From Aural Innovations #29 (October 2004)
Awright, if you've perused my review of the 2004 Burg Herzberg fest, you'll know the bulk of the story of the two Herzbergs already. If not, I'll just say that the review you're about to read covers the one still run by the Think Progressive team that originated the Burg Herzberg fests long ago. Though this year, having officially turned over the reins to that fest, they re-launched (what was originally called) the Kloster Cornberg fest, which to date had a one-for-three success ratio, only happening in summer 2001 whereas it was cancelled in both 2002 and 2003. Because the new festival site (Cornberg apparently no longer available) was over the border into the "state" of Thüringen in former East Germany, some had taken to calling this one the Ostival (Ost being German for 'East'). That certainly is a lot less confusing than using the 'Herzberg' moniker, which I assume they did for its greater name recognition. And then the site in Wilhelmsthal that they had used for Burg Herzberg 2003 (stay with me, folks) suddenly was not made available to them again this year, so we weren't even in Wilhelmsthal in the end. Though the Kosmos Gelände that was in the end secured for HGW (as I'll now abbreviate it) was only a short distance south of Wilhelmsthal.
Given the shaky history of "Cornberg" and the general perception that had developed in my mind about the ability of Kalle Becker's team to actually succeed with HGW '04, I was reluctant to make definite plans in advance to hang around in central Germany for another whole week. But I had to do that in order to get a reasonable rate on train tickets (any further north, and it would have been cheaper to fly to Berlin). The three days in between the fests, however, became quite a nice, relaxing interlude in the medium-sized city of Kassel. Having visited there previously, I knew about the modern campground on the banks of the Fulda River south of the city, with immediate access to a beautiful large city park called the Staatspark Karlsaue. Nary a more peaceful place in the center of civilization exists, from what I've seen of the world. So, Thursday morning, I packed up the well-worn tent and my freshly-laundered clothes (one of the niceties of this campground) and headed back to the Kassel main station to head toward Eisenach. From there, a regularly-scheduled bus could take me as close as the town of Waldfisch. I'm always underestimating distances on maps, so I thought it would be a 20-minute walk to the grounds. But after 20 minutes, I was still not yet in sight of "downtown" Möhra, and I knew the festival site would be quite some distance to the north yet. But a thoughtful passing motorist stopped alongside and offered me a lift (my sizeable backpack being an obvious giveaway to my destination).
So, in five minutes I was in search of a campsite. It was nice to get there rather early for a change, where I could land a nearly ideal spot straight up from the main stage and not clear up and over the hill. Here there wasn't quite as much room to spread out as either the '03 or '04 Herzberg sites, but in the end the camping areas were expanded back down the hill aways and then eventually to a separate spot over a kilometer away along the main access road. The vending area was adequately arranged, the only minor difficulty being trudging through the rather long grass. There were quite a few familiar faces, many of the food, clothing, and music vendors being the same as at the other Herzberg, but then there were also a few who were 'new.' So it was nice to do some additional shopping for CDs, and vinyl fans must have been happy to see so much cool old psych stuff there. Hopefully, they weren't backpacking out like me! The stage area was also nicely constructed, and the hill had the right grade and dimensions to suit the crowd. And here the longer grass was nice, if you brought (as I did) a mat to lay out for afternoon enjoyment.
What was missing was a band schedule! OK, there were posters made ahead of time, available online and put up at the festival as well, listing the bands day by day, but no time schedule or even an intended sequence. Bevis Frond (or rather, Beavis Fond, as it was written, much to the chagrin of one Nick Saloman) was written in the largest letters, so obviously the Thursday night headliner, but then one couldn't know whether the headliner was intended to be last, or second-to-last, or...? So, we were just left to address our own curiosity as we saw fit, and just wait to see who actually showed up on stage at any given time. First up, 'round about 7 PM or so, was some band I still have no clue about. I'm sure they must have announced themselves at the beginning of their set, but I didn't catch the name. I got the impression that maybe they were from the area and were quickly asked to show up and perform in place of the scheduled band Kozmic Blue, who in the end played the next night (perhaps). Anyway, they were a rather strange band, a tad "green," with seemingly disparate elements of straight-ahead rock 'n' roll, punk/alternative, and a touch of psychedelia (didgeridoo in fact!) all thrown in together, mishmash-style. And then many songs had "catchy" choruses that really didn't help win me over much, especially since I didn't really take to the singer's voice. The drummer was pretty impressive though, a young kid that to me hardly looked a day over 16. A real natural talent, that with just a bit more seasoning and experience on stage could really make a career of it, if you asked me. Anyway, at least the festival was off and running now, and my extended stay in Germany wasn't going to be wasted. (HGW findet definitiv statt. Ehrlich!) I took a couple photos of the band for documentation purposes, so you can look them up on the photo gallery and if anyone knows who this band is, feel free to write in and let me know.
