Rolled out of bed and the good old Botta basement around noon, had breakfast and caught up with Mama Botta [who presented me with a lovely homemade coffee cup] and the rest of the Botta household, then made our way to the Spazio MIL theater; about a 45 minute and very confusing drive. When even a French citizen complains about the Italian roadways, something is wrong. Arrived around 2, along with the band from Belarus, Rational Diet, who would be headlining today. Happily met many old friends from our previous trip to Italy-Marcello [the organizer for the festival], Renatto, and Matthias, the proprietor of the "From Genesis to Revelation" radio show. Did the sound-check; some reservations on the way this was going to turn out, which turned out to be correct-more on this later. Markus came and said hello, then bombarded us with questions about his participation-all well and good, but we were trying to do a soundcheck! We eventually had to chase him away while we went about our business. After soundcheck, we went to a mall down the street for an early dinner-calzones, pizzas, meat platters-not bad! Returned to the theater, set up my merchandise table, and the buying began shortly afterwards.
The concert began around 5pm, with a new prog band, Chance: Risiko opening. Very Radiohead-inspired, with the usual tuneless, moaning vocals required for such endeavors. The only wrinkle taken on this was the use of a vibraphone, which the sound crew seemed to have no idea how to mix-it was nearly inaudible-not that it would've added much to the music! Polite applause after the set.
Our turn: Opened with our usual-"Ska Face", and gradually noticed there were some tuning issues whenever I played any chords. I really ought to write some tunes with breaks where I can stop playing and do a quick tune-up! As I was playing fretless, I hoped I could merely adjust my fingering positions to compensate. This proved to be useless; I tried tuning on the fly during the next song, but it only made things worse. Also, the mix was weird, and I could only hear the keys depending on what patch Paolo used, so I would only feel there was something wrong intermittently. Finally and fortunately, Paolo grabbed me after the 3rd tune and got me back on track and that was it for any more tuning issues.
Once again, I faced an audience that appeared not to understand anything I said, so I kept the intros and jokes to a minimum, to say nothing of my fabulous stage moves-I suspect I used them up in Lyon last night, anyway.
"That Thing on the Wall" finally came up, with Markus waiting in the wings. The deal was that I would cue him as to when to join us. Of course, he jumped the gun and joined us on stage sooner than planned, having to stand around and look interested until Chris finished his violin bit before playing his solo. But it was worth the wait, and his solo made a nice exclamation point to our set; it felt like this galvanized us a little and we put a little more into the rest of our performance.
Can't remember any wacky mishaps for the remainder of our tunes-ended with "...Creampuffs" to great applause, and was pleasantly mobbed at our table. It's so strange; the contrast of dead silence during my stage blather, and getting my ear talked off [not that I'm complaining!] by fans afterwards.
One of those fans was Danielle Piccinini, the talented bassist for Accordo dei Contrari, whom I'd been corresponding with for the past few months. Happy to meet him and the rest of the members at last, as they are one of the finest new groups out there these days. We later sat together while watching another one of the bands I was really keen to see, DFA, who did not disappoint. Came across as a more aggressive Gilgamesh; lots of chord-based changes. The drummer is a MONSTER! Sadly, they left almost immediately after their performance, so I didn't get to meet them as I'd hoped.
After this, Accordo snatched me up and hauled me to a nearby club/lounge, where we had a couple of drinks and a delicious meat platter. We had a nice conversation about how to get the kind of music we play across to more people; performance vs. entertainment [I brought up my new chums Camembert every chance I could]; composition; and the pros & cons of touring. Their keyboardist, Giovanni Parmeggiani, was pretty animated during all this-I like him; a very passionate guy!
We returned in time to see the headliner, Belarusian band Rational Diet. I guess they could best be described as having listened to the 1st couple of Univers Zero and Art Zoyd cds A LOT. I thought they were OK, but nothing that really made them unique; certainly didn't warrant headline status. The mock-opera stylings of the singer seemed kind of silly; maybe it was meant to be that way; I don't know. Overall, they didn't do much for me. The violinist stood out nicely, however; excellent technique and energetic performance. There were a couple of short duets that I liked.
Did the obligatory hanging-out after such occasions [NOT a complaint, mind you!], including meeting our old paisans Ciro and Valerio from our last visit ; packed up gear, and somehow navigated the streets and highways of Milan [perhaps specifically designed by gangsters in order to elude the police?] back to Botta Prog Camp, where we promptly collapsed.Nov. 16th:
Round Two of the AltrOck Festival. Woke up around 10am, had a Botta Breakfast, then it was time to go to the festival. Paolo had to be there early for his soundcheck with Picchio dal Pozzo, and the prospect of finding our way there without Paolo seemed a little too frightening. So off we went. On the way, we somehow found ourselves flanked on either side by a swarm of aggressive bicyclists-trying to evade them proved to be futile, until we hit a highway. Were they brave or crazy? I guess I'll never know...
Once we arrived, we were again greeted by our pals from Accordo dei Contrari, who offered some Sunday communion with a few glasses of homemade wine [red AND white]-I shortly found myself nodding off in the auditorium during PdP's sound-check. Maybe wine before noon isn't such a good idea! Picchio's soundcheck proved to be interesting, in terms of the mechanics behind their show. They have a full-time projectionist/slideshow guy on stage with them, lending a fascinating visual element to their music. Much of it was sequenced to the music; lots of shots of the band's early days, along with montages of old '60s Italian commercials and a sequence of shots of Italy's prime minister [whose name escapes me] from the early days of Picchio. Also worth noticing was the MASSIVE percussion rig they had-prior to sound-check, I offered to lend a hand unloading his equipment, but he politely waved me off. I suspect he's seen too many well-meaning people dropping his stuff!
