ATTENTION MUSICIANS: Who the hell do you think you are? Don’t you realize that you’re leeches on society, only able to subsist because you’ve been able to deceive and exploit your audience into overpaying for the small modicum of entertainment you provide? Don’t you realize that you owe your fans your very lives, as well as the lives at least two of your more-preferred offspring? The very thought that an artist, especially in progressive rock, would even consider producing music that didn’t conform to the totally reasonable and valid expectations of their fan base makes me sick to the point of hallucination. And surely I must be hallucinating if my ears are hearing what they think they’ve been hearing from some of my favorite prog artists over the past few months.
Hey Opeth, did you guys forget what metal sounds like? At what point did you decide that Heritage needed to be an hour-long tribute to crappy 70’s prog bands? I listen to you because Mikael sounds like a demon who was fed a strict diet of motor oil and broken Christmas ornaments. I need some brutal death metal growling! I don’t particularly care that you were able to resurrect elements of classic prog that had been lost to majority of the new prog generation by seamlessly integrating those elements into your already eclectic interpretation of progressive metal, or that Mikael actually has an amazing voice when singing cleanly. I don’t pay you to expand the genre, I pay you to play “Deliverance” really fucking fast! DOUBLE BASS DRUMS, CAN YOU PLAY THEM?!?!?!
Yo, Steven Wilson, what’s with all the not-Porcupine-Tree you’ve been doing lately? Did I tell you that you could take a break, and do totally awesome things like re-master classic King Crimson albums? Why did you think it would be accetpable to do another solo album? You didn’t even get Gavin Harrison to play drums on it this time! Get back in the studio, on the side of the glass WITHOUT the mixing equipment, pick up that acoustic guitar, and play something that sounds vaguely Pink Floyd and/or Radiohead-ish. So help me God if you play something that sounds at all like Krautrock…
Mike Portnoy, listen, I know it’s been a rough year for you. I’m sure it’s been painful for you to watch as your former band-mates move on with another drummer (named Mike no less!) while you’ve been left to fend for yourself, out in the cold, with only six or seven projects to pass the time (Adrenaline Mob, Hail, Transatlantic, Neal Morse’s band, playing with Stone Sour, that thing with John Sykes, I think I heard you’re opening up a pro-wrestling school with Chris Jericho…) but come on man, you’re starting to bore me. When am I going to be able to hear the exact same beats I heard on Systematic Chaos, Octavarium, Black Clouds and Silver Linings again? I’m not digging this whole “variety” thing across your new projects. And don’t you think it’s time for a Liquid Tension Experiment reunion, again? Tony Levin could turn into a pile of dust at any moment, time is running out! (Note: I would still pay money to hear a pile of Tony Levin-dust play Chapman Stick).
Oh man…Devin Townsend…I don’t even know where to begin with you. Pick a genre and stick with it man! Do you know how long I’ve had to go without being able to pigeonhole you with traditional labels? You’re metal, you’re pop, you’re electronic, you’re new-age, I think I even heard some bluegrass recently. You’re like a hairless Canadian Frank Zappa sometimes! If Epicloud isn’t another concept album about coffee and cheeseburgers narrated by the Ziltoid puppet, I’m going to strongly consider canceling my pre-order for the DTP box set. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Look music slaves, it’s very simple. Progressive rock isn’t about progressing. It’s about doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over again. The only thing progressive rock fans want to change about their music is the time signature. The sooner you all remember this important concept and get back to doing what you were doing back in 2000 the happier we’re all going to be, OK? This genre isn’t based on innovation, or expansion, or exploration, or any of those fun-sounding hippie words. The reason you all practiced your rudiments is so that you can play rudimentary music (it all makes sense now!). The sooner you all revert back to your established formulas the happier we’ll all be. And by “we” I mean everyone except you.
Welcome back to class students, as we continue to review the stereotypes that make up that most divine of musical genres, progressive rock. So far we’ve covered some of the most frequent habits that progressive rock is known for, but there are still some other common characteristics that you should be aware of before you can consider yourself a fully informed prog hater/enthusiast. So without any further delay (I think 6+ months was enough) lets dive back in…
Stereotype 5: Girls hate progressive rock
The key thing to recognize here is that girls don’t actually HATE progressive rock. They don’t HATE video games, sports, beer, farting, action movies, comic books, or Dungeons and Dragons either. It’s just very rare that you’re going to find a girl who, of her own free will, chooses to take part in any of these activities. If you see a girl at a progressive rock concert there’s usually about a 93.521% chance that she was dragged there by her nerdy boyfriend/husband/legally appointed guardian and that she will have absolutely zero idea who Chris Squire is (even if she’s heard “Owner of a Lonely Heart” before). In regards to the other 6.479% of the time, the majority of those girls are just as socially awkward as you, the average progressive rock fan. So go for it champ, and have that supremely awkward conversation! Try to segue into a pick up line after your conversation about which Frank Zappa keyboard player you thought was the best (example: “Did you know Bobby Martin created a program called ‘Look Great Naked At Any Age’? You know who else looks great naked? *point at yourself* This guy!).
