ProgPower USA XIV: Snow In Atlanta As Luca Turilli's Rhapsody Steals The Entire Festival
I. The Setup
For as long as I can remember, I've searched for what I would define as a "perfect concert" - a mighty bucket list item that eluded me. I fixed the label to many shows in the interim, scratching off those "before death" list items one by one as each successive concert outdid the previous. Back in mid-2012, when I submitted my sponsor list for 2013, I listed fifteen bands I wanted to see and was willing to put money on for ProgPower USA. Number one of that list was Luca Turilli's Rhapsody. The reason is simple....there is no composer in heavy metal not named Jon Oliva that can even compare to the wealth of fantastic material presented since the 90’s. Turilli had numerous solo albums and various side bands all in addition to writing a double power metal story arc that lasted eleven straight albums, many of which grace the top lists of any fan of the genre. Well in advance of the latest two Rhapsody of Fire albums, Luca decided that it had to end…and that he needed to split off and see his own vision of band - one that would turn it towards the cinematic. In what appeared to be a confusing agreement with lifetime friend and co-founder Alex Staropoli, the two would split - each keeping a variant of the name and both claiming the entire back catalog as his own. Then, in a feat that I have seen nowhere else in band splits, the two would remain close friends and allies, each supporting the other and respective releases. Since then, Turilli fired the first salvo with “Ascending to Infinity,” an album so perfect it’s actually hard to listen to (see review here). Even though Rhapsody was not scheduled for the main festival, in the fall of 2012 it was announced that the band would headline the Thursday night kick off show with two hour plus set. Though ProgPower’s main festival would prove so great, this concert was the highlight of not only the festival….but my entire life. What would follow can only be deemed the “perfect concert.”
II. The Experience
For this lifetime fanboy, the experience was far from limited to just the show. It was an all access VIP pass. For nearly two years, I had been corresponding and building a friendship with LTR drummer Alex Landenburg. Meeting him was one of the true highlights of my life. In a world with battling egos and crappy attitudes, Landenburg was one of the most humble, generous and phenomenal individuals in music today. When I arrived in Atlanta the day before the show, I had come down with one of the worst chest colds in years. I originally planned to rest at the hotel after a breathing scare that nearly sent me to the hospital. However, I found an awkward position on the bed where I could take deeper breaths to try and sleep. When midnight rolled around and the first Artmore after party following Queensryche tribute act Mindcrime=s performance was in full swing, I watched the fun unfold on my Facebook newsfeed back at the hotel 1/8 of a mile away. Determined to not let missed opportunities slide, I had to get there. Gingerly, I made it to the Artmore, where Alex shot like a canon from out of the crowd to greet me. We raised a glass and had a nice chat, which made me feel much better. As I told my friend, nothing short of death would prevent me from seeing this show. Little did I know what he had in store for me.
Waking up on show day, my breathing improved and my spirits soared – as years of waiting was about to pay off. Opening the show would be progressive metal newcomers In the Silence along with former Savatage vocalist Zak Stevens fronted Circle II Circle. Just so happens that Stevens and company would be playing the ‘Tage classic “Wake of Magellan” in its entirety. Ear candy was abound and it wasn’t just limited to the headliner – this show was stacked. Entering the venue two hours early, VIP’s were treated to Circle II Circle’s sound check as well as dinner with Rhapsody. It was truly a fantastic experience to watch what goes on behind the scenes to make these shows work. Kick-off show promoter Nathan Block brought to Atlanta his traditional dinner idea (usually reserved for the bands back in Minnesota) and gave it to the band and the VIP’s. This wasn’t an ordinary dinner – it was a feast – complete with chicken, fish, vegetables, rice – all light and healthy and cooked to perfection.
As I waited outside the door of Turilli’s dressing room I was joking about the anticipation for next year’s festival with one of PPUSA’s esteemed crew…the door briefly opened behind me. Five minutes later, Luca emerged and said “Carlitooooooooooooooo” and gave me a big hug. Turilli does not have a personal Facebook page, but he monitors the scene through girlfriend Nadia, who I became friends with since the beginning of the summer. But this was more than merely signing autographs and expressing my passion for all things Rhapsody, it developed into a 2+ hour conversation over dinner. Topics ranged from writing, to Fabio Lione/Alessandro Conti, to inhumane treatment of animals. In one of the most touching moments, Luca and Nadia even inquired about the health of my cat, who is dying from cancer. They made me feel like family…something I have rarely felt with any musician – especially an idol.
Without revealing too much of the conversation, most of which was candid and off the record, there were a couple of items worth mentioning. A new Rhapsody album is in the works, but Luca was mum on all the details – simply pointing to his temple saying “it’s all right here.” We discussed the choice of Alessandro Conti at length, with Luca explaining the rigorous audition process of sending him over 100 songs of varying styles for him to record and send back. Despite the horror of thinking Conti would be like “Kiske joined Rhapsody” (Conti also fronts Trick Or Treat, who originated as a Helloween cover band…with Conti performing a spot on impression of Michael Kiske – for reference check out LT Rhapsody’s cover of “March of Time.”). Turilli explained that with Conti, the range of what he can compose is limitless.
Turilli proved to be as kind and humble as I have seen him in interviews and videos. His views on the world start with the beauty of it and he expresses great concern with how we treat our planet and the “infinite wonders of creation.” His love of nature and the animal kingdom are shown throughout his compositions and lyrics. At one point, another person at the table praised Turilli’s guitar style. In typical fashion (as I have seen and read so many times before), Luca said “No….no – I am not a good guitar player….I am a composer!” He went on to say that he refuses to do interviews for Guitar Player and like magazines, wishing only to be the best composer he can be.
