PROG POWER USA 2014 – Atlanta, Georgia – USA
Arrival and Day 1
Prog Power USA, the premier event for fans of all things prog and whatnot. A festival that I’ve come close to going to a few times, but never took the plunge. The decision to go to this one was a last minute one. A few standout bands that were on this guy’s wish list did the convincing.
The plan was to drive to Atlanta, which was one mighty road trip. Road trips are awesome, however, and the drive to and from was a highlight. Though the drive back was significantly more enjoyable, as it didn’t begin at 1am.
Once arriving in Atlanta, we checked into the hotel, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed right to Center Stage for day one. A whirlwind day, for sure.
The first band of interest was Ordan Ogan, the German folk/power group. Having missed them at a past edition of Wacken Open Air, I was keen on seeing what they were all about. The singer had a stage outfit with a shoulder accessory made from a garbage can. A mantra about telling pussies "fuck you" was done, oddly and poorly ripping off Overkill in the process. Ironically, they were going to be playing that night. A half-assed tribute, or a totally stupid moment? Who knows, but it was interesting. Other than those oddities, they put on a halfway decent set. Nothing over the top great, but not bad either.
Norway’s Leprous was next, and a big reason for making the trip. A band who truly meets the definition of progressive, they put on an aggressive performance that would be difficult to match. The performance of "The Valley" was the top highlight, but really, the entire set was top notch. Their combination of heaviness and melody is one-of-a-kind, and their portrayal of their craft is just as unique. A high bar was set!
An oddity for this type of festival, thrash legends Overkill were set to begin next. Admittedly, one had no idea of how they may be received by this sort of crowd known for a certain level of snobbery. However, the boys came out with a palpable energy, and Overkill tore the place up. Front man Bobby Blitz joked around about their presence at a festival like this, saying that they were "sophisticated, and shit." Blitzy is a funny dude, and his comedic side was definitely on for this night. I for one was glad that the crowd was highly into them, and gave the band the sort of reception they deserved. Right on!
Proggers Seventh Wonder were following on the bill, which would be a definite change of pace. Playing their concept album "Mercy Falls" front to back, it was indeed a special sort of set. It’s a difficult album to play live, with all of the different interludes and whatnot, but they band did the best that they possibly could, which concluded as a hell of a good performance. One filled with emotion, as well as a certain degree of elegance. Well done, and a set this guy won’t soon forget.
Immediately after Seventh Wonder finished up, there was a video presentation made to announce the lineup for 2015. For those unaware, the festival has their entire lineup finalized and announced on the first official day of the festival. A really smart way to do it, unlike a certain floating festival who thinks that announcing bands in a timely manner is an awful idea. Who would want that?
The highlight of this presentation wasn’t the unveiling of the bands themselves. It was a guy who was in front of us, as well as a good portion of the crowd. With every announcement, this guy had a full body contortion complete with screaming and arm flailing that had to be seen to be believed. Holy overreaction, Batman! Alas, I didn’t take any video of the hilarity. Shame on me. This is certainly an interesting sort of crowd in many ways, and this was the most comedic example of such.
Some bands of note announced for next year were Anathema, Riverside, Falconer’s last ever show, Voyager, Angra, Persefone, and others. A solid grouping, and one that will be enough to merit a return trip next year!
Stratovarius closed the evening, playing their 1997 album "Visions" in its entirety, with a smattering of other songs afterwards. A very workmanlike show, Strato did the job and ran through the album without flaw. They were good, and I believe the tiredness was a definite factor, but yours truly wasn’t blown away, either. It was just really good, which for the haziness of my state due to exhaustion, was definitely good enough for me. In the end, hearing rarely played songs was a treat, and it was a good way to cap off the evening.
Afterwards, it was an immediate rush to get back to the hotel and to sleep in. A rest was much required in order to be fresh for the second and last day.
After a lot of needed sleep, and meeting up for an absolutely fantastic lunch at The Vortex (amazing place – quirky and delicious) with two friends, it was off to the show.
The first band on the list was Norway’s Divided Multitude. A lot of parallels to Mercenary for their combination of progressive metal with some bite and riffage, these guys certainly lived up to expectations. One of the best bands of the festival, and definitely the most underrated.
Hard rockers Voodoo Circle were up next, which is a project of Alex Beyrodt of Sinner and Primal Fear fame. Mat Sinner is also in the band, along with Pink Cream 69 vocalist David Readman. Very keyboard heavy, throwback rock was their forte, and while it wasn’t bad, it really wasn’t this guy’s cup of tea. For what it’s worth, the band played tightly and for those into this kind of style, it’s definitely upper crust. I simply need a little more guitar kick and some more gusto from my hard rock.
Masterplan was the next band on the agenda, and there was some doubt. Without Jorn Lande fronting the band, the desire to see them was lessened. His work with the band is renowned as their best, and without him, how would it turn out? Just fine! Thankfully, singer Rick Altzi did the job and did it well. Masterplan delivered what would be the most surprisingly good set of the festival – at least to this guy – and their set went by far too quickly. Crisis averted!
The main reason for going to the festival was Pain of Salvation. Having never gotten the chance to see this band before, and them being one of this writer’s very favorite progressive outfits, their inclusion was the deciding factor to make this festival happen.
A bit of a hiccup at beginning of the set was odd, but supposedly the show was being recorded for a DVD, so the band having a picture perfect start made total sense. That didn’t stop a bunch of whiny pukes from crying about it on the Prog Power forum about Daniel Gildenlow being a prima donna, but with some of those interesting chaps, said whining came as no shock.
The band were playing their landmark album "Remedy Lane" in full, and my goodness. The performance of such a great composition was masterful, and it brought the crowd along for a unique emotional roller coaster of which only Pain of Salvation can deliver. One could tell how much the band – especially Gildenlow – felt the music and cared about the notes they were playing. It was really a special sort of showing, and I for one am honored to have witnessed it. "Undertow" alone was heart wrenching in the best way. Haters be damned.
If the evening couldn’t get any better, it was about to.
Jon Oliva’s Pain were due to play Savatage’s "Streets: A Rock Opera" front to back for the first – and possibly only – time ever. Cool, huh? Yeah, just a tad!
One word – floored. Jon Oliva and company put on a show that made the crowd laugh, feel, and rock out. The set ran the gamut of emotions, with Jon becoming broken up a few times recollecting stories of his long since passed brother Criss. Jon is a hell of a trooper, too, as he broke a few ribs a few days before the show. It certainly didn’t show!
It has to be said – Jon Oliva is one of the best front men in the business. His energy is impossible to contain, and he really puts his heart into his shows. His famous banter was full-on and hilarious, with many jokes both at the expense of both him and his band members, along with a number of wonderful stories, made the set that much better.
The best set of the entire festival was saved for last, and everybody who stuck through until the early hours of the morning were rewarded with a performance that they likely will never see repeated. A great memory, to be sure, and well worth the trip alone.
I wasn’t sure how much I was going to enjoy Prog Power, but the end result was quite a bit! It’s a well-organized festival that was a real treat to attend. A good lineup and an overall fun time filled with memories of one off performances that make the festival what it is. Prog Power will definitely see my shadow again next year.