ProgPower USA III

November 18th, 2002

First, my apologies to Glenn for not writing a report as lengthy and detailed as the Milwaukee Metalfest report! But there were just a whole lot more reporters on the scene for this one, so it’s not as important for me to be the one to get the word out there. Maybe sometime soon I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of the two festivals though, that might be interesting. Anyway, the whole thing kicked ass. I guess I’ll just go through the bands, so I can get my thought recorded before I forget them.

Zero Hour
Wasn’t really familiar with their stuff, but I enjoyed their set. Nothing that had me jumping up and down and going crazy, and I don’t think I’ll run out and buy their albums, but it was a decent way to start things off.

Silent Force
Skipped out to the gyros place during this set.

Power fuckin’ metal. Distilled and purified to its most basic and important elements, played with vigor and a sense of humor. They seemed to be basically channeling Keepers-era Helloween, which was great for those of us who never got a chance to see Helloween in those days. Even better, they made no attempt to hide that fact, with much of Tobias’s banter seemingly borrowed straight from Helloween’s “I Want Out – Live” (“Do you want a faster song???” “Turn on the lights so I can see the people in the seats back there!”) I don’t even own any Edguy albums, and still don’t really feel a need to pick any up (although I do own Avantasia Pt. I), but at that point in time, for that style of metal, I don’t know if there is anyone out there who could have topped Edguy.

Blind Guardian
I liked this set just as much as Edguy’s set, but for rather different reasons. Whereas Edguy captured me with their energy and performance, Blind Guardian captured me with their songs. I’m very familiar with all the songs they played, and for me, the setlist was as good as it possibly could have been. Very nicely loaded with “Imaginations…” stuff (which I love), only two from the new one (just fine with me), and all of the ones that I really like from “Nightfall…” (which doesn’t do much for me as a whole). The sing-a-longs were great, and “Lost in the Twilight Hall” was just amazing. I had absolutely no complaints with the sound, vocals, or overall performance. In fact, I didn’t even think of any of that stuff during the show, as I was too wrapped up into the songs. I’m starting to think that a lot of that may have to do with standing down on the floor, headbanging, and letting the music grab hold of you; sitting calmly up in a chair makes it much easier to do a more critical and technical analysis, which I really have no interest in doing at a show like this. Everything, including the new stuff, sounded just fine (or even better) to me with only one Hansi and one Andre up there. I think that’s more proof that all the insane layering they’ve done on the last couple albums is quite unnecessary. At best, it wastes a lot of time, and and worst, it buries the songs. Everything in this set was immediate and powerful, and I’m really glad I’ll be seeing them again soon.

Pain of Salvation
Not that big of a fan, although I enjoyed their performance at PP1. Went up in the seats for this one, and was liking what I heard, but I was just too worn out by that point to really enjoy it. We left after 30 minutes or so, simply because it was getting hard to keep our eyes open. I’ve seen lots of people complaining about Gamma Ray’s drum solo (and I totally agree), but Daniel seemed to be spending at least as much time telling jokes and stuff. I guess they’ve played here before though, and don’t have as many albums, so it’s not that big of a deal. This set also made it clear how limited the audience for that type of music truly is, relative to other styles. While the total number of people remaining was still fairly large, ProgPower seems to be the premier event for a band like Pain of Salvation, so I don’t think they’d ever be able to draw more people than that, anywhere. Just in case anyone needed another reminder that it was the power metal that sold all the tickets to ProgPower, seeing the crowd remaining for PoS really brought that home.

Reading Zero
Heard a bit through the walls, but spent the time CD shopping, having a nice chat with teri, and hanging out in one of those cool alcoves (before they were all occupied!)

I’d never heard a note of Threshold in my life, but I really enjoyed their set. From the songs they played, I actually find it a bit strange that they’re even classified as “prog metal”. It must be one of those cases where people say “ok, they have a high-pitched, melodic singer, and keyboards, but they aren’t power metal, so they must be prog metal, since that’s the only other possible alternative”. To me, they sounded like mostly “metal”. Maybe “melodic metal” or something, and they certainly had some “prog” tendancies, but I think the “prog metal” tag might have kept me away from them in the past. I really liked the guitar playing style, which often wasn’t even very “metal” at all, though the nice heavy rhythm section most definitely told us they were in the right place.

Devin Townsend
It was very cool of Glenn (and the other guys) to bring the band to a festival where they might not fit, and for the band to play at a festival where they knew they didn’t fit that well. I find it pretty funny how some people were offended enough by his performance to label him an asshole. Sure, his music obviously isn’t for everyone, but I guess the joke totally flew over the heads of some people. You’d think starting off the set with “Summer of ’69” might be a clue that he was being way silly. Personally, I found him hilarious, and his music kicked ass too. I only really know the Ocean Machine stuff, and that totally rocked, but some of the new stuff sounded cool too. I was very impressed with how well the sound of the records was reproduced live, and I actually didn’t notice it being louder than anything else (I was up front on the floor, maybe that made a difference?) I loved the serious low-end chunk they had on the later songs. Oh, and the whole band seemed excellent too. Seemed like he got a good response, so I hope Glenn continues being adventurous like that in the future.

Gamma Ray
Ran to dinner between sets, so unfortunately I missed the “Land of the Free” stuff. I thought that might have been ok, since that’s not my favorite GR album, but I like it a lot more than ‘Powerplant’ or ‘NWO’ (which I never even bothered to buy), so then it was a bit disappointing how much they played from those discs. Basically this was the opposite of Blind Guardian for me in terms of playing what I wanted to hear. Someone mentioned how Gamma Ray’s first U.S. appearance was a historic event, and I agree. The only problem is that Gamma Ray seemed totally oblivious to that fact. I was hoping for a “best-of” set, but they didn’t even come close to that, with only one song from their first three albums. Instead of endless crowd games and a drum solo, they probably could have squeezed in two more songs for an audience that had never seen them before. And hmm, would I rather hear “Heavy Metal Universe”, or “Heal Me”? Oh well, they still kicked plenty of ass, particularly the SoiS tracks, and “Dream Healer” rocked even though there were probably a lot of people who didn’t agree. And of course the Helloween stuff ruled, and it was finally something that got the overly peaceful crowd reacting in a physical manner. So overall, it was still really cool, but after Edguy, I was thinking “how amazing will a power metal band like that be when I actually know and love their songs?” And so it never quite lived up to those expectations.

Thankfully I felt much more energized for the last band on this day. Like Gamma Ray, they did minimal stuff from their back catalog, but at least that’s what I expected here, and the new stuff is really good (and I think I like it a whole lot more after seeing it performed). Edu was a great frontman, and I loved the stage setup with the beautiful backdrop, and the amps moved off to the sides. Excellent guitar playing, as expected. And the drumming thing was really cool. Very good backup singing all around, particularly from the bass player, which is not really something I would have thought of with Angra. Not much else to say except that they totally lived up to my expectations, and while Matos would have been nice, I didn’t feel cheated at all.

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