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Bay Area Rock Fest 2008 PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 08 July 2008

BARfest II -   San Francisco, CA

June 27-28, 2008BARfest II

By Ronnie “The Cruiser” Cruz
Making their North American debut is Japan's Concerto Moon. Everything I've heard about this band is pretty much true. The guitarist does sound like Yngwie. The singer was quite hard to comprehend. That's not necessarily due to his diction. Not having heard them before, I can't say for sure. The singer seemed a little buried in the mix, so I am curious how much better he might sound in their studio recordings. Having said that, he did provide quite a bit of comedic entertainment in his audience banter. In this case, it was only half on purpose. His accent was very thick, but mostly comprehensible. The funny part was that he was reading his banter from a piece of paper. The keyboardist played solos on about half the songs. He used the kind of digital lead sounds commonly heard in Prog Metal. Since the band is often compared to Yngwie, this is a refreshing difference. There's hardly any keyboard solos in Yngwie's music since Jens Johansson left.
Not being primarily a Metal guy, this is the band that made me attend BARFest. I don't collect everything by the Rocket Scientists, but I buy everything from keyboardist Erik Norlander's solo career. The main difference between a Rocket Scientists album and an Erik Norlander album is that singer/guitarist Mark McCrite is the dominant personality in Rocket Scientists in terms of songwriting. This one hour set consisted mainly uptempo songs, but Mark's poppier sensibilities were still evident on the first and last songs, "Earthbound" and ""Picture Show". This set definitely belonged to Erik with his dynamic showmanship and virtuosic playing. A highlight of the set was an instrumental piece showcasing Don Schiff's mad skills with the NS Stick. This isn't a piece that's available on any of the band's recordings. Clearly the energy of the piece can't be replicated in the studio. For this gig Jay Schellen of GPS filled in on drums, and he was on fire. I had a very obstructed view of him since I stood in front of Erik's keyboard rig. Finally, Lana Lane joined them for the last three songs. After the set, I got a chance to talk to Erik for a short while. I told him that it was worth the price of admission.
The energy level of this performance wasn't up to the level of the preceding two bands because their songs were all mid-tempo. Guitarist Doug Ott is instrumentally the band's focal point. Keyboardist Bill Jenkins played a strictly support role. There wasn't much in the way of instrumental pyrotechnics in this set. Ted Leonard's clear high voice had no problem cutting through the mix. His audience banter was characterized by humor that was self-deprecating.
This was the reason the festival is called "Bay Area Rock Fest." Jeff himself asked the question, "How did the Jeff Scott Soto Band come to headline a Prog Rock festival?" I don't remember the exact wording of his answer, but it was to the effect of, "Hell if I know!" It was a solid performance of 70's style hard rock without keyboards. Jeff Scott Soto was a dynamic frontman flailing about his wireless mike like Bruce Lee with numchucks. I noticed Lana Lane at the side of the stage. Clearly she was enjoying his music a lot more than I was. That's no surprise, as this was the kind of music she grew up. She got exposed to prog only after dating Erik Norlander. Well, my legs were very tired after standing for the whole gig. I had also walked eight blocks uphill to my hotel when I arrived in San Francisco earlier in the afternoon. I was anxious to take a rest, and I decided I wouldn't regret missing the rest of Jeff Scott Soto's set.
On the second night, the headliner Liquid Tension Experiment got the star treatment. Their drum and keyboard rigs were left set up in the back of the stage. This left the other bands with a smaller space to perform in, putting the drum set all the way up front. Also making their North American debut was Sweden's Darkwater. The band gave a solid Prog Metal performance. Needless to say, Prog Metal is a very crowded subgenre. I can't identify anything about the band that differentiates them from other Prog Metal bands.
The third and last band making their North American debut at this festival is the Netherlands' Sun Caged. There was a fairly quick transition from Darkwater to Sun Caged. Since both bands were visiting from overseas, they weren't using their own equipment. Even guitarist Marcel Coenen was borrowing the guitar he played tonight. It just so happened one of the festival staffers owned a Marcel Coenen signature model guitar. What distinguishes Sun Caged from the rest of the Prog Metal world is the overall level of virtuosity on every instrument. Marcel is the only one left from the band's original lineup. His performance is very much what you would expect. He is among the best there is in Prog Metal. Keyboardist Rene Kroon isn't quite up to the level of his predecessor, Joost van den Broek, but those are some pretty big shoes to fill. The band performed three special "goodies." The first was a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." For the first time ever Sun Caged performed a Lemur Voice song, "Intuition." Finally, they played a new song that's still untitled.
Next up were local favorites, Zero Hour led by twin brothers, Jasun and Troy Tipton on guitar and bass. The band doesn't have a keyboard player, and that's how all the songs were performed including two songs that had keyboards on their studio albums, "Eyes Of Denial" and "There For Me." This set was clearly for the headbanging crowd. The twins led the headbanging. There was a lot of blonde hair flying about on stage. The singer, Chris Salinas had very good stage presence. He ably expressed all the emotions presented in the songs. Next up, the reason the second night of BARFest was sold out.
Before the start of the last set, the festival organizers went on stage to acknowledge and introduce all the staffers who contributed to the successful execution of this event. Well, what is there that needs to said? The virtuosity of Mike Portnoy, John Petrucci, and Jordan Rudess are legendary. Tony Levin played the chapman stick more often than the bass guitar. That's because as good as Tony is on bass, he's just not that used to playing at the supersonic speeds of the other guys. Of course, it wasn't all about speed. Many of the songs were very melodic. Mike Portnoy introduced, "Freedom Of Speech," the duet between John and Jordan by saying, "Here's one for you Bay Area lovers." The encore began with Jordan soloing for a few minutes. When the rest of the guys came back on stage, John and Mike gathered around Jordan. There were thirty fingers playing on the 88 key Roland for just a few seconds. Jordan continued his solo providing the soundtrack to a skit being performed on stage. Mike Portnoy wore his beard tied up. John Petrucci was holding a pair of scissors. As he would approach Mike to cut off his beard, Mike would step back to tease him. The two did this back and forth for a few minutes to the entertainment of the audience with Jordan providing cartoony accompaniment. After Mike finally got his beard cut, he stuck it in his pocket, and the band went into a rendition of "Rhapsody In Blue" by George Gershwin. The last song was "Paradigm Shift." As the guys left the stage, Mike handed the beard clipping to a guy in front me. BARFest II is a wrap!
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