NEARfest Day 3-Keith Emerson, Ange, Niacin, Guapo, Michael Manring

The final day of NEARfest drew to an anti-climatic close, but before the anti-climax there was some astounding music.
The day opened like the Bethlehem weather, a storm of darkness with Guapo.

Black Oni

They are a surprisingly young band from England. Bassist James Sedwards looked like a high school junior and guitarist Kavus Torabi stared defiantly into the audience when he wasn’t executing punky knock-kneed dances with his white Gretsch guitar. But they apparently got a thorough education at the PresentUnivers ZeroArt Zoyd School of Avant-garde, Gothic Bartok-Rock. The band traversed torture track time changes, Glenn Branca-like electric squalls and unison charges into the abyss. Definitely woke everyone up at 11AM.
Michael Manring followed with a decided density shift, playing a set of solo electric bass on his custom Zon instruments. Manring alternately tapped and flailed on his instruments, swapping tunings in mid-phrase. He played a gorgeous alap using two e-bows and then performed his lyrical “Selene.” Michael has a recent CD, Soliloquy and he’ll be appearing live on Echoes sometime in the next two months.

The French band called Ange followed.
Par Les Fils Du Mandrin Le Cimetiere Des Arlequins Caricatures
Of the 70s symphonic rock groups, they are among the more obscure, but the NEARfest crowd seemed to hang on every French word. The group charged the stage with singer and only original member Christian DeCamps dancing about in a white kaftan. With a face that looked like the Gentle Giant cartoon mascot, he came off like a joyfully crazed kabuki Buddha. When singer Caroline Crozat came out dropping sparkle dust, I thought we were in for a Spinal Tap moment. And in a way it was. Ange was the only theatrical symphonic rock band at the festival and they were energetic and bombastic. All their lyrics are in French and they are very verbose, so it became tiresome at times no matter how fervently and operatically DeCamps sang. Guitarist Hassan Hajdi was an exciting, though a bit generic fret-burner and keyboardist Tristan DeCamps created some original orchestrations, mixing classic analog synth and mellotron sounds with some more contemporary timbres. The audience loved them and the band had a sense of humor about themselves that kept it from getting too pretentious.

Niacin is a three-piece organ trio that is like Medeski, Martin & Wood stoked on steroids and amphetamines.
Organik Time Crunch Niacin Deep (+1 Bonus Track)
They start at 11 and never let up in hurtling, groove centric tunes with drummer Dennis Chambers locking in a polyrhythmic groove while bassist Billy Sheehan and keyboardist John Novello trade lightning leads. Sheehan’s hyperactive, trebly post-Jaco bass playing can get tedious and sometimes you wish he’d just lay into a slow-smoked groove.

The festival headliner and closer was Keith Emerson. Do we need an introduction here? The Nice, Emerson Lake & Palmer, one of the most famous Moog solos ever.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer Brain Salad Surgery
I have to confess, his music since Brain Salad Surgery has left me cold, and his solo music in particular has been by turns banal and tasteless. Nevertheless, he was a giant of my youth so I took a shot. The good news is that Emerson was in fine form despite reported bouts with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. He wailed away on a Hammond organ, some other synths and the vintage Moog Modular. And his band was fine as well with guitarist Marc Bonilla providing vocals and some scintillating leads and most of the good jokes. The bad news was the repertoire. Imagine going to see The Beatles and all they play are the Ringo Starr tunes. That’s what Emerson was like as he picked one minor piece after another. Instead of Tarkus, we got the hokey “Bitches Crystal.” Instead of The Nice’s powerful version of Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me” we got the corny “Country Pie.” Instead of “The Endless Enigma” or “From the Beginning” we got the hokey “Hoedown.” At every step, Emerson went for novelty over substance. It’s possible he played some of his epic works later on, but after “Hoedown,” I thought I’d cut and run. After all, 10 out of 12 bands with interesting to great performances isn’t a bad score for a weekend of music.
Perhaps more later.

I sat next to Mike Montfort, who gave me some shoulder room by getting up to take some great shots of the festival. You can see his NEARfest pictures here.

Comment posted by
at 1/28/2007 11:51:39 AM

All has been perfect for the 2006 NearFest festival, and now, I think the sound could be better, it’s is good, but it’s not enough.
They need a JBL VERTEC system
best regard

Comment posted by
at 6/27/2006 4:13:19 PM

Okay, I clearly missed the boat on Emerson. I even went back and listened to the first ELP disc this morning on vinyl. Ange didn’ hit me either and did seem a bit Spinal Tap-like, but I had the sense that they knew this which gave it an ironic twist at least. I don’t know if I’d call Niacin “robotic” but they are machines. The best for me were Ozric, KBB, Riverside (a welcome surprise) and Richard Leo Johnson.

Comment posted by
at 6/27/2006 12:03:33 PM

They featured a new piece from Keith called ‘New Orleans’ in the acoustic part. (It was the first piece played after Keith walked over to the piano.) In the earlier shows Keith introduced this piece as having been written a day or two after Katrina hit. He did not introduce it at this show, but just led the band into it, and then into “From the Beginning”.
Keith did expand some of his stories from the earlier shows, and this was the first venue I saw where he used pyrotechnics. (And rightly so. He would have brought down the house in a not so good way if he used them in some of the other venues.)
I thought Ange was contrived, and Niacin was too robotic. But then, I date from the early Jurassic myself….;)

Comment posted by
at 6/27/2006 7:13:52 AM

There was one kind of boogie-oriented piece that they played during the short semi-acoustic set with Keith at the piano, no idea whether that was new or not, was not one that I recognized. Other than that, not that I can think of.

And the Bonilla piece is not technically “new,” it’s from his album EE Ticket, which came out around 92 or 93, and was produced by Kevin Gilbert.


Comment posted by
at 6/27/2006 1:32:53 AM

A pity you let your moods or prejudices or whatever one would call it drive you to leave far too early:-(

Seems you missed out of one of the best parts of the whole of Nearfest. I think you in all honesty should update your blog and mention it.

Before kneeling in front of the English Embassy and Moog Office building to make amends;-)

Comment posted by
at 6/26/2006 9:19:30 PM

Ahh. So good things do come to those who wait. Sorry I missed that. Still, was there any new materiel besides the Bonilla piece?

Comment posted by
at 6/26/2006 6:45:08 PM

You left too soon! Otherwise you would have heard rather inventive renditions of Fromt the Beginning and Lucky Man (with infamous moog solo), plus the longest, most amazing rendition of Tarkus I have ever heard! No condensed version as in the 1990s ELP tours, this was the entire suite, with extended jams in Stones of Years, an awesome ribbon-controller/guitar duel in Mass, nice guitar work in Battlefield and an extended Aquatarkus.

Personally I found the inclusion of such rare cuts like Living Sin and Piano Concerto, 3rd Movement to be icing on the cake, not at all minor cuts to inflate the bandleader’s ego.

Comment posted by
at 6/26/2006 5:28:18 PM


They did do a very nice, very mellow ‘From The Beginning’ mid-set with Keith on the grand piano, and closed with Tarkus.

I hear you re: ‘Country Pie’ though — that’s a pretty dopey one.


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