Rarely, you’ll find a totally normal, attractive girl without any obvious mental issues who happens to like progressive rock. However the most this has ever lasted is 6 hours, because anyone who has ever met this elusive beast eventually wakes up in their own bed, cursing their dreams for tricking them once again.
Stereotype 6: You can’t dance to progressive rock
This stereotype is the result of a number of independent factors. First of all, the only ethnic groups who enjoy progressive rock are white people, Japanese people, and people from South America. Out of these three groups, only the South Americans are born with the ability to get their groove on. However, there has yet to be a samba, rumba, tango, salsa, or pasa doble designed to accompany a progressive rock epic (which I find shocking, considering that it’s been fifteen years since Spock’s Beard introduced us to Senior Velasco, who does in fact drink his milk with Tabasco). So really this stereotype stems more from the fact that no one who listens to progressive rock can dance, not that the music is un-danceable.
That being said, I’ve never seen a dance floor clear out as quickly as I did when a band I was in in college covered ‘Another Brick in the Wall’. And if Pink Floyd doesn’t get people bouncin in da club, I fear there may be no hope for the progressive rock dance craze (which is too bad, cause I already had moves figured out to half of Beardfish’s catalogue).
Stereotype 7: Progressive Rock Vocalists are Horrible
The least important piece in the prog rock puzzle is always going to be the vocals. Even when you have a phenomenal vocalist like Russell Allen of Symphony X, people in the progressive rock community are going to focus on guitarist Michael Romero’s stupidly technical and ludicrously fast fret work instead. Thus when a vocalist isn’t exactly at the same level as the rest of the members of the band he or she will stick out like a lone straight man at a Jonas Brothers concert.
Another problem (or ‘prog-lem’, my newest addition to the prog dictionary) is that many prog vocalists, while talented, chose to sing in a style that most listeners aren’t used hearing and enjoying. In this category we have the extremely well documented ‘guy who sings far too high’ (see examples one, two, three, four, five, and six). There are also the less frequently heard ‘guy who is trying far to hard to sound mentally unstable’ and the ‘woman who sounds like a failed opera singer’. It’s no wonder that bands will simply write instrumental songs and avoid these problems all together. It’s got to be far less awkward to tell your vocalist to take a 12 minute piss while you and the other musicians wank on stage than fire him or her, right?
Stereotype 8: No one can actually define progressive rock
Well then what the hell do you think all these stereotypes are for? I’ll be honest, any time someone asks me how I define progressive rock the answer is going to be pulled directly from my ass, and the longer I go on speaking the less I know what I’m talking about (to anyone who has asked me to define progressive rock, I’m sorry, but I probably said something completely absurd and false to you at some point in that conversation and I hope you saw through my bullshit).
Defining progressive rock is like trying to define what pornography is. Everyone knows it when they see or hear it, and most people have to hide it in a closet to keep it from corrupting their children. Yet no one can agree on a definition of what makes smut smut and and art art. Over time we’ve agreed on some common themes and put together some loose ideas, but we’ve never been able to perfect our unified theory of progressive integration assessment (UToPIA). The problem is that we keep finding new bands that don’t meet any of our previous criteria, but we still want to embrace them as part of the genre. At the same time new bands continue to spawn that fit nearly every progressive stereotype, and we chose to shun like illegitimate children. Until we learn to stop these practices and be happy with the bands we have I’m confident that we will never reach UToPIA.
Stereotype 9: Progressive rock is the product of way too many drugs
This is basically true. Though drugs can also be credited with jam bands, jazz, and every single one of Terry Gilliam’s movies, so they can’t be all bad can they? (note: A Prog Blog does not endorse drug use). In fact prog bands are starting to creep back into the hippie-jam-band festival scene, and the High Voltage Festival in Great Britain has an entire stage devoted ENTIRELY to progressive rock.
