BE PROG! MY FRIEND

VENUE Poble Es­panyol, barcelona DATE 30/06-01/07/2017

Prog - - Intro - JERRY EWING/HAN­NAH MAY KIL­ROY

FRIDAY

What­ever way you look at it, this year’s Be Prog! My Friend has to be viewed as a tri­umph. Given the ar­rival of the three-day Barcelona Rocks fes­ti­val, which is held on the same week­end, the packed crowds pay tes­ta­ment to Be

Prog!’s pulling power, abet­ted by an­other bril­liant line-up that spans gen­er­a­tions and pro­gres­sive gen­res.

It’s a tri­umph for the mu­sic, too: all 10 bands play­ing over the week­end de­liver above av­er­age sets. Throw in the great weather and glo­ri­ous set­ting, and you end up with the kind of fes­ti­val ex­pe­ri­ence you wish we could have back here in Eng­land.

Aus­tralia’s Caligula’s Horse boast one of the best band names in rock. Hav­ing caught them in Lon­don, and with a full re­view of their Southamp­ton show on page 126, we’ll sim­ply say that their rous­ing prog metal gets things off to a per­fect start, and we’re re­ally look­ing for­ward to hear­ing their up­com­ing new al­bum In Con­tact.

In the blaz­ing heat, one won­ders if An­i­mals As Lead­ers’ fi­nite tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise might wilt in the glar­ing sun that’s flood­ing over Poble Es­panyol. Far from it. The minute Tosin Abasi strikes the open­ing chords of Arith­mo­pho­bia from lat­est al­bum The Mad­ness Of Many, the au­di­ence is trans­fixed, and re­mains that way through a tight, pre­cise set that cul­mi­nates in fan-favourite CAFO from their self-ti­tled de­but.

Trans­fixed isn’t how you’d de­scribe the ec­static re­ac­tion that’s given to Mike Port­noy’s Shat­tered Fortress. The Be Prog! crowd goes crazy when Port­noy’s as­sem­bled throng (made up of most of Haken, plus Eric Gil­lette from Neal Morse’s band) take to the stage. Even if, as some purists have been quick to point out, he has three gui­tarists to do what John Petrucci would do on his own for Dream Theater, it’s a stun­ning set, built around Port­noy’s own 12 Step Suite, sand­wiched in be­tween a chunk of ma­te­rial from Metropo­lis Pt.2 and Awake’s The Mir­ror. Haken’s young­sters hold their own against Port­noy’s ebul­lient show­man­ship, the whole fan­tas­tic show leav­ing you wish­ing it wasn’t merely a one-off for the lat­ter half of 2017.

It was al­ways go­ing to take some­thing spe­cial to follow that, but then Mar­il­lion are that band. Jet­ti­son­ing any idea of per­form­ing a fes­ti­val-friendly set, tonight they per­form all three epic sec­tions from their lat­est al­bum FEAR, along with opener The In­vis­i­ble Man, This Strange En­gine and a jaw-drop­ping en­core of Gaza. Given the na­ture of the au­di­ence, which seems to have swelled in num­ber since Port­noy per­formed, Mar­il­lion’s emo­tion­al­ly­charged, mod­ern-day pro­gres­sive mu­sic is lapped up by the throng, the band in­tently feed­ing off the at­mos­phere to crown an in­tensely win­ning per­for­mance.

And now for some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent… Nor­we­gians Ulver have the post-head­liner slot, and opt to play all of their lat­est al­bum The As­sas­si­na­tion Of

Julius Cae­sar. Given the record’s 80s style, synth-heavy melodic ac­ces­si­bil­ity and the puls­ing, mes­meris­ing light show that ac­com­pa­nies it, not to men­tion the fact that every­one still present has been drink­ing for hours, their set tuns into what can only be de­scribed as a full-on prog rave.

“ANATH­EMA ARE A BAND VERY MUCH IN THE ASCENDANCY AND THEIR SET TONIGHT IS SIM­PLY BRIM­MING WITH CON­FI­DENCE.”

