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Progtoberfest Live

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

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.