Word had come that Nevermore'd had to cancel in favor of a European tour, but their replacement was...Symphony X? Wow! True legends of the progressive metal scene, they had never played a show in the Western Hemisphere! Yea, sure, they'd cancelled out on Baltimore's PowerMad a few years back, but hey.... I figured if they played, cool, and even if they didn't, the other bands plus the chance of meeting a few dozen of my online friends would make it all worthwhile. :)
Right before the festival Glenn sent out an email with some details...including word that Symphony X would be doing an autographing at 5:30 before the show started. Cool, there was a good chance we could make that. Our tickets included in-and-out access, which was great (we wouldn't be trapped in the club all day). He listed some vendors, too, so there'd be a chance to pick up CDs and stuff there.... Quick, get some more money out of the bank! :)
So finally we were on the way after being delayed a half-hour or so. The flight up was uneventful except for the fact that we flew almost directly over "Blue Hole", my favorite swimming-spot, in the Ocoee River up in Tennessee -- I couldn't believe I recognized it, but there it was! (Clear water, underwater tunnels, it's an awesome place that oddly enough, comes up later in our story. :))
So now we're at O'Hare Airport with nothing to do for at least 3.5 hours. O'Hare (or at least its Terminal C) has an awkward arrangement where the restaurants are in the "secured" side of the terminal (where the gates are), and after at least a half-hour of trudging around to establish this fact, we finally bit the bullet and dragged my big luggage bag back through the security checkpoint.
After lunch at Chili's we called Paul. "The good news," Jim reported, "is that I spoke to him and he's on his way. The bad news is, he won't be getting here until at least five." Blast! Our chances of catching Symphony-X's pre-festival signing session just dropped to 'slim.' Oh, well, it's hard to argue with a free ride....
Paul finally arrived and we set forth for Lansing...in rush-hour traffic. We got to the hotel, checked in and trooped over to the venue (thankfully a lot closer than the .6 miles Glenn had quoted on the webpage!). The weather was clear, but chilly. The thumping sounds of a band on-stage were audible halfway across the intervening K-Mart parking lot. We had apparently just missed S-X's autographing session. Oh, well!
Jax, one of my fellow Ytseradio deejays, was handling the door and she immediately recognized me. "Paul!" She hands me my badge. So much for having my sacred Progpower registration number ready... :)
Onward were probably about halfway through their show and I watched from the
back for a while. Since I couldn't really see too well and you could hear
the bands pretty well in the other room anyway, where the vendors and
band-tables were, I decided to go scope out the offerings. Look! A
familiar face! It's Tom from Evergrey! Now, a bit o' background:
along with everyone else there, I'd watched Evergrey's drummer, uh,
spew all over the front of Tilburg, Holland's Club 013 after
Progpower '99 (it was an event hard to ignore :)). Later, Tom joined
some other fans and me at a nearby restaurant, where I almost
accidentally coined the affectionate monicker "Everspray"...and Tom
remembered it. I wasn't sure if this was a good thing or not. :)
Here's a pic of Tom, me and the second-newest fledgling member of Evergrey, and here's the room where the vendors were located, looking toward the club entrance. Toward the right and wearing a straw hat is Glenn's brother-in-law Scott, handling the Progpower event t-shirt sales. Ironically he grew up in Ducktown, Tennessee about 3 miles from Blue Hole. Yep, the very swimming-spot we'd flown over on the way to Chicago, and so Scott and I swapped stories of all the best holes and tunnels to swim through. We'll need to hook up sometime there. :)
A bit further over toward the right and just out of frame would be the legendary Ken Golden, proprietor of The Laser's Edge, who has moved from being a mere dealer in proggy CDs (albeit one of the very best mail-order sources) to a provider, signing some excellent bands like Gordian Knot, Spiral Architect and Zero Hour. He's been a staunch supporter of the prog scene for years....
By this point Onward had finished and we were enjoying some moments of relative quiet before the next band started. This was the Chicago area's own Ion Vein, and they sounded good. As you can see, my camera had a better view than I did....
Mixing around in the vendors' room, I had some kind soul snap a pic of Shreddy and Bear (from Mikeportnoy.com Forum) and me. A few minutes later another kind soul snapped this pic: Mike Emerson, Angra1 (from Mikeportnoy.com), and me.