Sure, there are some prog artists that are either straight edge or too old to be hardcore drug addicts, but there are just as many nerds who get their inspiration from a bong as there are reggae artists who…well, are reggae artists. And I’m sure Robert Fripp has done just as much acid as Jerry Garcia. Some how though there aren’t nearly as many tragic drug related progressive rock deaths as there are in other music genres. Sure, very few prog artists are high profile enough that they’ll even get a 10 line article on a random news website when they die of whatever ends up killing them (odds on favorite for cause of death for every prog artist ever: stroke caused by attempts at writing a song in in 4/0), but the fact is that prog artists don’t really die, let alone die of drug related issues. Nerds just know how to handle themselves when it comes to hardcore drug use, I guess.
So once again, I hope this helps provide a decent framework for understanding the progressive rock genre. If you don’t feel like actually learning anything, you can use these tools to at least pretend that you know what you’re talking about next time you encounter a progressive rock nerd (which will be any day now, I promise!). Keep on the look out for further installments whenever I can come up with new things to criticize about prog rock and its fans.
To be honest, I was hoping to be writing a totally different article. Specifically, it was going to be a review of the Between the Buried and Me/Cynic/Devin Townsend/Scale the Summit show (billed as ‘The Great Misdirect Tour’ after BTBAM’s latest album) at Irving Plaza a few weekends ago. However a little over a month before the show something very peculiar happened that caused me to write this particular article instead.
The show sold out. Not only did it sell out, but it sold out ridiculously quick. Not the ‘oh crap I forgot Phish tickets were going on sale at noon today and now it’s 12:05pm and all three nights at Madison Square Garden are sold out’ level of bullshit I suffered through in December, but all things considered this might have been even more surprising. To have a show sell out over a month before the first band takes the stage is not something any progressive rock fan born after 1980 is used to. At first I blamed myself for waiting to buy tickets, but then I realized that I could surely pin this on someone or something else besides my own procrastination.
The first question that popped into my head was ‘Did they underestimate the size of the venue?’ Irving Plaza holds 1,200 people according to Wikipedia. That’s a pretty tiny venue to hold a show featuring four bands, even if none of them are even remotely famous. I think the bar downstairs in my building holds almost half that.
On the other hand, I can’t blame the organizers for booking such a small venue either. Until now the only way a progressive rock band could fill any venue was if said band was an established group made up of older British gentlemen in their 40s-60s, in which case an audience of 30-50 year old fans would drastically over-pay to see their idols musically masturbate on stage for a few hours and maybe play some of their hits (note: this trend is not exclusive to prog. I’m looking at you, Rolling Stones). So when the ‘Great Misdirect Tour’ was announced, it was safe to assume that there was no chance that any of the performances would be held in a major venue. New, young prog bands for the past 20 years have almost universally generated zero hype and zero money, and multiplying zero by four bands is still $0.00. I can count the number of fresh prog faces that have seen major success in the past 20 years on one hand, at least here in the US.
I spent the remaining weeks before the concert looking for tickets everywhere I could. Except for one string of extremely sketchy ticket broker websites that were charging hundreds of dollars for individual tickets that they probably didn’t actually have, no one had even a tiny glimmer of hope for me. Something I noticed as I made my search, however, was that NYC wasn’t the only city that had zero tickets available weeks before the tour’s stop there. In fact I could only find two cities on the tour that consistently had tickets available during my searches (note: The capital region of New York state and Charlotte, North Carolina are apparently prog-haters).
So my disappointment here in NYC appeared to be more than an isolated incident. While I’m sure the promoters were happy to be selling out the venues they booked, I have to hope that they also came to the same conclusion that I came to. At some point while no one was paying attention, progressive rock crossed some threshold and became somewhat popular with new fans.
Now hold on, I’m not saying that next year we’re going to see Emerson, Lake, and Palmer play the Super Bowl. But look around, and you’ll see more and more that prog has started to creep out of nerd’s basements and into the mainstream. Some examples for you to consider:
– Rush is rumored to have been scheduled to play the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics, but their segment was scrapped as being too ‘up-beat’ following the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. Notice how the show was themed around the different provinces of Canada, moving from east to west? Also notice how Ontario and the Great Lakes region were skipped over? I’ll tell you who noticed, Rush fans. I don’t know why line-dancing-lumberjack fiddle battles were deemed to be more appropriate than the country’s chief musical export, but I guess it’s just another reason to hate Canada.
