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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

PFM - Premiata Forneria Marconi

Live in U.S.A.

Review by Gary Hill

Prematia Forneria Marconi are arguably one of Italy’s most well-known progressive rock acts. That said, they are far from a household name here in the states – but those who are into progressive rock certainly know who they are. This live album is sure to show people why they make such a big splash. This is an incredibly talented band who deliver a palatable and fiery blend of progressive rock that’s modern, but well rooted in the classic prog rock sounds. It would make a great introduction to their music.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Four Holes In The Ground

After a short bit of applause and stage banter, they power out into a fast paced jam that's like a Celtic ELP in a lot of ways. This is up-tempo and fun. It shifts to some crazed guitar stuff as it continues, and the piece keeps evolving.  Around the three minute mark it drops to a mellower segment that's closer to something Yes might do. Then it falls down even further. The vocals come in over the top of that backdrop, and this reminds me of Pentwater. As it gets a bit more intense that comparison is even more dominate. It sticks with it as the thing rocks out from there. By around the five and a half minute mark we're in more ELP like territory. The instrumental section continues a more powered up jam. This works through a number of shifts as it takes it to the close.

Dove... Quando...
They start off a lot more sedately here. The music is keyboard dominated and very jazz-like. It reminds me of something that might have appeared on Yes’ Relayer album. It builds very gradually and when the vocals join it’s still very mellow and feels a bit like a folk ballad. After the vocals do their thing the instruments take a more prominent role working on the melody and taking it through to the ending, but the piece never climbs up beyond sedate territory. 
Just Look Away
The first three and a half minutes here are taken up by an acoustic guitar solo. It is very classically oriented and rather like old Genesis at the start, but works into other territories as it carries on. As vocals and keys join this becomes a folky kind of ballad – a bit like something from The Strawbs perhaps. 
Celebration
Keys start us off and then an almost metallic droning joins. Drums wail and after a time the cut explodes out into a Yes-like jam. They take us through some frantic jamming in a killer mode and the keys soar across the top. When the vocals join it reminds me of Starcastle, but there’s a little yodeling thing like Focus thrown in. They drop it down for a mellower section that is very much like Starcastle. After this they take us out into a killer jam that’s quite ELP-like to my ear. But they return to the Starcastle tinged territory. More changes ensue and they carry on the killer prog jamming in instrumental fashion for a while. Around the seven and a half minute mark we’re given a Yes-like instrumental movement that takes us to a crescendo to end the piece. 
Mr. Nine Till Five
They start this off in a jazz meets classical approach that’s very much like ELP. But this sound is alternated with sounds that would be more in keeping with Yes. Still, when it works out for the vocals it has an almost White Witch feeling to it. It drops down to just percussion after a time and then flute comes over the top. Keys join and so does the rest of band and we’re off on a rather playful little musical journey. From there several changes ensue and there are some definite Yes-like moments here. Of course I also make out some ELP-like music here and there before this closes out. 
Alta Loma Five Till Nine
They start this with a bluesy sort of motif. As it grows it retains its general concept but yet they bring it into more pure prog territory. They continue to jam on this and at times it’s very fusion-like while at other times it reminds me of King Crimson. Still other portions make me think of Yes – especially early Yes. Around five and a half minutes in they peak and then pull it down to a mellower motif that’s very much like early Yes. It powers back out gradually and becomes incredibly intense and fiery after a time. It crescendos around the ten minute mark and then a fast paced bass line emerges and they take this out (with a killer violin solo) into some great new territory. They take it back up into another fiery jam, this one reminding me a lot of a more pure prog oriented Hawkwind and the violin is all over this thing. Eventually the violin solos without accompaniment. They take it from there into a rousing rendition of “The William Tell Overture” and then eventually move out into something I’d describe as “gypsy prog” to take it all out in a grand crescendo.
 
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