Just another WordPress.com weblog

Uncategorized

Progressive Music Awards 2012

Howdy folks,

I’ve come out of hiding for a brief moment to share a fun bit of information.

 

The fine folks at Classic Rock Presents: Prog! are holding a year-in-review reader’s poll. Now if you aren’t a subscriber to this fine publication, don’t worry, we all make mistakes. But as soon as you’re done reading my amazing blog, you should head over to the link below and let your voice be heard.

 

Image

 

 

Advertisements

Transatlantic @ The Blender Theater at Gramercy 4/23

The Blender Theater @ Gramercy. Tiny and understaffed.

Transatlantic is basically the Holy Grail for modern progressive rock fans. It contains members from four (five when touring) of the major progressive rock outfits, and their melodic, 70’s style prog fills a void that has been conspicuously empty during the reemergence of progressive rock over the last 20 years. Thus, I should have been far less shocked when I arrived at the Gramercy Theater on 23rd street here in Manhattan half an hour before doors opened and found a line wrapping halfway around the block. Grumbling to myself I took a place in line and quietly fumed over the fact that Transatlantic had been booked in such a tiny venue. The marquee stated that the show was sold out, which was hardly surprising considering the momentum behind the tour. The band had not performed in ten years, and their rabid fan base had become hysterical the moment the new album and tour were announced. Despite the fact that the tour was hitting Europe as well as North America, die hard (and apparently rich) fans were flying around the globe to see the super-group perform in multiple venues. This fanatical behavior was also fueled by the fact that there remains little chance that the group will collaborate again once the tour is over. However none of these factors apparently made it into the ears of the tour organizers, who, instead of putting the band in something slightly larger like the Nokia Theater, happily took the sellout in the smaller Gramercy Theater. It’s prog-oppression I tell you!

As I chatted up a friendly prog-fellow in line, I realized I could hear the sound check happening on the other side of the wall of the venue. While I couldn’t make out anything specific, I figured this would be a decent way of gauging of when the doors might open (advertised at 7:00pm). Unfortunately sound was still coming through the wall at 7:20, and the line didn’t start moving until 7:30. “Whatever,” I thought to myself, “now there will be no problems with the audio, right?” (answer: Hahaha, fuck you). As the line slowly started creeping up, I noticed that people were being led in SINGLE-FUCKING-FILE through security. Literally every single person was being patted down by the same poor security person. Maybe the Gramercy Theater has been hit so hard by the recession that they’ve had to eliminate all but one professional groper, or maybe they were hazing a rookie, whatever. The result was that the show didn’t start until after 8:30. Brutal.

While I wasn’t able to grab a spot on the rail as I had hoped, I found myself three or four rows back of stage right, easily towering over the people in front of me (thank you once again, lanky-ass legs). I was struck by how tiny the stage was, and felt some concern over how much room Pete Trewavas and Roine Stolt would have to play while sandwiched in between Neal Morse’s keyboard rig and Mike Portnoy’s 8-piece drum kit. After waiting for everyone to enter the theater in SINGLE-FUCKING-FILE, the band finally appeared, ushered in by the ambient noise that opens their most recent album “The Whirlwind” (which I reviewed back when it came out here).

This was the first time I’d seen 4/5 of the band live (like any good prog fan, I’ve seen Mike Portnoy perform in some capacity more times than I can count). Each member who I hadn’t seen perform before had some pretty funny and/or interesting stage-quirks that made the performance that much more enjoyable. For instance, Pete Trewavas seemed to be doing a spot-on impression of your stereotypical drunk uncle. His 5’oclock shadow would have made him look like a weather-beaten sailor if it wasn’t the wrinkled polka-dot dress shirt. If he didn’t fit into the sonic landscape so perfectly you’d think that he wasn’t even hearing the music, what with the way he bounced around on stage. As unstable as he can seem, his bass lines added the perfect bottom layer to each song. Fat, fluid, and groovy, Trewavas kept the band solid while adding so much more than just the notes he played. He plays a much more prominent role on the new album, and it’s fun to see him get his time in the spot light on a lot of those tracks. It’s a role he doesn’t get to explore in his main project, Marilion, and while he doesn’t look exactly comfortable 100% of the time, he definitely looks like he enjoys the opportunity.

