Prog rears its heard at this year's Hard Rock Hell Festival
HRH 2014 – the prog side...
After spending what seems like a lifetime driving down roads that wouldn’t feel out
of place in Sleepy Hollow, arriving at a Haven Holiday Camp complete with
waterpark and duck pond doesn’t necessarily inspire you with confidence that
you’re about to take part in one of the best festivals this country has to
offer. However, once you’ve got past the go karts, adverts to “have your
picture taken with a man in a bear costume for only £5.99!!” and the ‘Bonga
Wonga Play Area’, you soon realise that the sheer calibre of bands is enough to
make any music fan more than happy. While Hard Rock Hell is geared towards the
more rock audience, increasingly more prog bands sneak their way onto the
bill each year. The ever-lengthening tentacles of prog wrapped their way around
the watching audiences this year – surprising, delighting and confusing, and
ultimately retreating with many more converts firmly hooked.
Queensryche have been making so many headlines lately
with the lawsuit with Geoff Tate, but the crowd seemed more eager to see the
band than simply curious. A late start
to their set meant that the crowd took slightly longer to warm up to them as they
may have ordinarily done, but by the end of Walking In The Shadows the crowd
were getting into the swing of the set. I don’t want to dwell on the relative
merits of Todd La Torre compared to Geoff Tate, but Todd’s voice more than
stood up to the challenge. It wasn’t a set that would set the world on fire,
but a solid performance that more than did the job.
Jolly were probably the proggiest of the bands
playing over the weekend, immeasurable as that statement may be. They
encompassed as many hints of genres as they could throughout their set, and
each musical style they used wove a rich tapestry that created the kind of
atmosphere in stage 2 that most bands over the weekend found it hard to come
even close to. Soaring vocal harmonies that gave way to heavy, tearing
melodies, catchy toe-tappers and longer, more involved prog numbers and even
the occasional bluesy hints all gave nods to influences from all over the
Bigelf provided an absolute masterclass in how prog should be. Careering wildly from the
sublimely ridiculous, over the top theatrics that Freddie Mercury himself
would’ve been proud of to dark, broodingly grimy numbers, Bigelf were my
absolute highlight of the weekend. They mixed unbelievable technical skill
(playing two Hammond organs at once is no easy feat) but also a true stage
show. Hypersleep, from their latest album, was a true high point of the set. Complex yet catchy, Bigelf turned a slightly bewildered group of people into a packed out stage, furiously applauding after every song.
Surprise of the weekend? Bend Sinister. A Canadian self-proclaimed
“progressive rock pop” band, who were the first band I’ve ever seen who we could
quite happily use the phrase ‘heavy metal keyboards’ to describe. They mixed
singing and shouting with beautifully discordant yet harmonising tones, jarring
keyboards and lightning fast riffs any rock band would be proud of to create a
whirlwind of sound, noise and experience. While it feels slightly treacherous
to describe any band with an average song length of less than four minutes as a
prog band, Bend Sinister’s sheer exuberance, coupled with some truly brilliant
songs and a rather wonderful raccoon hat sported by their guitarist definitely
earn them a place among the top prog acts of the weekend.
How do you describe Blue Oyster Cult? Their set
is incredibly difficult to write about without gushing. They were utterly
mesmerising to watch. The crowd was the biggest it had been all weekend, and we
were left more and more enthralled with each song BOC played. The skill they
showed was just what you’d expect from such a seasoned band, but I wasn’t
expecting to see them enjoying themselves so much. They finished their set with_ Godzilla_ and the expected (Don’t Fear) The Reaper. There wasn’t a person in the
place who didn’t raise their hands and voices to cheer after that oh-so-iconic
guitar solo – truly a spectacular show from consummate professionals.
Most surreal moment of the weekend? Waking up to the sound
of seagulls screeching and fighting (undoubtedly about which lineup of
Queensryche they prefer), and praying for something, anything to happen that
would get rid of them and let me snatch a few more precious hours of sleep.
Then hearing a door opening, and a voice shout “Right. I’m sorry. But will you
lot just SHUT THE F*** UP, I’m trying to sleep.” The door slams, the man
retreats back into the welcoming warmth of his chalet, and? Blissful silence.
Forget trying to scare seagulls or chase them away flailing your arms about and
looking like, well, let’s face it, rather an idiot - it would appear that they
respond best to reason and logic. Who knew?
Most heart-warming moment of the weekend? Watching Blue
Oyster Cult not wanting to leave the stage at the end of their set was the
perfect end to a perfect set. They were the living embodiment that no matter
how long a band has been around, when a band feeds off the energy of a crowd to
the extent that BOC did, magic still happens onstage. Everything about the
weekend promised that HRH Prog in March is going to be an absolute must-attend.
And maybe there we’ll get our picture taken with a bear for the bargain price of