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Posts tagged “Frank Zappa

New Beardfish……soon!

Rarely does NOT going on tour ever result in an increase in a band’s popularity. Yet that was exactly the result when Sweden’s Beardfish, a modern mix of Zappa, Genesis, and their own unique flavors, missed out on what would have been their first American run with the latest (perhaps last) incarnation of the Progressive Nation tour back in 2009, due to financial issues with their label.

Apparently simply being temporarily included on the tour line-up was enough to spark the interest of North American fans, who have been anxiously awaiting news of new albums and potential live dates on this side of the Atlantic for years now. The band is certainly prolific enough, having producing five albums since 2003, so it’s not as if new fans have been suffering due to a lack of material to digest. Still, prog fans are a voracious bunch, so it was with great joy that news of the band’s latest album, Mammoth, reached our facebook pages, twitter feeds, and other channels for information late last year. Since then there have been a few juicy leaks here and there, such as some distorted and grainy live performance of two new tracks finding their way onto youtube (you can google them if you like, I personally think it will be worth waiting to hear the cleaner studio versions). The most enticing item however was released when front man Rikard Sjöblom (I dare you to pronounce that) appeared on the International Prog Rock Show to promote both Mammoth as well as his very enjoyable side-project “Gungfly”. The guys over at IPRS were kind enough to upload the edited version of the first track from Mammoth titled “The Platform”, which you can find below:

Note: If anyone can get me a stand-alone cut of the band’s cover of “The Little House I Used to Live In” that they played on this same show, I will love you forever.

Reviews of this album are already starting to pop up around the web on a few blogs (not this one! Unless someone with a promo copy is feeling super cool…*cough*), and they’ve been almost universally positive. Personally, Beardfish has been one of my favorite bands for the past two years, so I can’t wait to get my mitts on this new material. The album is set to land in consumers’ hands at the end of March, so be on the look out for it. If Mammoth is as good as I’m hoping it will be, it will cement Beardfish’s place as a major force in the progressive rock landscape for the foreseeable future.

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Progressive Rock Stereotypes Part 2: Continued Cliff Notes of Hate-o-rade

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

"Why must all of the men in my life be prog nerds!"

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

To dance in odd time signatures, sometimes your limbs have to do things they aren't supposed to do.

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

He does a GREAT cover of "Fly By Night"

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

Some people just like to argue

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

Yeah, gimme a beer, a preztel, a hot dog...and....some of that brown powder with a lighter and a spoon please.

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.


Project/Object @ B.B. King

The first thing I should say, as a disclaimer, is that we should all be happy that the music of Frank Zappa is still being played today. In a world where a lot of young music fans are starting to compare the Jonas Brothers to the Beatles, presenting his music to new audiences is vitally important.

Until a few years ago, I have to (shamefully) confess that I was only a casual Frank Zappa fan. I owned Hot Rats, a greatest hits collection or two, and some random tracks via the internet, but that was the extent of my Zappa experience.

I was still in this frame of mind a year after college when I convinced some friends to make the 18 hour drive to Manchester, TN to experience the Bonnaroo music festival. There were a ton of bands I wanted to see (as there are every year), and one that caught my attention specifically was Zappa Plays Zappa, a Zappa cover band fronted by Frank’s son Dweezil.

And so it happened that one afternoon that weekend while my friends went to see BB King play what I was told was an amazing set on the main stage, I chose to visit one of the secondary stages for ZPZ’s set. It was during that hour and fifteen minutes that my true Zappa-fandom was born. I was exposed to Zappa’s music in a whole new way, and the fact that I was surrounded by fellow Zappa-worshipers all singing their hearts out made the experience both surreal and heavenly.

Since then I’ve become a complete Zappa-phile. My knowledge, ownership, and enjoyment of his catalog has grown exponentially, and it pains me more than any other deceased musician that I never got to see him perform live. Thankfully Zappa Plays Zappa does a fabulous job of presenting Frank’s music to new audiences. However, they aren’t the only prominent Frank Zappa cover band around today (hooray, he’s actually getting to the point of the article!).

