High Voltage, high maltage 24 July 2011

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Lug 29 2011, 16:12

The much anticipated day dawned clear and bright as I made my way down to our fair capital. A quick tube ride, walk and a pint on route found us at Victoria Park for the second year running to enjoy what looked, on paper, a better line up than last year.

First up on the smaller prog stage was Pallas. Playing mostly material off their newish XXV album they proved an excellent opener with their energetic, well crafted, heavy prog. They finished with their 1982 Arrive Alive which was well received by the growing crowd. We hung around at the prog stage for The Enid. I thought they started well with the trademark symphonic complexity but lost its way for me with the introduction of a male choir for Something Wicked This Way Comes. My mate remarked (rather harshly) that it looked like 5 puffs and a piano…

I then took a quick peek at the metal hammer stage and Gentleman’s Pistols who I thought were pretty good, rocking it up in the now hot sunshine. Then it was off to the main stage for Michael Schenker. Looking a bit gnarly these days but with trademark flying V he delivered a decent set full of UFO and Scorpions classics. I didn’t spot any moody outbursts!

Back to the prog stage and Mostly Autumn. While I have got quite a bit of their stuff and seen them live a couple of times, they tend to be a little one dimensional for me. I like their often simple Floyd-like quality building the music in layers but, in a festival context, it felt a bit samey. Still, fronted by the rather lovely Olivia Sparnenn now, they were worth watching.

Next up and my highlight of the day was Spock's Beard. Albeit minus Nick D’Virgilio, they drafted in Ted Leonard (Enchant, Thought Chamber) on vocals and guitar and regular tour drummer Jimmy Keegan. Leonard struggled initially with the vocals and lacked a bit of presence but musically the band was right on it from the opener On A Perfect Day then Doorway, The Emperor's Clothes and followed by an epic The Light. Ryo Okumoto was the prog hero of the day using mini moog and mellotron to great effect. The set was topped off by the return of Neil Morse who came on to do the end section of The Light and lead the band in a rousing version of June to finish. Great stuff.

Quick dash back to the main stage to catch Black Country Communion who played an absolute stormer. The perfect band for the early evening slot whipping the crowd up with breathtaking performances from Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham embodying the spirit of his dad and beyond and the consummate entertainer Glenn Hughes strutting around up front. They finished their set with a blistering version of Purples’ Burn to the delight of the now large, sunburnt and well oiled crowd.

It was now back to the prog stage for Jethro Tull. Having been a big fan for years, you sort of know what to expect and they didn’t disappoint. Drawing mainly off Aqualung, they delivered each track with consummate ease with Anderson at his usual engaging best. Mother Goose stood out for me as their best of the set.

Now came one of those decisions that you take on the day and probably regret afterwards. Wanting to see the start of Dream Theater, I then headed off before the end of Tull’s set. Little did I know that Joe Bonamassa would join them for the Locomotive Breath encore! I had to contend myself with seeing it on a bloke’s iphone at the hotel the following day. Anyway, that aside, Dream Theater were, I have to say, a little disappointing. I was looking forward to hearing the ‘new’ DT with Mike Mangini on drums. He had a pretty impressive drum rig with overhead toms and cymbals on a frame and we were given a 10 minute solo (strangely early in set) which, to be honest, was functional and competent but not impressive by any means. I know he has some pretty big boots to fill in Portnoy and he handled the complexity of their set well enough but, for me, added little. The set kicked off in impressive style with Under a Glass Moon and continued full of high quality musicianship, time signatures and arrangements as you would expect with Petrucci’s top drawer playing but somehow it was not quite right. Half way through The Great Debate I turned to my brother and said let’s go for another pint and we headed back to the beer tent. With ½ hour of their set still to go there was a noticeably large amount of people streaming out the park early so perhaps we were not along in our thoughts.

Overall, it was a fantastic day with a great line up, atmosphere, facilities (food and loos) and long may it continue. Already penciled in my diary for next year and recommend it to any prog heads out there. Watch 2012 though, it will be close to the Olympics and so accommodation maybe at a premium.
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