_The Show That Never Ends_ by Dave Weigel

The Heart of the Prog/Power Movement

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elendil
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_The Show That Never Ends_ by Dave Weigel

Postby elendil » Tue Jun 27, 2017 9:52 am

I recently picked up this new book on the history of progressive rock & read it in a day while sitting in airplanes and airports. It is a compelling, story-driven, readable account of the originators and big beasts of prog, especially in the late 60s and 70s, although there is also some discussion of developments in prog in the 80s, 90s, and 21st century. For someone like me who started out in metal and approached progressive rock through progressive metal, much of this history was new and interesting. The focus is largely on bands and musicians like Daevid Allen & Gong, Procul Harum, Yes, Genesis, ELP, Robert Fripp & King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Mike Oldfield, & Rush. Marillion & 80s neoprog get a chapter. Toward the present, there's also a deep dive into Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree & Dream Theater, with brief sallies into Anglagard's, Voivod's, & Opeth's discographies, among others.

Dave goes well beyond what you might get from, say, tunneling into Wikipedia. He did interviews with Keith Emerson, Chris Squire, Daevid Allen, John Wetton, & Greg Lake before they died, along with Ian Anderson, Jon Anderson, Steve Hackett, Adrian Belew, Alan White, Steven Wilson, Steve Howe, and more. He also went to the inaugural Cruise to the Edge with Yes, etc. He has a quote from Steven Wilson that ought to be controversial around here: "Progressive metal was an innovative idea in the early 21st century; today it's not." I was surprised to find out what a womanizer Robert Fripp was in his youth, as I have always thought of him as a music nerd par excellence. There are lots more juicy nuggets like these in the narrative.

Now for the gripes. You'd never know from this book that progressive music is a vital and ever-expanding creative force. The chapter on Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater is named "The Nostalgia Factory," giving you a sense of where he is coming from. Indeed, the coverage of progressive metal is pretty pathetic. Queensryche gets a single, throwaway mention early in the book. Fates Warning and Crimson Glory are not mentioned at all. The coverage of continental European prog is also light. Magma gets some attention, as does Premiata Forneria Marconi. But krautrock is mostly ignored, as is the whole "Rock in Opposition" movement (Henry Cow gets a couple of offhand mentions, but Univers Zero does not).

There are also a couple of errors & weird continuity gaps. He says Dream Theater recruited Jordan Rudess before _Images and Words_ (?!) and seems to confound the recording sessions for _Awake_ and _Falling into Infinity_ -- or at the very least, discusses them confusingly. He implies that Opeth was a bog-standard death metal band before _Still Life_ (I'd argue _Morningrise_ was their most "progressive" album). Even the story of King Crimson, central to the book, has a big gap between _Larks' Tongues in Aspic_ and Fripp's late-70s peregrinations, as if _Red_ -- an important album by anyone's lights -- never happened.

I suspect these lacunae might have something to do with the perspective Dave takes in the book. Much of the story is driven by the commercial successes and failures of the major prog artists. It's true prog artists no longer top the charts (but if you consider Coheed & Cambria and The Mars Volta to be prog, they have cracked the mainstream). But that doesn't necessarily have much to do with the quality of the music. Indeed, Weigel seems to recognize this when it comes to Robert Fripp and King Crimson, whom he rightly regards as major musical influences on a wide range of present-day rock music despite the fact that they never sold a ton of records after _In the Court of the Crimson King_.

This book would be all the more interesting if Dave had taken a more opinionated stance on the music rather than viewing the scene entirely from the perspective of the record companies and the artists who tasted & desired commercial success, and if the book were simply longer, especially in covering the scene from the mid-80s on. Still, I learned a great deal and enjoyed the insights on the early scene.

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