NEARfest 2010 Finale: Eddie Jobson’s Cover Band

A Rock Orchestra playing the music of the Masters or
A Glorified Tribute band.

I was telling my friend that I thought it would be compelling  if some of these NEARfest bands would occasionally play  cover tunes, paying homage to the masters with modern interpretations.  As they say, be careful what you wish for, because that’s what Eddie Jobson and the Ultimate Zero Project delivered, sans the interpretation part.

Eddie Jobson wore his prog flag high on the closing night of  NEARfest 2010, assenting to many excesses of the genre.
Transparent violin: Check
Two drummers, one with double bass drums: Check
Overlong drum solo: Check
Inordinately late show start: Check

And then there was the concert.  Jobson put together a semi-all-star band to render music not from across his recording career – which effectively starts with Curved Air in 1973 and ends with the solo album, Theme of Secrets in 1985 – but a tribute to the Progressive rock era.   Apparently that era had three notable bands since Jobson only played music from his own group, UK, as well as King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Jobson and UZ rendered note-for-note covers of Crimson’s “Starless” and “Red,” ELP’s “Bitches Crystal” and a host of songs from UK’s two studio releases.  But except for the overbearing assault of two drummers, Mike Mangini and Marco Minnemann,  Jobson and company added little  to these works.  Yes, on “Sahara,” Jobson subbed in for Allan Holdsworth’s original lead and a remarkably restrained Billy Sheehan took the lead solo on “Danger Money,”  but beyond that, I had to keep wondering, what was the point?  These weren’t new interpretations of Progressive Rock chestnuts.  In fact, they were Musical Box-slavish in hewing to every note and nuance of the original. Marc Bonilla’s mimicing of John Wetton and Greg Lake‘s vocals was almost freakish.  He sounded more like them in their prime than they do today.   I know he’s been playing the Greg Lake role with Keith Emerson over the last few years, but he’s good vocalist and guitarist in his own right.  I would’ve like to have heard this music Bonilla-style.

Jobson himself moved back and forth between electric violin and keyboards, and is adept at both although his violin solos tended towards showy electronic laden effects more than melodically driven development.

I think Jobson’s performance did show what great tunes some of those tracks are, especially the Krimson songs.  But it leads me back to a question I asked six years ago.  Where’s the progression in Progressive Rock?  Notwithstanding the pleasant Theme of Secrets segment, as far as Eddie Jobson and UZ were concerned, progress apparently stopped about 1980.  Is Eddie Jobson’s UZ a rock orchestra playing the masters,  or are they just a glorified tribute band?

You can see my three other Nearfest 2010 reviews just previous to this one.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

  12 comments for “NEARfest 2010 Finale: Eddie Jobson’s Cover Band

  1. I suppose, if it’s there for those who missed the originals, it’s a good thing. For instance, I’m glad Mozart’s music lives on for me to hear.

  2. Enjoyed NF this year. But not as much as the last two years.

    Admittedly, it will be difficult to beat last year’s line-up containing VDGG, Gong, & PFM. And the year before was Banco, Peter Hammill, Koenji Hyakkei, & ecolyn – another stellar cast.

    Overall, I found the sound engineering / mixing a little inferior this year. Almost everything was too loud. And too heavy on guitars & drums. Judging by the number of times the artists gave urgent hand signals to stage-right, I think the bands noticed this problem too. When everything is too loud, it reduces the dynamic range and potential drama of performances. Prog is a finesse-based form for the most part. A bit more attention to sound is needed for next year.

    Riverside – missed most of this performance. We just arrived in from Ontario, Canada – 7 hour drive. Arrgh. I hear this band was good. Walter says it was one of his favorites.

    Steve Hackett – always brilliant guitar work; never misses. I like his quieter stuff better; it suits his style better I think. And the bassist, who looked and acted like a cross between King Kong & Little Bo Peep, was distracting and annoying. The comments about the Genesis stuff being less than perfect are probably true – we noticed the same thing. But I hate to be negative – this was a good Hackett show if you ignored a couple things. He is a gentlemen and an excellent guitarist.

    Astra – we liked this show. Cool visuals that were a good match for the music. Playing was excellent and vocals (though not many) were decent. The song structures were a little long/repetitive, but that seems to be the intention. Of course, long/repetitive songs leaves lots of room for extended guitar solos, which can be tiresome if melodic passages are substituted for mere multiplicity of notes. These guys are good, and are capable of some drama and intensity. If they remember that drama is created by variation between power & subtlety, we can watch out for some excellent future work from this band.

