The Australian guitarist Plini Roessler-Holgate and his live band opened Day two of the festival in style. There was a larger audience turn out with fans making it through the queue quicker due to most having their festival wristbands at the ready! Todaywas a little cooler and breezier than the first day and the crowd was not afraid to place themselves toward the stage and out of the shade.
The first notable element as the band started playing was that the sound was much clearer with a better mix than the first day opener (Persefone). You could hear each of the intricate jazz-fusion inspired guitar lines with a lot of space in between. The front man had a relaxed demeanour on stage with casual chats with the audience in between songs, connecting with the crowd as well as getting them primed for the evening of prog ahead. The audience was very appreciative of the talent and professional performance the band gave, many following instructions to sing along with simple guitar melodies during song breaks, making for some tongue-in-cheek fun. The band continued its onslaught of complex ‘Djent’ type rhythms with a heavy jazz influence on the singing melody sections, making for some real grooves to bang your head to.
The next band after the swift break was be a change from Plini’s blistering metal riffs “Barcelona, We are Gazpacho, a Norwegian band with a Spanish name” is the way Jan Henrik Ohme, vocalist, introduced the act, and that was, In my opinion all they needed , the band took a backseat when it came to stage presence and let the music do the rest of the talking for them. Apart from some brief issues with the sound at the start (I think an unaccounted for microphone was left on) The band proudly bought their cinematic, sleepy neo-prog to Barcelona complete with inventive backdrop projections throughout their entire set. These projections included claymation, 3D computer generated graphics and hand drawn animations, each matching well to the music that was being played at the time. Their melancholic, vocal driven songs brought on a calm as the audience with many staying silent during the band’s more subdued sections while concentrating on the music. The additions of violin and mandolin within the band’s ambient, reverb heavy passages fitted in very well with the almost ballad style of composition that the band utilises. Two songs from the band’s nnewest album ‘Soyuz’ were played during this performance; “Soyuz One” and “Emperor Bespoke” and I will definitely be checking out the band’s latest works.
The audience quickly gained density, Sons of Apollo seemed to be one of the most highly anticipated bands performing at Be Prog! And it is understandable why. Bass virtuoso Billy Sheehan (Steve Vai, Mr. Big, David Lee Roth), former Dream Theater members; Derek Sherinian and Mike Portnoy, guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Art of Anarchy, Guns n Roses) and former vocalist for Yngwie Nalmesteen; Jeff Scott Soto, Sons of Apollo are the definition of a ‘Supergroup’. The band appeared on stage with drummer Mike Portnoy making the first entrance, followed by cheers and applause as well as the swift entrance of all the other members.
As soon as the band started performing the first song from their debut album ‘Psychotic Symphony’, a song entitled “God of the Sun” It was very apparent that the band was aiming to not only please the more prog minded fans, but also the headbangers. With heavy fretless guitar rhythms and crazy drum grooves from Portnoy these guys sounded very chunky from the get-go. Sons of Apollo are relatively new on the scene and in turn performed most of their one album that is currently released. The band really dug in while playing and were having a great time performing in Barcelona’s late afternoon sun.
To fill out the performance and for a treat for most everyone attending the band added a couple of Dream Theater tracks to their set-list ‘Just Let Me Breathe’ and ‘Lines in the Sand’ were played, which fitted well with the set, they are understandably heavily influenced by the 90’s/00’s Dream Theater, although possibly aiming to be a little more accessible and ‘rock n’ roll’ influenced. The band ended with one of the songs they have made a music video for; ‘Coming Home’ With catchy lyric hook heavy choruses it was a upbeat way to end to a very appreciative crowd.
At the end of Sons of Apollo, the density of the audience decreased, yet the total amount of people down in the square stayed consistent (just more spread out) – ready to witness Steve Hackett and his live band If someone was looking for a live music experience that could take them back to the original sounds of 1970’s progressive rock, Steve Hackett’s band would surely be top of the list. Steve Hackett was the former guitarist of British prog giants Genesis throughout the 70’s and this festival performance was part of his ‘Genesis Revisited’ tour.
The band arrived on stage and immediately started playing the first song, one of Hacketts solo compositions “Please Don’t Touch” treating the crowd to spacey synth and flute lines and tasteful time signature changes. Steve then greeted the crowd and introduced the next song in Spanish, to great admiration from the audience. This was to be another of his solo classics, ‘Every Day’ Vocalist Nad Sylvan casually walked out on stage to join the band for the ‘GTR’ song ‘When the Heart Rules the Mind’ with skilfull vocal harmonies performed between Nad and Steve, it was an enchanting thing to witness. Another aspect that really drew me into the live performance was not only the accuracy of playing, but the dynamics and communication between all of the musicians, Rob Townsend on Saxophone, flute and percussion really knew how and when to limit his playing to fit in a big band situation and drummer Gary O’Toole’s use of dynamics really blew my mind, these guys had obviously seen a few tours in their time. nThe rest of the bands performance contained mostly Genesis songs written when steve was in the band, with Nad Sylvan returning on stage for vocal duties when they were needed, classics such as ‘Firth of Fifth’ and ‘The Musical Box’ were played with a few very excited festival attendees dotted around cheering in excitement as each song started. The band ended the set with an encore in playing ‘Los Endos’. The whole performance felt like an entertaining lesson in how classic prog rock should be done.
A lot more of the audience was willing to stick around for the last act on the second day. Burst were a progressive/metalcore outfit from Sweden who were reuniting for the first time since splitting in 2009. They arrived on stage with a lot of energy and seemed genuinely happy to play their music live again. This attitude was apparent in the brief talks in between songs stating that they were here to end the festival with something heavy – and that they certainly did! The band played through their last record ‘Lazarus Bird’ during this performance and it was a head banging, mosh-pit inducing hour or so of music. With echos of mastodon-type riffing and Isis style atmospherics throughout this albums performance, the crowd, even those who may of not been familiar with the bands material (myself included) gradually found themselves moving to the music. By the final few songs of the night a large mosh-pit had opened up with the audience having a final friendly tussle while responding to vocalist Linus Jägerskog guttural shouts and the bands heavy palm-muted guitar parts.
These two days at Be Prog My Friend 2018 ended each time with two very remarkable musical performances, giving rise to the discovery of different prog universes, which was ideal for any open minded music lover. Having attended the festival last year I can say that the set-up and organisation was better , but we will undoubtedly remember the quality of the bands that have played this year. Also, unlike last year, the public was not invited back next year, as is customary and the end of the last act. Could the organisers be thinking of a new format for their next Prog festival in Barcelona? To be continued
Note: Festival Report by Neil Brinsdon and Virginie Delalande.