A Review by: Rachit Gupta and photography: Tessy Troes
For the fifth time Barcelona’s “Poble Espanyol” – which translates to ‘Spanish town’ – opened its doors to Be Prog! My Friend, a ‘for open-minded lovers of prog’.
Entering the festival site just when the guitars of opening act Persefone were ringing, we were welcomed by a sea of t-shirts, hailing the names of bands that had appeared in previous editions: Leprous, Opeth, Haken, to name but a few.
Shirtless, under a scalding sun, the drummer of Baroness Sebastian Thomson animated the crowd that started filling up the front rows. With a mixture of impulsive rhythms, catchy harmonies and an impressive physical presence of the lead singer John Baizley, the band from Georgia, USA, was a perfect way to draw the crowd, not all familiar with the band’s music, into the festival vibes.
Next up on stage were the Swedish old hands from Pain of Salvation, Barcelona is the first stop on their ‘In the Passing Light of Day’ tour. Three songs in, Daniel Gildenlöw, explained the connection between them and the crowd: just like Pain of Salvation, people from Southern Europe suck at giving up and just keep going.
Their old songs resonated most with the crowd, but the band did a great job challenging the prog crowd with an advanced clap and shouting along contests. ‘Welcome to Planet Earth’ was introduced by Gildenlöw with a little food for the crowd’s thought – we eat Fast Food, therefore we need elevators, but to work against all of that, we start going to the gym. The concert ended on a high note, with a full rendition of ‘In The Passing Light of Day’, the ‘Ending Theme’ resonating in everyone’s body for a long time after the concert.
A Perfect Circle, who had built some anticipation in the fifteen years they did not visit Spanish grounds, picked the audience up just where Pain Of Salvation left it. With the crispiest sound of the festival, they mesmerised the crowd with songs like “Eat The Elephant” and “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums”. Lead singer Maynard James Keenan stayed on a little elevation in the middle of the stage for all of the concert, not disturbing the minimal and somewhat mysterious light show.
A Perfect Circle had brought to Be Prog! My Friend. After the last notes of A Perfect Circle had vanished, the majority of the crowd let themselves hypnotically guide into the night outside of Poble Espanyol, missing Oranssi Pazuzu’s black metal ending the first day of the festival.
On the second day, the festival had to compete both with the Gaypride that took place just outside of the ‘Poble Espanyol‘ and the highly anticipated football game between France and Argentina.
Bad luck for the virtuosic Plini, who kicked off Saturday – given the spectacular performance, one can only wonder why the Australians were given such a short and early spot in the timetable.
The next band on stage divided the audience into two – in front of the stage, withstanding the scalding sun, die-hard fans of the Norwegian Gazpacho (which, ironically enough, is a cold soup typically served in Spain on cold days); hiding in the shadows, the rest of the crowd, who was not drawn into the concert with Gazpacho’s calm compositions, but still enjoying the phenomenal visuals the band brought from their home country.
Speaking music-wise, the following band – the metal superband ‘Sons of Apollo’ – were the exact opposite of Gazpacho. The musicians around Mike Portnoy were literally pouring energy into the crowd, showing off with double-necked basses and guitars, and not giving the crowd a single chance to rest. As the bandleader said himself: to a certain extent this first outing in Spain of the band could be understood as an excuse for the long waiting time.
Last but not least it was Steve Hackett’s turn, reuniting the crowd who had a varying degree of interest in Gazpacho and Sons of Apollo for a concert of finest prog music. The Brit, who was Genesis’ guitar player for most of the 70s, acted like a world-class conductor for the brilliant musicians (most notably the drummer Gary O’Toole) on stage: as one of the most defining prog musicians of his time, he knew how to guide everyone in presence through even the most complex prog song structures balancing the set-list between Genesis re-arrangements and his own compositions. Hats off for a true maestro of his genre. The festival ended with Burst, a band that had reunited specifically to play that concert, but most people, unfortunately, had already left the festival grounds.
Once again, Be Prog! My Friend proved itself as an event not to be missed in the calendar of Iberian fans of progressive music. Even though the timetable choices confused some of the visitors, the variety of prog music made it a truly memorable weekend.