CLOSE TO THE RAIN festival, Bergen 2019

Anmeldt av Jens Nepper

Now in its third year, Bergen's very own prog festival appropriately named Close to the Rain took place this weekend and its line-up was as diverse and interesting as ever and truly showcased the many different nuances and avenues of progressive music. Unfortunately, neither of us had the chance to attend Friday's gigs due to work-related matters, but yesterday (Saturday) we arrived at the ever-awesome venue that is USF Verftet just before show time and made sure we did not miss one single thing throughout the night. From what I could tell, Saturday was not sold out, but there was a fair amount of people there without the concert area ever feeling cramped or claustrophobic, which was really nice. It was never a problem finding a really good place to stand in order to take in all the things that were happening up there on stage. There was also a huge merchandise stand down at the back with all sorts of wonderful prog-related items for sale, and all in all you could tell that people were having a great time and enjoying themselves and the festivities.
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SOFT MACHINE live@Close to The Rain festival
Photo by C.Nepper

First up were the legendary Soft Machine and it was beyond thrilling to watch this class act in action and live on stage. This was a first for both of us and it turned out to be a wonderful musical journey and yet a suitably challenging listen and a lot to absorb too. The entire thing was warm and organic, the sound was crisp and clear, and you could tell that these insanely skilled prog rock/jazz/fusion musicians were enjoying themselves and having fun together. Songs such as "The Man Who Waved at Trains", the "Hidden Details" title track, "Grape Hound", and "Kings and Queens" were moving and heartfelt, and everything moved and flowed together rather seamlessly. The only tune that did not do anything for us was "Life on Bridges", which was too abstract and dissonant for our taste. With Soft Machine, the focus is solely on the music and it was a mesmerizing experience to witness the interplay between John Etheridge, John Marshall, and Roy Babbington. It was also brilliant to hear Mr. Etheridge tell us a bit about the compositions and the members of the band and whatnot in his charming and humorous manner – it simply felt so intimate and welcoming somehow. Not surprisingly, the crowd absolutely loved these guys and gave them a lot of applause. If you want to watch a band with an amazing amount of confidence and determination to them perform, Soft Machine is it.

PANZERPAPPA live@Close to The Rain festival
Photo by C.Nepper

Next up were the Oslo-based Panzerpappa, which is a cult band within the psychedelic prog scene here in Norway. The ensemble was incredibly tight, and their playful songs were rich in color as well as a humor and irony. The somewhat eccentric pieces were busy and at times even frantic, and they ranged from the gentle to the bombastic. Last night's set included "Spartansk Mambo Nr. 5",  "Farlig Vandring",  "Seriell Ballade",  "Hulemysteriet", and  "Permutert Panzerrock". Panzerpappa is a disciplined outfit and as with Soft Machine, they were clearly enjoying themselves on stage, but in all honesty, we did not find it that musically rewarding or exciting, which merely has to do with personal taste and preference. If a far-out cross between Frank Zappa and ELP sounds intriguing to you, you need to check these guys out.
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THE WINDMILL live@Close to The Rain festival
Photo by C.Nepper

The Windmill went on stage at approximately 9.50 PM and the six-piece was a tad punchier and harder in terms of sound compared to the two previous acts, which primarily had to do with the relatively heavy drums and percussion and the band's approach to symphonic prog rock. There were nods and winks to Genesis, Camel, and Jethro Tull throughout the set, and their compositions had a current of heartfelt melancholy and longing coursing through them. "Make Me Feel" and the epic 24-minute  "The Tree" were catchy and the use of flute was rather tasteful. Some parts and sections were almost folk-like with a rural feel to them while others were more polished and slick, so there was diversity to the affair They were not the most cohesive unit on stage from a visual point of view and it often felt as if too many of them were trying to be in the foreground at all times. Still, they were an enjoyable act to listen to even though they did not exactly blow us away.
AIRBAG live@Close to The Rain festival
Photo by C.Nepper

The renowned Airbag were the last outfit on stage and they performed the entire "Identity" record from start to finish, which was obviously a real treat to see and hear. Atmospheric and compelling, glorious melodies and excellent vocals, and rich in depth and texture – that pretty much sums up the experience on our parts. There was a surreal beauty and a sense of the otherworldly to their emotionally charged and hypnotic Pink Floyd-esque songs and the band were ridiculously tight last night. Airbag were also in great spirits and the audience well and truly appreciated the experienced ensemble's focused performance. The highlight of the set (apart from the entire "Identity" anniversary set, that is) was a new and unreleased piece that they are currently working on, which sounded marvelous. Airbag were a most fitting end to a superb festival and one can only hope that even more people will visit this awesome event next year!

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