By Andrew Bansal
August 21st 2013, The Whisky, West Hollywood CA: Over the 20 years of their existence thus far, InsideOut Music have prided themselves on being a progressive rock specialist record label, and on the occasion of their 20th anniversary, they fittingly decided to put together a lineup of bands filled to the brim with prog goodness for two special anniversary celebration shows in Los Angeles and San Diego. The first of these shows took place last night at the Whisky A Go Go in West Hollywood. Upon reaching the venue at 6:45 PM, I observed the already sizable queue and also noticed that for a change I was in the minority for wearing a black shirt. According to the flyers the event was slated for a 7 PM start, and there was mass confusion in the queue when word broke out that the show was pushed back by more than an hour. But eventually, doors opened at 8 and Edgel Groves from InsideOut Music appeared on stage at 8:40 to announce the start of the show.
New York-based band Jolly kicked off the evening with an impressive 45-minute set that won over a majority of this crowd. They started out with a slow, melodic tune but turned it into a truly rocking set with the songs that followed. Bassist/vocalist Anthony Rondinone was the driving force of the band’s sound in every way, also leading the banter with the crowd between songs. Guitarist/vocalist Anadale did a great job with the vocals and the combined melody of the two vocalists was a strong feature of the band’s performance. With that said, Anadale’s guitar sound was often somewhat lost in the mix and washed away by the bass, drums and keyboards. The band had a little technical issue too when the keyboardist couldn’t get his instrument to work, but his bandmates started a song without him as he joined in later. So the flow of the set was maintained pretty good throughout and the crowd was kept involved with sing-alongs in some of the songs. Musically, the set was very much up any prog fan’s alley and even though it had alt-rock passages, it was genuinely heavy rock-oriented for the most part. Jolly has been around for 7 years but this was their first time ever on the US West Coast, and they made this performance worthy of the occasion. A great start to the show.
Known for his work with Neal Morse, the band Ajalon and various other musicians and projects, veteran prog bassist Randy George took the stage at 9:45 with his solo band, for the very first time ever. He presented material from his two solo albums along with the Ajalon tune ‘Abstract Malady’ thrown in the mix as well. This all-instrumental set was very diverse, starting out with the aid of a violinist, then proceeding to more of a ‘rock’ feel, completely switching to an acoustic guitar soon after, and following that up with a double-bass assault with the help of Spock’s Beard bassist Dave Meros, who looked like a progged-out version of David Ellefson. Meros jammed on the songs ‘Bassic Instinct’ and ‘Death By Chocolate’. As a whole, the set showcased the talents of Randy George and his bandmates in a manner the audience could appreciate. Randy’s banter also helped endear the crowd more towards his band. To be honest, the violin-centric opening tune gave me an eerie feeling that this band wasn’t going to be my cup of tea, but on the contrary I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the set, specially the ones with Dave Meros joining in. All in all, a tasteful performance by Randy George and the boys.
At 11:15, it was time for the headliners Spock’s Beard to take the stage and blow minds away with their breathtaking exhibition of musicianship. It must be pointed out that the number of attendees was small mainly due to the $45 ticket price, but everyone in the crowd was totally involved in the show and made up for those who didn’t show up. Dave Meros’ bass really was the prominent component of the band’s sound, and as he already showed us during Randy George’s set, the virtuosic bassist laid down an incredible range of lines, licks, patterns and grooves. It was no wonder his instrument was turned up loud in the mix. It was a lot louder than the norm for rock/metal acts, but when you have a bassist like that, why not?
Vocalist/guitarst Ted Leonard carried the sort of personality that gave the band’s show an upbeat feel, albeit with an unmistakably heavy sound. The guys were clearly having fun on stage, performing some songs from their great new album ‘Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep’, along with older material, of course. Instrumentally it was a ‘bottom-heavy’ selection of tunes as meaty guitar and keyboard tones combined with the aforementioned bass prowess, but Ted Leonard teamed up with Alan Morse for vocal melodies which lent a perfect sense of balance to the music. Besides his vocals, Alan Morse absolutely owned the stage with his eccentric guitar playing techniques to go with his deliberately goofy stage moves and facial expressions. He was, by all means, the star of the show. Overall, this was a fabulous performance by Spock’s Beard. This Los Angeles-based band has been around for 20 years but they’ve hardly played any LA shows of late, so it was a treat to finally get to see them in their element, putting on a show that simply did not disappoint. I’ve seen quite a number of prog bands in my life thus far as a reviewer, but Spock’s Beard put on a prog show like no other, playing music that challenges them as musicians but at the same time also keeps it accessible and enjoyable for the audience.
It’s safe and fair to say that InsideOut Music left no stone unturned in making this a truly special 20th anniversary celebration, bringing bands that have either never played in LA or do so rarely, and putting on a very apt representation of what the label musically stands for. A progtastic evening indeed!