Roine Stolt continued to make me question his sexuality with his half-open, flower-adorned, gossamer silk shirts, and jeans so tight a hipster would cry (and Roine, if you’re gay that’s totally fine! I just can’t deal with the ambiguity, it get my brain stuck in an infinite loop of questions!) Wardrobe aside, he was possibly the tightest member of the band on stage. He knew which of his parts the fans wanted to hear exactly as they appear on the album, and where they’d allow him some improv room. His solos soared and drove in all the right places, and he was technical without being overpowering. He was stoic, but he also clearly enjoyed performing with the group. One of the funniest moments of the show came when Neal couldn’t get the right effect on one of his keyboards, and mid-chord Roine leans over and hits whatever button Neil was searching for, and the two exchanged a very knowing, sheepish look. Those of us who noticed this in the crowd laughed for a good thirty seconds.

Neil himself is someone who I wish I had seen perform earlier in his career. Because of his choice to focus on faith-based music, I know this might be the only time I ever see him play, and it’s a shame because he’s extremely creative and far more talented than I will ever be at anything. On this night, his voice was dripping with emotion and power at both ends of his broad range, and I got the impression he would be able to entertain me with any instrument he picked up (that night he ONLY managed to play keyboards, 12-string guitar, drums, and sing). It’s also clear to me that Neil is extremely passionate about the music the band plays. There were parts of a lot of songs through out the night where he was visibly moved by what was being produced on stage, and he looked like he might cry during the curtain call. I’m sure it was a very hard decision for him to walk away from the group, and I know all of the fans appreciate his decision to give the band one more go.

People have argued about the spiritual message in a lot of the band’s most recent work (as well as some of their earlier recordings) and watching Neil at various points during the night, I don’t think anyone could deny that there were parts he was specifically communicating his faith. It’s hard to describe here, but when the up-and-coming DVD from the London show is released maybe it will be easier to discuss. Many of the fans were drawn in and responded to this kind of performance, which I can respect, but it did take me and a lot of the other fans out of the moment a few times, especially near the end of the first set. I’m still extremely thankful that I got to see Neil perform live in this setting regardless of any faith-based awkwardness, and I don’t think anyone should avoid seeing the band because they’re uncomfortable with Neil’s current messages, ESPECIALLY if you never saw him with Spock’s Beard.

Mike Portnoy, the captain of the ship, may have put on the most extraordinary performance I’ve ever seen him give. He’s was extremely relaxed on stage, moving fluidly as he changed sticks and time signatures, swung his mic back and forth from its suspended perch, (just get a headset Mike!) and dealt with what were unfortunately a number of audio issues through out the show. The number of changes he has memorized is truly mind boggling, and yet he pulled it off as if he was playing happy birthday. The physical stamina he posses is also highly underrated. Playing epic after epic has to leave his hands, arms, and legs worn out, and yet he maintains an aura of energy that feeds the other members of the band on stage. He definitely is the hardest working man in progressive rock, and he more than probably any other person deserves thanks for putting the band back together for (at least) one more run.

Daniel Gildenlow joins the band while they tour to fill out the sound the band created in the studio, and he’s really an amazing addition. I almost wish the band would go back and re-record a lot of the material with Daniel because he enhances the sound of the group so much (yet another reason to buy the DVD they’ll be making of their London performance). His vocal range is spectacular and seeing him play guitar and keys, at the same time, is both comical and impressive. He also has the rugged good-looks to make all the prog chikas go wild (if prog had groupies, he’d have a harem).

The band opened with the title track off their latest album, The Whirlwind. Seeing this 80+ minute epic performed live reformed a lot of my opinions of the band’s most recent work (again, see my initial review here). I found myself extremely engaged in a lot of the sections I previously found tedious and forgettable, while the sections I considered highlights beforehand became something even more remarkable. There were a lot of technical difficulties during this first set, which I initially found comical but by the 3rd or 4th blunder they really started taking away from the show. The band handled these issues as best they could, including a particularly awesome bass solo from Trewavas at one point (which resulted in Portnoy making the fair point “Why are we calling for a bass solo, he’s been soloing for 10 minutes while we fix this shit”). These difficulties aside, the first set redefined the band’s latest album for me in a positive way. While the overtly religious messages at the end of the piece still felt like an awkward way to close the song, I came away from the first set with a deeper overall appreciation for the work the band has done ten years after their last collaboration.