Project/Object first started touring in 1998 and are basically considered to be the ‘other’ Zappa cover band, despite of the fact that they’ve been around longer than ZPZ, and, maybe more importantly, have a former member of Frank’s line-up consistently performing with them. Both P/O and ZPZ have been blessed by the presence of various Zappa alumni during their numerous tours such as Terry Bozzio, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Ray White, and dozens of others, but P/O has had the advantage of having Ike Willis, the vocalist for a number of Zappa albums including the iconic Joe’s Garage, performing with them on every tour. I’d wanted to check out this Zappa troupe out for awhile now, but it was only this past week that I was finally able to catch one of their shows. Thus last Thursday I made the 5 block stroll (I love living in Manhattan) down to BB King Blues Club and Grill, something I found ironic considering the circumstances of my Bonnaroo Zappa baptism, to finally check P/O out.

Kind of angry I apparently missed Spock's Beard...

In all honesty the most I knew about BB King (the venue!) before the show was that they have a Beatles Brunch on Saturday afternoons with a looking-a-like band and a gospel brunch on Sundays. Other than that it was simply a venue I walked past whenever I go to the movies. I anticipated that it was going to be a classier place than a lot of other venues in NYC and probably a little more expensive given the area it’s located in (right outside of Times Square on West 42nd Street), so I tried to brace my wallet for the hit. Upon arriving and purchasing my ticket I moved into the main room, and I was asked if I want to be seated. I usually hate sitting for shows as moving around and physically rocking out is a big part of any concert for me, but I saw that sitting would put me drastically closer to the stage compared to standing at the bar, so I accepted the invitation and was escorted to a seat.

The club sits guests together as they come in, so I ended up at a table with two older gentlemen, two young men my own age, and a foreign couple (note: I found it pretty funny how many guys had dragged their hesitant girlfriends to the show. This was not a generational thing either, there were couples in their 20’s and couples in their 50’s who were having the same conversation about loving/reluctantly being there at every table). The seating was a little cramped and the forced proximity to others could have made things slightly awkward if I and my new friends weren’t social butterflies, but everyone was paying attention to the band anyway so it’s wasn’t all that terrible a situation to be in. Seated guests were also required to spend at least $10 per person on food and/or drink, but seeing as beers were $7 dollars each this was hardly an obstacle. The staff was quick and professional, but they were constantly trying to get everyone to spend more money on drinks during the performance, which became pretty aggravating by the end of the show. Still, if one’s not careful he or she can easily end up spending a shit ton of money on $7-10 dollar drinks and entrees that start at $15 dollars and max out at over $50 (note: a steak at BB King will cost you more than a steak at Ruth’s Chris).

But oh yeah, there was music too! The opener was a bluegrass band that one of the P/O members plays with while not Zappa-ing called Astrograss. Their set was entirely Zappa covers, which I have to salute the band for for being absurdly creative. The highlights of the entire night may have been the bluegrass covers of “Stick It Out“, a filthy song about having sex with robots, and “He’s So Gay“, which is pretty easy to figure out the concept of. Not only were the songs hilarious in both concept and execution, but you could tell some of the other members of the band could barely believe what they were playing. Astrograss isn’t the most talented bluegrass band I’ve ever seen but I have to give them an A+ for being ridiculous, ambitious, and having most of the audience on the floor laughing during their entire set.

After Astrograss, Project/Object made their way on stage. The non-Zappa-alumni came on stage first to very little fanfare, followed by Ike Willis to massive applause. I had seen recent pictures of Ike before the show, and it’s good that I had because otherwise I’d have probably mistaken him for the homeless guy outside my apartment. As a young douche bag I know I can’t really judge people on how well they age, but it’s really like seeing two different people compared to what he looked like back in the late 70’s/early 80’s (I couldn’t find a good picture of him back then, but check this out and then compare it to now). Also joining P/O on this tour is Ray White, who has aged equally well, to the point where he looks EXACTLY like John Witherspoon.

