 2012, was to have been a triple bill, featuring New Jersey bands Shadow Circus and 3RDegree, as well as Northern Virginia’s finest, Ephemeral Sun. Unfortunately, 3RDegree had to pull out due to conflicts between their professional and family lives and the inevitable need for rehearsals, but the show went ahead as a double bill.

While the presence of 3RDegree would have made the show an even bigger draw, the two bands treated the audience to excellent performances, which highlighted both the differences and the similarities in their approach. In spite of its fundraising status, the gig was sparsely attended (which is the rule rather than the exception, unless the bill features a foreign band or one of the few domestic acts with a relatively strong following), but the 30-odd people who turned out more than made up with their obvious enthusiasm. Although some technical problems occurred during the soundcheck, the actual performances were characterized by outstanding sound quality (thanks to Mike Potter’s tireless work), which brought out each of the band’s strengths and detailed every instrument’s contribution.

As I pointed out in my review of ProgDay 2012, Ephemeral Sun’s music is more suited to the dark than the light, and the dimly lit setting of the Orion Studios enhanced the rivetingly cinematic quality of their music. After the turmoil of the past years, the band have now found a stability that is clearly reflected in the synergy between the four members, whose individual input is equally essential in the fabric of he sound. The pulsating power of Charles Gore and Jeff Malone’s rhythm section unfolds a rock-solid, yet subtly shifting foundation for Brian O’Neill’s sharp yet elegant guitar exertions and John Battema’s dramatic layers of keyboards. Ephemeral Sun treated the audience to a mix of older material (such as the metal-edged “Winter Has No Mercy” from their debut album Broken Door) and more recent offerings, such as the majestic “Harvest Aorta” suite (split in two halves) from their eponymous second album, and a couple of new compositions still without an official title – as well as a rousing version of Harold Faltermeyer’s iconic theme from Top Gun at the very opening of their set.

The quartet’s collective performance was flawless as usual, their music deploying all of its powerful emotional punch in the small, intimate premises. One of the most striking elements of Saturday night’s show was the band members’ impressive handling of the frequent tempo shifts in their generally lengthy compositions, keeping an eye on internal coherence so that the music flowed effortlessly without ever coming across as patchy. And then, the passage in which Battema let rip on the organ in true Emerson fashion was alone worth the price of admission. All in all, Ephemeral Sun seem to be going from strength to strength, and their new material sounds extremely promising – even if it will be some time before  their new album finally sees the light of day.

With a name inspired by the traveling carnival in Ray Bradbury’s iconic novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, Shadow Circus’ theatrical streak comes as no surprise, and makes good use of frontman David Bobick’s degree in musical theatre. The band’s founders, Bobick and guitarist John Fontana, are also fans of fantasy, science fiction and horror, and this interest is reflected in the subject matter of the majority of their songs. Saturday night’s show offered Shadow Circus the opportunity to showcase some of the material (no less than 7 songs) from their forthcoming third album, On a Dark and Stormy Night, which will be released on 10T Records in early December. Shadow Circus had played at the Orion almost exactly 2 years ago, opening for Italian band  The Watch, though with a different line-up. The band’s new configuration – comprising, besides mainstays Fontana and Bobick, original bassist Matt Masek, keyboardist David Silver and drummer Jason Brower, augmented by backing vocalist Paroo Streich – blazed through new and older material with assurance and flair, displaying chops and heart in equal measure.

Although all of the band members cite progressive rock as their main source of  inspiration, Shadow Circus’s music is also deeply rooted in classic and hard rock, and the influence of the likes of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and Led Zeppelin is unmistakable. As is the case with Ephemeral Sun, keyboards play a very prominent in Shadow Circus’ sound. With his impassive mien and slight frame, David Silver proved an essential foil for Fontana’s guitar, his love of Keith Emerson evident throughout the set, especially in the fiery Hammond runs that enhanced stunning instrumentals such as “Overture” and “Tesseract”; indeed, the latter may easily be the best thing that the band has ever recorded. he dramatic intensity of the instrumentals was balanced by the catchy quality of the songs featuring David Bobick’s expressive vocal delivery and flamboyant stage presence, with Paroo Streich’s backing vocals providing a pleasing contrast. The rhythm section of Matt Masek and Jason Brower anchored the sound with power and style, the two musicians complementing each other perfectly. Always attentive to the visual aspect of their performance, the band members were all decked in black with a touch of red (a special mention for Bobick’s beard and the large red flower sported by Streich, who also provided a bit of eye candy for the predominantly male audience), and also employed a few stage props to enhance the impact of their music with a quirky theatrical touch thankfully devoid of cheesiness.