    Forgas Band Phenomena – another good show. The music was very challenging in places – which is a good thing for us proggers. Very well played. There were some humorous antics between songs due to French/English translation – all in good fun. The guitarist’s sound/distortion seemed to be a little much. The prog/jazz format would have been better served with a more subdued guitar sound. Especially in view of the fact that they had a decent variety of other instrumentation with some other excellent players. Again, better mixing would have helped. And Mr. Forgas has a lot of finesse as a drummer – nice to watch.

    IONA – missed this one also. Celtic/symphonic from England. I’m not a huge fan of this genre, but audience reception seemed to be very positive.

    Three Friends – Incredible. Way better than I expected. I was worried that diluting the original band so much would produce only a pale shadow of the ‘power & glory’. But not so. The players were awesome. Especially the bass player. There is a saying that a mediocre player will make something easy look hard, whereas a master will make something hard look easy. This guy was a master. No theatrics (compare Hackett’s bassist), no pomp, no antics. Just perfect playing and vocals (not easy when Gentle Giant is the set-list). If you get a chance to see Gary and friends, do not miss it! All hail the Giant!

    Morriane – missed this one too. Can you tell that I travelled with my pal to NF with our wives and 5 children (total)? I would have loved to have seen these guys. There is always a Sunday morning surprise and we missed it again this year:(

    Pineapple Thief – missed this one too. (This is a NF record for me for missed shows.) We overheard a number of comments about this band being a straight ahead rock band with little ‘progressive’ flavor. What little recorded material I have heard from this band seems to support this view. But I cannot speak for the live show.

    Enid – WOW! I expected something big from these guys, but this show was truly an experience. The set started off rather clumsily with a computer failure about 3 minutes into the first song. The show stopped while the problem was fixed. The drummer filled in the break with a light-hearted solo vocal. The show resumed and there was no looking back after that. If you closed your eyes, you heard a full symphony at work. Mr. Godfrey is an incredible player. He is also an excellent composer – truly classical song structures. My only minor complaint regarding some of the music is that it is perhaps too overstated, maybe even a little bombastic in places. There are a number of points in the tracks where the music builds to a rousing point that is suggestive of a finale – only to continue on. We met Robert in the street later that evening – he confirmed that he is influenced by Gustav Mahler – 8th symphony specifically. Again the guitar work, while excellent, was mixed to high and too harshly – to the point of being somewhat unforgiving to technique of the player. After the show, the band were immediately and cheerfully out to meet the crowd. I was buying a CD when Mr. Godfrey walked right up to me and asked if I would like a signature (and if he could borrow a pen to do so). I directed him to the table where he was more than happy to talk with all of the fans. We tried to convince them to pop by and visit us in Canada some time for supper. We also reassured them not worry about computer crashes – my work computer crashes all the time – stupid MS Windows! Judging by the audience reaction during the speeches later in the evening, I would say Enid was the weekend favorite for most people.

    Eddie Jobson & UZP – Headliner – but honestly, I think this spot should have been reserved for Enid or even Three Friends. Anyway, there was a rather long wait – they were late in taking the stage. In the lead-up to the set, there were numerous messages over-head that forbade anyone from taking pictures or making recordings of any kind; we were not even allowed to remember the show in any way (just joking). (Usually NF bands don’t care about this, so this, combined with being late, started things off with an annoying taste in mouth.) The show began with Eddie Jobson doing some noodling on a glow-in-the-dark violin. It wasn’t really a song; it was just some fast / loud arpeggios buried under a wall of effects (digital delay, chorus, wah, distortion, etc.) This introduction was essentially representative of the rest of the show.

    After Enid, this band seemed like a bunch of hot-doggers. Just because you can play fast and loud, doesn’t mean you’re worth listening to. It seemed like these guys were trying to make what they were playing look harder than it was through much pomp and exaggerated antics. And yes, the two (why?) drummers were great; and yes, the 15-20min duel drum solo was riveting entertainment, but gimme a break – we get the point. And next to Robert Godfrey (from Enid), Eddie Jobson’s keyboard work was a bit of a wannabe. The singer occasionally did a good job of Wetton’s original KC vocals. But this was overshadowed by his inability to carry a tune in a bucket. The singing in ‘Nevermore’ was especially hilarious. The singer did do some passable rhythm and even lead guitar work. The other guitarist on stage-left was absent for much of the performance and when he was present, seemed to be concerned with the performance of his amp – maybe some tech difficulties. Overall, it was difficult to take EJ&UZP very seriously. ‘Ultimate Zero Project’ seemed a strangely fitting moniker for this performance.