Left to Right: Ray White, Eric Svalgard, Ike Willis, and Jim Ruffi

I have to admit that my expectations had been set pretty high by Zappa Plays Zappa. ZPZ features phenomenal musicians who pull off flawless covers of Zappa’s music, and the band includes saxes and an auxiliary percussionist who add another layer of authenticity to each performance. I quickly became aware that P/O was going to be a different type of Zappa cover band experience. They’re a smaller group than ZPZ, featuring no horns or percussion outside of drums (at least currently, the composition of both groups changes semi-frequently, and sax was included on some songs in the second set), and to be perfectly frank their performances aren’t as clean as ZPZ’s. Part of this falls on the shoulders of Willis and White, who really aren’t the performers they used to be. In their prime they were both amazing vocalists offering stark contrast to Zappa’s emotionless, almost monotone spoken lyrics. On this night neither of them even tried to challenge their vocal ranges after the third song. Ray White in particular disappointed me with what seemed like a total lack of effort, which was especially surprising considering I had also seen him play with ZPZ at Bonnaroo back during the performance mentioned at the beginning of this review and his performance then, outdoors in the summer heat, was infinitely more impressive. The non-Zappa alumni of P/O are all fine musicians, with their current drummer Jim Ruffi standing out especially. However none of them with the exception of Ruffi would have made it in Zappa’s band, and frankly their overall sound just shrinks in comparison to that found in ZPZ.

All of those criticisms aside, I still found many things to enjoy in their performance. The band played two sets of a solid length, and their set list choices were spectacular. “Big Swifty,” “Little House I Used to Live In,” “RDNZL,” and “City of Tiny Lights” (one of my top 3 Zappa songs of all time) were choices I did not see coming and was thrilled to hear. The band is also very relaxed on stage, and captures the casual atmosphere of what I’ve learned Zappa’s original shows were like much better than ZPZ, who barely ever converse with each other or the crowd outside of Dwzeeil’s semi-awkward banter. Lyrics to favorite Zappa standards were constantly being changed for comedic effect (i.e. Tiger Woods jokes), and the band seemed like they were genuinely enjoying performing the music of one of their idols/friends, for fans who knew and appreciated Zappa for years. There was no encore but given the length of each set I wasn’t crushed. Also, the violin player they featured on some songs is really, really hot, so bonus points there. The audio for both the opener and P/O sounded just fine through out the show, although the bass solo in “Apostrophe” was totally undecipherable, partially due to the player and partially due to the mix.

Left to Right: Eric Svalgard, Ray White, Jim Ruffi, Ike Willis, Andre’ Cholmondeley. There's a bass player and another keyboardist hiding somewhere...

I came away from the show happy that I went, and that’s really all I can ask for from any performance by any band. I do understand why people view P/O to be the ‘secondary’ Zappa cover band, but I would not let this keep you from seeing them perform if you have the chance.  I think P/O is a band for long time Zappa fans, while ZPZ works well for both the hardcore fan and the neophyte. I definitely would prefer to see them in a different venue, as I think BB King kept the crowd reserved and polite, which is just foolish behavior for a concert featuring Zappa’s music. Next time I want to be back in a crowd of people cheering, bouncing, and singing along with the music, otherwise it’s just not Zappa.