By way of a conclusion, I have to admit that I found the not exactly stellar turnout quite depressing, especially on a weekend night. Even if the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the north-eastern corridor cannot be discounted, neither can the well-known apathy of many of those who think supporting progressive rock means getting embroiled in pointless discussions on some Internet forum. While modern technology offers almost any band or solo artist the possibility to record and release their own material with relatively little expense, it has also emphasized the lack of quality control of many such projects. Therefore, live performance has increasing become the benchmark by which to judge a band’s real worth. However, the diminishing opportunities – compounded by the cliquish mentality of a large part of the already fragmented prog audience –will probably to lead to the demise of many a fine outfit, discouraged and frustrated by the lack of support. It is immensely sad to see such gifted musicians grateful for the opportunity to play before a handful of people.

This situation has also impacted my own enthusiasm for writing about music, There is only so much that a reviewer/critic can do to support the scene, when it is the fans themselves who seem to be hell-bent on destroying the motivation of artists who already face considerable struggles in getting their music across in an oversaturated market while dealing with the demands of real life. As much as I like to listen to music at home, nothing beats the experience of a live show, and it will be a sad day when only big (i.e. commercially successful) names will be able to perform on stage.

Links:
http://www.ephemeralsun.com

http://www.shadowcircusmusic.com

http://www.dc-soar.org

Read Full Post »

The DC Society of Art Rock (DC-SOAR)  has been active for the past nine years in the Washington/Baltimore metropolitan area of the US, organizing concerts and other events for those who share a love for progressive music in all its forms. DC-SOAR, which is a non-profit educational organization, currently counts nearly 200 members, and its activities are entirely funded through donations and ticket sales rather than through conventional membership fees.

In order to give exposure to the Society’s activity and support its future projects, in the month of November DC-SOAR will be holding two fundraising concerts at Baltimore’s famed Orion Studios that will showcase some of the best progressive/art rock bands currently active in the north-eastern part of the US.

The first concert, scheduled for  November 3 at 7 p.m. (admission: $20), will feature Northern Virginia’s own Ephemeral Sun (recently appeared at ProgDay 2012), alongside two New Jersey-based bands, 3RDegree and Shadow Circus, also ProgDay alumni (in 2009 and 2010 respectively). 3RDegree have recently released their fourth studio album, The Long Division, which has been received in very positive terms, while Shadow Circus’ third studio album, A Dark and Stormy Night, will be released in a few weeks on Georgia-based label 10T Records. All-instrumental quartet Ephemeral Sun are presently working on the follow-up of their critically acclaimed 2010 album, Harvest Aorta. The different styles and approaches of the three bands will offer the audience a cross-section of some of the most interesting trends in modern progressive rock.

The second concert, scheduled for November 17 at 7.p.m. (admission: $ 15), will present new Baltimore-based outfit Prophet Code (featuring Iluvatar’s keyboardist Jim Rezek), Washington art/music collective Zero Mercury, and genre-bending quartet Kabob-O-Taj, hailing from Gaithersburg (MD). Though these three bands may not be as well-known as the ones previously mentioned, anyone interested in discovering new music should check them out.

Both shows are open to people of all ages. As usual, members of the audience are encouraged to bring small folding chairs and coolers.

Address:
Orion Studios,
2903 Whittington Ave., Suite C,
Baltimore, MD 21230

Admission:
$ 20 (Nov 3)
$ 15 (Nov 17)

Links:
http://www.dc-soar.org

http://www.ephemeralsun.com

http://www.3rdegreeonline.com

http://www.shadowcircusmusic.com/

http://www.facebook.com/ProphetCode

http://www.facebook.com/ZeroMercuryMusic

http://kabobotaj.com/

Read Full Post »

Based in the New York/New Jersey area, Shadow Circus first came to the attention of progressive rock audiences in 2007, with the release of their debut album, Welcome to the Freakroom.  However, it was their sophomore effort, 2009’s Whispers and Screams – followed by their appearance at the 2010 edition of ProgDay – that put them on the map for the majority of prog fans. With their theatrical image and lyrics inspired by the cream of science fiction and fantasy literature, as well as a powerful yet melodic sound that, while harking back to the golden years of the genre, does not shun contemporary trends, the band have attracted a lot of interest in recent years. They are now working on their third album, which should be released in early 2012, and have just released a maxi-single with two new songs, “Rise” and “Daddy’s Gone”.  The members of Shadow Circus (guitarist John Fontana, vocalist David Bobick, bassist Matt Masek, keyboardist David Silver and drummer Jason Brower) have kindly agreed to answer some of my questions.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

 Though your history is briefly but effectively outlined on your website, would you mind expanding a bit on the why and how Shadow Circus came to be?

