RoSfest 2011 (CRS version)

This was my second year at RoSfest, and I had already decided this must become an annual trip for me.  The weekend convinced me that was absolutely the right decision, as I met up with old friends from last year, met some new friends from this year, and enjoyed bands already familiar to me and some new ones I will now follow with much interest.

I knew nothing of Epiicycle before they were announced for RoSfest and as I enjoy encountering new bands was looking forward to seeing how they would open the show.  Aalthough the band has been around since 2006 the first thing you notice is how young they all are.  The second thing you notice is that the guitar, keyboards, drums and bass are joined by cello and violin for some of the songs, and with a very high level of technical ability it all mixes very well together into what they term as being a modern psychedelic progressive rock, which for me also incorporates some post-rock elements and more than a nod towards Nine Inch Nails.  Their sound is full of varied and interesting ideas, complex at times, which they keep moving along with diverse rhythms, never allowing the audience to fully settle back into a comfort zone, even the vocals having an edge when they come in.  It was a short set full of promise, and it deservedly went down very well.  It will be interesting to see how they develop from here.

I had seen Moon Safari at Winter’s End and knew that their flowing instrumental passages and vocal harmonies would be a good follow on for me from the harder edges of the Tinyfish set.  Of course, this was a return to RoSfest for them and they received a very strong positive response from the audience from before the very beginning of their set right through to some additional vocal harmonies which followed in the hotel pool after the post-show party.  Everything sounded perfect tonight as all their wonderful melodies ran together, sweeping everything up with them through a fine selection of songs from across all three of their albums, allowing us to enjoy not only the band as a whole, but the contribution of each individual band member as they enjoy opportunities to demonstrate their own prowess.  There is something very positive and upbeat to their sound, never failing to bring a sense of joy, and tonight is no different as they produce a very slick performance which opens with the majestic Moonwalk and culminates with the  always stunning Constant Bloom.  Everyone is sent away with a smile.

After that we headed back to the hotel for the after show party, featuring Going For The One, a Yes tribute band who sound a lot more like Yes than the current Yes lineup.  For this performance they were playing Yessongs and adding Clap – although in a leaflet they produced to accompany the performance they do make the point that Yessongs itself was not actually a replication of any live gig Yes played on that tour.  These guys know their stuff, and that shows in their performance, as they remain true to the original sound and feel of the music, while investing it with their own energy and enthusiasm – which proves to be infectious, as people move closer to the edge of the stage to enjoy what they are hearing.  An excellent end to the first day.

So we are back on Saturday morning for another band who are new to me, Osada Vida from Poland.  I have a feeling these guys were on the flight over from London with me, they were certainly on my flight back from the States, and what a very pleasant and friendly bunch they proved to be.  Their set also proved to be a great way to start the day.  There is a definite hard edge to their sound, some wonderful basslines running through the tracks, pushing against the interplay between guitar and keyboards, while the drums keep it tight.  They are clearly suffering from some nerves as they start their set, but they grow into it well, keeping a good tempo to their set, mixing in some discordant parts, some distinctly jazzy sounds – the variety is good and certainly holds my interest.  They build it up as they relax, rattling along and enjoying themselves as much as the audience are enjoying them, their sound tight now, full of energy and driving to a crashing finish to a promising set which left me wanting to get the back catalogue without delay.

Last year at RoSfest one of the first things I did was buy the Phideaux back catalogue after becoming hooked on Number Seven.  I thought they were the best band at last year’s Summer’s End, and so I was really looking forward to seeing them again, and had very high expectations.  I was not to be disappointed.  They start with a selection from the opening section of their new album, Snowtorch, a wonderfully melodic beginning rolling along, gradually developing into a huge, sprawling, controlled sound which fills the venue as it holds a very appreciative audience enthralled.  It then moves seemlessly into an excerpt from Number Seven and I am obviously not alone in having been looking forward to this set.  The full, rich, rounded sound continues with Thank You For The Evil from Doomsday Afternoon, which flows and swirls easily, such a tight sound featuring so many different sounds coming together, sometimes I just have to wonder how they manage it.  To my great pleasure there is more from Number Seven before they go into a stunning medley from Doomsday Afternoon, everything sounding so sharp, precise within the massive sound as it rolls along with a very English feel to it at times.  The musicianship is of the highest order and the various vocal contributions are right up there as well, and as with everything else within their sound, they combine and work together so well.  This is not simple music – the lyrics are beyond complicated, the music is complex and varied, moving through different moods and tempos, always inspiring interest, all of which is encompassed in the epic Chupacabras.  They finish with a recent single, Tempest Of Mutiny, which gradually grows until it bounces us along to a driving finish to a very enjoyable set.

The evening session promises two sets which will very much be keyboard orientated and starts with Erik Norlander and The Galactic Collective, a band and a person who are unknown to me.  There is a long introduction which explains how his six Moog modules came about and why they are known as the Wall Of Doom – they certainly look very impressive and imposing as they take up half the stage !  A large part of the set is made up of the instrumental tracks from The Galactic Collective and clearly demonstrates Erik’s outstanding technique, as there is an elegant flow to the music, which is rich and rounded, with real depth, and a strong focus on the melody.  It is very easy to listen to.  Things are livened up with the introduction of some vocals, courtesy of Lana Lane, who not only has a very powerful and impressive voice, but also has a real presence on the stage, adding another dimension to the tracks she is involved in.  The set proved to be a great introduction to Erik’s work for me, and I came away looking forward to listening to The Galactic Collective album a lot more.