The second set consisted of the band’s older work. The performance here was truly special and something I won’t forget for a long time. I could gush for pages about the music itself, but the experience shared with the audience was the significant event happening here. The audience let the band know quiet clearly that they had been dying to hear this music performed for almost a decade, and I got the impression the band was just as happy to be performing it, as if they felt like it had been missing in their lives too.

During the first set I felt bad at first for singing at the top of my lungs, but I realized during the second set that EVERYONE was singing at the top of their lungs. Now for those of you who typically enjoy genres of music that actually have a popular following maybe this isn’t anything to write home (or a blog) about, but for prog nerds such gatherings are rare. Much like when I saw my first Zappa Plays Zappa concert and realized I was surrounded by fellow Zappa-freaks, it was a bit euphoric to be amongst other fans of the music that meant so much to me.

The American tour is now over, but if anyone in Europe is reading this and still debating if they want to see this show, stop debating. You’re stupid for even asking the question. Buy your ticket now if you still can and get the fuck in the crowd. Transatlantic is one of the pinnacles of the prog experience, one that may never be around again, and you will have missed something extraordinary if you don’t make the effort. Below you will find the set list as well as the best pictures I could take with my roommate’s camera from the few rows back that I couldn’t fight through.

You can also download a bootleg of the show on dime here.

Set 1:

The Whirlwind

Set 2:

All Of The Above
We All Need Some Light
Duel With The Devil

Encore:

Bride Across Forever

Stranger In Your Soul


My Very Umphrey Day Part 2 (@The Nokia Theater in Times Square)

The second half of my very Umphrey day started in the freezing snow/rain outside of the Nokia Theater in Times Square. In my brief time living in Manhattan I’ve come to enjoy the Nokia for a number of reasons, such as its convenient location and the superb job the sound crew seems to do with every band I’ve seen there. On this night, my favorite feature of the Nokia was the large overhang outside the doors, which afforded those of us who had decided to brave the weather in order to get there before the doors opened some small measure of protection from the elements. The wind was still whipping through the side streets however, so we devoted/crazy fans huddled together and waited in the wind and sleet until the doors opened.

Even though I had just spent the afternoon 10 feet away from the band, I still wanted to make sure I had a spot on the rail for this concert (and for those of you who know me personally, yes, even though I’m taller than every other person at most shows I still feel the need to stand in the very front. Short people can cry me a river). As we waited for the opener to take the stage, I noticed that the theater wasn’t filling up very quickly. Jam bands, unless they are national music icons, have never been as big a draw in NYC as they are in the south and Midwest, a trend that is slowly changing but is still noticeable in concert attendance. Between this trend and the horrible weather, I began to fear what the final turnout might be and what kind of message that would send to the band. Umphreys didn’t stop in NYC on their last swing through the east coast before this one, and I didn’t want the city to give them any further motivation to skip us again.

I put those fears in my back pocket as the opener, Eric Krasno and Chapter 2, took the stage. I had never heard of the group before, and while they made a strong first impression, they also didn’t really do anything to make themselves sound memorable. Their sound falls somewhere between Robert Randolph and Galactic, but never really developed into something unique. Eric Krasno, the guitarist, was definitely skilled and their vocalist, Nigel Hall, has a great voice that caught my ear when he sang (a lot of their material was instrumental). Also, I couldn’t stop being reminded of WWE star Kofi Kingston whenever I looked up at their bass player, which I’ll consider a positive because Kofi Kingston is f’ing awesome. They played a upbeat, gospel-style cover of ‘Get Back’ which started out with amazing energy and a huge reaction from the crowd, but somehow the chorus just died more and more every time they played it, and by the end I was just glad the song was over, which was a shame considering the momentum it started with.

