By Lorraine Kay
WHITTIER, CA — CalProg 2006 was a full day of great prog-rock from across the country and the UK. Held in the Whittier Community Center, in Whittier, CA, a small community in Los Angeles County, there is always a family-friendly atmosphere in the 400 seat facility. But once the music started there was nothing small-town about it.
But first, the festivities started off on Friday night with a pre-party that featured entertainment by Nima and Merge, a fusion of jazz, world music, and progressive rock. The group that played for the party was a five-piece that consisted of Nima Rezai on Chapman Stick, Dan Heflin on saxophones, Mike Alvarez on Cello, Delta Davis on percussion and Brad Ranola on drum set. The five musicians generated an unusually expansive sound. The result was a truly unique and powerful sonic experience.
On Saturday, at 11:00 a.m. Helmet of Gnats kicked off the festival with a totally instrumental set that blended prog-rock and jazz fusion for an hour of some of the tightest music of the day. Fronted by guitarist Chris Fox, the band was not only entertaining, but showed some incredible musicianship. Bass, drums, keyboards
Having started as a Progressive Fusion cover band in the early 1980s, doing covers of Chick Corea, Return To Forever, UK and Frank Zappa, they have emerged as an all-original Prog/fusion band. The rest of the band, Matt Bocchino on keyboards, Wayne Zito on bass and Mark Conese on drums came together with Fox for a great unique sound. The guys truly know their instruments and treated the audience to a double-barrel shotgun blast of what they can do. After performing a complete set of original tunes, they surprised the crowd with a cover of Return To Forever’s Majestic Dance.
Then at 1:15 p.m. Rocket Scientists, a last minute replacement for Presto Ballet, exploded on stage. Without a doubt it was the power set of the day, even with the very last minute drummer change adding Tony Pia, who did an excellent job by the way. RS’s new lead vocalist David McBee rocked the crowd like no other vocalist of the festival. His rock and roll stage presence and rugged good looks blended well with Erik Norlander’s powerful compositions and keyboard playing. Together they totally rocked the festival.
Also originally formed in the 1980s, by Norlander and guitarist Mark McCrite, RS was at its best as the band introduced tracks from the new CD, “Revolution Road”, its fourth studio album coming out soon. Throughout their set they also pulled some gems from some of their older albums with McCrite, also an excellent vocalist, out front on the vocals. The too short occasions when McCrite and McBee worked the vocals together in harmony the sound was very awesome – the best vocal blending of the show.
To round out the band’s unique sound Don Schiff, who has been with the group since 1993, was back on the N.S. Stick. One of the few masters at playing the N.S. Stick and the Chapman stick, Schiff introduced a whole new element to the progressive rock happening at CalProg.
RS was definitely a hit with the audience, no matter what they played. Then, in CalProg tradition, RS ended their set with a great cover of King Crimson’s Epitaph to a standing ovation.
Cryptic Vision hit the stage at 4 p.m. to the anticipation of many members of the audience. Prior to their set the crowd was buzzing with talk about these guys from Florida.
Sticking to what some would call traditional progressive rock ala Kansas, Boston, King Crimson, Styx and others, CV put on a good show. With lead vocalist Todd Plant, who also plays guitar and keys, out front, the band delivered all the drama, energy and range of the classics.
Introducing a slew of originals to the audience, CV harnessed the same power and complexity of instrumentation under the direction and creativity of drummer Rick Duncan. The creative force in the band, Duncan writes all the music and according to other band members is the director on getting it right on stage.
In addition to Duncan and Plant’s contributions to CV, the five-piece has a solid foundation in Sam Conable on bass, Tim Kreese on lead guitar and Howard Helm on keyboards. CV was polished and tight and pleased the audience with each selection, especially the medley of covers.
The medley took a piece of everything sacred to prog-rock and made it all come together. One fan called it “mind-blowing”. The medley included – Portrait by Kansas with a great guitar solo by Tim, In the Dead of Night by UK, Firth of Fifth by Genesis, In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson, Hocus Pocus by Focus (with an unbelievable vocal – ‘er rather yodeling – by Howard), All Good People by Yes and Karn Evil Nine 1st impression (just the last line) pt2 by Emerson Lake and Palmer.
Between CV’s performance and headliner Kino there was a break while Kino set up, but CalProg did not let the music die. Izz Lite, (Lite because Izz was minus a couple of players,) went on next during the dinner hour on a separate stage. The group, reduced to a trio performed acoustically on the outdoor stage covers by various groups and their own originals.
John Galgano, regularly the bassist for Izz, took the front position and joked with the audience when not singing and playing guitar. Paul Bremmer joined Galgano on guitar and supported Laura Meade, who was also out front on vocals.
Following the dinner break, Kino took the stage. The band from the UK did not disappoint the crowd that had been waiting in anticipation all day. “Kino – the band I came to see!” said one fan.
With John Mitchell, formerly of Arena and The Urbane, out front on vocals and guitar, the audience was in for a lot of fun right from the start, bad jokes and all. John Beck, the most incredible keyboardist – formerly of It Bites, took the mic on “Swimming with Women” and harmonies throughout. Pete Trewavas, formerly of Marillion, saw solid on bass, but also took a side trip to acoustic guitar for one tune. Together with Bob Dalton, formerly of It Bites, on drums, they made up one of the tightest rhythm sections of the evening.
Their set was entertaining and fun but also incredibly tight once they got past some of the technical equipment hiccoughs. In spite of the technical melees, the band handled them like the pros they are and delivered a set that was fresh and full of energy – no signs of jetlag at all. For their cover in CalProg tradition they performed Sugar Mice by Marillion.
CalProg 2006 was a treat by any standard for fans. Not only were the bands accessible to the fans between sets for autographs and for one on one chatting, but a group of vendors were on hand to support collector’s habits with hard to find CDs and other collectibles. One vendor that was as much of the show and the musicians was artist Paul Whitehead, known for his great fantasy art that graces the covers of some of the greatest albums ever, including Genesis and many others.
Most fans are already making their plans for CalProg 2007. Produced by Jim Harrel, known as PapaJ by his friends, has his hands full, as CalProg is quickly becoming the gig that every prog-rock band wants to play.