– Speaking of the Super Bowl, the Who worked TWO segments of their rock opera Tommy into their half time show, something I am declaring the ‘proggiest moment in Super Bowl history’. Ringo’s kid also did a pretty good job of pretending to play drums.
– Continuing with our current theme, prog has inched its way into sports via other avenues as well. NBC has used Dream Theater as background music for sports vignettes in the past, and the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs enter the court to Dream Theater every game. This puts Dream Theater in the same stratosphere as such illustrious artists as Baha Men, Sisqo, Rednex, and The Village People.
– Porcupine Tree, long lauded by the progressive rock community as ‘the band we love that eventually the mainstream is going to listen to and steal from us’ is finally starting to slide down that slippery slope into popularity. First in April they’ll be performing at Coachella, one of the biggest music festivals in the US, along with other prog-curious artists Les Claypool, Coheed and Cambria, and headliner Muse. Then in September they will be playing at Radio City Music Hall here in NYC, which is especially impressive considering that they were playing tiny bars here in the states five years ago. The ascension of Porcupine Tree into the mainstream is something progressive rock fans have been both dreading and praying for, as this may be a major sign of the pending prog-pocalypse, where the prog-faithful will be raptured to prog-heaven. It’s in the prog-Bible, you should read it some time.
– As of this writing, the game Rock Band has 24 songs available specifically labeled as ‘Progressive’ or ‘Prog’. The fact that this surpasses the number of songs they have available labeled as ‘Emo’, ‘New Wave’, or ‘Glam’ is extremely satisfying.
– Classic Rock Magazine has begun issuing a quarterly piece they’ve titled Prog! dedicated to the genre. It’s an English publication so I haven’t gotten my hands on it, but hopefully they’ve put more effort into writing articles for Prog! than they did coming up with the amazing title. (note: I realize I’m criticizing someone for title originality on my progressive rock blog titled ‘A Progressive Rock Blog’. Shut up.)
So there are just some examples of progressive rock’s progression (ha!) into main stream society. I’ll be the first to admit that prog hasn’t exactly climbed to the top of the pop culture mountain, but it’s certainly in a more prominent position than the one the genre was occupying for the past two decades.
What does this mean for progressive rock? I know a lot of music listeners who for the most part stick to genres that they feel are ‘underground’, and who extract some amount of joy from the idea that their music is ‘pure’, as it hasn’t been touched and corrupted by the masses. Prog has plenty of fans like this as well, and they readily admit that they don’t want their favorite bands to become popular. I understand this motivation, but personally I feel the exact opposite way. All I’ve ever wanted is for other people to listen to the same music I enjoy and find their own level of pleasure in it, instead of instantly dismissing it as comical or foolish (note: To be fair, this is exactly what I do to country/emo/nu metal/any kind of music with the word ‘Jesus’ in it. I’m not trying to be musical Gandhi here and treat everyone as equals). If all of this is stupid speculation based on the fact that I couldn’t get tickets to a show I wanted to go see, and chances are that it is, then shame on me for creating hype where there is none. But if on New Year’s Eve I look up at a TV at whatever party I’m at, and Beardfish is playing as the clock hits midnight, and I’m not in Sweden, then I’m going to be shouting ‘I told you so’ as loudly and joyfully as a drunken prog fan can.
Prog Happenings will be a semi-regular summary of the various events that have punctuated the prog landscape recently, as well as some of my thoughts on each. Basically they’re the events that don’t justify an entire post, but are still worth talking about. So without further stalling:
Dream Theater Wins ‘Spirit of Prog’ Award at Classic Rock Awards (http://bit.ly/23iZRW)
This past Monday Classic Rock, a UK hard rock magazine, had their yearly Roll of Honor awards, and Dream Theater was presented with the ‘Spirit of Prog’ award. Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman presented the award to band leader and drummer Mike Portnoy and had some very high praise of the group during the presentation.
For all the crap I dish out on Mike Portnoy and Dream Theater on this blog, I’m glad they got this award. Without them prog would probably be a dead genre, and Portnoy in particular has done a lot to promote progressive music in the main stream. I personally wouldn’t have ever become enamored with the genre if it wasn’t for Dream Theater, so I think this award is absolutely deserved by the band. This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop ripping them though.
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer Reform for Performance at High Voltage Festival in the UK(http://bit.ly/4hZq83)
ELP, one of the classic prog rock groups that your average music fan might at least recognize the name of if they were alive during the 70’s, will be reforming for one performance at the new High Voltage Festival being held next July in the UK.