I turned around after Chapter 2’s set to see if the crowd had grown during the opener, and thankfully things had filled out to a healthy level. The downside of this was that people began trying to push their way to the rail that I had been camping, without a bathroom or beer break, for about two hours. Now I learned long ago that there will be douche bags at every general admission show I go to, no matter what the genre or band, and that standing one’s ground doesn’t make one an asshole. So when a late-comer asked if I could make room for him and his lady friend, I didn’t have any qualms about telling him that there was no way what he wanted was going to happen.

After fending off the newly acquired masses and a bit more waiting, Umphrey’s finally took the stage with surprisingly little fan fair. For previous shows they’ve usually turned the PA way up and blasted an entrance theme for the band, but this time they didn’t do anything dramatic or even turn the lights down. They simply walked out during a song I couldn’t even make out over the din of the crowd and picked up their instruments. None of this is a complaint; it just struck me as a deviation from their norm. Maybe their backing orchestra got stuck in Secaucus, who knows.

I’ve been to a fair number of Umphrey’s shows in the past, between festivals, headlining gigs, acoustic 1-offs, and shared billings. Their best show in my mind will always be the first show in which I saw them perform, but that aside, this night might have been the most polished and tight I’ve seen the band yet. I’ve always told non-fans that Umphrey’s won’t piss off listeners who hate jam bands because of the endless, self-important musical tangents they drag the crowd through (see: Phish). Umphrey’s jams are much more cohesive and practiced than what you’ll see from other bands in the genre. That isn’t to take away from Umphrey’s improv skills, because the vast majority of their ‘jam’ material is still improvised, they simply communicate much more frequently and clearly on stage with each other than other bands do. Educated fans can actually catch and interpret the signals the band members are giving each other, or see the moments mid-jam when they’re talking to each other through their in-ear monitors.

The result is that the jams have clear direction and flow to them, keeping the audience engaged while the band is still free to explore new territory in each song. That isn’t to say that each jam is good; the band is in fact still made up of humans, but you never feel like band has lost focus or run out of ideas. On this night Umphrey’s jam-game was definitely the best I’ve seen so far. They also tried out some of their new compositions, some of which I enjoyed and some of which I feel like they need to go back to the drawing board with. ‘Booth Love’, a new, very laid back tune that they sandwiched in the middle of the prog-metal ‘Wizard’s Burial Ground’ needs to be developed a bit more, while another new tune ‘Conduit’ sounded much more complete.

Umphrey’s sound has and always be dominated by its dual guitar attack. In the past, Jake Cinninger has been the dominating member of the duo, grabbing attention with his impressive speed and stunt-guitar antics. However on this night lead vocalist Brendan Bayliss really stood out in my mind. He took way more of the solos than I was used to, and of course he dominated all of them. There’s always been a tacit (sometimes less tacit) battle between the fans about who the better player is, and I’m glad on this tour that Brendon is being given more opportunities to show off his equally impressive skills compared to his flashier counterpart.

A common criticism of progressive rock is that artists lose themselves in their technicality and fail to produce anything that an audience can enjoy. I can safely say that Umphrey’s has never suffered from this problem, and continues to distance themselves from this stereotype with every performance. I have no problem coming down on progressive rock bands who forget than they are musicians and not clinicians, but it’s clear in Umphrey’s song writing as well as their jams that technicality is only one attribute of their style. Their creativity brings them far beyond both progressive rock and jam band stereotypes into a new area that is entirely their own. Their melodies are catchy, their lyrics add layers of meaning instead of taking up space in the mix, and when they do step on the prog gas pedal they don’t leave the audience in the dust. If bad, over technical prog makes you feel like a band has shoved you off a musical cliff, consider Umphreys Mcgee your parachute, allowing you to free fall as long as it’s enjoyable but making sure you touch down safely, leaving you wanting another ride as soon as they’ll let you back on the plane.

Below you can find some of the many many photos I took during the show. I won’t post all of them because most of them didn’t come out too clearly (I blame my roommate’s camera for this, he needs to invest in some better hardware for me to steal).