Then it was time for Destiny's End to take the stage; here are 3 pics: Destiny's End #1, Destiny's End #2 and Destiny's End #3. I thought they sounded great and alas, I completely forgot to grab one of their CDs, damnit....
Now it was time for the moment many of us had been waiting years for.
Sure, they'd just played their first two US dates elsewhere, but New Jersey's
Symphony X were probably the most-anticipated prog-metal performance in
years.... And they didn't disappoint one iota. The only complaint I
heard was that the keyboards might have been too high in the mix, and
Michael Romeo's guitar may have been a bit low (people in front-row center
couldn't hear it at all). And then there's the fact that I'd forgotten my
eaplugs and I was right in front of the stage-right PA stack. Argh!
I got a lot of pictures, assuming that many of them wouldn't be aimed right. Silly me! I only had to scrap about 6 pics from the whole journey. Here they are, in chronological order. As you can see, Russell Allen is an incredible frontman, and I had to keep reminding myself that they've toured Europe extensively before -- he was clearly experienced with "working" a crowd.
Symphony-X #1, Symphony-X #2, Symphony-X #3, Symphony-X #4, Symphony-X #5, Symphony-X #6, Symphony-X #7, Symphony-X #8, Symphony-X #9, Symphony-X #10, Symphony-X #11, Symphony-X #12, Symphony-X #13, Symphony-X #14, Symphony-X #15, Symphony-X #16, Symphony-X #17, Symphony-X #18, Symphony-X #19, Symphony-X #20, Symphony-X #21, Symphony-X #22, Symphony-X #23, Symphony-X #24, Symphony-X #25, Symphony-X #26, Symphony-X #27, Symphony-X #28, Symphony-X #29 and Symphony-X, exiting stage-right :).
Having missed their "formal" autographing at 5:30, I was hoping to get their autographs on -something-, and after patiently waiting for about 45 minutes I finally managed it. Here's a pic of Symphony-X after the show with a few friends. :)
Welcome to Saturday. It rained all day. Then it got windy and rainy. Bleah. :)
My first task on Saturday was to bring by the infamous copy of the new Opeth CD Blackwater Park, on the off-chance that Glenn might want to play it over the PA. This is the infamous copy sent to Jim Raggi by the band over two months ago. As soon as I showed it to Glenn he told me to take it to the soundboard, and they played it over the PA between Etheria and Reading Zero. None of the throng fled for the exits when the death-metal vox started, so I guess that's something. :) (Actually, people I spoke to liked it a lot.)
The first band to play was Etheria, who sounded good (they were probably the most "unknown" of the bands to play, I think). Then, between bands I snapped a shot of two of my fellow Ytseradio deejays, Glenn "WhoFooldU" and Jax, before returning for two shots of Reading Zero (here, too).
Then it was time for true old-school power-metal with Jag Panzer. Here's 5 pics: Jag Panzer #1, Jag Panzer #2, Jag Panzer #3, Jag Panzer #4 and Jag Panzer #5.
According to the schedule, some band called Dinner Break were scheduled
between 6 and 7. No-one came to see them (can't imagine why :)) and
their set was kinda quiet. At about 6 the anxiously-awaited
Pain of Salvation merchandise finally arrived and I bought a shirt and
a 4-track "Ashes" single as soon as I could from Jim Pridgen, who'd
volunteered to handle merchandise sales. I almost walked out the door
to bring this "schwag" back to the hotel (footslogging it through the rain,
as usual) when I realized that PoS were autographing at a table inside.
I joined the line a bit late but still got a few CD liners and a poster
signed. Here's a shot of
Pain of Salvation autographing.
Daniel G. and Johan Hallgren both recognized me from the Holland show, which
was quite cool.
The chap on the left had brought some vegan literature for PoS's
frontman Daniel Gildenlow (who is already a vegetarian). Now, vegans don't
agree with the use of leather for clothing and thus it might have been
a tad disappointing for him to see Daniel sporting leather trews during
their set later. :)
Then it really -was- time for Dinner Break, and I scooted over to the hotel (in the rain. bleh) to change into something a bit less comfortable. :) Then I scampered back to the venue (in the rain again. bleh) just in time to catch Zero Hour.