Set up shop once again, and then made good on yesterday's promise to sit down for an interview with Rok, who runs the Slovenien music website ROCKLINE [http://www.rockline.si][Incidentally, the website also has some nice pix of the festival]. Also spent some time chit-chatting with my new Swede friends, Lief and Lief. As near as I could tell, these 3 people constituted the only non-Italian attendees of this festival [not counting the bands]. Such a shame; I've no idea what kept the rest of Europe's prog-heads from this event.
Escorted the Picchios to the mall where we ate yesterday, then returned in time for the 1st band to begin their set; our good friend Markus's band Spaltklang. Really fun and enjoyable, even more so than their cds. The violist was particularly outstanding; flying licks, and very nimble on his feet! Markus was amazing as well- great solos, but his lines were mostly what held the tunes together, so he wasn't allowed to shine as well as he could in another context. I know the feeling! Excellent band!
I wish I could say the same about the next band, Hostsonaten. They were cheeeeeesy, even before they played a single note, as each member took to the stage holding a different colored balloon after a laborious introduction by their ringleader Francisco Something-or-other. I'm pretty sure it was roughly 4:30 into their 1st number when the first chord change occurred, as they hammed it up playing what they seemed to consider the most challenging and marvelous thing in the world. This seemed to be a good time to wander backstage, and apparently quite a few other people thought so as well. Hung out with the Spaltklang fellows, mainly the violist, whose day job happens to be music director for a church. They later took off to their hotel, and I never got that drink Markus promised me, the bastard.
Up next were my buddies Accordo dei Contrari, the band I was most anxious to see. To put it mildly, they did not disappoint. WOW! It was thrilling to see them pull off such tricky compositions, yet were full of grooves that led to uncontrollable foot-tapping by us in the audience. Maybe my view is colored by hitting it off so well with them personally, but I considered them the hit of the festival, and many others thought so as well. Unfortunately, they were victims of the sound crew, and the only audible parts of Giovanni's keyboard work was the piano [provided that his accompaniment was reasonably quiet] and organ. They also introduced 3 tracks from the next cd-which ought to be a stunner when it comes out.
After their set, they came to say goodbye. They couldn't stay for PdP, as they were facing a 3 hour drive back to Bologna, so off they went after grateful hugs all around. I'm gonna miss those guys!
Finally, it was Picchio dal Pozzo-time. Now to make a startling confession: despite owning all their cds, I'm just not a big fan of their work. I'm sure on an intellectual level, it's melodically inventive, but rhythmically it's all at the same tempo, and it sort of plods along until it runs out of gas. I'm sure I'm simplifying what they do, and there's probably a depth to it I'm just not seeing, but I'm not going to pretend I see it. I was hoping seeing them live would change my opinion, but this unfortunately wasn't the case. I didn't hate it, but I found myself squirming in my seat halfway though each song-not a good sign. At least the visuals and watching Paolo [to say nothing of our pal Valerio's good-natured drunken heckling of the band!] made it reasonably interesting. There was a visual shown that I hadn't seen during sound-check: they had taken a number of sequences from the movie "BLOW UP", and somehow edited various shots of the members of Picchio into whatever David Hemmings happened to be looking at obsessively throughout the movie-quite a neat trick. There was also a funny moment, where we heard chicken cackling through the P.A., and then the bassist kicked something on stage that resulted in feathers flying everywhere.
At last the concert drew to a close [I don't want that to mean I couldn't bloody WAIT until it was over, by the way...]; the members seemed to be in a celebratory mood and encored with one of the earlier pieces. Also, for the record, the drummer, woodwinds player, 2nd guitarist, pianist, and, of course, Paolo, were members of Yugen, who seem to be developing into the go-to guys for '70s Italian proggers [Yugen's new album consists of compositions by Tommaso Leddi, a former member of Stormy Six] who want to re-engage the public. Said goodbye to all our friends, and headed for home. Michael & I were following Paolo & Chris when suddenly Paolo took an unexpected exit, too late for Michael & I to follow. We then spent the next hour or so trying to re-connect again. I'll never say a cross word about cell phones again!
Finally managed to get back to Paolo's house, did all the necessary packing for getting to the airport the next day, and collapsed.
THE NEXT DAY-I'd just as soon not bore anyone with the details here; suffice to say it was a mad rush to the airport [thanks for being packed & ready, Chris...], and a mad rush within the airport to get to the gate, with mere minutes to spare.
Observations? I took a bigger financial hit than I'd hoped to, but I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. It was wonderful to see how these compositions work in a live context [especially the new ones]; the people I met couldn't be nicer [except for the idiots in Reims]; and I can finally add "European Tour" to my resume. So many thanks to Bruno, Charly, Pierre, the staff at Le Triton, Francois, "Les Ingrates", Marcello, Danielle, Giovanni, Rok, and most of all to my French TV bandmates Paolo, Chris, Michael, and Jeff for making this happen. Salut!