Midsummer Prog Festival 2022 (Valkenburg/NL, 25 June)
Three years have passed since the last edition of the Midsummer Prog Festival. The beautiful village of Valkenburg, in the deep south of the Netherlands, is the home of this festival and with the open amphitheatre, it has the perfect setting. Great weather, food stands, normal and special beers and of course a lot of friends that haven’t seen each other for a long time, with these ingredients the festival and its lineup could not disappoint.
Perfect Storm (Cees)
For me, this was the first live show I attended this year. In all the pandemic period I have seen only one show, and that took place in October last year. I still need to get back into this after so long staying at home. The moment I heard Perfect Storm was coming to the festival, I ordered my ticket and booked a hotel for two nights.
The band was for me one of the best discoveries in 2020 with their debut album “No Air”. Sad that it had to take so long before I could see this awesome band live and find out if their talents would just be as good on stage as it is on their album. With only a few live performances so far, the band members may have had their share of nerves before they went up on stage. But if that was so, it was not noticed at all.
The band started with ‘The Search’, the last song on the album, followed by ‘Sun For Life’. Two songs where, mostly, lead singer Adel Saflou can shine with his vocals. The sound was really good at the festival which gave him the chance to not disappoint, for I am quite the fan of his voice, which I explicitly mentioned in my album review. Just like I did for the instrumentals on the album. Gert-Jan Schurer (guitars), Ard Offers (keyboards), Niels Voskuil (drums), and David Klompmakers (bass) impressed me live as much as they do on the album. I think I heard just one missed note (only saying this because I don’t want to start sounding like a fanboy).
But where I had a paragraph on my album review for Saflou, I need to do that here for Hiske Oosterwijk.
She shone on the third song ‘No Air’, but even more on the last song ‘How it Ends’. She sat down on her knees and started a solo part that brought goosebumps over my arms for over a minute. This part is sung more in the background on the album, but now I think their voice reached the centre of the Valkenburg caves and she got the crowd giving her a well-deserved standing ovation.
Of course, being the newest band of the lineup and only having one album, they opened the festival. But for me, they could have been higher on the list and I would love to hear them perform their complete album on stage, cause 45 minutes is way too short.
Perfect Storm set the bar quite high and I wondered which band would be able (for me) to reach this level of enjoyment.
- The Search
- Sun For Life
- No Air
- How It Ends
Next up it was time for some heavy-handed French melancholy. Klone’s music and demeanour on stage were quite the contrast to the opening act, but no less engaging. After an intro where the sound of thunder and heavy rains set the atmosphere, the band went into what can perhaps be described as the strongest track of their latest release, namely ‘Yonder’ from 2019’s “Le Grand Voyage”.
While the band has come a long way from their more brutal, groovy sound on their first couple of albums, that DNA is still quite noticeable in their sound. Still, they have over time added so many layers of atmosphere and progressive elements into their unique sound. Vocalist Yann Ligner has a voice that fits the sombre expression of the band perfectly, and the people handling sound at the Openluchttheater Valkenburg really gave them the monumental sound Klone truly deserves.
The setlist covered a lot of the last two releases, naturally focusing on “La Grand Voyage”, and the 2015 break-through album “Here Comes The Sun”, but the band still found place for the fantastic opener from 2012’s “The Dreamer’s Hideaway”, ‘Rocket Smoke’, and the menacing ‘Immaculate Desire’ from 2010’s “Black Days”. In addition, they ended their set with a powerful version of ‘Army of Me’ by no other than Icelandic avant-garde artist Björk. Both the audience and the band seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, and there were several occasions where you could observe most of the audience headbanging, being swept up in the groove the French gang was creating on stage.
It’s no easy job creating an atmosphere of back-breaking melancholy while standing in the sunlight, on one of the most beautiful outdoor stages of Europe, but Klone managed admirably.