Highlights of their set for me were ‘All in Time’ (which is always a great way to open a show), ‘Wizard’s Burial Ground’ (which I had heard previously a few years ago, and there was clear improvement on the solos and unison runs from the past performance), and ‘Nemo’s Fat Bottomed Good Times’. ‘Nemo’ is an original Umphrey’s song, which the band has taken to integrating with Led Zeppelin’s ‘Good Time’s Band Times’ and Queen’s ‘Fat Bottom Girls’ for a jam/medley/whatever with fantastic results. I also have to thank the band for replacing their original encore, ‘Ringo’, which I’ve heard about 80000000 times, with the much proggier and energetic ‘Mulche’s Odysssey’. That’s another awesome thing about Umphreys, is that the set list a crowd member might catch after a show will look nothing like what was actually played that night. The band simply goes with whatever whims they are feeling and substitutes tunes as necessary.

Speaking of catching things, I did manage to snag one of Andy’s sticks, adding another piece to my Umphrey’s collection. With a few more pieces I’ll be able to complete my UmFrankenstein. (sorry, I’m a fan boy. You should have been able to tell this by now).

All in all it was a day a fan can only dream of. I got to witness both an intimate performance the style of which few fans of any band will ever get to experience, and then later than evening was able to enjoy the full concert experience with a few thousand of my fellow UmFreaks. If you are fortunate enough to see that Umphrey’s is going to be visiting your town, even if you aren’t a fan, take a leap of faith and check them out. If you’re new to progressive rock or jam bands, there are few/no other bands that will give you such a positive impression of both genres. And if you consider yourself an experienced jam or progressive rocker, then you’re stupid and should know the band already. Shame on you.

Below you can find the set list, as well as some links (as legal as I could find) to examples of the tunes they played that night. Prog fan, jam band fan, music fan, whatever, I urge you to check them out.

Set One
All In Time > “Jimmy Stewart”* -> Get In the Van > All In Time, Conduit, Hurt Bird Bath > Tribute to the Spinal Shaft -> Hurt Bird Bath, Turn & Dub

Set Two
JaJunk, Nemo’s Fat Bottomed Good Times, August, Resolution > Push the Pig jam** > Resolution, Lisztomania$, Wizard Burial Ground > Booth Love > Wizard Burial Ground

Encore
Mulche’s Odyssey

* with lyrics
** with Hysteria tease
$ first time played, Phoenix


Prog Gift Ideas

(Note to my family: This is not a gift list for me. You should have gotten your 2009 Gift List on December 26th of last year, please refer to that and ask me for a new copy if you some how lost or original).

It’s that time of year again, where we all force ourselves to cheer up and see the brighter side of life, and part of that brighter side is giving gifts to all of our coworkers, neighbors, bar tenders, and if we’re feeling super generous, friends and family.

Now chances are that if you know a fan of progressive rock, it’s been a huge pain in the ass to find them an appropriate gift. They already own all the music they want, since they never wait more than 4 hours until after a record is released to get their hands on the limited collector’s vinyl edition with 300 page color art book and band commentary DVD. On the other end, the only things they don’t have that they want cost tens of thousands of dollars (see: Neil Peart’s drum kit from the Test For Echo tour, Robert Fripp’s stage stool, the 2nd neck on Chris Squire’s 3-neck bass, etc). So you usually just end up buying them something from the Apple store and move on.

BUT NOT THIS YEAR! This year you have the Prog Blog’s guide to holiday shopping for the common prog fan. While things like a gym membership, soap, or clothes that they weren’t wearing back in high school may provide more immediate and obvious benefits, I’m here to help you find the gifts that your prog fan boy or girl (ok, lets be honest, boy) truly desire:

Applications for our iPhone that lets us make music as if we were a 3-year old:

This is why all iPhone drum apps fail

Prog fans, like all dirty hippie creative types, love Apple products and probably had an iPhone before Steve Jobs had one. You can tap into this irrational love for a nominal product by getting them one of the many iPhone apps that let regular douche bags sound like cutting edge musicians.

Bebot (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpgxd8bljtg) is one app that lets you create all sorts of noise just by touching and dragging your fingers across the phone’s screen. You can also add tons of effects to make it sound like you’re doing something much more complicated than randomly pointing at the screen. I will commend the creators of the application here because I think they’ve created something that, by default, allows the user to sound at least as skilled as Sigur Ros.

If this is too ‘artifical’ for someone trying to use their iPhone as an instrument, you can get them Pocket Guitar (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51cWRrZdkwk&feature=related) which will let them remember why they hated their first guitar teacher AND make them sound like a crappy midi file. Or, if they’re a wind player, you can get them the Ocarina app (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdQvSWXaODs&feature=related) which has already been used to play every single song from Zelda about 8 billion times on youtube, shockingly.