John: I’ll try to address some aspects of that which might not have been mentioned before. I had been playing in some bands, such as Persona Grata, Violet Love, and Omnilingus, which were all born out of the early 90’s alternative rock scene. The music I had been doing was much more based on a heavy, funky, psychedelic thing, more akin to Jane’s Addiction, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. But, I always saw progressive rock as how I wanted to express myself musically, and so all of those bands had some of that element, albeit well-hidden much of the time. I took a break from it for a few years, and promised that when I returned to music again, it would have to focus on what I genuinely loved. As I auditioned for progressive rock projects, I had a problem that none of the recordings of my previous bands showcased what I could do in that context, so I made some demos to show what I could do with Prog. Dave heard what I was doing, and insisted that I form a band to perform the music I was recording, rather than just treat it as an audition demo. Those demos ended up becoming what is now called “Journey of Everyman”.

Dave B: Yeah, in the simplest terms, it became a vehicle for John to produce the “whirlwind extravaganza” that is going on in his head. Thus far that “extravaganza” shows no signs of stopping…LOL!!

Your lineup has changed since I saw you play live last year. How did you acquire your new members?

John: Well, our newest member is actually one of the original members. Our bassist, Matt, had to leave the band after the first album due to logistical issues. When we searched for a bass player this time, we contacted him on a long shot, just in case he could do it again, and we were very fortunate that the timing worked out perfectly. As for keyboards, we were originally getting ready to audition David Silver’s brother Harry, who realized while preparing for the audition that it would be more of a time commitment than he could handle, and so referred us to David, which also worked out incredibly well.  Jason answered our online ad, and blew us away with his first audition. Then he blew us away even more with his second audition. He’s apparently made a habit of blowing us away every time he gets behind the kit…and piano, as well!

Jason: Thanks, John. Remind me to give you that 20 bucks next time I see you. I had seen the name Shadow Circus all over the place on Internet prog sites and knew they had a presence of some sort in the newer prog circles, so, when the opportunity arose to possibly be a part of that group, I contacted John, sent him some video of my playing and set up an audition. I’m glad I did. This is a great bunch of guys and a great band, musically and personally.

Dave B: Basically it was a necessary evil. No one loves auditioning. It can be a bit grueling but once Jason came in that first time the process just got easier. I’m not the most easy-going person on the planet but in a lot of ways Jason is. This really helped. PLUS…he’s a Kiss fan and as you also know Raffaella, that’s a big deal in my world…LOL!!! You are, too, so I know you understand :-). Finding a Keyboard player was a bit daunting at first. It always seems to be the hardest position to fill but MAN…David is just THE perfect fit for this band. He’s just nuts!!! He’s got this crazy sense of humor that works with everyone and most importantly he’s genius on the keyboards. So, we really try hard to accommodate his schedule and make it work. As for Matt…well…we were definitely getting a tad nervous without a bass player and I have always wanted Matt back in the band since the day he left   but always figured, much like John did, that he would not be able to work things out. Alas, that was not the case. He actually jumped at the chance and to be honest, with Matt in the band it kinda feels like “home.” It’s the way it should have been from the beginning 🙂

David: As John said, my brother told me he knew of a band that was looking for a keyboard player.  This was at a time when I had no interest in joining a band.  But I listened to the music anyway and it reminded me of my musical roots while still sounding fresh.  On reflection, I came to realize that the Circus had a lot going for it and I was lucky to have the opportunity to step into this situation.  So, how did I come to join?  I stepped in it.

Did all of you grow up with classic progressive rock as your main influence, or are there others that you would count as equally or even more important for your development, both as individual musicians and as a band?

MattA high school friend turned me on to Genesis in 1977 and I was hooked on prog rock from that time on.  I had always loved the classic rock standards like the Beatles, the Doors, the Who and anyone from Motown but Genesis absolutely sparked my love of prog.  I am classically trained so the sweeping melodic grand themes of prog remind me of the masters of classic symphonic gems.  I would have to say that training laid the groundwork for my love of prog!

