The second annual "Progman Cometh" festival drew light crowds to the Moore Theatre last weekend for an unusual blend of classic rock, neo-fusion and ambient noodling.
Two Monkey Finger opened each day with various configurations of its 12-member collective. The music was pleasant but unchallenging, proving that yesterday's progressive rockers have become today's professors of armchair ambience. Less than a third of the audience that had come to see the headliners came in time to hear the early performances, and those who did attend spent more time schmoozing in the lobby than listening to the music.
Saturday night's headliners, The Alan Parsons Live Project, was an all-new sextet including none of the musicians associated with Parson's recording career. From the recent Walk Down Abbey Road Tour came guitarist Godfrey Townsend and drummer Steve Murphy, with vocalist Kevin Chalfant a last minute replacement for Kip Winger. Parsons stood on a riser above the band, contributing little to the music except acoustic guitar and the occasional vocal.
Opening a 90-minute set with a lengthy one-chord instrumental vamp, the overwrought heaviness and cheesy theatrics continued with Parsons' last-ever top-20 hit, 1984's Don't Answer Me, sung by bassist John Montagna, who looked like a character from Saturday Night Fever and moved like one of the girls in a Robert Palmer video. On 1980's Time, Chalfant's vocals were rife with strained high notes.
The group concluded with 1987's Standing on Higher Ground, after which they hugged and high-fived each other, amazed with themselves for having pulled off a simulated rock concert circa 1983.
Procol Harum was more successful, its blend of classical and rock music as thoughtful and dynamic as ever. Two original members, Gary Brooker (vocals, keyboard) and Matthew Fisher (organ), maintained the integrity of the group's original sound, while new blood from a recent recording session [sic] provided decent rhythmic support.
The new lyrics, although penned by original lyricist Keith Reid, lacked the literary quality of his earlier work. The VIP Room and Wall Street Blues, built on unimaginative blues riffs, were mediocre at best.
However, with Brooker's distinctive tenor sounding exactly as it did 35 years ago, classics like A Salty Dog, Shine on Brightly, and A Whiter Shade of Pale sent tingles through the spines of the small but fanatical crowd.
Procol Harum was preceded by the Steve Smith/Michael Zilger Quartet, a Bay Area group that attempted to deconstruct and reinterpret jazz classics. Its unrecognizable Mood Indigo was an adrenaline-fueled trip to nowhere via memories of Weather Report.