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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

DFA

NEARfest 2009, Bethlehem PA

Review by Julie Knispel

DFA has the privilege of being one of a select group of bands invited back for an encore NEARfest performance.  In 2000 they wowed the audience at Zoellner Art Center with their infectious blend of fusion and classic Italian symphonic prog, drawing from their first two albums and featuring a guest vocal spot from Gianni Leone from countrymates Il Balletto di Bronzo.  8 years after their US debut they finally released a third studio effort, the highly regarded 4th on MoonJune Records, and a return invitation to NEARfest seemed little more than a formality.

The group is made up of a quartet of impressive musicians, with Alberto Bonomi perhaps the most impressive keyboard player at this year’s NEARfest.  With DFA’s material being so heavily song based (even as the compositions exceed 10 to 15 minutes, there is always a solid structure for the music to be built upon), having a group of musicians willing to play for the song becomes ever more important.  The rhythm section of Alberto De Grandis (drums) and Luca Baldassari (bass) are the backbone on which this musical beast is built; they can create solid grooves for the band to play to, yet are also equally capable of showing off some very dextrous playing when the time is right.  Finally, Silvio Minella is a fantastic guitar player with a style that occasionally seems a bit understated.  Without his playing, however, the band’s sound would be markedly and noticeably thinner and less orchestral.

2009’s performance saw DFA playing all but one track from that newest release, with only the vocal closing track "LA Ballata De S'isposa 'E Mannorri" left out of their set list.  "Baltasaurus" and "Vietato Generalizzare" were particularly strong, with this newer material leaning a bit more toward the symphonic side of the band’s sound rather than the fusion end of the spectrum.  Interestingly, the band’s set list seems aimed toward the assumption that the majority of the audience was at their previous performance in 2000, as only 4 songs were selected from the group’s other two releases.  Of these, I was particularly taken by the renditions of "Pantera" and "Caleidoscopio" offered up, as each took off from where the studio efforts left off, injecting new life in a set of already energetic, impressive instrumentals.

While Italian prog often seems driven by and informed by the huge shadows of the so-called “Big Three” bands (Banco, Le Orme, PFM), DFA shows that there’s still a lot of life in the Italian scene, with newer bands unwilling to simply get by through aping the styles of the past.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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