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Posts tagged “Mike Portnoy

Prog Rock Used To Be So Cool, Until It Did All That “Progressing”

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.

Breakfast of champions

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 ChaosOctavarium, 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).

The structural damage done to one's face when first hearing "Juular" can be devastating.

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.

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Not Actually A Review of Transatlantic’s Whirld Tour 2010 – Live From Sheperd’s Bush Empire DVD

I wanted to write a review of this DVD. I really did. I tried more than once to get it started. Every time I began writing though, I realized that I wasn’t saying anything that I didn’t already say in my review of the Whirlwind album or their tour stop here in NYC. It kept coming back to the basics: The band is awesome, the new music is pretty good, and their live shows are highly enjoyable.

I liked the DVD a lot, and any fan of Transatlantic will enjoy it as well. Pick it up! (You should probably do so here).

There are the few things I will say specifically about the DVD:

  • The vocals are the best they’ve ever been in the band. They added some new harmonies for the tour, and each new part definitely enhances the total package. Pete Trewavas and Mike Portnoy both sound significantly better than they did on the last DVD, and of course the addition of Daniel Gildenlow as a touring member just brings the performance to the next level. Of course Neil and Roine are still great. All around a great vocal performance from everyone on stage.
  • Speaking of Daniel and Pete, they are, in my opinion, the highlights of the DVD. Daniel brings that energy and enthusiasm to the stage that is so often lacking in the live performances of prog bands, and I’m extremely thankful that so much of him made it onto the DVD. Pete is notable for the great contrast between his presence on the last DVD and this one. He’s more animated, his parts stand out more (more an attribute of the song writing than his performance I suppose), and he handles a much larger portion of the vocal work, doing a damn good job with it. His performance here makes me wish I didn’t hate Marillion!
  • The special features are…ok. Buy the DVD for the concert.

Oh, also, I’m on the DVD, look!

I’m actually that blurry and poorly lit in real life

Again, I wish I had more to say about this, but there’s just very little else I can say that wouldn’t be repeating my last two posts about The Whirlwind. So check out the DVD, support the band, and maybe they’ll be motivated to take less than 9 years to get back together this time. I hear Portnoy will have some free time! (bad joke, sorry)


Who Do I Blame For The End Of The World?

The most frustrating thing Portnoy has had to deal with? Being a Knicks fan.

I was trying to explain the situation to some of my friends today in the chat room we form daily instead of doing our jobs (note to co-workers: just kidding!) It would be like Paul McCartney leaving the Beatles because he was having more fun in Wings. It would be like Peyton Manning and Justin Timberlake leaving football and music so they could promote Panasonic televisions full time. It would be like Hulk Hogan leaving pro wrestling because he was having more fun on the set of Thunder in Paradise.

The departure of Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater has basically shattered the progressive rock world over the past 24 hours. Without trying to cast Portnoy as a villain here, his announcement last night has been received much how I imagine the American public received the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. A large portion of the fan base feels utterly betrayed, and no one, including Portnoy and the remaining members of Dream Theater, seem to know what is going to happen next. For now, the fan base has been scrambled, trying to understand what could have possibly happened to cause the such an unfathomable turn of events. Naturally people are looking for a party to blame, and everyone seems to be a target.

A lot of fans are blaming Avenged Sevenfold, whom Portnoy has been filling in with since the death of their previous drummer. The obvious metaphor, framing A7X as a hot young mistress seducing Portnoy away from his Dream Theater marriage, has been tossed around by more than one pseud- intellectual. I’d suspect playing with A7X influenced Portnoy’s decision, but I also doubt the guys in A7X made a conscious decision to lure Portnoy astray. He’s a well respected drummer who they seemed to look up to, and he was just as honored to help them in their time of need as they were to host him.

(more…)


Prog Happenings: August 24th, 2010

Prog Happenings will be a semi-regular (don’t look at the date of the last one of these that I did) 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 or laziness:

Wilson/Akerfeldt project in the works:

I did not have to make this image. Prog fans have been designing album covers for this project for awhile now...

For about 8 billion months (that’s only 666666666 and 2/3 years), rumors have been popping up about a Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) project. These rumor have been fueled almost entirely by fans coming to a consensus on their dream ‘what if’ scenario, instead of any actual facts or statements by the musicians involved. In fact all three have said at one point or another that the project would be fun, but that there has never really been any plan to make it happen outside of casual banter.

Well this past week Porcupine Tree’s official twitter feed finally broke the ice, kind of sort of maybe. A new Wilson and Akerfeldt project was announced, and fans are already drowning in their own tears of joy. The album will be called ‘Storm Corrosion,’ which provides very few clues as to what the product will sound like. The tweet specifically tells fans ‘not to expect any metal,’ but considering both musician’s vast spectrum of material, disclaimers like this only eliminate 1 option out of 1000.

Mike Portnoy has not been officially linked to the project so far, which in my opinion is fine. Expectations for this kind of record are high enough without his participation, and if he did hop on board I feel as if the prog universe would come to a halt until the album’s release. Speaking of Portnoy…

Avenged Sevenfold’s new album debuts at #1:

How do we know this is a more casual gig? He only brought his 2-bass drum acrylic kit instead of the 3-bass drum acrylic kit

This is only prog-by-association, but it’s still cool. A bit of back story first. Avenged Sevenfold lost their drummer to a drug overdose (there’s still a little bit of controversy about this, but I figured any true rock star would want to die of a drug overdose and not for something as pansy as ‘natural causes’), but they still had an album they wanted to finish recording and then tour with. The band asked Mike Portnoy to step behind the kit for them, which he was humbled and very honored to do. A few months later the album lands on shelves, and to everyone’s surprise it hits #1, knocking Eminem’s overrated album off its perch.

This is basically the most commercial success any progressive rock artist has seen in decades, even if he’s working for another band. Portnoy also didn’t write the parts he’s playing, but at least he’s playing a kit of his own design (i.e. f’ing huge), so there at least a slim chance that A7X’s success will create new Dream Theater and prog fans. Regardless, it’s a fun moment for the prog community and both A7X and Portnoy deserve credit for their achievements.

Robert Fripp, Motivational Speaker:

The court of the Crimson King produces the best results with as little upper management oversight as possible.

Fripp has always been an eccentric character, so there’s not a lot of activities that he could take part in that would shock his fans. He’s also loquacious in his own quirky way, at least when he chooses to be (I’ve always thought he would make great Cheshire Cat in an all-prog Alice in Wonderland. Also, Tony Levin as the walrus). Well apparently his sister feels that the oddly conversational, oddly professorial tone that he takes in every interview I’ve ever seen was worth tapping into.

According to http://robertfrippspeaks.com/ you can now book the Fripp siblings at your next event, and if you’re lucky they may even talk about something having to do with your organization! Seriously, Patricia Fripp has been a motivational speaker for a long time, and I guess she eventually realized, or Robert eventually agreed, that it would be fun and/or profitable for the two of them to team up. I don’t know how much value my organization might get out of having Robert speak at our next gathering, but I do know that I’d enjoy the hell out of it. How many CEOs are King Crimson fans remains to be seen. If the IT guys were in charge though he’d be booked to the point where we’d never get another King Crimson album again.

Rush Parties Like It’s 5770:

I'm blatantly stealing this photoshop job from audioperv.com. I will repent on Rush Kippur.

I know my generation gets a facebook-wide hard-on once a year when Discovery Channel’s shark week comes around, even though 90% of us didn’t give two shits about going to the aquarium when our schools dragged us there as children (and we apparently have 0 memory as well, since there’s barely any new programming each time around). I can accept this though, because prog fans have their own marathon to look forward to every year (ok, so it hasn’t happened every year, shut up).

On September 8th, starting at sundown (ha!), VH1 Classic will be doing their quasi-yearly ‘Rush Hashanah’ marathon. This year’s programming includes the rock doc Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (which I reviewed previously), the record-breaking concert Rush in Rio, the premiere of Classic Albums: Moving Pictures and Classic Albums: 2112 , and an all-rush themed That Metal Show featuring Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson. Neil Peart will be performing a 8 minute shofar solo that will be played in lieu of commercials. I’m also sure the following clip will be played 500 times, and I’ll enjoy it every time:


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…