- Rocket Smoke
- Immaculate Desire
- Grim Dance
- Silver Gate
- Army of Me (Björk cover)
After the crowd sang happy birthday for guitar player Kalle Wallner it was time for RPWL to hit the stage. Honestly, I’m not a fan of the band. I have seen them live before, but that was quite some time ago. I did listen to some side projects from Wallner, solo and Blind Ego, which I quite enjoyed. So I was as open minded as possible.
I soon found out that I am still not a fan of the band. But maybe I must rephrase that, I’m not a fan of lead singer Yogi Lang. The man with the Hogarth looks, slowly walks across the stage with his arms spread like he already expects the crowd to go wild. Though everything he does bores me. His voice is very monotone and soft. He plays keyboards, but only the long, supporting notes. And then I haven’t even mentioned his strong German accent.
Gladly there are some very skilled instrumentalists who are supporting him. Kalle Wallner is an impressive guy with just as many impressive skills on his three guitars. The same goes for Markus Jehle on Keyboards, Marc Thuriaux on drums and Markus Grützner on his bass. I do like their playing, though they can’t make the overall music less boring.
And another thing that I find strange is that they played three cover songs, “Opel” from Syd Barret, “Masters of War” from Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd’s “Cymbaline”. Why would you play so many covers if you have seven studio albums on your record?
Still the crowd seemed quite enthusiastic, so maybe it’s just a matter of taste, but I think the first song “Happy Birthday to You” was the one I liked the most.
- Happy Birthday to You (Sung by the audience to Band Member Kalle Wallner)
- Hole in the Sky (Part 1 and 3)
- A New World
- Light of the World
- What I Really Need
- Opel (Syd Barret cover)
- Masters of War (Bob Dylan cover)
- Cymbaline (Pink Floyd cover) (With Snippet “Atom Heart Mother, Part 2”)
- Unchain the Earth (The Scientist)
Around dinner time Mystery enters the stage and is completely the opposite to the band before them.
From the beginning, the Neo Proggers from Canada are putting in a lot of energy in their performance. Lead singer Jean Pageau has an impressive shaved head (just a little jealous) and trimmed beard, but also an impressively powerful high voice. He knows how to rock the stage. A very versatile musician, for he also plays a (small) keyboard, keytar and flute. He is very present on stage and all over it, but also has his jumps through the audience. His vocals are mainly within the high regions, which at times can be a bit too much.
The band plays powerful Neo prog as it should be, with lots of keys. Beside the vocalist, they have Johnny Maz from the band Huis on keyboards who is touring with the band, but also the modest bass player François Fournier who also secretly is using a small keyboard. With the two guitar players Michel St-Père and Sylvain Moineau and drummer Jean-Sébastien Goyett the energy is complete.
I had seen the band play before, quite some time ago, so I knew what to expect. That must have been around 2012 or 2013, back when I listened to albums like “One Among the Living” (2010) and “The World is a Game” (2012), which I both like very much, but no songs from these albums, unfortunately. Most songs were from the albums “Delusion Rain” and “Lies and Butterflies”, the last two albums. Still, the show was very enjoyable, even without knowing the songs. And the crowd ate it like sweet cookies, especially the fans and they were easy to spot.
After this I just might go check out these last two albums.
- Delusion Rain
- Where Dreams Come Alive
- The Willow Tree
- Shadow of the Lake
- A Song for You
- The Preacher’s Fall
After the more symphonic and uplifting music of Mystery, there was once again time for something a bit darker and more melancholic. The Brits in Antimatter have been around for quite some time now, and frontman Mick Moss has pushed the band he started in 1998, with Duncan Patterson in new and interesting directions. Early on the sound of the band was more focused on atmospheric trip-hop, complete with female vocals reminiscent of Massive Attack or Portishead. Now Moss’ palette has become wider, with his strong, husky voice as a focal point around which a plethora of influences and details can be added.
It’s not easy to categorise the band at this point, but there is no doubt inspirations from prog/artrock, as well as folk and gothic rock, and the electronic/trip-hop sound is still with the band as well, if not so encompassing as it was on those early albums. Over time Moss’s output has become wider and more varied. More accessible and yet more eclectic, which is no small feat.