Next up was Denmark's On Trial, who I could easily identify without an announcement having seen them in concert previously. Well, ok, they botched their name on the poster too, billing them as "On Trail," but I could tell what they meant. On Trial plays a very psychedelic style of music, but one that does so with prominent vocals and no synths. So they do craft songs in a more 'traditional' sense, but always with a lot of excellent wah-guitar textures and the like. Well, that's what On Trial are normally like, I think. But this evening, they started out with an improv jam that I think was just in order to perform some form of soundcheck before starting the set list in earnest. But then their opener ("Be Forwarned," a cover by the band Macabre who eventually became known as Pentagram) was then affected by the fact that Bjarni's guitar equipment cut out half way through. So while he continued to work on his gear, the others went through what appeared to be something new that they were still working on, so it was again a bit of improv. Bjarni's guitar held up another two or three songs, but then crashed out again during "Flashinghast." (Schon wieder?!) Singer Bo Morthen ended up humming his guitar melody for him at the proper time, but then the remaining four went on for another four or five minutes space-jam style. I hate to say it, and I know they were all annoyed at their equipment problems, but I liked the addition of the "formless" space-jams in their set! They should start planning for equipment failures! :)
Finally, Bjarni gave up on that guitar and went to his back-up and the rest of the set went off as planned. The crowd was still growing, and lots of people were getting into their stuff. The high-energy stuff like "Do You See Her?," "Pot of Gold" and "Miles Away" really got them off their feet. I wish Bo would have kept announcing themselves through the set, 'cause I don't think many people knew who they were. One woman came up to me and asked me who was playing... so because there wasn't any official merchandise table and no 'information' booth of any kind, there really wasn't any other way to go about it but just to ask people at random what the hell was going on. (In fact, the guys running the sound halfway up the hill got tired of people asking them who was playing, and put up a sign saying (by rough translation) "Don't ask us... we don't know any more than you do.") On Trial came back for an extended encore that wrapped up with the Love cover tune "A House is not a Motel," so as not to cover the same Love song that Bevis Frond is known for doing. Given that they were scheduled to play later that night, mind you. So now we were off and running, and I could just concentrate on the music and forget (for the moment) the lack of information.
Some time after On Trial finished, I made my way over to the front of the stage (right), where I meant to introduce myself to the guys, but I happened to catch a very familiar British-accented voice which turned out to be Nick Saloman's. And so, since the stage was now completely empty of equipment, I thought maybe I could get an answer from him directly about who was playing when. He suggested it would be Chris Karrer next, the guitarist from Amon Düül II of course. And indeed, shortly thereafter, Mr. Karrer walked out with an acoustic guitar and sat down on a lone chair in front of a microphone. Well, ok, I thought... things are definitely looking up! Bevis Frond is definitely here (and Bari Watts was nearby), and Amon Düül II must be playing later on 'cause why else would Karrer be there on stage. Karrer introduced himself, and discussed what sort of things he was going to be doing. Well, of course, he spoke in German, and because his voice is so low and wasn't well amplified, I couldn't really follow what he was saying. But he seemed to take us on a kind of 'world tour' of acoustic guitar stylings, from flamenco to Egyptian to Moroccan, and even at one point threw in some of Ravel's Bolero. Occasionally he offered some vocalizing, but much of the material was fully acoustic. So this was a rather nice surprise, though I was looking forward to Saturday night when I expected to see the full band in action.