On Friday I'd been introduced to Zero Hour, who maintain a strong online presence, and they were really cool, especially the Interchangeable Blondes, Jasun and Troy Tipton (no-one can tell them apart :)). I really enjoyed their set, with its frequent time-changes and other proggy elements. They'd been compared to Spiral Architect in that department, but they're not quite THAT wacky. I got five pics: Zero Hour #1, Zero Hour #2, Zero Hour #3, Zero Hour #4 and Zero Hour #5.
After ZH's set I snapped a pic of Glenn Harveston, the man who planned it all. In one fell swoop he eclipsed pretty much every other prog-metal festival ever attempted in the States with a smooth-running, almost trouble-free event. "He set up us the prog." :)
Now it was time for Evergrey to take the stage. I was beginning to worry about running out of exposures (I can get about 87 images on my camera and I was over 2/3 of the way there) so I tried to pick and choose a bit more carefully. I'd seen Evergrey before and was really looking forward to them. Some technical (and memory :)) problems kept the show from being an unqualified success but considering that two of the members were relatively new -- one had only been with the band for a month and a half! -- they pulled off an excellent show. They really need more exposure here; I play them on WREKage fairly often and have gotten requests for them...by song-title. (!) Here are the pics: Evergrey #1, Evergrey #2, Evergrey #3, Evergrey #4, Evergrey #5, Evergrey w/Glenn on-stage Evergrey #7 Evergrey #8 Evergrey #9 Evergrey #10 (not visible: Tom's luxuriant hair stuck to the ceiling. :) Ouch!).
As mentioned earlier, I'd seen PoS two years ago in Holland at Progpower and their 45-minute set was, IMO, the best of the festival, so I had high hopes indeed for a great performance from them. Daniel Gildenlow, in his low-key "just us folks" way, promised us they would kick all of our asses. We chuckled.
They were stupendous. Promise delivered, Daniel! As I type this on
Monday after the show, the websites, the chatrooms and the mailing
lists are already alive with the buzz about this show. I haven't read a
bad review yet. Several people have commented they were moved to tears.
I was so impressed I popped my death-metal-certified In Flames earplugs
(courtesy Century Media) out after a few songs. My only
regret was that I wished I'd saved more camera room for photos:
Pain of Salvation #1, Pain of Salvation #2, Pain of Salvation #3, Pain of Salvation #4, Pain of Salvation #5, Pain of Salvation #6, Pain of Salvation #7, Pain of Salvation #8, Pain of Salvation #9, Pain of Salvation #10, Pain of Salvation #11, Pain of Salvation #12, Pain of Salvation #13 and Pain of Salvation #14. I had thought Symphony-X would be the pinnacle of the weekend since they were a new element for me and most of the audience, and indeed they were truly excellent...but PoS were the perfect element. They were magical. They melded so many different styles of music and performance together so tightly, so flawlessly, and with such radiant passion that I couldn't believe they'd had only about 3 hours of sleep -- tops -- on the floor at BWI Airport in Baltimore due to a missed connection. If this was a tired show, a well-rested show from PoS should be able to end world hunger. This was easily one of the ten best shows I've ever seen. Others put them at #1. One guy in the front commented he might never see another show again. I'm not surprised at all. No-one could have followed them that night....
So really, it's probably a good thing the festival was over. :) The crowd drained slowly away whilst I made my goodbyes and thanked PoS for one of the best live experiences I've ever, uh, experienced. We managed to get a Ytseradio deejay group photo of me, JayOmega, Smak and Fugazi (I think) -- we looked around for Jax and Glenn/WhoFooldU but they were nowhere to be found, so if you concatenate this pic with this one you end up with all the Ytseradio deejays who were at Progpower. I wish we'd thought to do a group pic of the Seismicradio deejays, too, since I "go both ways." :)
After a while the venue people began stacking chairs and gently herding us
toward the exit, so Jim and I finally left. It was about 3am again.
We arrived without incident after a reallly bumpy takeoff and some turbulence
on the way. Oh, joy. It's raining on the streets of Atlanta city. Jim
and I collected my luggage, now bursting with extra t-shirts and CDs, walked
out to my car (in the rain again. bleh) and I drove back home, dropping
Jim off where he'd left his car....
...and this basically ends our story. My ears ringing, left ankle really sore, throat all scratchy from singing along and too much cigarette smoke, and tired as all hell....and deliriously happy at how well the whole journey had turned out. I'll be there again next year, almost certainly. It was literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience. :)