John: I had a friend in 6th grade who got me into classical music. He was a wicked violinist. Actually, I’ve recently been in touch with him, and he is now the touring bassist for Peter Murphy. But, I digress. He got me into Stravinsky, Beethoven, Brahms. Then I started hearing hints of classical elements in the music my older siblings were listening to. Hearing Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song” was a pivotal moment for me – what I loved about classical blended so beautifully with rock, and I was hooked. Also, I was very much drawn to the sound of the Moog synthesizer, and sought anything that used it, so I listened to everything from the Steve Miller Band to Isao Tomita. I’ve also always been a big Joe Walsh fan, so all of these influences find their way into what I write somehow.

Jason: I grew up with records always being played in the house. My parents had great taste in music and still do. I remember Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here being played a lot! I would even request them at the age of five. It was one of the first times I remember being affected by music. Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elton John, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, Boston…all the classic rock stuff was in the house. There was also some country, doo-wop, standards, etc. The funny thing is, my three favorite genres of music (aside from all the classic rock stuff),  prog, fusion and classical, were strangely non-existent (aside from Floyd, Queen and Zappa). That was MY music. Stuff that I discovered on my own and grew to love beyond description. My parents started me off right and I took it from there. As a performer, musician and composer, I can be inspired by almost anything, even non-musical things.

David: During my formative years it was pretty much all about The Beatles.  Influenced by an older sibling, I was quickly making my way through the obligatory Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple/Black Sabbath phases when one day I heard ELP’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  This rocking interpretation of classical music featuring Hammond organ and Moog synthesizer opened about 15 doors at once that I ran through and never looked back.  In short order there were Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant and Frank Zappa albums cluttering every surface (vinyl LPs were large, you know) and I began trying to learn various keyboard parts by ear.  Like John and Jason, I realized that there was a logical connection between a variety of so-called musical genres and followed each path wherever it took me.  A Frank Zappa concert one day and Victor Borge the next was what it was like in those days.

Dave B: Raffaella, you’ve gotten to know me a little over the last couple of years and I’m sure that when you think of my influences you will probably come up with one word…KISS! Beyond that, I listened to a lot of different things, but metal and heavy rock has always been my main influence. Queen became a huge influence in my life. I consider myself one of the lucky ones having actually gotten to see them live in 1982. Freddie Mercury was just mind-blowing. As you also know, musical theater also played a huge part in my life, opening me up to a whole different world that I did not know existed such as the song stylings of Miss Barbra Streisand, whom I consider to be the best singer on the planet. The list could go on forever at this point in my life.

Are any of you professional musicians? What are your respective experiences in the music field?

Matt: I work for a living music in the insurance field but I had attended a small music conservatory in Philadelphia for a couple of years, studying cello performance, hoping to play cello in a professional orchestra, but those plans fell through. I started on the classical guitar at age 9 and moved to cello by the age of 11.  I remember days spent in the local music store as a kid lusting after the shiny new bass guitars and in my senior year first performed in a band at a talent show.  I was hooked!

John: I have always depended on things other than music for sustenance, so, for me, it’s always been just for art.

Jason: I have been at every level that a musician can be except professional (laughs). Sure, we’ve all made money at it and sometimes really good money, but, never to the point that we could do nothing but. Hopefully, that will all change soon!

David: No.  None.  (Unless you count playing “Hoedown” on stage with Keith Emerson?  Nah.)

Dave B: Thus far I have not gotten to the pro level but one should never say never.

What about the compositional process? Are you all involved in the songwriting, or it is rather something that involves only some of the band members?

John: I typically come up with the musical foundation, and I’ve gotten more involved with writing vocal melodies and lyrics, such as the choruses for “Daddy’s Gone” and “Rise”. Otherwise, the vocal melodies and lyrics have been Dave’s. Now, with Jason and David in the band, they have lots of great musical ideas, so I see that evolving now to be a more collaborative process.

Jason: I have enough material for, oh, I don’t know, eighteen albums or so and haven’t stopped writing. I like the challenge of not only writing for myself, but writing for a group that already has a sound, bringing my sound and ideas into the mix. I’m looking forward to hear how our separate styles come together and what we will create.

David: Once John and Jason are done, I may have a couple of suggestions for album # 26.

