Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Review of the RIO festival 2009 - Part 4

The big question that Steve and I asked ourselves is what time we should wake up the next day. We were both suffering badly from a lack of sleep. But, we also wanted to see Aymeric Leroy’s English-language talk. Anytime you can see Aymeric talk, it is a treat, as he is a walking encyclopedia of Canterbury and RIO music.

The lack of sleep won out, and we woke up at 11:00. We took a taxi to Cap Decouverte, and arrived just in time to see the 2nd half of Yolk’s set. However, the previous night’s antics caught up to us, and we both left Yolk’s set after one song so that we could get breakfast and some much-needed coffee.

We came back to catch the set by The Muffins. During the festival, Steve and I became somewhat friendly with the guys in The Muffins. We all sat in the balcony, next to the lighting board, and we formed a little American enclave. The guys were a bit nervous about performing, because they thought that their Canterbury-style music would not mesh well with the overwhelming “Zeuhlness” of the festival.

The performance came off well. I was most pleasantly surprised by the drumming of Paul Sears, who in my mind, does not look like a drummer at all (although he certainly acts like one!). I didn’t recognize any of the tunes they played, as I was never really into the Muffins. But the Canterbury element was there.

They did not get to play an encore because they were told beforehand that they must play for one hour exactly. But, they appreciated the sentiment of the crowd.

Then came the double dose of Present and Univers Zero. This was the real reason why I came to the festival. Both of these Belgian groups were in the initial RIO movement that started back in around 1979. I had stayed with drummer Daniel Denis, the leader of Univers Zero, for several weeks in 1983 and 1984, and I had not seen Daniel (and his wife Chantal) since then. I had my reunion with Daniel earlier in the festival, and he is still the sweetest, most unpretentious person in the world. I am going to do my best to bring him to the United States sometime in 2010.

Present and Univers Zero were both limited to one hour sets, and then there was to be a grand finale that combined the forces of both groups.

Present played Delusions, and then a track from their new CD called Visages, and then the first half of Promenade from their first album. Well, what could I say? They ruled. They kicked butt. Everyone was great. It was sad to see Roger Trigaux reduced to sitting on a chair at the left side of the stage, meandering along, but whatever illness he has seems to have advanced. Nevertheless, Roger is still the heart and soul of the RIO Festival.

Univers Zero came on and they were equally amazing. They had the unfortunate circumstance of being annoyed by a random stream of static that emanated from one of the speaker in the PA, and I just knew that Daniel (ever the perfectionist) would be extremely pissed off. But, this was the first time that I saw UZ, and I finally got to see them play Dense, their signature composition from the Ceux Du Dehors album. Daniel was a real monster on the drums, displaying his unique brand of creativity …. I cannot really describe his style of playing. Also, they played Civic Circus and Pressage, the later being their finest composition of the mid 1980’s.

Then came the grand finale, consisting of the combined forces of Present and UZ. When you get these “super groups” together, they result in a mess most of the time (see my review of the combined Magma and Infernal Machina last February in Paris). The group first played Jack the Ripper from the Heresie album of Univers Zero, and they hit a home run. It was tight, and the ending part brought a few tears to my eyes. Dave Kerman, the drummer from Present, was dutifully respectful to Daniel, and let Daniel have most of the drumming spotlight. They ended with the 2nd half of Promenade from the first Present album. This wasn’t as tight as the first piece, but it gave the combined group an opportunity to have some fun. Daniel performed a drum solo, which is a big stretch for him, as he seems to shy away from solos. Towards the end, I thought that Reginald Trigaux was going to do a Hendrix and light his guitar on fire.

The crowd gave the boys an extended standing ovation. Roger and Michel Besset said a few words to the crowd in both English and French. Although nothing has been signed yet, they said that they were going to get Art Bears, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Robert Wyatt for next year’s festival.

After the concert, we all filed out to the tables outside the venue for more wine, cheese, saucisse, and cornichons. Maxence led a big sing-along of Magma tunes, and it was incredible to find how many people knew every word of MDK, including how many times to repeat each verse.

I had some time to catch up with Pierre Desassis, the sax player from Present. I know his dad Denis, who was the original creator of the famous Magma Web Press Book. Pierre seemed really happy after the concert, and he thought that the performances went really well.

Steve and I had an early night …. We got to out hotel at 2:45 in the morning, thanks to Fabrice’s and Francis’s willpower to leave the party a bit early.

(End of Part 4)

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