Outskirts of Infinity, the trio fronted by the aforementioned Bari Watts, was quickly able to get set up on the already-cleared stage, and they were off and running right at midnight. Now of course, the Outskirts are part of Nick Saloman's Woronzow family of artists, though in recent years we haven't seen much output from them as such. (Check out the Acid Daze jam sessions for some recent work by Bari and crew). They have a sizeable backcatalog of CDs (mostly live recordings, with a cover tune here and there), but those are proving quite hard to find these days. Actually, I picked up a copy of the "Stoned Crazy" CD at one of the vendors. I'm not sure who was with Bari on this night, but I'll assume it was Terry Hornbury on bass, and (one-time Fronder) Ric Gunther on drums 'cause that's what the band lineup was most recently. Bari plays a left-handed white Fender-style guitar upside-down and backwards, so it's no surprise that the band tends towards the Hendrix-style freak-psychedelia. The only other CD of theirs that I'd managed to find in the past ("Incident at Pilatus," which now I realize must have some connection to Switzerland, since Mt. Pilatus lies near Luzerne, although some of the album seems to have been recorded in Denmark) I have stored in the US, so I wasn't able to 'freshen up' on their original songs in advance. But amongst the more memorable songs were the title track from "Stoned Crazy" and also a tune called "Dark Skies." At one point, some idiot up front obviously started to heckle Mr. Watts, 'cause he challenged the guy to come up and see if he could do better. No takers. After only about an hour, Bari decided to turn over the stage to his good pals, but the fans (who didn't agree so much with the heckler, apparently) managed to call them back on stage to play Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" as a final adieu. I think many of those in the know realize that Watts and Co. deserve more recognition than they've gotten over the years, which certainly relates to the scarcity of their LPs and CDs. So it was rather special to catch them in an equally rare live performance.
Bevis Frond I'd seen just once before, when they were a three-piece touring America some five years ago or so. Now they've added a second guitarist, though I don't know his name (Paul Simmons of the Alchemysts my sources have just told me), and they have a different drummer (Jules Fenton I understand). The bass player remains Hawkwind and Magic Muscle vet Adrian Shaw, who stood front and center, while Saloman took stage right. My notes, I see now, are a little cryptic for this part of the fest, but it appears that I made note of a few tracks. "Hole Song #2" (from 'North Circular') seems to have been in there, a particular favorite of mine. They also did "He'd be a Diamond" (from 'New River Head') and "Lights are Changing" (from 'Triptych'), both more laid-back and "thoughtful" tunes, if I remember correctly. But the latter was segued into the driving "Maybe" from all the way back to 1987's 'Miasma' album. "Chase 'em Away" is the name of a brand new song they debuted here, but I have to say I don't remember what it was like (should have written down a clue!) The encore was a long, winding jam that almost certainly *was* the Albert Lee tune "Signed D.C." (though my notes don't indicate that, and my memory isn't quite what it once was). Anyway, I do remember that they all put forth some solos midstream, including the always-impressive Mr. Shaw. And Saloman somewhere along the line had swapped his odd-looking hexagonal orange-colored guitar for an even odder-looking "wedge" guitar, that was either *all* body or *all* neck. Anyway, no matter how it looked, it still played like a guitar. It was nearly 3:30 by the time that the Frond ended, so we all got our money's worth on this night, though it was a bit odd that the last band was the 'headlining' act, 'cause normally the late night acts have a bit fewer fans. But then I think Bari and Nick may have chosen their own arrangement mutually. This didn't seem to matter, as most people had hung around 'till the bitter end anyway.
Musically-speaking, things got going on Friday at the reasonable hour of 3:30 PM in the form of Zen Electric, a non-advertised band from somewhere in Germany. Well, this could only mean that more chaos in the schedule was yet to ensue. Anyway, Zen Electric was a four-piece act that played a somewhat raw and energetic brand of rock with the occasional psychedelic moment. The frontman/guitarist sang in English, and had an average voice. Better was the bassist, who enthusiastically held court on his sunburst-Rickenbacker bass which always gives the music a dirtier edge. One song called "Pie" (or "Pi" perhaps) was the one really outstanding piece, which tended towards true stoner rock. I think they played about an hour or so, and then were set to give up the stage to Jan Gerfast's Blues Band. This I knew because finally (Shock! Horror!) somebody had actually put up a sheet of paper with the day's intended lineup. But then as Gerfast and crew were about ready to go ahead, the heavens above had other ideas as the skies opened up and it poured down rain. I decided to wait it out in my own tent, since it was so close by, and so I could have a short nap given the late night on Thursday.
At about 6 PM or so, all was again calm and thankfully the stage was still in one piece though now sporting a couple small lakes in front of the drum riser. So now, Gerfast led his three companions out to do their thing once more, which is straight out of the Stevie Ray Vaughan playbook. Which is fine... I always liked SRV (I thought he was actually a better vocalist and songwriter than guitarist, but I don't need to go into that just now), and had seen him a number of times, including shortly before his demise. I liked Gerfast's voice and guitar playing too, though the original songs they performed were not particularly original. And that was even reflected in the titles, which included songs like "Voodoo Man" and "I'm Going Down." Nope, the latter was not the Freddy King tune that Jeff Beck covered, but rather a slow blues number. The band's keyboardist, a bald woman who goes by the name "Magic Mama," penned her own song (not surprisingly titled "Magic Mama Blues") that alluded to her being "one of a kind." I was wondering if somehow they were going to work in this rather striking, uh, feature, but mainly I appreciated the song just to hear some nice keyboard bits during this weekend that was otherwise pretty much a 'guitar fest.' (I mean, even all the famed ELP keyboard-driven songs to come Saturday were played on guitar!)