Dave B: What John said…LOL!!! Just kidding 🙂  Yeah, I write lyrics for most things but there are times where I am at a loss and John will jump in. A perfect example of this would be “Horsemen Ride” off Whispers & Screams. I just wasn’t feeling it or I just could not connect and he jumped in and came up with a great set of lyrics. There’s no ego here. If John can do better, then all the power. That includes Jason as well. He’s got some awesome ideas that we  are fleshing out for the next CD which I think are going to just rock. I’ve already got lyrical ideas for it as we speak. Now if we could just get him to record it and get it to John we’d be golden. We’re working on it…LOL!!!

The lyrical aspect seems to be as important in your output as the purely musical one. How do you go about the process of writing lyrics, and what gets your creative juices flowing?

John: Dave will have more to say about this, but for my small part, I think of the vocal melodies in an abstract, phonetic sort of way. I think of the sound of certain vowels and the rhythm of the syllables. From there, I think about the story that the song needs to tell.

David: I’m still trying to picture what the vocals must sound like in John’s head.  I imagine sort of like if Marlee Matlin were the lead singer.

Dave B: I’ll give you an up to date example. As you know there is a new Van Halen CD coming out this February and everyone on the Internet…well not everyone…just the trolls (You know who you are…)…are starting to put it down not because it’s bad but because Van Halen are using a lot of ideas that were written many years ago and revamping them. That is the case with me. A lot…not all but a lot of the lyrics that are on the first and second CD’s were culled from lyrics that I wrote years ago when I lived out in San Diego. A lot were written for the band I had out there and some were just written kind of like poetry. When we started putting things together for Shadow Circus many of those lyrics fit like puzzle pieces into the stuff  John was writing. They were definitely tweaked and modified. One perfect example of this is the song “Angel” on Whispers & Screams. I actually wrote the lyrics AND the music for that song for my band Hang ’em High. It was originally called “Angel With the Dirty Wings”. John did some modifications to the music and I did as well with the lyrics and it…well…It “grew up” to be the song it is today. I find nothing wrong with taking from the past and letting things grow up. There is a song called “Russian Roulette’ off the latest Kiss CD, Sonic Boom, which was a song Gene Simmons wrote years ago. He modified it and it’s now one of the most rocking songs off that CD. Personally I don’t get what people are complaining about…well, I guess they just want to complain…LOL!!!

Beyond that, I love Stephen King and his stories have been fodder for many songs we’ve done. I think taking from literature is a great way to come up with lyrics. Iron Maiden has done it for years with “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, “To Tame a Land”, “Alexander the Great”…and the list goes on. Stephen King has been a huge influence on me for that reason. I’m a lot less interested in writing about life experiences and more about turning crazy stories into crazy lyrics.

As a keen reader of fantasy literature, I am curious about your own interest in it, which is reflected not just in the songs, but in the band’s very name. Which novel or short story would you like to reinterpret for a future album, besides those that have already received the Shadow Circus treatment?

John: I’ve always wanted to do something with Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. In fact, when I began writing “Project Blue”, that’s what I had in mind. The eerie intro to “Captain Trips” was originally intended to be the scene where Lasher first appears, with the circles of wind stirring up around the witch.

Jason: Keeping with the Stephen King themes, I’d love to do Salem’s Lot or Needful Things. We’ve talked about doing IT which I think would be incredible. I would also love to tackle Alice In Wonderland and The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow one of these days. Maybe the sixth or seventh albums (laughs).

David: I think a rock opera based on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre would be bloody wild.

Dave B: I’m definitely with Jason on this. I would love to tackle Salem’s Lot. IT is also on my list. In fact John has a song idea that was conceived with that story in mind. What we are tackling for the third CD is A Wrinkle in Time. John was very passionate about that story and it has really, really grown on me. We’ve got some epic things cooking as we speak. I’ll give nothing more away at this juncture.

One of the most impressive features of your albums, particularly Whispers and Screams, has been the artwork. Is the combination of music and art as important for you as for the original prog bands of the Seventies?

John: Absolutely. And, quite frankly, I wish that vinyl was still the standard medium. I liked when you could look at this big piece of artwork while listening to an album, unfold it and have easily legible lyrics and information about the band. CD packaging might as well be a candy wrapper. But that’s a whole other tangent.

Jason: Without hesitation, YES! It’s the first thing that invites you in and grabs you. Plus, being an artist myself, as well as a musician, it naturally attracts me and is very critical to the overall album experience. Like John said, it’s great to immerse yourself in the cover, art, lyrics, etc. while listening. They go hand in hand.