Among the other topics of discussion was the upcoming Rhapsody of Fire album, just announced today as ”Dark Wings of Steel,” the first of which Luca had nothing to do with – a first in the history of the band(s). Turilli remains just as curious as the rest of the world as to what the sound will be like, stating only that Alex Staropoli said it would be “different.” We both praised the addition of Roberto De Micheli, a guitarist that will just shine with RoF.
It was an experience of a lifetime and that night I felt like part of the Rhapsody family!
III. The Performance
A. In the Silence
Unfortunately, I missed In the Silence’s performance. When one gets a chance to dine and speak with an idol….you take it an run! From what I heard from downstairs/backstage, the band sounded excellent live and judging by the crowd reaction, it sounded like they went over well! I look forward to seeing this new act soon on the road.
B. Circle II Circle
Having freshly emerged from “fanboydom,” I entrenched myself at the left monitor, stage right – where I would remain until the conclusion of the night. One of the more fun aspects of this VIP experience was witnessing Circle II Circle’s soundcheck. Having been so caught up in the pageantry of LT Rhapsody, I had nearly forgotten that this special evening also contained the live performance of one of Savatage’s finest rock opera’s “Wake of Magellan” in its entirety.
Nearly ¾ of the set comprised of the Savatage classic – played to perfection and sang by its original voice and all around great singer Zak Stevens. The band was energetic, lively and truly was ecstatic to be on stage in front of the ProgPower crowd, which is truly America’s greatest offering. There is a sense that if you make it to ProgPower, you’ve made it in America. They pounded through “Wake” playing classics “Morning Sun,” “Paragons of Innocence” and “The Hourglass,” performing the four part harmonies – though Zak ended up truncating two of them at the same time to get it all in.
Once the ode to the 1997 classic was through, the band resumed with original material by playing the latest classic “Diamond Blade” from the latest “Seasons Will Fall.” The set was rounded out by the title track and earlier classics like “Open Season.” The band ended the night with a cover of Iron Maiden’s “The Tropper” with vocalist Zak Stevens on drums – and he is one hell of a great drummer too! Henning Wanner sang lead vocals.
The crowd was hot….and Circle II Circle delivered with one of the finest performances of the entire three days of shows. But the best performance of the whole weekend was just about to start….
C. Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody
When promoter Nathan Block – who’s excitement about this show could only be rivaled by my own – announced LT Rhapsody he said it with a rousing and loud “never before and never again.” It kicked off that “bucket list” show that I was waiting for my whole life – the “perfect concert.” Now Luca had told me that a friend of his who does Hollywood movies wrote the “live script” for the show – one that unified metal and cinema in a way that has never been done before.
ProgPower USA is a place of “exclusives” and “firsts” and with LT Rhapsody’s performance – there were many. Outside of the band’s first U.S. performance, there had never been a 50 foot HDR screen used in the history of the festival. The screen came on with the first rays of the sun cascading over the moon and introduced the band just like the credits from a movie. It was stunning and magical. Behind it “Quantum X” – the intro to the latest album “Ascending to Infinity.” The band blasted on stage with “Riding the Winds of Eternity” from the Rhapsody of Fire classic “Symphony Of Enchanted Lands” (1998). The screen behind the band alternated from the band logo to nature scenes…as the set list dictated.
If anyone ever doubted Alessandro Conti’s vocals and stage presence…those were silenced from second one! Conti has the same stage poise as Fabio with a vocal range that is octaves higher than his lordship. Injured guitarist Dominique Leurquin, who is nearly 100% recovered was not present as he hadn’t logged in rehearsal time that would have been required for the performance. However, the band continued what it had been doing on stages across Europe, piped in his guitar through the PA at a lower level so it blended perfectly with Turilli’s own performance. One of the nicest additions to the live ensemble was keyboardist Mikko Harkin (Cain’s Offering/Timo Tolkki’s Avalon), which added a more “human element” to all of the computer technology behind the scenes. Drummer extraordinaire Alex Landenburg played one of the finest drum solos I’ve heard in a live performance along with the accompanying bass solo from Patrice Guers a few songs later. Turilli was indeed the most energetic musician of the weekend….his persistent bobbing, weaving, running and lunging made him a challenge to photograph!
However, the band dazzled with more than just music. Lights and darkness collided as “Rage of the Winter” presented a beautiful dancer in a gown of blue light that represented a butterfly. Later in the performance she returned with fans just before “The Ancient Forest of Elves.” Rhapsody even had snow machines that covered the front row and floor area with a blizzard of soft soap. It looked even better with the barrier row of the crowd adorned with blow up Excalibur swords.
The audience was treated to so many songs never played on U.S. soil – covering the Rhapsody of Fire catalog as well as LT Rhapsody and Luca’s solo albums. Just to say I was there to witness this show would have been enough, but to hear “Demonheart,” “Warrior’s Pride,” “Warrior of Ice” and the phenomenal “Kings of Nordic Twilight” was more than I ever expected. New classics “Dark Fate of Atlantis,” “Excalibur,” the chorus section of “Of Michael the Archangel and Lucifer’s Fall” (a shortened version of the 16 minute opus), “Tormento E Passione” and “Clash of the Titans” melded perfectly with crowd favorites and Rhapsody of Fire classics “Emerald Sword,” “Flames of Revenge” and “The Village of Dwarves.”
It was the perfect show….the perfect performance….the Dark Fate of Atlanta. Never before….and never again.
Carl Frederick is a staff writer for Metal Underground.com. From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.
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