So, with the rain delay, we were now too close (apparently) to Jethro Tull's performance window (I assume they had the power to choose such), and so the band Kozmic Blue (who were due up next) were put off, and the Tull crew took over. So now we actually ended up waiting longer between bands, given this "jump." And the crew used all of it to get everything just right. Well, that's fine by me, I guess... nothing wrong with a bit of professionalism. But then I don't know that anybody *really* cared that each and every swivel-spotlight had to be precisely aligned down to the centimeter, but this they made sure of, at length. And they also mopped up the on-stage puddles, which I thought was definitely warranted. Tull came onstage right at 9:30 sharp, and by now the hillside had really filled up. In the distance, I could see that a few hundred (?) more cars had been parked in a field, so these folks were (at least in part) "day-trippers" that were specific Tull freaks. I myself am rather a big Tull fan, and although I'd seen them three times in the 90s, it had been some time since the last show. I hadn't kept up on all the new releases in the last five years, but figured that wouldn't matter much.
While they did play a couple numbers from the dubiously-title "Christmas Album" (there aren't too many bands that I like who would try such a thing, I don't figure!), Jethro Tull's set this night was really quite a nice sampling from their entire career. The band still features the principal pair of Ian Anderson (flute, vocals, guitar) and Martin Barre (guitar), and also long-timer Doane Perry on the skins. Very early in the set we heard the classic tracks "Cross-eyed Mary" and "A New Day Yesterday" and then they brought out a surprise with a pair of numbers from the very first blues-based album 'This was...,' the lone album with Mick Abrahams on guitar instead of Barre. The radio-friendly "Farm on the Freeway" and the longer, more progressive "Budapest" represented their successful 'comeback' period, when they were famous for 'stealing' the Heavy Metal Grammy away from Metallica (though it should be remembered that originally Hard Rock was included in the same genre classification). Of course, Anderson didn't fail to point this out and have a bit of fun at the Metallica boys expense, which made me chuckle a bit. But it was shortly thereafter that I thought Anderson got awfully smug, when he called out to the folks in front (something like), "So, is anybody *good* playing tomorrow night?" Of course, he probably was unaware that he was touching on a sore spot, because nobody really knew *who* was going to play the following night! But in any case, whereas I have always thought his commentary to be fun and in good taste, I thought during this one lone moment he was acting suspiciously arrogant. But nobody answered (not surprisingly!), so he didn't have the chance to give his opinion anyway.
The rest of the set following similarly, and they were really playing very well this night, very tight and the sound was well mixed and clear. Another surprise rarity was the 'troubadour-folk' track "Weathercock" from 'Heavy Horses' (OK, as I see now, it also appears on this Xmas album). Towards the end, we started to get more familiar material, but then they did some nice rearrangements of these old classics to keep them fresh. I don't remember if it was during the finale or in the encore, but the 'Aqualung' material was not-at-all a standard run-through, but rather somewhat reworked. I thought it would have been nice to hear the title track to "Songs from the Wood" given the pastoral setting, but I suppose that would require extra rehearsal if it weren't already in the set. So in the end, I had no complaints about the Tull performance musically, and in fact I was a little surprised that they were still showing so much freshness and energy. Anderson is not so young anymore, and I remember that he broke his leg a few years ago, but he still seems to be going strong.