David: John told me H.R. Giger did all the covers.  John?

What about the New York/New Jersey music scene, which is by many perceived to be  more favorable to prog and classic rock than other parts of the country? What are the difficulties you encounter when it comes to finding gigs?

John: The biggest difficulty, I think, is that there is no place to play gigs on a regular basis. The Beatles didn’t become a great band by playing two gigs a year. They played five every day for years as a working band before setting out to record. Also, the list of bands that want to play these venues and festivals is so long, that you need to wait a minimum of three years before playing the same venue or festival again. The second biggest problem is that most American venues and festivals favor bands from Europe, and the venues and festivals in Europe will rarely, if ever, invite an American band to come and play.

Jason: The hardest thing that I’ve found about playing original music in NYC is gaining momentum and a following. Bouncing around from small dive bar or hole in the wall once or twice a month isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to at least play higher profile venues with heavy tourist appeal and built-in audiences on a regular basis or open for a national act at the larger venues or even get into the college circuit. Promotion is key, as well.

David: To follow up on what John said, The Beatles not only benefited from working “in the trenches” in Hamburg, but then got to return to England as a hot band from Hamburg.  Some things never change.

You recently played some dates opening for Italian band The Watch, for the second year in a row. What can you tell me about your experiences in a live setting – including your participation in last year’s edition of ProgDay, the longest-running progressive rock festival in the world?

Matt: I can be assured we all feel this way but when you can translate a studio result into a live result and people are happy, then you have done your job as a live performer.  There is not much to rival that feeling!

John: We are so fortunate to have such good friends with The Watch. What a rare, and amazing opportunity to be able to play such great venues in front of such large audiences. We learned so much about preparing to travel to gigs, setting up and cleaning up quickly, keeping the set list tight. It’s been an incredible education. ProgDay was also a great learning experience, as well as the first real gig this band has ever played.

Jason: Opening for The Watch was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had to date. Great band, great bunch of guys. I’m looking forward to a long friendship with them and, hopefully, many more dates with them here and abroad.

David: Agreed on all counts.  Opening for The Watch was a great pleasure personally and a great opportunity for Shadow Circus.

Dave B: I just love working with The Watch. They are genuinely the nicest bunch of guys you could know. Very hospitable and would pay us a million dollars a show if they could. It’s just a great relationship that will eventually allow us to play Europe opening for them as well. Really, I mean every night we played with them it was just such a pleasure to hang out and watch their show. They are definitely pro and we all learn a lot from playing with them. Come ON…Simone is just SO awesome on stage it’s great!!! ProgDay…well what can I say Raffaella…that where we met you for the first time. It’s all good!!!  \m/. It is a really great festival to play though. A great stage but a bit daunting as well. All the shows we have done including ProgDay have been learning experiences…like John said. Especially for me as the front man. Boy, do I have things to learn and I do with every show.

You have recently released two new songs, “Rise” and “Daddy’s Gone”, as a maxi-single. What has the response been so far?

John: We are getting a very positive response to the music. But, prog fans are a little old-fashioned in that they want an album, not a single, and they are even less interested in digital downloads as opposed to a CD.

Now something about your forthcoming third album. Do you see it as a logical follow-up to Whispers and Screams and Welcome to the Freakroom, or is it going to be significantly different?

John: I think that it is a logical follow-up. With each CD, we seem to get into bigger formats and themes. We had the short epic on Welcome to the Freakroom, then went further with an album-side-length epic on Whispers, and now we’re going for a full concept album. I also think that with each iteration, the music has more depth, more complexity in some respects, but we are also always pursuing the art of writing the perfect melody, however simple it is.

Jason: The single was great and a nice, easy way to introduce the new line-up and sound. Since this will be my first full album with Shadow Circus I can’t comment on the other albums, but, the excitement for the new album is really building within us as we get the material together and I think it’s going to be a great one!

David: I’ve noticed that the new hip thing is to release new material on vinyl, but so far my idea to put On a Dark and Stormy Night out only on wax cylinders hasn’t gained traction with the band.

Dave B: Among the many things that will be great about this next CD, I have to admit that the biggest deal for me is having Matt Masek back in the band and on this next CD. It’s literally full circle…ya know??? He’s so good at what he does and was awesome to work with on Freakroom…well, this is just gonna rock even more!!! I haven’t forgotten about you either Jason!!! You are a force to be reckoned with and you will make this CD everything the last two should have been!!! I think this line up more than anything will make this not just a logical follow-up but a GREAT follow-up. I’m just so excited to see what David Silver comes up with on the keys…it’s really very exciting!!!

