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(140 min DVD + 80 min CD, The Tank)
TRACK LIST: 1. Fanfare For Absent Friends-I 2. Neurosaur 3. Dreamcurrents 4. Mariner 5. A Salty Dog 6. Sky Full Of Stars 7. Alexandria 8. Guardian Angel 9. Oblivion Days 10. Peer's Guitar Solo 11. Beware the Vampires 12. Secrets of Astrology 13. Fallen 14. One of the Machines 15. Fanfare for Absent Friends-II LINEUP: Erik Norlander - keyboards Lana Lane - vocals Kelly Keeling - vocals; bass Peer Verschuren - guitars Ernst Van Ee - drums
Prolusion. Think Tank Media, Erik NORLANDER and Friends present their latest DVD release "Live in St. Petersburg" documenting their concert in the 'Northern capital' of Russia, with which they had finished their three-month worldwide tour back in 2004. The >interview that Erik gave me three weeks ago sheds more light on the event and, of course, touches many other aspects of the artist's work.
Analysis. This DVD does not disappoint, to say the least. The sound quality is excellent (I don't have a Dolby Surround Sound, but just listening in stereo is wonderful) and the camera work provides plenty of close-ups of the quintet, frequently focusing on the players. It's a joy to see them playing onstage. The first three numbers in the concert are instrumental tunes. Fanfare for Absent Friends-I features too many little nuances to describe it in detail, but if briefly, this is classic symphonic Art-Rock by means of a classic keyboard trio (Fanfare for Absent Friends-II being certainly the same story overall). That being said, this piece is Erik and Friends at their progressive best, shifting and sliding effortlessly from section to section. All the time, bassist Kelly Keeling and drummer Ernst Van Ee's rhythm work dances beneath Erik Norlander's keyboard movements, which just amaze me with their diversity and inventiveness alike. The next two cuts find Erik playing his instruments alone. Neurosaur is inspired by Classical music and is like honey to my soul, whilst Dreamcurrents is symphonic Ambient with programmed drums. Mariner introduces the viewer to guitarist Peer Verschuren. This is an accessible, yet marvelously beautiful sympho-prog anthem from Rocket Scientists' second disc, "Brutal Architecture". One of a few songs from the repertoire of Erik Norlander & Co that they play probably on each of their onstage performances, it became sort of their concert calling card already many years ago. Just like its predecessor, A Salty Dog finds Kelly Keeling combining the duties of bass player and singer. A solid rendering of the title track of Procol Harum's eponymous disc from 1970, it also suits well the concert's general concept. Sky Full of Stars is a piano-laden symphonic Art-Rock instrumental sounding very much like a variation on the central post-vocal storyline of Love Is Like Oxygen from Sweet's "Level Headed". Just like its potential prototype, Sky Full of Stars is a rather strong progressive number with an astonishingly captivating melody. The complexity increases in the cut's mid-section, the intensive exchanges between Erik's keyboards and Peer's guitar fully erasing the similarity, however soon after everything falls back into place. Lana Lane joins the players - to be the sole lead singer on the next three numbers, Alexandria, Guardian Angel and Oblivion Days. Her strong, clear voice rings out on these songs, having instantly become another hallmark of the group's sound. Alexandria is a refined ballad, whilst Guardian Angel and Oblivion Days are both Symphonic Rock/Metal at its best, demonstrating the musicians' prowess and finesse at the blending of symphonic elements with the driving energy of heavy music. I'd also like to mention that the latter song is the second and the last tune in the entire set that reminds me of any others' creation, instantly bringing to mind the name of Dio. After the brief instrumental whose title, Peer's guitar Solo, speaks well for itself, the series of impressive Symphonic Rock numbers continues with Beware the Vampires and Secrets of Astrology, Lana sharing the lead with Kelly on these, the latter ending with a rather long drum solo from Ernst Van Ee. Finally, Fallen and One of the Machines both find the bassist singing alone again, stylistically steering somewhere between ballad-like Sympho Prog and Rock Opera, in which is no surprise though, since both are parts of Erik's "Music Machine". The DVD also includes a 50-minute documentary of the group's three-month tour titled "The Road to Russia". Apart from additional concert performances from American and European shows, it contains interviews with each of the five musicians. The set I received for review includes an audio CD, which contains 13 concert numbers (all being described above) and two new studio tracks, namely From Russia With Love and a cover of Fanfare for Absent Friends-II.
Conclusion. "Live in St. Petersburg" is a splendid video trip, especially for those who are already fans of Erik Norlander, Lana Lane and Rocket Scientists, but it would also be an excellent point of entry for the neophyte. I highly recommend this DVD for any Symphonic Rock collection.
VM: December 14, 2006
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