So now I'd seen on the schedule that the band She's China was due up after Tull. It was only 11:30, but I'd seen this band at Burg Herzberg '03 and knew they were really terrible. So I wasn't in the mood for hanging around for their set plus two stage changes in order to catch Orange (the last band on the schedule), who intrigued me by name alone. So I went up the hill and crashed out, hoping that I'd wake up to the sounds of Orange playing later on in the night. And to my surprise, that actually did happen, even though it wasn't at the beginning of Orange's set. But what confused me, once I came to full consciousness, was that it was already about 4:30 AM! Couldn't figure out how it could have been that late, but then after I returned home to Switzerland, I read that Kozmic Blue had been given their time *after* Tull... which would have been nice to know *ahead* of time, thank you very much! I'm pretty sure they didn't announce this on stage (I only heard one announcement the entire weekend, in fact... nobody was even there introducing *any* of the bands... they were left to do that by themselves, or just make people guess). I think Kozmic Blue must be some bluesy thing (duh!), perhaps doing some ole' Janis Joplin tunes or something, based on the name. Seems logical, and I think they have a female singer. So I would have checked that out, if I'd had any idea they were still going to play on Friday. Thanks, guys! Anyway, I ended up hearing the last 40 minutes or so of Orange's set. Really interesting stuff... largely comprised of percussion of all sizes and varieties, and of course that kind of thing is right in its element at an outdoor festival such as this. I think they would have found many a kindred spirit at a place like Strange Daze, or indeed amongst the Brushwood (NY) pagan types.
Saturday was to be my last day at HGW, given that I had planned to go back to work on Monday morning. Of course, I expected it to provide one of the main highlights, as Amon Düül II was scheduled to perform. And they were one of the few bands on the schedule *not* to be involved in funny rumors on certain webpages related to the festival. What was not a rumor is that the band Alias Eye, a Sunday act, had become fed up with some aspect of the contract/organization and had pulled out. This was posted in no uncertain terms, though the band's request to have their name removed from the advertisements apparently went unheeded. The question about three Saturday bands was less apparent. Rumors persisted that Blodwyn Pig, Twin Dragons, and the Carl Palmer Band might all be no-shows, as they were all represented by the same promotion agency who likewise were having contract issues with the HGW organizers. In the end, the latter two did perform on Saturday, whereas Blodwyn Pig was indeed a no-show. But then, Ian Anderson on Friday had said that Abrahams was home suffering from some ailment as Tull then proceeded to play his song "Beggar's Farm," so then their absence may have been for a different (and understandable) reason.
So, the festival attendees waited patiently for some time on a rather nice Saturday afternoon, many (I'm sure) just as curious as I was about who might appear that day. Sadly, the poster board that appeared so briefly on Friday to divulge the intended line-up failed to appear on this day. But then, as three o'clock turned to four o'clock, which then became five o'clock, and then SIX o'clock, and still NOTHING, that's when it became too much. Quite a number of folks had long since come down from their campsites, having brought down towels or rugs to sit on, and backpacks full of snacks and such, so there they were, watching a festival with no music for several hours. A couple guys eventually started yelling at the stage (home to just a handful of seemingly-disinterested crew and security, and thus nobody that looked particularly 'in charge'), and one didn't need to know much German to get what they were on about. Colorful words such as "So eine Schweinerei!" and "Eine Verarschung pur!" I managed to catch. They managed to get some coherent murmuring going amongst the public, but as there was truly no sign of management present, all the commotion fell upon deaf ears (so to speak... without any music, there was hardly anyone going deaf).
In the meantime, I was far too impatient to lay in the grass for three hours for no damn reason, so I headed up the hill to the place where I'd seen a bunch of folks hanging around one cluster of caravans with a small collection of music gear. And indeed these enterprising people had set up their own little mini-festival-within-a-festival, with a generator-powered practice amp and mini-PA supporting a number of different guys that showed up to play electric guitar. What looked to be a child's starter drumkit, while hardly thunderous, proved sufficient to complete a 'band,' and thus live music was happening almost spontaneously. Mainly they played some kind of simple 8-bar blues numbers, given that it appeared that some of the players had never before met. At one point, they carried the equipment down to the main festival beer tent, and jammed in there for quite some time. Thanks to these guys, I was able to keep my own dissatisfaction with the "real" festival from getting out of hand. They really weren't playing such fantastic music, as I said, but they were really enjoying themselves and showing a true spirit of "Festival," with total disregard for the incompetence of others or in fact all of (regular) society. Their attitude was contagious... I felt much better in fact. By 6:30, when STILL there were no bands on the main stage, they'd moved back up to their home site, and now Chris Karrer had come out to jam with them. Along with a guy on acoustic bass and a drummer for accompaniment, he started to play some more of his "world folk music" as he did before on Thursday. But then, only about 15 minutes later, I heard the *first* band actually start to warm up down the hill, so I decided to take my leave of the "Little Festival that Could (while the others couldn't)" and see what was really 'up.'
