CLOSE TO THE RAIN (Thursday) –
One can only love and cherish the fact that the lovely city that is Bergen now has its own proper prog rock festival spanning three days and loads of interesting and diverse bands that all more or less relate to the aforementioned genre. Thursday night was an interesting one in that such original acts as Det Skandaløse Orkester, Kabaret Makaber, and Major Parkinson constituted the program and while none of them sounded alike or even remotely similar, they all showed just how wonderfully broad and varied the prog spectrum truly is.
First up on stage were the freaky loons in Det Skandaløse Orkester and they were as eclectic and playful as expected, maybe even more than I expected. The cast of characters and musicians were fun to watch and each of them clearly feels at home when performing, which was underlined and emphasized by the fact that although there were a lot of humorous antics and goofing around and whatnot when they plowed through their wildly eccentric and exciting tunes, they are undoubtedly highly talented musicians. The songs themselves move from circus-like parts to 70s-inspired passages reminiscent of some of the genre’s greatest exponents and further on to psychedelic outbursts. Imaginative and weird music with a lot of improvisation and deranged vocals to it are what Det Skandaløse Orkester are all about. The crowd absolutely loved the band, which was great to see, and the sound was great where I was standing. Freaky prog at its finest, kind of like if Yes and Frank Zappa mated and gave birth to something loud and perversely endearing.
Next up were Kabaret Makaber and they turned out to be the very highlight of the evening for yours truly, both musically and in terms of establishing a unique mood and aura with a timeless quality to it. When I say timeless, I am referring to the band’s rather original blend of jazz, big band music, and progressive rock, which at times brought to mind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece “The Great Gatsby” (the kind of music one can envision would course through that particular narrative) and at other times Tom Waits and even Nick Cave. The carnivalesque feel that emanated from the stage was simply irresistible. The songs were both challenging and riveting, equal parts manic and melancholy, and driven forward by Marita Vangen Bratteteig’s glorious voice and the interplay between the saxophones. There was plenty of light and shade to the dense compositions and loads of nuances and depth to them as well. The tracks were not necessarily memorable as such, which is to say that you would not walk around and hum the tunes afterwards, they were a little too complex for that, but they were impressive and fascinating nonetheless. The lyrics were quite special and introspective too – definitely worth paying attention to. Make sure you catch this act live.
Major Parkinson is a great act and their albums are nearly always a treat to listen to. Last year’s “Blackbox” was a varied and dynamic affair that showcased the band’s many strengths and abilities. The beginning of the show, i.e. the first two or three songs, seemed a little uninspired and left something to be desired. They were riddled with technical problems and glitches, but then following those everything changed and the ensemble turned into a much more structured, cohesive, and coherent piece. Their cleverly arranged tunes were strangely compelling and captivating to experience in a live setting and the band were vibrant, energetic, and driven in every sense of the word. There was a dramatic, intense, and raw vibe to the gig, which in large part had something to do with Jon Ivar Kollbotn’s erratic and entertaining moves as well as his way of expressing thoughts and emotions on stage. There is something very refreshing and special about the band’s approach to songwriting and various rock-related genres such as prog that is both charming and unique. As with Det Skandaløse Orkester and Kabaret Makaber, Major Parkinson delivered the goods and the first night of Close to the Rain was a great success.