Set 1

A Pound For A Brown (On The Bus)
More Trouble Every Day
City Of Tiny Lites
Society Pages>
I’m A Beautiful Guy>
Beauty Knows No Pain>
Charlie’s Enormous Mouth>
Any Downers?
#Zomby Woof
#I’m The Slime (w/ Dumb All Over, Let Me Ride by Dr. Dre)
Tinseltown Rebellion
Big Swifty (w/ Stratus by Billy Cobham, Come Sail Away by Styx, Killer Queen by Queen)
Bamboozled By Love
#Peaches En Regalia
Pick Me, I’m Clean

Set 2

*Montana
*Magic Fingers
*Little House I Used To Live In
*Apostrophe
*#Cosmik Debris
*RDNZL
*Crew Slut
Outside Now
*Florentine Pogen
*Blessed Relief
Evelyn, A Modified Dog>
*San Ber’dino

#Katie Jacoby on violin
*Ed Palermo on sax


Invasion of the prog-lodytes: Examples of how progressive rock is sneaking into new genres of music

What years of listening to Rush records in your mothers basement can do to your complexion.

What years of listening to Rush records in your mother's basement can do to your complexion.

Prog has always claimed that it was ‘music for musicians’. It’s a pretty attractive label, and much better than the alternative ‘music for geeks who aren’t getting laid’. Regardless of the tag-line, the point is that even if you don’t actively listen to progressive rock, chances are that the bands you DO listen to count progressive rock artists among their influences. When young bands (that don’t suck) are talking to the press and the reporter asks them who their influences are, if they’re brave enough to mention people outside their own genre 90% of the time the drummer will include Neil Peart and/or Mike Portnoy, bass players will mention Geddy Lee, Tony Levin, and/or Chris Squire, and keyboard…well…ok, if they have a keyboard player, chances are he isn’t being given any face time unless he’s also the front man and super duper pretty (guitarists gets more genre dependent, but I see Steve Vai’s, David Gilmour’s, Frank Zappa’s, and Steve Howe’s names thrown out a lot).

So what happened to all these progressive-rock-influenced artists? How come none of them ended up making progressive rock? The answer is that you are simply being a naive fool. Progressive rock has worked long and hard to covertly work its way into more mainstream genres, and the fruits of decades of labor are now beginning to ripen. Below you will find examples of some genres where artists are now becoming popular who show significant signs that they’ve been infected with the prog.

METAL


What, no corpsepaint for the baby?

What, no corpsepaint for the baby?

Metal was one of the earliest and easiest genres for prog to branch into. For one, a lot of metal musicians are extremely talented. I realize that, to people who aren’t fans of metal, a lot of the music just sounds like loud noise and unintelligible lyrics, but under the growling and the corpsepaint you’ll find some of the most technically skilled musicians around. Good metal guitarists can play diminished augmented pentatonic chords using alternate sweep picking just as fast as the proggy-ist prog douche bag guitar player, they just chose not to so because it’s not brutal enough (note: metal people judge all things on a scale of 1-brutal). Metal drummers and prog drummers are in an eternal pissing contest over who can play double bass faster, and just like how metal singers and prog singers are always trying to see how high they can sing without causing a sonic boom. Also, they put equal emphasis on physical activity and hygiene in their personal lives. So prog and metal have been pushing each other’s buttons for a very very long time, and the results have been enjoyable for both fan bases:

Examples of prog/metal marriages:

Dream Theater – Basically the flag bearer for progressive rock. Train of Thought is their most metal album, but every album has significant metal overtones through out. Scenes from a Memory is widely considered to be one of the best prog album of the 1990’s if not of all time. (Dream Theater Example – “Painc Attack”)

Opeth – If Dream Theater is a prog band with metal overtones, Opeth is a death metal band with prog overtones. The band drifts between melodic haunting passages and crushing metal destruction almost too freely. If you can’t handle cookie monster-style vocals you’d best start with Damnation which is their ‘mellow’ album, but then quickly get Deliverance and give that a spin as well. (Opeth Example – Death Whispered a Lulaby, and then The Drapery Falls)

Other prog/metal bands (and their albums that you should check out):

Symphony X –  V (Example: “Inferno”)

Fates WarningInside Out (Example: “One“)

Queensryche Operation: Mindcrime (Example: “Spreading the Disease”)

ToolLateralus (Example: “Sober”)

Between the Buried and Me Colors (Example: “White Walls”)

Scale the Summit Carving Desert Canyons (Example: “Dunes”)