Lo and behold... Twin Dragons indeed was present and accounted for, so I guess that contract dispute was smoothed over. Good thing, as otherwise *NO* bands would have played on Saturday evening. They got going in earnest at exactly 6:55 PM. In other words, nearly eight hours later than the first band at Herzberg (proper) the previous weekend... pathetic. Anyway, Twin Dragons are a 'newish' band, I guess, made up of four guys from four different countries. They played about 45 minutes as just a trio though, before ex-Black Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin came out to join them. The early stuff was mostly standard blues numbers, played in a particularly hard-edged dirty style. They opened with "Evil (is Going On)," which I have to admit I thought (up 'till then) was a Monster Magnet original, so that took me by surprise. But then it only took me a second or two to come to the conclusion that it must be a much older song, and indeed it comes from Howlin' Wolf (now that I have done a minute of research). In any case, it's a great song, as done by either Monster Magnet or Twin Dragons as on this night. Willie Dixon's "I Ain't Superstitious" followed soon after, so you know where we're at. All three musicians were talented and the drummer (David Pisvejc I think... though Tull vet Clive Bunker has also played with them) particularly punchy and crisp, so I quite liked their sound. When Martin appeared, of course things changed. The original TD tune (?) "Think it Over" was not surprisingly more Sabbath-like, but then they started to play actual Sabbath *songs*, and no more comparison was necessary. So "War Pigs," "Headless Cross," and "Paranoid" appeared in succession, the middle song of which was IMHO important to offer (as it came from the Martin era), since otherwise it would have seemed rather gratuitous given the noticeable lack of those named Iommi or Osbourne on stage. But perhaps more importantly, they offered up pretty good versions of the old classics. "War Pigs" is perhaps even more relevant to today's world order than it was over thirty years ago, so it was well-received. The surprising thing was although Martin sang OK and without any noticeable "cracking," he also seemed to become somewhat hoarse after only a half-set of material. Perhaps he's more like Ozzy than I once thought. :)
I missed Twin Dragons encore, 'cause I'd seen Chris Karrer walking up the hill (obviously the alternative 'gig' was over now) and wanted to ask him about Amon Düül II. It had become obvious to me by then that it wasn't likely they were going to play, because I'd seen none of the other members show up. But I wanted to confirm that they weren't on for Sunday instead, because that would have made me really angry. I had a non-refundable train ticket that was not particularly cheap, and so was rather committed to leaving early Sunday. But as Karrer explained to me (I think... it was hard to hear him with the music in the background), the rest of the band just didn't have much faith in the festival, as far as actually being paid to play. It was disappointing to hear, but I was prepared for that answer, and I thanked him for coming anyhow. But the whole thing raises a question now... of course, it was obvious that there was a lot of terrible organization here. But once your (band's) name is officially recognized on the performer's list, don't you have the obligation to show up and perform even if you suspect there to be problems? Or risk losing money? I'm speaking hypothetically here, but I think I would have liked to see them either make the effort to come, or else have some way of making their cancellation known to the public. (That reminds me... Amon Düül II should put up an official website if they're going to continue playing together!) I mean, I'm not unhappy that I went to this festival (in the end, it was worth it), but to a certain degree, it was Amon Düül II that sold me on being there. I have loved this band to death since I first heard them 20 years ago, so it would have been nice for them to come and perform for those of us who *did* make the effort. As I write this, I've just seen that they have had to also cancel their scheduled appearance at ProgDay '04 in North Carolina. In this latter case, it appears to be solely an issue of the USA's new ridiculous stringent policies on visas, so I don't hold the band to blame for that situation, as it was completely out of their hands. (UFO is another band that recently suffered the same fate, and that list will continue to grow by leaps and bounds I predict, as if the US needed any more help being isolated.) So thus ends my editorial on the bands' presumed commitment to their fans in such cases. I'll leave any further opinionating to the reader, including those of you that went to Glasters in 1997 to see Porcupine Tree in the mud.
