Review and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2002 | Photos © Chris Walkden 2002
Images © Classic Rock Productions 2002 used with permission
Formatted for 800 x 600 or larger windows | Last updated: 03 November 2002
The Patriots Theater at the Trenton War Memorial is a splendid venue for live performances. Indeed, it has been selected for the Northeast Art Rock Festival (NEARFest) again in 2003 after the 2002 sell-out. Located right next to the Lafayette Yard Marriott Hotel where bands and many concert attendees stayed, the venue suffers only from the lack of nearby restaurants open at the weekend. The seven-show event was planned following NEARFest 2002 by Classic Rock Productions and contributed to an oversold hotel and--although well-attended--the Festival did not sell out. Each of the performances were filmed by Classick Rock Productions crews and are meant to be reduced to a variety of DVD releases before the 2002 holidays.
The Classic Rock Festival drew enthusiasts from the northeast USA and Canada, elsewhere in the USA and Europe with a good number making the trans-Atlantic journey to catch a world-class lineup of talented musicians. Mostly Autumn, Asia and Uriah Heep filled the first day whilst Karnataka, Focus, Nektar and Uriah Heep rounded out the second day. Time beteween performances was adequate but organisers likely realised that a longer would gap have improved quality.
Enthusiasts raved about the particular bands that drew their attention to the Festival in the first place. Originally established as a Heepvention, many attended specifically to see the current Uriah Heep line-up. This was evident in each day's final performances. Another set of fans were clearly there to catch the third live performance of reunited Nektar whose appearance in June at NEARFest drew progressive fans from all round and packed the Town Hall in NYC on Friday night.
Focus and Asia each drew their respective crowds as did Mostly Autumn (review link) whose American popularity began to grow during their European tour with Blackmore's Night (review). Clearly the unexpected surprise to the broadest range of enthusiasts was Karnataka (review link), whose American debut--an uplugged set Friday night (review) with October Project (review)--served as a [sold out] warmup for their opening set on Sunday.
The venue itself with brought in lights and expansive sound system were tops in every respect. Clean, comfortable, classic and attractive are the best way to describe the venue. Every seat in the theater is a good one. While the power and clarity of the sound were superb throughout, quality certainly improved through the event with the kinks worked out by the second day. The powerful PA system was a treat for the audience and bands alike. Like the sound, the lights got better as the event progressed.
Classic Rock Productions, based in Stratford-upon-Avon in the UK, is to be commended for organising a concert series a third of the way round the world from their home offices. Any event of this magnitude has signficant organisational challenges. This one actually came off quite well with only a few exceptions noted in the gig reviews that follow below. The writers thank Dave Owen and Chris Bradley for all of their hard work, attention to band needs and their hospitality during the event.
In addition to the live performances, a merchandising activity held in a room beneath the area behind the main stage was also well attended. Each of the bands, Progression magazine, several normal web-based progressive rock-related vendors and Classic Rock Productions set up stalls to the delight of music fans attending the event. Sales were quite good with significant numbers of CDs, DVDs, videos and t-shirts shifted to willing customers. Good interaction between artists and their fans in the merchandise area, dressing rooms and hotel lasted through the weekend.
Mostly Autumn. Fronted by Heather Findlay and Bryan Josh, the band's touring season resumed recently with an opening set for Nektar in NYC on Friday night. While there have been some changes in the track list since last spring's UK tour, the material performed is just about the same. Obviously delighting their new-found American audience, the set included the band's rockier numbers, many of which have been included on the band's latest release, Heroes Never Die - The Anthology. We missed some of the jiggy numbers featuring Angela Goldthorpe on flute and whistle that clearly set the band apart from some of their rivals.
As the first band up at the Festival, Mostly Autumn did not enjoy either the sound quality or light shows that the bands following them did. While the vocals were well performed, they were too far down in the mix for most die-hard fans. It is suspected that the monitor volume was also off which contributed to several timing and range gaffs. Highlights of Mostly Autumn's set included favourites "Never The Rainbow," "Evergreen," "Shrinking Violet" and "The Sprit Of Autumn Past." The most Celtic number performed was "Dark Before The Dawn" featuring Heather and Angela on whistle. Their encore of "Mother Nature" was well received. All in all a good performance with a very positive audience reaction.
Asia. The current line-up includes only Geoff Downes from the early days. Asia currently consists of Geoff Downes (Keyboards/Background Vocals), John Payne (Vocals/Bass/Guitar), Guthrie Govan (Guitar), and Chris Slade (Drums). Clearly one of the bands our staff was most excited to see, their performance was very good despite several foul-ups with the sound likely due to mixups with the monitors or backing click track. We were most impressed with the energy of Chris Slade and the guitar licks of Guthrie Govan whose facial expressions made an impression on the entire audience.
The set consisted of tracks from the band's history and included many of their former hits like "Only Time Will Tell," "Sole Survivor," "Don't Cry" and "Heat Of The Moment." Material performed spanned the band's career and included quite a selection from their Aura album. Like many bands that have been around this length of time, there have been an array of lineup changes. The current members do well on stage and used the layout to their advantage.