Invent a new audio format

'Rubber Ducky' never sounded so good!

Prog is all about one-upmanship. So you can play the guitar AND bass part to “La Villa Strangiato” at the same time AND do it at twice the tempo Rush played it at? So what, I can do that AND play drums!

One thing prog fans love to one-up each other on is the audio format of their music collection. From vinyl to eight track to cassette tape to compact disc to WAV to MP3 to DVD-A to FLAC to OGG back to vinyl again for some stupid reason, we always want to tell other people how ‘pure’ sounding the music we listen to is. No one ever really wins this battle, but we still all scramble to convert our archives any time a new format appears claiming to be the only true way to listen to an artist’s music. Thus, if you want to give your prog fan a special gift, invent an audio format that no one else has. Then present it to them and tell that that NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD HAS THAT FORMAT. He or she will probably leave immediately to update their collection, half joyful that they will be ahead of the curve and half shameful that they didn’t have format before you invented it.

If you need help with an idea for what format you want to use, here are a few free ones I promise don’t exist yet:

-Honeycombs full of bees

-Wood

-ACTUAL solid gold and platinum records

-Human flesh (depending on the body part, they may REALLY enjoy this one)

-Waffles

See, it’s easy. And no, don’t worry, they won’t question whether or not the bees moving and stinging the listener is a disadvantage. They should have done a better job preserving the media!

The album cover from In the Court of the Crimson King on anything

The Mona Lisa. If she liked prog.

We love this album cover. We don’t care that it freaks other people out. It’s basically our mascot. We’d paint it on our houses and cars if it didn’t kill the resale value. Honestly, if we woke up one morning and found it had been tattooed across our back, we’d love it. Just go over to cafepress.com and stick it on a shirt or a mug or a bumper sticker or baby or whatever and give it to us. We won’t care that we’re breaking numerous laws by owning an illegal piece of merchandise, and neither should you.

Stuff for an instrument we don’t actually play

How did you know I wanted to start playing Normaphone? You're so thoughtful!

The first thing prog fans love feeling is superior, but the second thing we love feeling is eclectic. Chances are we already own everything we can possibly want or afford for our main instrument (because we all play at least one instrument, DUH), but you can encourage that we waste time on a new instrument by buying us something for an instrument we barely play, or even better, don’t even play at all.

For instance I am a drummer, but I own a guitar that I can’t play for shit. It hangs on my wall and laughs at me whenever I try to pick it up. What I SHOULD do is put it in its case and find someone who wants a great Babicz Tribeca acoustic guitar (mmm blatant shilling for Babicz guitars goes here) so that my roommate doesn’t have to suffer needlessly through my ‘practicing’. However when my sister gave me a Rock Band (mmm blatant shilling for Rock Band goes here) song book for said guitar for one of the various winter holidays my family celebrates, I loved it.

You can do the same for your prog fan. If they have a drum kit sitting in their basement that was left their by the drummer in their last band, buy them some drum sticks (and yourself some ear plugs). If their grandmother left them a keyboard in her will, get them a sustain pedal! If you want to be really creative, get them something for an instrument they don’t even play, like slide lubricant for a trombone or bow rosin for a cello. They’ll get the hint, trust me!

Hopefully now your head is full of great gift ideas for the prog fans in your life. Go forth with new confidence that for the first time since they became a fan of the best music in the world, you’ll have found a gift that truly fits their totally awesome life style. It might kind of be like giving a crack addict a pipe for the holidays, but don’t worry, at least one person always loves an enabler!


Will It Prog? Nov 19

The progressive rock community is a bit like a cult. We’re always looking for new members to indoctrinate with our absurd rules and customs, but we’re also totally cool with simply calling you a heretic and setting you on fire if you don’t want to drink the kool aid. Thus every new band that introduces itself to the public is subjected to this trial by prog, and depending on their music, image, and various intangibles that no one really discusses but we all innately agree upon some how, the band is either forcibly branded with the prog label like cattle or they’re condemned as a source of musical decay, an inferior strand of musical DNA in the progressive master race.

