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NEARFest '09 Report

Back from NEARFest. I don’t expect to do any new listening today, I’m still recuperating. However, here’s a little report.

For those of you who don’t know yet, NEARFest is the largest North-American gathering for progressive rock fans. The event, in its 11th edition this year, is held in Bethlehem (near Allentown), Pennsylvania.

This was Josée and I’s first NEARFest experience. First of all, I must salute the organization: they have a firm grip on their event! Fabulous hall, schedule faithfully kept, and an atmosphere of great camaraderie. Bravo!

The festival began on Friday night with Van der Graaf Generator, a blatant programming error in my opinion. How can you hope to do better after that?!? I am a total fan of VDGG, but I had yet to see them live. Well, I have heard all the official live recordings (and a lot of bootlegs) and I have seen the 2007 concert video feed that was available on FabChannel, but NOTHING could have really prepared me for the onslaught that is flesh-and-bone VDGG. What power! What feeling! What fantastic quest for chaos within order! I came out of that show exhilirated and exhausted -- I was ready to go home! (after the 10-hour drive to the festival that day!) No need to say that I had littleenergy or patience for the Steve Hillage Band, which I thoroughly disliked.

Saturday: Cabezas de Cera – HUUUUGE surprise. These Mexicans are doing fusion-prog with an avant-garde twist, playing several strange home-built instruments,and creative use of Chapman Stick and EWI. They deserve wider recognition! Oblivion Sun was fine and cheerful, but ordinary. DFA was musically stunning but their stage presence was very...poised. And Gong was pure GONG: crazy, ridiculous, stupendous, and madly entertaining. The material (a new album titled 2031 is due out any day) was pretty good.

Sunday: Quantum Fantay, a Belgian band doing Ozric Tentacles-inspired space rock, gave a colourful performance. Then Beardfish burned down the house: they’re young, hugely talented, and they give one h**l of a show, which included two new songs from their upcoming fifth album. As for Trettariora Kriget, honestly, I don’t get it. Prog? Those Swedish old-timers play a dark form of bland, linear hard rock. If NEARFest wants to feature some sombre hard rock with a prog tendency, why not bring in the mighty MCH Band? The festival closed with PFM, whom I had never experienced live. WOW! Incredible energy, the kind of show that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. They played a long, generous show featuring all the classics and more, and their drummer-singer is a beast on stage, and an extremely likeable character to boot!

Obviously, we came back with a hefty load of records, and I had more CDs waiting for me in the mail when we got home. I’ll have a busy listening schedule this summer for sure, so stay tuned!

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