Here we go. The gentle juggernaut that is ProgPower Europe is upon us again. Having missed last year’s episode, I was back for my fix of the great, the good and hopefully the mystifying. The line-up looked interesting and as ever there were bands I’d never heard of and was about to discover. And then there’s the people from the organisers, the people in the village of Baarlo where it’s held, my fellow spectators of all nationalities and the band members who stick around – a finer bunch of people you won’t find anywhere in the world, I guarantee.

Friday 4th October.

Opening proceedings at 8pm on Friday was Need from Greece. The sound was too high in the mix, rendering the vocalist’s words of great import inaudible. Although the sound was muddy, it was technically powerful and the band put plenty of energy into it. The chubby guitarist was particularly enthusiastic. Striking with his undersize instrument, he bore a resemblance to Stavros Flatley. But my word he could play. It was worth coming alone for the instrumentals on “Alltribe”. Following the introduction that “Tilikum” was about a killer whale, we saw Need at their best. Delicacy, depth and sonic sensitivity combined. Stavros made facial gestures and started the hey-hey-hey from the audience. It seemed a matter of time before we were throwing plates, but to be fair Need are very serious about their music. I did get lost in the intricacy at times but I suppose this is the hazard of prog. “Hegaiamas” was an obvious end with its anthemic “Song for Freedom” chorus, which fitted the bill but was a bit cheesy, but overall Need showed that they can create magic. Banal choruses are not necessary. It’s a shame that the singer agonised over “pain and torment” yet the sound prevented us from knowing why he was in such a state. My overriding impression of Need was very positive. They had great stage presence and warmth. Technically Need were outstanding and there were some exciting moments.

As a little side note to the Need concert, I saw Stavros (real name George) on the Saturday morning and had a lovely chat with him. Having access to many of the band members is one of the many highlights of ProgPower Europe. In fact Adimiron were tuning up next door to me as I was writing this. George and I spoke of the band’s inspirations, audience interaction and in particular about “Tilikum”, which is the sad and sobering tale of the whale, which was in captivity for 20 odd years before essentially going crazy and attacking people. We likened this to the human race and the way people can be treated and respond when isolated. George is a top chap and in a natural conversation showed at first hand the intelligence that Need convey so vividly through their music.

Sons of Apollo sound as if they ought to be from Greece, but are what I suppose could be considered a supergroup from the USA. I confess I didn’t share the enthusiasm of some of my fellow concert-goers and approached this one with suspicion. Given the associations with Dream Theater, Ingwie Malmsteen, Guns n Roses, Axel Rudi Pell and goodness knows who else, I knew this was all going to be technically proficient, but wasn’t sure if this was going to be more than a bunch of names showing off their wares. The names are on their t-shirt: Portnoy, Sherinian, Bumblefoot, Sheehan and Soto. Five individuals. It started well, as the quintet pumped out their stuff. The guitar and drum work was fabulous. The band was making bold statements. “Sign of the Times” was great, but there were always signs that showmanship was going to take over. Gestures seemed obligatory for every flamboyant act. There were seemingly endless solos, and the double stringed lead and bass guitars were evidently macho totems. It was hard to get past all the solos and the “look at me” vibe. And why did they have two sets of wickets on the screen behind them? I didn’t think Americans played cricket.

Sons of Apollo have toured a lot this year and where Need before them exuded warmth, it was clear that this band was well rehearsed in a series of orchestrated and choreographed moves. A Dream Theater cover went down well, but all the histrionics were a distraction. They then pratted about for 35 minutes with a prolonged invitation to the audience to harmonise, then we went through a tribute to Freddy Mercury before a long instrumental with lots of solos including one from the keyboard player. This all detracted from the otherwise strong and heavy rock n roll songs and excellent instrumental work. We went back to the songs, but it was really a case of letting the side show re-begin. I started rearranging my bag and checking my light as we went into the umpteenth solo. Of all the shows I’ve seen over the years at ProgPower, this one from Sons of Apollo was one of the most tedious. But it’s ok because the guys evidently loved themselves, so that’s nice, and a good proportion of the audience enjoyed it too. Maybe audiences in places like Cleveland and Anaheim demand these self-indulgent orgasms of orchestrated flamboyance. All in all, I just found this wooden.

Review: Andrew Doherty

Photos: Håkan Lundbom & Alex Blokdijk 

Part 2