Is your new album going to be an independent release like Whispers and Screams, or is a label going to be involved, as in the case of your debut?

John: I do think that a label will be involved in this release, one that is open to all of our approached to marketing and connecting with fans, but it is too early to announce anything formally.

David: Well, we were gonna put it out on a Black Label, but we couldn’t get enough proof. So I’m gonna let John handle this.

What are your plans for 2012, after the album’s release? I remember hearing something about a European tour…

John: We are invited by The Watch to come over to Europe and play some shows with them, so that will be our biggest priority.

Jason: Yes, a return to playing with The Watch here and then over in Europe, like I mentioned earlier, and hopefully a bunch of festivals. Basically, promote the album in any way we can and expand our fan base.

David: I think these days a new music act has to break on one of the reality shows, so I’ve got feelers out with American Idol, America’s Got Talent, Dancing With the Stars and America’s Next Top Model (couldn’t hurt).  So far we’ve only had interest from America’s Funniest Home Videos (and Project Runway likes my jacket).

Dave B: For me, I agree. I want to go over to Europe because I think that is where our biggest market is BUT…I also think it’s important for us to get to Canada with The Watch this fall as well. They get really big audiences up there and I think if we do it right we’ll make a positive impact in those cities.

Thank you very much for your answers, and looking forward to hearing On a Dark and Stormy Night!

Jason: Thank you for taking the time to give us this interview.

Dave B: Same here!!! Thanks so much for taking the time to support Shadow Circus. It really means a lot to everyone in the band. keep rocking!!!  \m/

David: I apologize. Truly. I apologize.

Links:
http://www.shadowcircusmusic.com

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

One of the biggest advantages of living in an otherwise crowded, ‘pressure-cooker’ area such as the US Northeast is the staggering variety of music on offer. With an impressive choice of venues of every size and description, as well as a thriving underground scene, the region has become one of the most important hubs for progressive rock, as illustrated by the documentary film Romantic Warriors (reviewed elsewhere on this blog). While gigs are organized more or less throughout the year, things are definitely quieter in the colder months (mainly because of the unavailability of the outdoor venues) – while the summer months offer such a wide range of gigs that fans are obliged to pick and choose, unless they have a unlimited supply of time and cash.

2009 was my first full year in the USA, so Michael, my husband, and I were finally able to start sampling the musical delights offered by our area. Our season included our first participation to NEARfest, four visits to the quaintly bucolic Merriweather Post Pavilion (the last one particularly poignant in retrospect, being the last time that we saw the great Ronnie James Dio on stage before his untimely passing), as well as what has now gone down in the annals of concert history as ‘the monsoon on the Potomac’ – the ill-fated Asia/Yes gig at the National Harbor. At the time, I had just started my reviewing tenure with ProgressoR, and as such was very much a ‘newbie’ of the whole scene. This year, though, was quite a different story…

With my review count growing and my reputation as a reviewer spreading around the prog fandom (helped by the reactivation of my Facebook account), I made friends among musicians, built an increasing network of contacts, slowly but steadily became part of the scene. For a basically shy person as I am, this made me feel much less self-conscious when attending gigs and festivals, and boosted my enjoyment of those functions. While I am very human and enjoy the attention generated by my reviews, I also feel I am helping those who need it the most – the artists – by covering their work and encouraging their efforts.

This year, our season of music was fittingly inaugurated at the very end of May, on Memorial Day weekend (which here in the US marks the beginning of the summer season), with the annual concert organized by the DC Society of Art Rock at the Jammin’ Java. We were already familiar with the venue, as we had seen Eddie Jobson and his band play there last year. A small, friendly coffeehouse, notorious for the ear-shattering volume of its gigs, this year it hosted two local bands, Brave and Ephemeral Sun, plus one of our favourite new acts – New Jersey’s very own 3rd Degree. Though all three bands put up excellent performances, 3rd Degree were our personal highlight of the evening – an extremely tight outfit very much in the vein of vintage Steely Dan, fronted by the amazing talents of vocalist/keyboardist George Dobbs and bassist Robert James Pashman.

