This is a double CD (once again) recorded alive that should be placed chronologically in between their last two studio albums: "Stardust We Are" and "FlowerPower". The first CD is recorded in North America (US and Canada) in 1998 and the second CD is recorded in Japan in 1999 with the following lineup: Roine Stolt (guitars and voice), Hans Fröberg (guitars and voice), Robert Engstrand (keyboards, CD 1), Tomas Bodin (keyboards, CD 2), Michael Stolt (bass and voices) y Jaime Salazar (drums and voices).
I have been lucky enough to see twice this band in Barcelona, a band that shows an enormous power in concert, giving the maximum importance above all to their music, which has improved my opinion on them largely. This group has personality, quality and drops of well understood commercially. It is (I believe me) the group that has relived and boosted progressive rock in the nineties. I will try to be objective but I just after the first listens to this CD, I feel this album that which moved me so much in direct: good MUSIC.
Well, time to start. I sit down comfortably before the computer, I play the first CD, hold my breath and prepare to have a good time and comment you this sound event:
I will start with the first CD. "There Is More to This World" 11.31 ("Retropolis"): This is one of the magnificent songs of "Retropolis", and opens this album with strength, an overwhelming instrumentation and a very good vocal part full of life. A very dynamic and cheerful track played in a version close to the original one. From the beginning we find the most authentic Flower Kings. "Church Of Your Heart" 9.41 ("Stardust We Are"): It begins as a dry and furious ballad, sung in the beginning by Roine in crescendo. Later on Robert gives the central section a wonderful mystic atmosphere part, thanks to the ecclesiastical organ (Rick Wakeman comes to mind). It ends up in an optimistic and epic way, I love the part where Hans demonstrates his vocal might. As in the previous one, this version is close to the studio original, but with a tremendous interpretative force.
"The Judas Kiss" 15.43 ("Retropolis"): Again another excellent piece that improves from the original version. It is opened by a superb church organ (since I was an acolyte, I have always liked the grandeur given to the music by this instrument), that gives way to a formidable "Crimsonian" section with the voice of Roine a la John Wetton. Then we enter an instrumental section very elaborated by way of jazzy improvisations and mix of influences, where the group shows its progressive richness and its quality. You can easily concentrate on anyone of the instruments because you will find sure emotion. It is here where the group gives us something more and we submerge in a magnificent development of the song. Listening to this piece, I could not avoid thinking of Michael Stolt and his reasons to abandon the group. To be in a scenario with these musicians, playing this music, being part of it and contributing your own ideas, should be the maximum a musician can aspire to. I hope Michael has made the correct decision and that he is happy. Some day maybe he will tell us.
"Nothing New Under The Sun" 4.13 (new song): Without finishing "The Judas Kiss" we sense a smooth change in the music, and when we look at the display screen, the digit change indicates that we are in a new song. Roine gives us the gift of this initially slow instrumental and relaxing piece that shifts into tremendous power at the end. The song has the smell of Rock, but the essence is Blues. In a first listens it seems a negligible piece, but it is not. It is more a song in the line of the CD in solitary of Roine, "Hydrophonia". "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" 9.17 (yes, that of Genesis): The piano introduces this sentimental jewel, where this super group makes this classic song theirs. In the first auditions, I miss the voice of Peter Gabriel, but Roine compensates us by offering some guitar fragments better than the original. The rhythm section is perfect and very authentic but I want to give a special mention to Robert Engstrand in the keyboards that is uniformly excellent throughout this first CD, making me forget (and it is difficult) Tomas Bodin. It is not the first time that Roine shows us his admiration for the songs (the good ones) of Genesis. In the compilation "Scanning The Greenhouse" they already played a version of "Cinema Show". For this reason and keeping in mind the few songs in this first CD, although it is a magnificent document, I would have preferred to hear more of their own material.
This first CD has already ended, leaving us some emotion and surprises. Time passes too quickly when you are enjoying it, some minutes ago the sun was shining through the window, now everything is dark... Please, let me switch on the lights, go to the bathroom, and to play the second CD.
"Big Puzzle" 18.29 ("Back In The World Of Adventures"): Extensive and evolved version of one of the best songs of the group in which, for me, is their best album (although I must acknowledge personal reasons in this statement). In the word processor of my computer, I am looking for adjectives but there is none good enough to qualify this monumental song... These musicians have all the condiments and spices necessary to carry out in the exact doses the basic elements of what I understand to be good progressive. If the original song is good, this is even more, with not a single note too much. Here it is where you really enjoy the Flower Kings in concert, as they evolve and work on the basis of a good song. With this track they have been won the fourth Dan, black belt in world progressive championship, having achieved the perfect mind-body connection.
"Sounds Of Violence" 6.37 ("The Flower King" by Roine Stolt): Here we meet an abstract raw version of the original. The sounds are really violent, rougher and sharper, almost on the edge of distortion (and only a couple of days ago I cleaned the laser of my CD player). They seem to be fighting to see who can play faster. Again, instrumental power. After this loud mixture... the calm. "Three Stories" 6.04 ("An Ordinary Night In My Ordinary Life" by Tomas Bodin). In fact this is a fragment of Tomas song with two very different parts. First there is a subtle and completely delicious piano introduction in the typical Bodin style, to then fuel a guitar driven discharge with the support of the whole band. Here they have made it too short as the song asked for more. The fact that there is a song of the solo album of Tomas in this CD reaffirms his good influence in the band. I think that Roine should lean more on Tomas when composing, as he has proven to be a magnificent player with an overflowing sensibility in the compositions of his splendid solo album. This that I comment is already reflected somewhat in the last album of the band: "FlowerPower".
"In The Eyes Of The World" 12.14 ("Stardust We Are"): I would say this is a more energetic and rhythmic version than the original, with an almost commercial chorus that makes you move at least your head. A tremendous rhythm section that drowns everything (Jaime is an excellent player). Constant changes in this tremendous song quite close to the original, it seems as a good end for this concert... but the Japanese audience applauds and applauds until they come back for more. (I don't invent this, you can hear it in the album)
"The Flower King" 11.27 ("The Flower King" by Roine Stolt): This is a slower slow version of the hymn of the band. It has a chorus which we can all sing with our arms high. For me it lacks substance. This is when I remember many songs I wished they have played. "Stardust We Are" - third part - 10.00 ("Stardust We Are"): Connecting with the previous song, the band introduces the third section of this superb track (if they had played this song in full, I would not have minded to pay at least two thousand pesetas more for the album). This is an epic ballad where Hans shines when singing with force and conviction (I believe that he is a better singer than Roine albeit less original). The fact that they share the leading vocals gives the songs more variety and richness. The instrumental part has an overwhelming tempo and that goes on leaving the sensation that what is now finishing is epic. A good end.
Well, thats all. This ends this indispensable CD for lovers of classic progressive, based on the essence of quality. It has an acceptable selection of tracks (not the best), that could have been more developed on stage, as they have made with "The Judas Kiss" and "Big Puzzle". I have enjoyed it a lot and I even feel the album is too short, which without a doubt is a good sign. In spite of some objections, I believe that it can be one of the best live concerts of the decade and there are still nine years left for it to end. The artwork of the CD is good, with a beautiful modern cover, running away from the typical live record cover. If the albums are supposed to have been recorded in North America and Japan, I don't understand very well why they have put some photos of their tour in South America in the booklet (well, this is not important).
Roine usually gives in his albums thanks to plenty of people. I take advantage of this opportunity that progVisions provides me to thanks him and the group for the magnificent musical work that they have left us during this last decade. Positive music full with good vibrations that force you to be a little happier.