Anyway, the fest went on, again without any word as to who was imminent and who was to be conveniently forgotten. Imminent turned out to be the other artist on that 'questionable list,' The Carl Palmer Band. Mountain was the other Saturday headline-worthy name on the poster, but there was to be no Leslie West sighting on this night. And now that I have perused their webpage, I can't see how they would have even wanted to do this fest, as they were in the middle of touring the US! Furthermore, they had just been here touring Europe throughout April and May, including a number of different places in Germany. So why would they have again flown to Europe in the middle of their US tour just for one single performance? Well, I don't know, perhaps it was once agreed upon, who knows, but it doesn't seem logical to me that they would have even chosen this gig. Perhaps it was all just someone's fantasy? Nevertheless, Carl Palmer is what we got. Now I'll state right away that I think ELP is solid evidence that indeed there was a time where progressive rock (which I admit to have a persistent fondness for, taken as a whole) got truly pretentious. I had seen the reformed ELP on a "shed tour" in the states some years ago (I went to see Deep Purple, and secondly Dream Theater) and managed to *just* tolerate ELP... though I liked Greg Lake individually. But this music leaves even me cold. And Carl Palmer, while a fine drummer no doubt, really doesn't excite me either. Though, because this new trio of his bears his name, I guess that means he isn't allowed to sit way in the back like most drummers, but rather up front and center. But hey, I don't really care where he decides to put up his kit, nor did I care so much when he said something self-aggrandizing like (paraphrasing) "It's nice to see so many of you out there who appreciate good music." Well, ok, everyone has their own opinion about what constitutes "good" music... theirs was certainly well performed, but it rather bored me to death.
Largely, Palmer's set was comprised of old ELP material, as one would have guessed. What was surprising (or at least different) is that there were no keyboards at all, but rather a whizz-kid guitarist named Shaun Baxter who supplanted all of Emerson's flashy showmanship. Bassist Dave Marks was the third member of this alternate-reality trio, whose lone impression upon me was that he incorporated the Police's "Message in a Bottle" into his bass solo... I don't know why either. The opener was the Bartok piece "The Barbarian," and it only got wankier from there. "Hoedown," "Bullfrog" and "Trilogy" were three of the "classic" ELP tracks offered that I had to write down in order to remember, but it was something introduced as "Tecumseh" that highlighted the wankery. Funny, Palmer (according to my notes) suggested it came from their creative high-point 'Brain Salad Surgery,' indeed the one ELP CD that I own (though I haven't heard it for a number of years and consider the Hans-Ruedi Giger cover art to perhaps be the most artistic thing about it) but that isn't in the song list, so I either heard wrong or that's an alternate title of one of the pieces. Palmer did actually delve into self-deprication upon introducing the song "Canario" taken from their famously awful 'Love Beach' album. I'm curious... I wonder how truly bad this album is? Not enough to actually track down a copy, mind you. Anyway, I guess it's obvious I just can't have an objective opinion about their performance this night, given my indifference to their style of music, so I'll stop now.
So... who next? Ah, surprise, surprise! Sunya Beat. Hmm... my poster-schedule lists them as playing on Friday night, but I guess in this parallel universe, Friday is really Saturday... sometimes. Anyway, that was cool, because I really wanted to see them. On CD, Sunya Beat is the duo of guitarist Axel Manrico Heilhecker (of the erstwhile Harald Schmidt Show studio band on German TV) and drummer Harald Großkopf, but now they've added Steve Baltes (who's played with Ashra among others). Any self-respecting krautrock fan will recognize Großkopf's name as having been featured on all those Cosmic Jokers albums of Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser's creation, as well as drumming in the progressive band Wallenstein. So it was definitely cool to see yet one more legendary krautrock figure on this nine-day trip, no matter the context. But Sunya Beat, while definitely leaning toward the modern trance-rhythm style, was not at all a bad context to find him. I have their first self-titled CD, and like it just fine, for those times when such a mood comes by. Heilhecker plays a lot of crafty echoed licks and soaring leads, which gives the tribal underbelly quite a nice spacey feel. At one point, they did a couple more bluesy numbers, which didn't work quite as well though. They also offered up an interpretation of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" which fared better. Großkopf's drum kit was largely made of so-called 'roto-toms' which have their own unique sound, and he often threw in extended fills up and down the spectrum. It all worked pretty well, and I was happy again to have persevered through all the nonsense to get to this point.
Sunya Beat wrapped up their 80 minutes at just after 1 AM, so I'm thinking that we'd have one late night act left, and that would be it for Saturday. I mean, if they had any more bands to put on during this day, one would have thought things would have started earlier than 7 PM! So, as the next band came out and set up, and I tried to figure out who the hell they could be. "OK, it's obviously a trio, just guitar, bass, and drums. And the guitarist has an old beat-up Gibson guitar and his soundcheck riffing is definitely solidly blues-jam material, so perhaps this is the Groundhogs after all. Indeed the 'hogs are on the schedule for Saturday, along with the name Alev (who I think did end up playing on Sunday, if what I read is true) being the only other previously-unaccounted-for artist. One problem... I've seen photos of Tony McPhee (at least old ones), and this guy playing guitar does *not* look like McPhee, even though he's about the right age it would seem. So maybe he just looks different now?" (End mental quote.)