A couple of weeks later, it was the turn of two legendary bands such as Jethro Tull and Procol Harum, in the beautiful setting of the Wolf Trap Foundation – a striking wooden pavilion surrounded by deep woods, and the only National Park in the USA dedicated to the performing arts. While Ian Anderson may have lost most of his vocal power, he and his crew are still mightily entertaining to watch, and their back catalogue has very few equals in the rock word. However, the real surprise of the evening were Procol Harum. Unlike Anderson’s, Gary Brooker’s inimitable voice is still in pristine shape, and they wowed the audience with a mix of older and newer material, including the goosebump-inducing “A Salty Dog” and the much-awaited “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.

Our second time at NEARfest, which took place on the third weekend of June, is documented in the lengthy account I wrote for ProgressoR when I was still on board. Since all my articles for said website are covered by copyright, I will post a link to it at the end of this piece. Two days after our return from Pennsylvania, we were back at Wolf Trap for the Yes/Peter Frampton double bill – another great concert from two historic acts, though this time marred by the stiflingly humid heat. After last year’s monsoon, which had literally driven Yes off stage, we had bought tickets for their February concert at the Warner Theatre in DC. It was not, however, meant to be, since the event was first rescheduled because of the heavy snowfall; then – on the evening it was finally going to happen – Michael came home from work with a touch of the flu, so we kissed goodbye to our tickets, and patiently waited for the next opportunity to see the band. In spite of all you can say about the Jon Anderson-less Yes, they did not disappoint, and I was particularly excited by their performance of “Close to the Edge”, which I had never previously seen them play live.

After almost a month’s gap, on July 20 we headed to a venue we were not yet familiar with – the Jiffy Lube arena (formerly Nissan Pavilion) – to see another formidable double bill, firm favourites Iron Maiden with Dream Theater as openers. Unlike either Wolf Trap or the Merriweather Post Pavilion, Jiffy Lube is a largely unprepossessing space, located somewhat in the middle of nowhere and totally devoid of atmosphere. Though we were seated in the covered area, we managed to get relatively wet when a thunderstorm broke out (quite appropriately, seen the title of their latest release) just as Dream Theater took to the stage, and the wind drove the rain beneath the roof of the pavilion. While I found the New York band tolerable at best (their set was mercifully short!), Iron Maiden delivered in spades as usual. With three decades of activity under their belt, they are still one of the most energetic, entertaining live bands in the business, and I was thrilled with their choice to perform some of their more recent material alongside their undisputed classics.

Fast forward to the first weekend of September, and my first time at ProgDay – as described in detail in the review linked below. Barely two weeks of rest, so to speak, and the 2010 edition of the Sonic Circuits festival was upon us – with the organizers having pulled out all the stops by securing the participation of three major draws such as Magma, Univers Zéro and Miriodor, as well as veterans The Muffins and electronic pioneers Richard Pinhas and Merzbow. Though we had bought passes for the whole week, we were only able to attend the opening and closing shows, both held in the gorgeous premises of the Maison Française, the cultural centre of the French Embassy in DC. The marathon-like opening event culminated with a simply incredible performance by Zeuhl legends Magma, a band every self-respecting progressive rock fan should experience at least once. A week later, the festival was closed in style by the utterly stunning musicianship and compositional mastery of Miriodor and Univers Zéro – a once-in-a-lifetime double bill.

Our season of music came to a close last Saturday, with our first-ever visit to the Orion Studios in Baltimore to see Italian band The Watch (who were performing Genesis’ iconic Foxtrot album in its entirety) supported by Shadow Circus – one of the Northeast’s finest new bands, and very good friends of ours. The Orion is indeed one of those places that seem to have come out of a bygone era – a warehouse in a suburban area of Baltimore converted into a temple of progressive music, somewhat small and cramped, but brimming with character and a ‘family’ atmosphere of sorts, with people bringing their own chairs, drinks and food. Unfortunately, tiredness prevented us from attending the whole of The Watch’s performance, though we managed to enjoy all of Shadow Circus’ set. Those guys are going from strength to strength, and will hopefully soon reap the rewards of all their hard work.

In the coming months there will probably be other concerts for us to attend in the area, though not with the same frequency. At any rate, we already have some gigs lined up for next spring, and will also try to attend all three of the big festivals organized on the East Coast. Until then, I will continue to support up-and-coming bands with my reviews and feedback. Watch this space!

Links:

NEARfest 2010 review (http://www.progressor.net/nearfest2010.html)
ProgDay 2010 review (http://www.progressor.net/progday2010.html)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »