NEARfest 2007-Lights Out: Magenta, Bob Drake

Even at a concert as well programmed as NEARfest, a few things aren’t going to work.

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As much as I liked Izz, (see earlier NEARfest Blog) I truly disliked Magenta. Even though they are superficially similar – both playing a symphonic brand of prog – their approaches to presentation and performance and their relationship to the music couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed. Hailing from Wales, Magenta possess remarkable chops, but they use it bludgeon you with bombast. Fronted by singer Christina Booth they combine elements of Evanescence and Yes, but lack the passion of either. The diminutive Booth has an outsized voice, but little finesse and more important, no apparent connection to the music she’s singing. Like glossy lipstick, Magenta was all on the surface, leaving only an embarrassing smudge in their wake. They were the Disney-Vegas version of Progressive Rock and they could only have been more excruciating if they were singing Celine Dion songs.


Which brings me to Bob Drake. I don’t know what he was doing at this festival, but fortunately, neither did he, which made his quasi-performance art set at least amusing. While Hawkwind sings about other planets, Drake truly came from another planet. Playing capable country-folk-jazz electric guitar and singing in a reedy, almost Pee-Wee Herman voice, Drake intoned his novelty tunes with comic bits from drummer Dave Kerman who came out wearing pajamas, a bathrobe and shower cap while carrying a pillow that he propped on the drums so he could sleep through most of the set. Lynnette Shelley, singer from The Red Masque also participated in some gothic Progressive tweaking, coming out in a red cape, hood and bloodied face to present Drake with various implements including what looking like a rib cage. I wouldn’t go out of my way to hear Bob Drake, but he did have me laughing more than once.
Give it up for NEARfest for once again challenging the boundaries of progressive rock.


I must confess, I missed Robert Rich’s set. Having seen him play solo and with Ian Boddy three times in the last week and some dozen times over the last 17 years or so, I took some needed ear cleaning time. But if his performance at The Star’s End 30th Anniversary a week earlier was any indication, I’m sure it was an enveloping experience as Robert played moody flute melodies and searing solos on lap steel guitar, all over percolating analog sequencer rhythms, scoring a live soundtrack to his entrancing Atlas Dei DVD.
Sadly, Philadelphia traffic caused me to miss all but the last few moments of One Shot’s set. An offshoot group from Magma, they seemed to be the children of an earlier Magma offshoot, Weidorje. Even those few moments were compelling enough to make me pick up their CD.

Mike Montfort has posted up some really nice shots in PhotoBucket. Follow the link for Progressive Fusion Friday, NEARfest Day One and NEARfest Day Two. Then go into the My Sub Albums. Mike makes the disclaimer that he hasn’t culled out the good shots yet.

So another year of Progressive Rock immersion ends. Look in the near future for a live Echoes performance from Robert Rich and an interview with artist Roger Dean.

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