The show that never ends
The mass popularity of progressive rock probably peaked somewhere around 1973. Major releases that year by Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Brain Salad Surgery); Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon); and Genesis (Selling England by the Pound) each are considered masterpieces of the genre. Yes and Jethro Tull essentially had peaked a year earlier, and, for many, Genesis’ 1974 album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway would prove to be the high point of that band’s output. But there is no denying that in the world of progressive rock, 1973 was about as great as it would ever get.
Of course, progressive rock died a slow death soon afterward, particularly at the hands of critics, who began to see prog rock as pompous and pretentious, and raw new sounds emanating from the punk and new-wave scenes seemed somehow more relevant and exciting.
But then again, some of us never really gave up on prog rock. Instead, we repackaged it, re-examined it and eventually re-contextualized it into something new. In many cases, this repackaging was accomplished through tempo changes or through the surgical removal of the most pompous moments (which, to our contemporary ears, certainly are the most damning elements of prog rock’s sound). By the mid-1990s, certain elements of prog rock had been rediscovered by the fast-growing indie-rock scene, and this new music was dubbed “math rock” by critics.
Case in point: Mister Metaphor, a band that, in 1973, probably would have been a superstar act—not that it is particularly retro in sound or character; to the contrary, Mister Metaphor’s sound owes much to contemporary math rock, particularly in terms of its sonic clarity. June of ’44, Paul Newman and, particularly, Pinback come to mind here. But the elements of prog rock are certainly there: shifting time signatures and instrumental complexity. (Also present is the influence of slightly later prog- and hard-rock superstars Rush.)
At the Capitol Garage last Monday night, Mister Metaphor displayed why it is one of the area’s most talked-about new bands. The overall level of musicianship displayed was superb, with the one caveat that Ben Edrington’s vocals didn’t quite seem up to par in the live setting. This might have been a problem of volume. Tracks available from the band’s Web site (www.mistermetaphor.com) feature a quieter, more plaintive vocal style. On the live stage, though, it seemed that Edrington had to strain to be heard over the band, weakening the effect that his recorded voice has and essentially making the vocals into slightly out-of-key shouting. Again, this is very much not the case with the recordings featured on the band’s Web site.
Also on the bill was San Francisco-based Oma Yang, an excellent instrumental band that sounds at times like a more guitar-driven Dirty Three (and, as such, serves as another extension of prog rock). Oma Yang plays relatively infrequently these days because drummer Dong-Ping Wong is a graduate student at Columbia. Nonetheless, look for the band during the summer (and during any significant school holidays); it is well worth checking out. Meanwhile, you can download free MP3s from Oma Yang’s new release BangBang from the record label’s Web site, www.slowdance.com.