Artist: Rocket Scientists & Shaun Guerin
Location/ Date: Thousand Oaks, CA October 27th, 2002
But where was the concert? The complex housed city hall, the city council chambers, a multitude of offices, the big theater and something called the Scherr Forum (which is what my ticket said). So after climbing up and down stairs like a rat in a maze, I finally found the entrance to the Scherr Forum and who should I see? Don Schiff and Lana Lane in the lobby! Don was admiring a very accomplished musician playing a tap-style guitar with way too many strings. Lana was setting up Think Tank Media's vendor table. I consider myself so fortunate to be an acquaintance of theirs, as they both greeted me very warmly. The lobby gradually filled with vendors, ticket holders, etc. It was great to see Ron and Brandy Fuchs (Mr. and Mrs. ProgNaut) as well as a few of the "usual prog suspects" from the LA area.
The show started with Paul Whitehead's "Borg Symphony", which Erik described before as a very artistic and unusual piece of performance art. The opening narration (which had a false start) explained why they would assimilate and produce an art form such as music. The reason eludes me right now. Perhaps it is "irrelevant" (as the Borg are fond of saying). Then the players took the stage, each one in various degrees of "Borg-ification". Dan Shapiro was on upright electric bass and Paul Whitehead (I'm told) was the one playing the cymbal with a bow. Sascha de Vere played synthesizers, and her costume was the most impressive. Rounding out this assimilated ensemble was Wolfgang Temperance on guitar. They only played the first movement, "Machine". I was sufficiently freaked out by the cacophanous result that I'm now curious what the rest of it sounds like (although I think the visual element is a major element of this work's appeal).
Oddly enough, Erik did not participate as we expected him to.
Next up were Rocket Scientists. A dramatic synthesizer-dominated buildup segued into "Break The Silence". Mark McCrite was on guitars and vocals. Don Schiff played the NS Stick, Shaun Guerin occupied the drum throne as well as provided harmony vocals. Erik, of course, played his multitude of keyboards and was in firm command of the "Wall Of Doom". This number was largely faithful to the recorded version, and was a good warm-up for the rest of the show.
"Aqua Vitae" was up next, and it too was a close match to the record. A *BIG* negative during this song was the fact that Erik's keyboards were often lost in the mix. They play a major role in the arrangement, but I had to strain to hear them. Luckily this was a problem that did not plague the rest of their performance. Don had switched to Rickenbacker bass for this tune.
Next came "Brutal Architecture/Prog Medley", and the mix was much more balanced here. The band really nailed these songs. This was a very strong start to a great show.
Erik took his solo spot after the rest of the band departed the stage, starting off with his mind-bogglingly note-perfect rendition of "Dreamcurrents". But the cello melody was taken by a mellotron and then later by a moog-like patch. Not bad, but for my own reasons, I really *need* that cello sound there. Even if it's just a sampled string sound. Then came "Trantor Station", which was pretty much like he performed at ProgWest last year. A very accurate reading of the recorded version. At this point, I have to plead amnesia because I can't name the song that ended the medley. I want to say "Neurosaur", but I'm not 100% sure. As one would expect, "________" was performed marvelously. Erik, can you help me fill in the blank?
The evening's first misstep occurred at this point. After such a virtuosic performance, Erik deserved an ovation, but the band took to the stage too soon, precluding an opportunity for the audience to show its appreciation.
The opening chords of "Avalon" were played on piano by Erik, and Mark sang the first few verses with just that accompaniment. The full band arrangement came on gradually. It was a masterful presentation of one of my favorite songs. I do have to say that Don made a couple of, shall we say, "interesting note choices" during the chorus. Twice. The brief look on his face showed that he knew it too, but true professional that he is, he soldiered on. Besides, we all know what an astounding musician he is. This just goes to show that it happens to the best of us sometimes. And he is truly one of the best.
