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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

Starcastle

Live at RoSFest, April, 2007

Review by Josh Turner

There was a lot of hype surrounding this band as they were back after several decades, a fallen member, and a new album. More so than all the rest, this was a band who had a history and legend with RoSfest.
Whilst it was hot, the singer was one cool cat who wore a warm sweater not too unlike The Sandman’s striped polo. This band actually blew me away, so it’s an understatement to say they exceeded my expectations. Even though I snuck that overused and explosive chestnut in, I mean it.

Nowadays (and in the heyday), they were said to be the second coming of Yes. For those who don’t find that to be as facetious as me, it’s also said that their debut is the fifth best Yes album. While that might seem like a negative, anybody with knowledge or clout on the subject matter would concur that Yes is an elite band with at least that many untouchable albums.

John Jowitt of Arena, Neo, IQ, Jadis, and Frost was supposed to play the bass, but had a conflict. It’s unfortunate as this would have made him the only musician to show up for all four years of RoSfest. Technically, some musicians on premise could claim that status, but Jowitt is the only one who actually played three years and almost made it four. Too bad he could not perform as up until now, he has been a RoSfest staple. I truly hope to see him in the subsequent years to follow.

I couldn’t quite follow the story about two-for-one paintings, brilliant co-producers, and devoted band management, but it was the setup for a special appearance by Annie Haslam.

Starcastle was an excellent headliner for this night. Since the Friday show is considered to be a prog rock showcase and pre-show event, they were almost too good to fill this particular spot. In spite of that, this classy bunch of professionals kicked off the festival in style. For clarification and the record, they were the best Friday night act ever with a slight edge over 2005's Arena.

This band consisted of seven members. The keyboardist played like a supreme being. He gave attention to each note and I (as well as everyone else) was appreciative of his attentive nature. I remembered some buzz about him, but forgot. Turns out this wunderkind of a keyboardist was actually Oliver Wakeman. When I talked with him afterwards, he was revealed to be a very gracious and approachable person. [Editor's Note: The same can certainly be said of his famous father.]

The new songs seemed as practiced as the old ones, if not better. They were also quite different than their Yes-inspired fare. Nevertheless, the third cut was a relative that was not too far removed from “Roundabout“ and the bassist played like a mini-Chris Squire. Regardless of the expiration date or epoch, their helium tank breathed uplifting energy into each and every song.

The guitarists were a combination of Mr. Rogers and Woody Allen, and in some ways, the compositions more closely resembled The Syn. They played one of the last pieces Gary Strater wrote. Present in spirit, there were recorded bass bits on each track. The only track without his bass was meant as a tribute. Acoustic and electric guitars worked together to pay their respects and fill the void.

In this homage, they extolled heavenly harmonies that were quite Beatlesque. This was dutifully performed and a grand mark of respect where the beat got increasingly rockier as it ensued. As the night continued, they became even more impressive. They were so good that the crowd forgot about the distraction (there were some issues in the crowd during their set). By the time they finished, I had goose bumps all over my legs and arms.

They were not at all what I expected as they mostly played new songs. When it comes to long-awaited get togethers, you typically find musicians trying to cash in on the classics. They were definitely the very definition of progressive rock, and earn an A+, 5 stars, and a 10/10 when you factor it all together.

This was a very memorable act. Many times I need to take notes to remember each detail. This band left vivid memories in my head. If I have trouble naming songs or making exact references, it’s only because my attention infrequently left them. My eyes were never free enough to jot down a note or itemize a fact.

This band could have easily closed the festival, and they were leaps and bounds better than last year’s finalists.

There is a lot of talent in this band. If it were still the heyday, these guys would be on top. Unfortunately, these days it’s R&B, rap, and pop. Everyone sounds the same, and in some ways, the bulk of music listeners wouldn’t get them nor could they ever appreciate such talent. Call me an arrogant aficionado, but it’s true, and I hate to be greedy, but as long as the mainstream leaves them alone, they are all ours.

They don’t look as old as they should. It’s possible the music has kept them young. At times, they embodied a youthful “The Who.”

“Breaking the Spell” was a song about an ex-wife. Al Lewis corrected himself and said, “Not anymore.” This tune had the mean beat and the bitter rhythms also seen in “Black Velvet.”

It was two o’ clock in the morning and Starcastle had the audience mesmerized. Not only were they awake, but they had big eyes and toothy smiles on their faces. Considering the distraction, they had invisible blinders to be exact. Trust me, if you were there, this oxymoron would make sense.

As stated, this is the new and improved Starcastle whose style was enhanced by homework, enthusiasm, and layered guitars. It would be a shame if they did not keep making music and performing, but to the contrary, there was something particular and peculiar about this night. It seemed as if their performance was at a notch above what was done in the studio. It’s hard to say if the vibe could be recreated ever again, but I hope they try. As it seemed to me (and many others) each band took it to a new and different level once they warmed up. Maybe it was the strange and freaky magic in the special effects brought out by the house’s industrial sound and light.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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