Anyway, my speculating was eventually ended when their soundcheck ended and they introduced themselves as.... Stray. Huh? OK, so *not* the Groundhogs... bummer. I didn't know squat about Stray, but I can tell you now that they're an old '70s blues band from London, reformed and fronted these days by one of the original guitarists/vocalists named Del Bromham (who looks nothing like Tony McPhee, in case you needed reminding). (And they played at Burg Herzberg in 2002, so I guess they must have gotten paid that year and so were willing to come back when nobody else would show.) In some ways, they have quite a lot in common with the 'hogs, but I was upset knowing I wasn't getting (again) what was promised, and so I gave up on Stray after only a few songs. Not bad playing, but I didn't care much for Bromham's voice. And I was already getting quite a bit saturated with blues-rock this weekend, and if I didn't know the tunes (whereas I *do* know some Groundhogs' songs) I wasn't going to put in the effort. So I called it a night at 2 AM, being rather tired and knowing that I had to make an early exit the next morning to get home. But now, it seems as though the Groundhogs *did* actually come out and play *after* Stray (going on somewhere around 3:30 AM according to what was posted elsewhere online). Unbelievable! How the hell was anybody supposed to know?! And so now, how can anybody explain the ridiculous 7 PM start?!
Well, I've come to the end of my experience at Herzberg Goes to the Dogs, or whatever it was called, and I don't have to tell you that I think the people organizing the musical performance aspect of this fest were completely without any concern for their own incompetence. I must say, though, that there were no obvious problems with the stagehands, soundguys, and security (again the Thüringer Stahlpunkt as at BH'03) and there were adequate, though non-ideal, facilities for water and sanitation. The festival was thankfully again free of any commercial intrusion (what else would one expect at a 'hippie' gathering?), with the small-town regional brewery Licher being the main beer supplier. (Alsfelder was also available, so there was in fact a choice.) The Licher crew did require one to submit to the maddeningly-pointless procedure of buying tokens for beer in advance at a table exactly 3 feet (1 meter) from the bar. And all of Germany is perpetually afflicted with this chronic condition of Pfandmania, where you have to put a deposit down on your beverage cups, but at least the Licher folks weren't asking for 50 Euro-cents for a disposable easily-breakable cup like the Alsfelder crew did. The Licher cups were at least durable enough to preserve for more than 10 minutes... so I stuck with them, even though I had to ante up a full Euro for the honor of temporarily possessing their precious cups.
One last word... since I left early, I didn't witness in person what happened Sunday. But it was obviously more of the same. The old 'glamrock-era' bands Sweet and Slade were set to tag-team as the highlight of the Sunday evening schedule. Only problem... they didn't play either! And as I said before, Alias Eye was out. So Alev (?) and the three planned undercard acts, Alex Oriental, Kirsche and Co., and Walter Trout were left to carry the day. So... tallying up the final stats: of the 22 advertized bands, 16 actually showed up, though three of those were each moved ahead one day. That sounds a lot better than it seemed, given that only three of the six presumed 'headliners' ended up playing. But, I can say without hesitation, that if they had only communicated (even just a minimal amount) with the people who spent their hard-earned cash to find their way to this remote place, then I would have been satisfied to have what we were given in the end. And I think a lot of others would too... there truly was a lot of good music there during those first three days. I can understand that there are always last minute problems, and a month's worth of headaches in getting everything together. But there's no excuse for the abandonment that we all felt... and it would have been so simple to correct with hardly any effort at all! One then only comes to the conclusion that they just didn't care, and so why then would anybody want to again give their patronage to another "HGW" festival next year? Indeed, some comments I've read offer the promise to never again support any event connected to an organization that includes the name Kalle Becker. Well, ok, I don't know the man (he was invisible at HGW so perhaps was not even there) so I won't express any opinion about him personally based on rumors and opinions of others. And I know he's been headed for retirement for a few years already and may no longer even be involved in the organization. But *somebody* was (ir)responsible for this nonsense, and if they're reading this now, they should know that they really need to do better if they want to try this again. The other crew, Andi & Co. at the old Herzberg site, kicked your ass in terms of professionalism. And even with the advantage of having Jethro Tull as a high-profile headliner, HGW'04 clearly drew fewer people than Burg Herzberg'04. And I'm still pissed about missing the Groundhogs.