The band started out with ‘The Third Arm’, the menacing opening track from the latest release “Black Market Enlightenment”. We were also served ‘Partners in Crime’, and towards the end of the show the groovy ‘Between the Atoms’ and the highlight ‘Sanctification’ from this latest release. As someone who sets the latest album on top of an already strong discography, I could not have been more happy.
Still there was, of course, also room for some older gems within the set. The oldest being ‘Redemption’ from 2007s fantastic “Leaving Eden”. A rendition of Pink Floyds ‘Welcome to the Machine’, which worked well with the when given the Antimatter-treatment, was a nice surprise for the festival audience, which seemed to truly enjoy the set.
The band sounded great, and even though they had a more reserved stage presence, it suited their style and music perfectly. I’m really glad to see Midsummer Prog add bands like Antimatter and Klone to their line-up, as they help create that variety that any good festival needs. For me the lads from the UK were one of the highlights of an already impressive evening.
- The Third Arm
- Can of Worms
- Partners in Crime
- Black Eyed Man
- Wide Awake In The Concrete Asylum
- Welcome to the Machine (Pink Floyd cover)
- Between the Atoms
I keep saying I’m done with Leprous live, after seeing them so many times over the years. In addition, I’m one of those “old difficult guys” that has not been so fond of the direction the band has moved over their last couple of releases. Nonetheless, you have to give credit where credit is due, and the fact that my countrymen are, at this point, one of the most professional, best sounding, and hard-working bands out there is beyond any discussion. When you book Leprous for your festival you know that they will deliver an explosion of perfectly tailored sound and emotion, and Midsummer Prog was no exception to this rule.
Once again they had gone for a set, at least partly I believe, created by a vote from the festival-goers, and an impressively chatty Einar Solberg could inform us that he, for once, was happy with the setlist people had voted for. From the two gigs I’ve seen lately, Solberg seems to have changed his stage presence somewhat after the pandemic and was joking around in a sarcastic and entertaining way, creating a nice connection to the audience. I guess more than two years of isolation puts things in perspective for most of us.
The band opened with ‘Out of Here’ from their latest offering “Aphelion”. They immediately had the entire audience in their grasp, and never really let go from there. ‘Illuminate’ from “Malina” and ‘At the Bottom’ from “Pitfalls” quickly followed. Most of the set was naturally centered around these latest albums, but there was also room for fan-favorites like ‘The Price’, ‘The Flood’ and of course towards the end of the set ‘Slave’ and ‘Rewind’, all from “The Congregation ”.
Einar once again dedicated ‘Castaway Angels’ to his Ukrainian partner, her family, and the people of Ukraine, creating a little moment for reflection in the middle of the set. As the sun set over the beautiful stage of the Openluchttheater Valkenburg, the band truly took advantage of the setting and atmosphere of the place and delivered a performance that is probably the best I’ve seen from them since I witnessed their legendary concert at Rockefeller back in 2016. And that says a great deal, seeing how the band is almost always close to perfect on, and their skilled sound guy Chris Edrich seems to be able to make them sound good on just about any stage. Not that I think he had any big challenges this evening, as the Openluchttheater seems to be able to provide every band with the sound they deserve.
It’s hard not to get a bit jaded when you have been to so many festivals and gigs over the years, but on nights like this you truly remember why you love music, and especially live music. Before Leprous went on stage, I was able to talk a bit to three young enthusiastic Turkish people sitting next to me. One of them had never managed to see the band live before, and the sheer joy on his face as the band unfolded their setlist was infectious. So, as cliche as it might sound, Leprous delivered the perfect finale to a great festival.
Everyone involved, from organisers to crew to musicians has good reasons to be proud. Looking forward to next time!
- Out of Here
- At the Bottom
- Running Low
- The Price
- Castaway Angels
- The Flood
- From the Flame
- Distant Bells
- The Sky is Red