Pain of Salvation One Hour by the Concrete Lake (Example: Inside)

Coheed and Cambria (Example: “Welcome Home”)

Jazz


Above him, Led Zeppelin was stealing his music

Above him, Led Zeppelin was stealing his music

The other genre that prog was able to easily seduce was jazz. Jazz has been the most popular kid in school basically forever. Everyone wants to claim that they’re influenced by jazz, or that they have jazz tendencies, or that they once slept with jazz at a party but jazz wouldn’t remember it because jazz was really drunk that night. No matter how much jazz wants to deny it, jazz and prog did in fact hook up a few times in the 60s and 70s, resulting in the genre fusion. If you know jazz, think of Kind of Blue. Fusion is the exact opposite of that. It’s fast, complicated, crazy shit that most of the time sounds like a bad jam session made up of really good musicians (note: I love fusion). If someone tried to dance to fusion they’d be mistaken for a seizure victim and taken to a hospital. The people who play fusion are of course ridiculously talented to the point where they could probably have a full conversation with each other using only their instruments. One problem fusion inherited from jazz  is that any band that considers itself to have drawn from jazz and some other genre automatically considers itself to be ‘fusion’. What can I say, jazz was a whore:

Examples of prog/jazz marriages:

Mahavishnu Orchestra – If there was ever a band that sounded like an acid trip, I’d pick Mahavishnu Orchestra. Drawing from Indian, European, jazz, and classical music, as well as John McLaughlin’s own eccentricity, the music they produced was frantic, intensely complex, and mind blowing once you manage to wrap your brain around it. Birds of Fire and Apocalypse may be the best characterizations of the band’s sound, but if you don’t enjoy either album that’s fine, you’re probably still too sane. (Mahavishnu Orchestra Example: “Trilogy”)

Frank Zapppa – I’m not even going to try to explain Frank Zappa in three lines. I don’t even know if I can call the majority of what he did ‘fusion’ but he’s fucking important and he fits best here. Go listen to Hot Rats, Roxy and Elsewhere and Apostrophe, and if you don’t like those don’t worry about it, there’s about five billion other albums that sound totally different that you can get into. (Frank Zappa Example: “Waka/Jawaka”)

Other prog/jazz bands (and their albums that that you should check out):

The Mars VoltaFrancis the Mute (Example: “Wax Simulacra”)

The Dixie DregsNight of the Living Dregs (Example: “Assembly Line”)

Liquid Tension Experiment Liquid Tension Experiment 2 (Example: “Biaxadent)

Jam Bands


There wasnt actually any mud. Hippies are just this dirty.

There wasn't actually any mud. Hippies are just this dirty.

Unlike jazz and metal, prog hasn’t shared a lot of common ground with the jam scene. The Grateful Dead were thoroughly un-complicated and yet they became extremely popular by touring their asses off and playing a lot of simple country and blues covers in cool new ways  (making them…….progressive? MY BRAIN CAN’T HANDLE THAT). For a long time hippies were content bopping along to country and blues music, and probably would have been fine like this forever, until Phish came along and expanded the genre by writing songs that made as little sense as possible. Moving from the relatively comfortable confines of country and blues to the total nonsense that Phish produced (note: I love Phish) blew hippie’s minds. So hippie musicians, being totally incapable of rejecting any art form, started incorporating every possible genre of music into the covers they played, into their huge and totally awesome music festivals, and eventually into their own music. Alternative and bluegrass were some of the first genres to gain popularity with hippies, then some electronica and punk weaved its way in, and now metal and prog are starting to poke their heads in as well:

Examples of prog/jam band marriages:

Umphrey’s Mcgee – UM is the cream of the crop as far as blending technical skill and musicality. It’s really an amazing balancing act that they pull off, and they do it flawlessly. I also find their live improv stuff to be far less meandering and self indulgent than a lot of other jam bands. Anchor Drops is the place you start for their studio efforts, but after that I suggest downloading their eight billion podcasts, as a lot of their best songs haven’t ever been recorded in the studio. Honestly I’m not even going to bother discussing other prog/jam band marriages in depth, Umphrey’s is really the top of the line and an experience like no other. (Umphreys Mcgee Example: “Bridgeless”)

Other prog/jam bands (and their albums that you should check out):

The Disco Biscuits Uncivilized Area (Example – “I-man”)

Keller Williams Laugh (Example – “Freeker by the Speeker)

moe.Wormwood (Example – “Crab Eyes”)

Oysterhead The Grand Pecking Order (Example – “Mr. Oysterhead”)

Bluegrass


A tradional bluegrass band. Guitar, upright bass, banjo, mandolin, and no black people.

A tradional bluegrass band. Guitar, upright bass, banjo, mandolin, and no black people.

I’m going to be upfront about this. I hate country music more than any other genre of music on the planet. Most of the performers are talentless and I think the stereotypes it generates are more damaging to rednecks than gangster rap is to urban youth. That being said, I also think the slide guitar/dobro, mandolin, and banjo are some of the coolest instruments ever. So I compromise and enjoy bluegrass. Bluegrass to me, is what happened to all the talented southern musicians. They sing about all the same topics the crappy country artists do, but their songs are ten million times more interesting and their lyrics are ten million times more creative. To be honest I don’t know if bluegrass is actually even aware of progressive rock, but both genres are fast, technical, and full of energy, so if they haven’t met maybe I can help.

Examples of prog/bluegrass marriages:

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – This band probably only gets lumped in with bluegrass because it features a banjo. It’s also probably one of the few, if not only bluegrass band to include sax and electronic drums (note: electronic drums that are actually awesome, unlike most electronic kits which sound horrible). All of that being said, Bela Fleck might be the most well known and universally respected banjo player ever (even more than Steve Martin!), and Victor Wooten is part of the pantheon of modern bass gods. Kind of bluegrass, kind of fusion, whatever, it’s extremely creative and fun to listen to. Little Worlds is a 3-disc set that’s probably less bluegrass-y than their past efforts, but it’s a great introduction to their sound. (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Example: “Next”)

Yonder Mountain String Band – The shining symbol of ‘new grass‘, YMSB is talented and technically proficient and blah blah blah, but that’s probably the least attended to part of their music. What makes them such an incredible band is how they’ve taken bluegrass out of the realm of genres like polka (i.e. dance music that’s a joke to most people) and made it emotional and joyful. I’ve never seen so many universally happy people in my entire life as I’ve seen at YMSB shows. The crowd just emits rainbows and sunshine and good emotions. They make 80 year old men act like 10 year olds on their birthday, and the coolest hipster turns into a Appalachian mountain dweller before their onslaught of elation. Mountain Tracks: Volume 5 is a great selection of live tracks to check out, and their new album The Show is pretty solid. (Yonder Mountain String Band Example: Sideshow Blues)

Other prog/bluegrass bands (and their albums that you should check out)

Railroad EarthAmen Corner (Example: “Seven Story Mountain”)

Hopefully this has given you a decent idea of how prog isn’t actually as alien a genre as one might think. There’s a lot of common ground between prog and genres that are far more popular, and there has been and will continue to be bleeding between groups as new bands find their own unique sounds.

P.S. – I do want to mention one band that I left out, that being Muse. Muse has a totally absurd amount of popularity for a band that prog fans consider to be ‘one of us’. It’s not super duper technical, but it at least creates the illusion of being super duper technical, and sometimes that’s good enough. It is high energy and features a guy who sings high enough to make the guy from The Darkness jealous so I guess the leap in prog-faith isn’t too absurd.  I can’t really explain why the rest of the world loves them, not that I’m complaining either. So I guess if a band like Muse can be touring with U2 and performing on the VMAs then I can still hope that prog will take over all of music one day. A man can dream can’t he…a man can dream…