SATURDAY

Saturday starts with home­grown he­roes Jardín De La Croix’s in­stru­men­tal math rock draw­ing a rous­ing re­sponse from many of the lo­cals packed in front of the stage. And then we hit the first ap­par­ent tech­ni­cal snag of the week­end. Devin Townsend’s com­puter crashes just as he and his band are about to launch into the whole of 1997’s Ocean Ma­chine: Biomech, leav­ing the Cana­dian with no op­tion but to en­ter­tain the crowd with what he de­scribes as a “du­bi­ous com­edy rou­tine” while a re­boot­ing is in process. Prog notes that most other bands would probably have just trooped off­stage, but not Townsend, who cor­rals the crowd with Yng­wie Malm­steen im­per­son­ations and gags about his own pe­nile short­com­ings. Once the band are up and run­ning, the crowd eats up the densely lay­ered and beau­ti­fully melodic prog metal.

Anath­ema are a band very much in the ascendancy and their set tonight is sim­ply brim­ming with con­fi­dence. They look set­tled and happy as both parts of Un­touch­able open pro­ceed­ings, giv­ing way to the up­lift­ing Leav­ing It Be­hind from new al­bum The Op­ti­mist.

There’s plenty of their lat­est al­bum on of­fer tonight, which is fit­ting, as it’s by far and away their best yet. But just as the band have melded their elec­tronic dal­liances with sweep­ing, ma­jes­tic rock on The Op­ti­mist, so tonight they ef­fort­lessly mix new songs and favourites from We’re Here Be­cause

We’re Here and Weather Sys­tems. Prog hasn’t seen Danny Ca­vanagh look­ing as re­laxed and happy on stage for a long time, while brother Vinny throws him­self to­tally into a cap­ti­vat­ing per­for­mance.

A danc­ing Lee Dou­glas steps up for an epic

A Nat­u­ral Dis­as­ter be­fore Dis­tant Satel­lites closes things in em­phatic style, John Dou­glas’ per­cus­sion kit go­ing fly­ing to­wards the end, Vinny on his knees, ham­mer­ing his gui­tar ped­als. They de­part beam­ing with eupho­ria. The per­for­mance of the week­end, with­out a doubt.

Ian An­der­son’s Jethro Tull could eas­ily have wilted in the face of such an over­pow­er­ing per­for­mance from Anath­ema. That they don’t is down to a setlist chock full of clas­sic ma­te­rial such as Liv­ing In The Past, Heavy Horses and Thick As A Brick, and the well-placed breathers such as Pas­time With Good Com­pany and Bach’s Bour­rée, less­en­ing the im­pact on An­der­son’s vo­cals. Though in fair­ness to An­der­son, his vo­cals are in bet­ter shape than at times of late, nail­ing Farm On

The Free­way and Sweet Dream with aplomb dur­ing a per­for­mance that’s full of en­ergy.

Tull hold the crowd rapt too, as every­thing cul­mi­nates in the ex­pected one-two of Aqualung and Lo­co­mo­tive Breath. Tonight is the best per­for­mance from the band that Prog has seen in quite some time.

Leprous have the job of clos­ing the fes­ti­val, yet, as with Ulver the night be­fore, they end up turn­ing the clos­ing slot into a mas­sively win­ning show, with most of the au­di­ence stay­ing on to de­light in the band’s en­gag­ing mix of prog and elec­tronic pop. They even de­but From The Flame, from forth­com­ing new al­bum Malina, which is one that’s go­ing to as­tound prog fans with its di­ver­sity and depth.

An­other band ris­ing to the oc­ca­sion to make Be Prog! My Friend 2017 a sure­fire win­ner.

SUITE MU­SIC: MIKE PORT­NOY’S SHAT­TERED FORTRESS. AN­I­MALS AS LEAD­ERS: TOSIN ABASI PROGS OUT.

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