September 1999, I witnessed a live performance of Swedish prog rockers The Flower Kings. After the show, guitarist Roine Stolt gave me a double CD that featured live recordings of the band made at the famous USA Progfest festival of 1997. Progfest is one of the first progressive rock festivals ever held in the USA. This compilation album included tracks like Retropolis and Humanizzimo (parts A, B, C & D). However, Progfest ’97 contains more great progressive rock music. I enjoyed excellent live recordings of The John Wetton Band, Le Orme, Arena, Spock’s Beard and Sinkadus.
In 1995, I bought live videos of Progfest ’94 and ’95, but it took me ten years to get the live DVD from Progfest ’97. On this DVD, you can watch the above-mentioned bands performing for almost two hours. Unfortunately, I don’t possess a 5.1 surround soundtrack system, but to my surprise, the stereo sound is excellent and the film crew shot a fine impression of the festival. They made beautiful close-ups of lead singers, guitar players and keyboardists. It is a pity, they forgot to ask someone to watch Clive Nolan (Arena) behind his stack of keyboards. During Arena’s performance of Sirens, you can enjoy sumptuous synthesizer solos, but unfortunately, you cannot see how Clive plays them. Instead, the cameras focus on John Mitchell playing his David Gilmour sounding guitar parts. You also get good shots of singer Paul Wrightson singing his lyrics in a rather theatrical way.
In my opinion, the highlight of this DVD is the performance of one of America’s leading prog bands Spock’s Beard. The band played as good as the first time I saw them in The Netherlands. Spock’s Beard starts with my all time favourite piece Go The Way You Go and finishes with the Gentle Giant tribute Thoughts. The people, who selected the material for the DVD, chose different songs of all performing bands. That means that not all the music of the double CD appeared on the DVD. For example, The John Wetton Band performed the King Crimson classic Starless, but this piece is not present on the DVD. Instead, we get good performances of Battle Lines and Soul Survivor (Asia). Thank God, the compilers didn’t left out the two U.K. tracks In The Dead Of Night and Rendez-Vous 602. From The Flower Kings Retropolis has been left out, but it is still nice to see this band in action with old members Michael Stolt (bass) and Jamie Salazar (drums). The musical tricks of Le Orme and Sinkadus are certainly worthwhile watching. Their music is also very enjoyable, but I cannot say that of Big Elf . As I may say so, their contribution is rather disappointing. The song Neuropschopathic Eye didn’t impress me at all. Keyboardist Damon Fox stands in between his keyboards just as Keith Emerson does but unfortunately, that is the only resemblance. This DVD does not have the same quality level as today’s releases, yet this release is highly recommended. It is a fine flashback to the late nineties when young bands as Spock’s Beard, The Flower Kings and Arena ruled in prog land.
***+ Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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