Progtoberfest Live

A new festival in the world of prog is always something to celebrate.

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So here we are at the inaugural Progtoberfest in the South of Chicago, where Reggies Rock Club has thrown its doors open for a two-room rumpus.

Day one starts strongly with the New Jersey-based Thank You Scientist, fresh from a US tour supporting Coheed And Cambria. Their Zappa-esque arrangements, inventive songwriting and infectious sense of humour immediately endear them to the crowd. Based on this performance, they’re ones to watch.

Six-piece Mano capture everyone’s attention with a blend of slick, rhythmic dexterity and Middle Eastern melodies, while Dream The Electric Sleep and Jolly both provide a modern twist on the traditional prog sound. Chicago-based proto-prog veterans Cheer-Accident then joyfully tear up the musical rulebook with surreal, Captain Beefheart-like abandon.

Saturday closes with the weekend’s two big draws: Bigelf and Spock’s Beard. The ’Elf are magnificent and a seemingly unstoppable force of nature; a powerful blend of 60s psychedelia and 70s pomp.

Since multi-instrumentalists Ted Leonard and Jimmy Keegan arrived in the Spock fold, these stalwarts have acquired a new dynamic edge. The band give immaculate renditions of many back-catalogue favourites and the most recent album, 2013’s Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep. Their set also includes what’s easily the performance highlight of the weekend – a medley of songs from their 2002 album Snow, featuring a truly moving lead vocal from drummer Jimmy Keegan during the song Carie.

Sunday seems a bit flat in comparison, but with notable exceptions. The instrumental drum and Chapman Stick duo Pavlov put on a skilful display of jazz/metal tunes; Sonus Umbra’s infectious grooves soon win them hearty approval; and Steven Wilson’s keyboardist Adam Holzman’s solo performance is a rare slice of ambient bliss.

P-Tree alumni close the weekend. Colin Edwin’s Burnt Belief are fluid, earthy and subtly emotional. Stick Men, by contrast, bristle with angular beats and brutal melodic slashes. Their set is a ferocious mix of original and King Crimson tunes, leaving us with an adrenaline-filled rush.

The first Progtoberfest is done. And it’ll be worth coming back next year for more.