The headliners for Saturday were Daemonia, another band I knew nothing about before they were announced for the festival, and I knew very little about Goblin, either, so the fact that they featured the same keyboard player, Claudio Simonetti, was somewhat lost on me.  A little research revealed that their stock in trade was film soundtracks, and to be honest I was none the wiser as to what to expect.  They opened with Toccata & Fucia, which I recognised, but it just sounded too much like a ‘hooked on classics’ number for me to really get into it.  The set progressed into Halloween/Tubular Bells, and so sounded very familiar, but the whole movie soundtrack style was not working for me, and the guitar, bass and drum sound almost seemed at odds to that anyway.  I like music like that as the soundtrack to a film, but not in itself, and so the performance left me unmoved, despite the fact that the keyboard performance could hardly be faulted, and that when vocals were introduced we experienced yet another excellent female vocalist.  I did appear to be in a minority within the audience, but it would be a more boring world if we all liked the same things.

There was a stage set up back at the hotel for an unofficial after-show party, and as it turned out we were presented with a real treat.  First up, Phideaux played something a little more acoustic than their earlier set, very relaxed and laid back, everyone having fun – both the band and the audience – and still at the excellent level of their previous performance.  Then Mike Visaggio of Kinetic Element took over on keyboards and entertained us all with some virtuoso playing, before being joined by Leon Camfield of Tinyfish on drums and percussion, which led into the rest of Tinyfish coming on to the stage with Andy Ditchfield of DeeExpus to perform The June Jar – the first time Tinyfish have performed with a keyboard player.  They then continued with Motorville and Driving All Night, before a solo slot from Andy Ditchfield, performing a cover of Nik Kershaw’s Wouldn’t It Be Good.

And so we reached the Sunday morning church service, with Mars Hollow doing the honours this year.  I had really enjoyed their debut album and was looking forward to seeing them live for the first time – not for the first time over the weekend, and not for the last time on the Sunday, I was not disappointed.  Their set was stuffed full of energy and certainly did the job demanded by the Sunday morning slot – piercing guitar, rumbling bass, biting drums and flowing keyboards all combined to produce a sharp sound which bounced along uptempo as their tracks built in layers and then burst out.  The driving sound took us through a great selection from both their debut album and their new album (which was on pre-release at RoSfest, and very quickly snapped up by me !), and kept everything upbeat, lively and rocking.  The audience were clearly enjoying it and the band were feeding off that energy and sending it back with interest, pushing along hard with the sound really soaring in places as everything came together for a perfect start to the day.

There was no let up after that because District 97 were another band I was really looking forward to seeing for the first time, although I had been disappointed to read that they no longer had the cellist in the band.  As it turned out, I was left wondering how she would have fitted into their sound.  They thumped in hard to start their set and it continued like that through to the end – another performance spilling over with energy, and not least from their lead singer, Leslie Hunt, who never seems to stop moving…and moving well – yes, she really is dancing to Prog !  And it is a hard sounding Prog, very much in the progressive metal mould, a complex sound, with a dynanism matched by their buzzing lead singer, wonderful melodies driven through with a metal edge, and all this from a band who are so young – it is great to see, and there is a certain pop sensibility to Leslie’s performance which should make them widely accessible.  There is a power within their songs, but they know how to add variety, different textures and rhythms, to set them apart from much within progressive metal, while clearly demonstrating the technical prowess which is often associated with that genre.  And their sound is tight through this performance, including new material as well as tracks from their debut album and a stunning version of Back In N.Y.C., which sees Leslie in a duct tape top.  But it is their performance as a whole, and not just that bit of theatre, which leads to the huge applause at the end of their set.  Definitely a band to look out for in the future.

It had been a little while since I had last been able to see The Reasoning, and this was far removed from The Peel.  Of course, they have come a long way over the last year, so I was interested to see where they were with the live performance.  Unfortunately the guitar sound was too loud against everything else for me, often drowning out the vocals, and, to be fair, Owain Roberts did not seem happy with what was happening.  They have a hard sound these days, very hard at times, which for me is a move away from their first two albums, but they kept their set well balanced and it had a good flow to it.  There is no doubting the technical ability of anyone in the band, and they do create some wonderful melodies, driven along by a thunderous rhythm section, and the audience do get carried along as the set proceeds, and not least because of Rachel Cohen’s very engaging between song banter.  But for me where they really hit home is the melodic interplay between the keyboards and guitar, then the various vocal strands they bring into that, and that certainly seems to produce the biggest reactions from this audience as well, which means that the set justifiably ends on a real high.

A very good friend of mine had told me that I would enjoy Quidam, and he was right.  There was so much for me to enjoy within this performance – a very engaging frontman who was intent on making sure the audience got everything they could from the experience, the addition of flute and violin within the sound, a couple of songs sung in their native Polish.  Their sound is very melodic, drifting and floating at times, but also with a heavy edge when it is needed, and at times it rattles along.  They know how to keep things moving and varied, and do combine all the instruments very well, producing a wonderful, infectious sound – I lost count of the number of times the audience were clapping along to their tracks, even during the new ones.  There is a warm feeling to what they are producing tonight, even within one very poignant moment when singer Bartek Kossowicz talks about the loss of a child.  The atmosphere they are creating so very easily flows into the inclusion of Riders On The Storm and Hush, a stunning organ sound and everyone is standing up in the theatre, absolutely loving this.  They finish their set with a track which shows all of their variety, swaying along to start with before discordant sounds come together, and as the violin screeches higher with the guitar Bartek comes to sit at the front of the stage, and is gradually joined by the others.  Stunning.  There is one more stunning moment to come – a lovely cover of Wish You Were Here with full audience participation, and the final part being repeated over and over.  It really was a perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable weekend, and I am already planning to go back for May 2012.

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