Not yet the mecca of progressive rock
Holding an international prog-rock festival in Israel was a good idea, but the offering left a lot to be desired.
Four months ago, at the entrance to the show by the American progressive rock band Mars Volta at Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv, some guys were handing out fliers for a very surprising musical event: an international festival of progressive rock at Lake Kinneret.
At first, the idea seemed almost inconceivable. The Israeli progressive rock, or prog, scene is fairly miniscule; music journalism, traditionally reticent about prog, is totally uninterested; and appearances by prog bands from abroad are rare. So it seemed the potential audience wouldn't be particularly large. Would it really be possible to put on an international prog festival? And up north, no less? How many would come - 600 or 6,000? And what about the music? Would it be good? Interesting? Would ProgStage 2012 prove to the journalists (who wouldn't travel there to cover it ) that they were wrong?
The organizers of ProgStage, headed by musician Patrick Levinsky, accomplished something impressive. After holding a modest mini-festival last year, featuring five Israeli bands, last weekend's festival at Dugal Beach at Lake Kinneret - actually, inside the Luna Gal amusement park - featured three days of music and appearances by dozens of bands occupying different points on the prog-to-metal scale, most combining elements of both genres and playing prog-metal.
The "international" part of the billing was no exaggeration. The festival's stars were three bands from Sweden, one from Poland and one international Israeli band, Orphaned Land.
The Luna Gal amusement park, with its faint aura of neglect, is not an ideal location for a music festival. On the other hand, it was possible to listen to the shows while paddling around the pool, though not many did so. In general, the festival didn't draw many people; for example, it failed to draw the large audience of metal-lovers who were probably scared off by the prog label.
A guy thing, mainly
The large lawn where the shows took place seated several hundred people, though it seemed many were band members and their various buddies, groupies, roadies and other attendants. (Festival organizers say attendance was 1,300. )
It would be superfluous to note that there were way more men than women present. It would not be superfluous to note that there was a surprising dearth of Russian-speakers (generally very well represented at progressive/heavy/metal rock shows ). And it especially would not be superfluous to mention that near the stage was a camera crane (! ) whose giant arm flew over people's heads, becoming the uncontested event director. One usually doesn't see such equipment at modest festivals like ProgStage (the thought of a camera crane at the IndieNegev festival, for example, is absurd ), but prog musicians have profound DVD awareness. It should be stated in their defense that most did not mug pathetically for the camera, though some just couldn't help themselves.
And there was also music. Because I stuck around the festival grounds for only eight hours of the three days, I can't summarize ProgStage 2012, and because I am far from a prog or prog-metal fan I'm in any case unqualified for the task. My wish to attend the festival came, to a large degree, from my slight hope that the festival would surprise me, make me enjoy the continuous line-up of prog-metal, and maybe even help me like the genre a little more.
This didn't happen, for two main reasons. One was that most of the shows I saw failed to find that sweet spot where the desire for metal power meets the desire for progressive complexity, a spot with such tremendous potential. When the power (or relative power ) was turned on, it neutralized the complexity (or relative complexity ), and vice versa. The other and more important reason my enjoyment of the festival was only partial is that ProgStage only reinforced my preconception that prog-metal people find it hard to write good songs. They know how to play and they invest in complex compositions, but these often sound hopeless because they're not hooked onto a clear, melodic, solid, beautiful spine. The songs/compositions played at ProgStage sounded to me mostly as if they belonged to the group of invertebrates.
The last Israeli show on the second evening of the festival, before the foreign bands took the stage, was Key of the Moment, led by Eden Rabin, the former Orphaned Land keyboardist. Here the spine was actually quite clear, with a tight combo and a talented singer, Iris Sternberg, who at times tended to superfluous Shiri Maimon-esque dramatic swoops and soars. Later on, the Project RnL duo - singer Ray Livnat and keyboardist Eyal Amir - was invited to join in, and the stage became the scene of a prog-metal jazz opera, a Manhattan Transfer of distortion and keyboard wails. Not exactly my cup of tea, but the music was polished and appealing, flawlessly performed.
Swedish band named Meshuggah
The Polish group Osada Vida showed itself to have no aspirations to playing too complex or stylized music, and succeeded in producing a decent product, given its limited ambitions. The only problem with the band was that it did not deserve to be a headliner and get a 90-minute slot. The first 45 minutes were nice; the second 45 were tiresome.
But not as tiresome as the show given by the Swedish band Andromeda. When the four stocky, long-haired Scandinavians took the stage, it was impossible not to remember the excellent show the Swedish metal band Meshuggah gave in Israel about a year ago. But vive la difference! Second-hand riffs, sterile playing and a so-so soloist (notable for being the only bald guy in the band ) who provided unintentional comic relief when, in the middle of a song, he twisted his face up and yelled "Frankenstein!!!!!!" against the boring music played by his bandmates.
It took no less than 75 minutes for the sound technicians to set up for Pain of Salvation, the main attraction of the second evening. Indeed, after the pain of Andromeda, salvation was there at last. Pain of Salvation turned out to be an excellent concert band with a great, charismatic singer (Daniel Gildenlow ) and musicians whose professionalism was served up at high temperatures rather than technocratic chill.
"This isn't prog-metal at all," said a teenager standing on the chair next to me. "Am I the only one who's bored?" He totally nailed it in terms of genres. There was instrumental complexity in Pain of Salvation's music but the songs themselves were haunting and very emotional rock pieces. Too emotional and gushy (especially the ballads ) for me, but not to the point of canceling out the pleasure, especially thanks to the singing by the fierce-expressioned Gildenlow and his overwhelming stage presence.
He sang lines with potential for pomposity, such as "Let's burn together," yet managed to make them sound credible. It was a very successful end to a small, welcome niche festival, which will undoubtedly become an important milestone in the prog-metal mini-community, even if it failed to banish the reservations of those who are not among the genre's fans. It could still happen at ProgStage 2013.