Mark McCrite took the spotlight next, giving us an acoustic version of "Temple Of Pain". It's a testament to his strength as a songwriter that his tunes stand up to such a stripped-down treatment, because this sounded *REALLY* good! One imagines that his original demo sounded like this. Erik then joined in to provide keyboard and sequencer accompaniment for "Earthbound". Again, it sounded great because the songwriting is so good.
One of the evening's real treats was a new, unrecorded, never before performed song by Mark called "Better View". Mark's melodic sense took a darker turn as this was a haunting tune in a minor key. He had some problems with unwanted noise from his guitar, but they were quickly remedied on the fly and the song never missed a beat. After the verses and chorus, the song morphed into a more progressive instrumental section which was reminiscent of Styx's "Castle Walls". It was a very powerful counterpoint to the almost melancholy mood of the song.
Don Schiff's turn at center stage gave him a chance to really shine. And shine he did. His backing tracks were provided by a laptop (using Pro Tools, he told me later), and he sometimes played bass pedals. All this while his nimble fingers weaved a complex sonic tapestry on his NS Stick, sometimes using a metal slide for added coloration. Don is a true wizard at his craft, and I very eagerly anticipate the release of his amazing new music on CD sometime in the future. When I asked him if the song had a title, he smiled at me and said "Mike's Solo". So Don, if you're reading this--go ahead. I dare ya. Name that tune after me.
The band then ripped into a hot version of "Wake Me Up", which had me head-banging and singing along. What can I say? I *DIG* that song. "Wake me up and say--I'm dreaming". Majorly tasty hook, that. Then they ended their set with "In The Flesh/Oblivion Days". If you have the Erik/Lana Euro Tour Souvenir CD, you know this rocks.
...and what self-respecting rock band leaves its fans hanging without an encore? Not Rocket Scientists. They gave us a blistering performance of "Space: 1999". The Year 1 theme from the "Oblivion Days" CD. Since I have such fond memories of that show from childhood, it's an added measure of this band's coolness that they share that fondness.
And thus ended their all-too-short set.
But Shaun Guerin was the headliner, and he did not disappoint. I was not familiar with his music before the show, so I cannot do a song-by-song commentary. However, he did several songs from his great new CD "By The Dark Of Light" as well as some Kevin Gilbert songs (a very big and pleasant surprise!). Notably "City Of The Sun" and "Water Under The Bridge" from the legendary "The Shaming Of The True" CD. Since he fronts the Genesis tribute band Cinema Show, we were also treated to some Genesis numbers which I feel were performed more vigorously and energetically than the original recordings. Among these were "Firth of Fifth", "One For The Vine", and "Los Endos". His own original songs are rhythmically complex, symphonic in scope, and powerful in delivery. I would highly recommend that you get your hands on his CD.
Shaun's band is comprised of very accomplished musicians who did the material justice. They are Nat Brown on keyboards and vocals (an amazingly versatile player), John Thomas on guitar and backing vocals, and another fellow who would sit in on drums when Shaun took center stage to sing. I regret that I forgot his name and it's not listed on the program.
Sadly, Shaun announced that their bassist had suffered a stroke last week, but is on the road to recovery. Some songs had a pre-recorded bass track, and 3 different guest bassists filled in on some of the songs. They were James Santiago, Jim Wilson, and our own Mark McCrite. So we had the added bonus of seeing a Rocket Scientist on stage later on in the evening. It's great to see him up there. He looks so happy!
So we had an amazing evening of music from some very talented and creative musicians. I was quite disappointed to see that the audience had thinned by the time the show was over. Although I was there for Rocket Scientists, I stayed until the very last note was played, and I'm glad I did. It's no use crying about the deplorable state of today's bland popular music if one doesn't support those who are pushing the envelope. But I guess I'm preaching to the choir here, because if you're on this list, you already do.
End of sermon. End of review. Prepare to be assimilated. Resistance is futile.
P.S. I got two very warm hugs from Lana Lane...Erik don't hurt me!!!
Reviewed by Michael Alvarez for ProgNaut.com on October 28th, 2002
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