To be fair, progressive rock is not unique in this process. Most niche music genres have their own methods for including or excluding new artists. I do feel though that prog community is exceptional in the sheer scope of artists it’s willing to try to associate the prog tag with. Hip hop, blue grass, jazz, metal, techno, trance, industrial, R&B, basically any genre with the work ‘rock’ in it, classical, hardcore, emo, punk, alternative, I honestly can’t think of a genre that doesn’t have at least one band in it that at some point didn’t also get slapped with a ‘progressive rock’ tag. We’re like the super spoiled kids no one likes in elementary school who invite the entire grade to their birthday party. We don’t actually have many friends ourselves, so we force as many people to be involved with us as possible to make it look like we’re popular. (and HOLY SHIT if you brought a gift we don’t like, you can kiss your turn on that kick-ass moon bounce goodbye).

So today I’m going to look at some of the bands making an impact in popular music and I’ll be asking the all important question, “will it prog?” Is this a band that music nerds are going to claim as their own, a savior of ‘real’ music for the masses, or shun as yet another cancer slowly crushing the vital organs of popular music? (note: according to progressive rock fans, popular music has had terminal cancer for about 40 years now).

Them Crooked Vultures: Super groups almost automatically always get recruited by the prog army. By nature, super groups are pretentious (Hey, I’m an awesome musician, screw my band, I only want to work with other awesome musicians) so the ground is fertile for a pompous progressive rock view point. Also, the odds prog infestation increase exponentially for every member of a classic rock group involved in the project(in this case, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin).

Result: IT WILL PROG. It will prog hard. I will say that, to me, the music I’ve heard from this band sounds like a more straight forward Queens of the Stone Age than anything actually stereotypically progressive rock. How the music actually sounds doesn’t matter though, they’ll be assimilated by the end of the year, unless they sign some kind of exclusive deal with Target, in which case a hit will be put out for Dave Grohl.

Phoenix: A band growing in popularity with hipsters and people who want to be hipsters. You’ve probably heard a song of there’s in a commercial without realizing it, so your opinion of the 2010 Cadillac RX is no doubt linked directly to that of the band. They’re French, and France is basically the lamest country in Europe when it comes to Progressive rock for some reason. Lamer than Sweeden. Seriously.

Result: IT WILL NOT PROG. No question here. It’s not the immediate corporate shilling (For instance Porcupine Tree has been played on MTV multiple times) or even the hipster association (see: The Decemberists). What it comes down to is that France is the only place in the world that can out-pretentious progressive rock fans. At least that’s one battle they can claim they’ve won.

Cage the Elephant: Cage the Elephant reminds me of Sublime, replacing the southern California influences and replacing them with Kentucky drawl. Their popularity has been steadily growing since they played some big festivals (Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo), tv spots (Letterman), stuck their big single up for free on iTunes, and lent it as an opening theme for a videogame. They also look like they haven’t come out of their parent’s garage in 10 years, making them ripe for the prog-ing.

Result: IT WILL NOT PROG. The music is just too generic to catch the attention of the public, and I keep finding reports of emotionless, sloppy live shows, something prog fans will NOT tolerate. They ARE being tolerated by the jam band and festival scene apparently, so the hippies can have them!

Passion Pit: Another hipster band, using heavy doses of electronics and synths to cover up the actual guitar/bass/drums being used on stage (simple formula: acoustic guitar and sounds controlled with a keyboard or iPhone=hipster. Drums and bass that aren’t produced by a computer=not hipster). Those traditional instruments are actually there though, I swear. Also, I get the feeling that I’m listening to rejected and remixed Sesame Street tunes listening to their material. This is not a criticism.

Result: IT WILL PROG. Their vocalist sings like his balls got ripped off. Automatically this lands them in progressive rock territory. Also, with lyrics like ‘Rapunzel Rapunzel let down your hair’ I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been stealing their lyrics from the same book of stories and rhymes that most early 70’s progressive rock groups were using.

Hopefully you learned something by looking into this crystal ball. Progressive rock has the ability to sneak up and steal your favorite bands when you aren’t looking, so be on your guard, lest you wake up and find that all of your music has been progged during the night.