    Perhaps someone with more knowledge and affection for UK’s original work would be more forgiving than I. And I am only one opinion among many.

    An idea – I know there is an effort made to have a variety of acts that include both old and new bands. My concern is that the older bands are a dwindling resource as time passes. I would encourage the organizers to focus on including older acts in the line-up now while the time is still opportune. Bands such as: National Health, Moving Gelatine Plates, Pollen, EtCetera, Dedalus, Bella Band, Quella Vecchia Locanda, Morse Code, Locanda Del Fate, Gotic, Atlas, Arti E Mestieri, Smak, Sloche, Ruphus, Quiet Sun, Il Volo, Etna, Culpeper’s Orchard, Coloseum, Acqua Fragile, Terreno Baldio, Satin Whale, Fields, Mythos, Maxophone, Ragnarok, Eskaton, Druid, Comus, Biglietto Per L’Inferno, Alphataurus, etc.

    I know many of these bands are secondary classics and may no longer exist, but you get the idea. Soon there will be no opportunity to hear musicians from that era. It is worth a try to get some of these guys to think about coming to Nearfest for a one-off (or more) show to celebrate the early years of prog.

    As always, many thanks go out to the NF gang for their tireless efforts.

    Best regards,

    • Thanks Dave. Nice thoughts. Regarding the sound, when musicians are gesturing to the side of the stage, they’re
      trying to adjust the mix in the on-stage monitors. They have no idea what it sounds like in the house.

  3. Thank you for the clarification echoesblog. I realize that they were probably basing their concerns on the monitor outputs. But I suspect that the monitors were reflecting at least some of the deficiencies we noted from the audience. What was your personal impression of the sound?

  4. Dave, Canada,

    Wow what a long winded NF Commentary adieu about nothing! Steve Hackett and Eddie Jobson were the only reasons to go to NF! With the slight exception of Iona, The other bands were truly amateur at best! Eddie Jobson UZ played exceptional with the volume at an acceptable level while all the others blasted the tiny hall to kingdom come! WAY TOO LOUD! Three Friends needed way more rehearsal and not in touch at all with the original Gentle Giant sound. The Enid are pretty much good for composing the next Avatar movie soundtrack… Next time leave the kiddies at home!

    • Thank you for your kind words Wayne. Your sweeping statements offered with little supporting commentary or credible analyses have won my support, hands down. Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that Eddie Jobson was your favorite act.

      If only two acts were worthy of your attention, then I guess we can just cancel 90% of the prog festivals currently running, and simply live forever in the past. Perhaps echoesblog is correct – “If it’s too loud, then you’re too old.”

      Never mind my kiddies – maybe YOU should think about staying home next year.

  5. Yes but Eddie Didn’t need the excessive volume to put on a great show! Get It? ( Artists who have to blast it lack the talent )

  6. I think people don’t know that Nearfest is a music event and not primarily a Showbiz affair. You don’t get the casino, promoting new album version of most bands acts. It is somewhat amateurish in the OED definition of the term.

    The sound at Nearfest this year was the best overall amoung the six or seven I have been to. It was a good compromise between fidelity, bandwidth, equalization and reverb, there was even a noticeable stereo image coming from the front of house. The volume was below both dance and Metal sound pressure level. I went home with with zero ring and my highs intact, didn’t need to use my ear valves at all and i stayed through every performance. I also could make out the lyrics.

    Just like some people are sensitive to the sun and are scalded by tap water not full up , some are sensitive to sound at various levels. I suggest musicians ear plugs with concert hall inserts $250 custom made at any audiologist and worth it. Everyone is different and sometimes individuals have to adapt.

    • DiasparDJ, I totally agree with you about Nearfest being a music event. There seemed to be a lot of comments this year about the festival being mostly “about the people, about the community”. Does this mean we should consider the shows to be a secondary or incidental thing? Hey, maybe we can just eliminate the bands, and just stand around talking about music in the lobby or in the local bars! That doesn’t sound like a great festival to me.

      Thank you for your comments about the sound. You’re right, there did seem to be more clarity this year. My complaints were limited to the possibility that some of the instruments seemed to be mixed a bit high for comfort.

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