Older prog fans are giddy with excitement over this. Personally I’m going to be interested in seeing how the band has aged. While they didn’t stop making music on their own, the group last performed together in the 1990s. I’m predicting that they won’t be lighting any more cannons on stage, MAYBE one if they’re feeling spry. Seriously, Greg Lake is one of my personal prog bass heroes, so I’m praying there will be a recording of this at some point.
Mars Volta Fire Drummer Thomas Pridgen. Maybe. Kind of. Anyone know if this actually happened?
Rumors are flying all over the web right now about the current status of the Mars Volta and their drummer Thomas Pridgen. A recent show was canceled with fans at the venue being told by security that the band had fired their drummer during sound check. The band and Prigden have been totally silent about the rumors thus far, which only adds to the speculation. Fans are fairly split right now on 1) whether or not this is true, 2) whether or not losing Pridgen would be a good or bad thing, and 3) who should take his place (Zach Hill and former drummer Jon Theodore seem to be the most popular choices).
I personally love Pridgen, so I hope these rumors are just that, rumors. That being said, the Mars Volta’s line-up has always been growing and shrinking on the whims of Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, so I’m preparing myself mentally for this rumor to be true. I’d love to see Theodore back with the group, as he’s a drummer with great energy, great chops, and a unique style behind the kit. However I’m guessing the door between Theodore and the band has been nailed, screwed, and welded shut, so I don’t expect that reunion to happen any time soon. Keeping my eye on this one…
Between the Buried and Me/Cynic/The Devin Townsend Project/Scale the Summit Announce US Tour (http://bit.ly/8IDu0)
Almost as if to prove that progressive rock is starting to flourish in the US again, fans will be able to feast on this prog smorgasbord starting in January of 2010. BTBAM have seen an absolutely huge growth in their popularity since appearing as a supporting act on last year’s Progressive Nation tour, large enough that they are headlining this tour that contains two other prog heavyweights, Cynic and Devin Townsend.
Cynic is a band no one in the world knows outside of prog historians, as they recorded one integral album in the history of prog before disbanding. Their reunion was something prog fans have been asking for for over a decade, so the fact that they’re serving as a supporting act here is kind of surprising. Devin Townsend is one of progressive rock’s mad scientists (in fact, I think we ONLY have mad scientists). Some consider him to be a more metal, more more balding, more Canadian Frank Zappa. He’s one of the darlings of the prog online community, and living proof of how the internet has impacted the genre. Scale the Summit is another beneficiary of the Progressive Nation tour, having been the opening act on this past year’s US leg. They’re very young but many people see this as being a good thing, and predict many quality albums in their future as the band continues to mature.
A comical, probably unintentional coincidence on this tour is that it features bands with growling vocals (BTBAM), computerized vocals (Cynic), weird-ass vocals (Devin Townsend), and no vocals (Scale the Summit). If you’re the kind of person who’s bothered when the douche bag next to you at a concert is singing louder than the band, you won’t have any problems on this tour.
Umphrey’s Mcgee S2 Shows Walk The Line Between Progressive and Hippie Bullshit (http://bit.ly/2zNYtv)
Progressive jam band Umphrey’s Mcgee has come up with a very…creative concept for some of their shows. Their “Stew Art Series” lets fans suggest themes that the band then uses as inspiration for a totally improvised concert. Fans can use cue cards, text messaging, and other media to suggest themes before and even during the show, and it’s up to the band to them turn these concepts into music.
While I think this is certainly a ‘progressive’ effort, I’m unsure of whether or not this will actually translate into quality music. UM is absolutely the band to undertake this effort, as I think they’re among the best improv jamers on the planet, but this just seems like an exercise in hippie silliness to me. To be fair I’ve only heard the samples from the first show that the band has provided on their blog, so I don’t know what the overall product has sounded like so far. The list of themes I’ve seen fans come up with have also been fairly entertaining, like ‘mudslide on mars’ and ‘Chaka Khan at an Iron Maiden show’.
Cracked Tells You How to Be a Prog Rocker (http://bit.ly/2FYtec)
While I wanted to cover most of this in the second half of my post on Stereotypes in Prog rock, cracked.com has done a great job in poking fun at the genre I love. Check it out if you want a good laugh. Now I just need to figure out how I can write the second half of that post without looking like I blatantly plagiarized from this…
A ton of people have started reading this blog in the past few days, so I just wanted to say thank you to anyone who stops by. Hopefully you like what you see and will keep coming back to read my bullshit.