From the band's website, "Free", on the other hand, is easily a new classic for the band, and can now be used to close the set. The older classics are always nice, but it might be time to retire a few of them in favor of some newer blood. They closed the show, naturally, with a rousing rendition of "Heat of the Moment", and took their bows to a standing ovation from a dedicated group of fans who had traveled from all over the western hemisphere to share in the moment. The first live performance from the Payne-era intended for DVD release is in the can, and none would doubt that the final product will be spectacular." Like all of the shows at the Festival, this one has been captured for a forthcoming DVD release.
Uriah Heep (Electric Set). Heep rocked the place with the electric set, they did "Magicians Birthday," and most of the songs they do the last year or so, and that are captured on the latest DVD series. Thyjs Van Leer played flute on "Tales." The encore was "Easy Livin" and "Bird of Prey."
From the Classic Rock Productions website, "They opened with RTF, I remember "Universal Wheels," "Only the Young," "Stealin'," "July Morning," "Gypsy," "Logical Progression," "Keep on Trying" and "Look at Yourself." LAY was the best song and Phil did a new killer piano solo. Also Bernie tripped over a cable, and hurt his ankle so badly he sang several songs sitting on the ledge in front of the drumset. There were lots of technical difficulties too, but Heep delivered in a professional manner."
Karnataka. The highlight for most Festival attendees was Karnataka's live performance on Sunday afternoon. Following an extremely brief soundcheck, the band--Rachel Jones (lead vocals, percussion), Anne-Marie Helder (backing vocals, flute, percussion), Paul Davies (guitar), Ian Jones (bass and acoustic guitar), Jonathan Edwards (keyboards) and Gavin Griffiths (drums)--took the stage.
The opening number was Karnataka's instrumental rendition of "She Moved Through The Fair" which blended into a rousing new live arrangement of "Time Stands Still." With lots of interaction amongst the band members on stage, the set list included numbers from the band's two released albums Karnataka and The Storm. Tracks from their DVD Karnataka In Concert and forthcoming album Delicate Flame Of Desire were also included in the 100-minute live set.
The band were in top form--with sound, lights and stage presence perfectly complimenting each other. With vocalists fully engaged with the audience, the band drew significant applause and ovations following every number, a clear illustration of their appeal to the Americans. Tracks from the new album performed live also included "After The Rain," "Heart Of Stone," "Delicate Flame Of Desire," "Strange Behaviour" and "The Right Time." Established fans and newcomers noted the tightness of the arrangements and the integration of the individual band members' parts.
The audience was significantly disappointed when Festival organiser Bob Carruthers came to the microphone following the band's main set. While Karnataka had planned an encore of two additional numbers, Carruthers cut them short to allow time for Focus to soundcheck and set up. Not overly put off by the dire news, the audience rapidly descended upon the merchandise area to purchase Karnataka's CDs, DVD and t-shirts and meet the band. The warm reception was a clear indication that the band would be welcomed back to America in the future.
Focus. A classic progressive instrumental band, Thisjs van Leer has pulled together an oustanding lineup of Dutch musicians that delighted longtime fans and newcomers alike. van Leer's flute, whistling (literally) and vocalisations as well as Hammond-playing were perfectly complimented by superb guitar and bass playing. After a number of abstract numbers spanning the band's earlier incarnations with clever titles like "Focus 1," "Focus 2", and so on to "Focus 8," we were most impressed with the live rendition of "Hocus Pocus" which we had not heard for many years.
Nektar. Earlier this year the original line-up of the band got together for a special performance at NEARFest at this same venue. The band's return to Trenton for this performance marked the release of the DVD recorded in the same venue. Alsao recreated for this occasion is the original 1970s liquid light show by Mick Brockett, the official fifth member of the band.
Nektar was jointed on stage by sythesizer ace Larry Fast who allowed the band to recreate the full line-up of their 1975 masterpiece "Recycled." Two female backing vocalists added texture to the band's psychodelic progressive sound. The audience's second disappointment came when Bob Carruthers cut them short from planned encores as he had done with Karnataka earlier in the day.
Uriah Heep (Acoustic Set). From the Classic Rock Productions website, I remember "Rainbow Demon," "Tales," "Blind Eye," "Other side of midnight," "Thats the way that it is," "Why did you Go," "The Wizard," "Rain," "Dream on" and then the encore, "Lady in Black." Several were invited onstage to sing the Heepster Chorus with Heep. Also Dave White, Rob Dwyer (played guitars with Heep) and Craig The Cigar Man Stewart, played bongo drums."
Concluding Remarks. Further reviews of the bands' performances written by Festival attendees can be found in various forums at their own websites as well as the Classic Rock Productions website (linked to from the tickets and logo above). The American audience was clearly delighted by the event, which with further advertising and promotion could have been a sell-out. The future is bright for Karnataka and Mostly Autumn who will likely develop an even bigger American following in the northeast as word of this Festival spreads.
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