Fuse Concert Review: Progressive Rock — Seven Hours of Celebration

Even by the standards of prog shows, which only get close to mainstream if a Yes or Rush is headlining, these bands were largely from the underground.


By Brett Milano

Progressive rock is all about glorious excess, so what better way to celebrate it than by absorbing seven hours’ worth at once? The Regent Theater in Arlington and the local promotions group NewEars (New England Art Rock Society) provided that rare chance over the weekend. Saturday’s event was originally planned as an evening show headlined by the New York neo-prog band IZZ, but as more groups signed on it grew into a “Day of Prog,” with six bands doing full-length sets in evening and afternoon sessions. You have to admire NewEars’ commitment for even producing this—I counted 35 people at the afternoon show, maybe twice that in the evening—and it seemed that nearly everyone had travelled from out of town. Even by the standards of prog shows, which only get close to mainstream if a Yes or Rush is headlining, these bands were largely from the underground. Which made it sweeter for diehards, who could congratulate themselves on their rarified taste while indulging in a feast of grandiose themes and tricky time changes.

And the best moments were sweet indeed, as the standout bands wrapped their ‘70s inspirations (you didn’t have to listen long to hear a throwback to the golden years of Gentle Giant or Genesis) into something more personal. And political in the case of the day’s first band Mavra, formed in Iran by musicians who’ve since moved to New Hampshire. At home the band was illegal on a few levels—playing non-traditional music and employing female musicians are both outlawed there, and Mavra (whose name means “beyond”) has a female keyboardist. You could hear the bandmembers’ dreams of a better life being fuelled by the imagery of vintage prog: one of their songs, “Mandatory Hero” was about the mind control that exists under dictatorship so it was the perfect vehicle for some King Crimson-like menace. And when frontman Ashkan Hamidi sang “I wish the world was a place of compassion,” the band fuelled that vision with a heavenly Yes-like soundscape.

Original headliners IZZ were the most polished band of the lot, with three-part male/female harmonies, a fusion-esque guitarist and a two-drum backline, one drummer playing a standard kit and the other doing electronic percussion. But for all the virtuosity on display, the band was all about melody—tunes soared in all directions, giving their set a perpetually wide-eyed feel, and even the flashy instrumentals had strong melody lines. IZZ’s musical roots stretched back to the ’60s, as the harmonies brought hippie-era San Francisco to mind (think of the band It’s A Beautiful Day), and plenty of Beatlesque touches were there too. Thanks to their songwriting it added up to something distinctive, and like all the best prog it carried a thrill of discovery.


IZZ — the prog rock headliner didn’t disappoint. Photo: NewEARS

The Providence band Resistor represented the brainier side of the equation, with leader Steve Unruh proudly introducing one song as “a loving look at the space shuttle program, something you’d only hear in progressive rock.” (At least that’s the only place you’d hear it with a flute solo). They were the only band on the bill that put instrumental virtuosity ahead of songcraft, though it was a kick to see Unruh switch from guitar to flute to violin, and to watch their drummer sneak in Rush-style polyrhythms wherever possible. Sonus Umbra and Might Could were essentially the same band, fronted by Mexico City-born bassist Luis Nasser, in different guises: the latter was full electric and the former was an acoustic guitar quartet. Much preferred the latter, which proffered the elegance of Robert Fripp’s acoustic work with the League of Crafty Guitarists (and at least one Might Could number sounded like a direct homage to Fripp).

But there was one band who didn’t have far to travel: Baked Beans, who played a short afternoon set, is an instrumental band of four technically gifted Arlington High School sophomores. Formally dressed and crew-cut, they earnestly launched into a letter-perfect version of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Another of their tunes was built on a naggingly-familiar riff that clawed at me for hours, until I pegged it as Pigbag’s mid-80s club hit, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag”—clearly these kids already have killer collections, or a music teacher with same. And it may well be the first time that “21st Century Schizoid Man” was ever performed by children of the 21st century.

Brett Milano has been covering music in Boston for decades, and is the author of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martins, 2001) and The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). He recently returned from New Orleans where he was editor of the music and culture magazine OffBeat.


  1. Ben on June 2, 2014 at 9:15 pm


    Good review, and largely in accord with my own experience. I missed the first two bands, unfortunately, but came in for Might/Could and following. I had seen M/C before and enjoyed their performance here quite well. Sonus Umbra suffered from a terrible mix, but I’m not sure that I would have enjoyed their performance much more even if that had been improved. Just not terribly successful, in my opinion.

    I was a bit concerned the mix would be bad for the evening shows, but no problems in that regard. Resistor was a very pleasant surprise. I had not seen them before, and was very impressed. I found their first piece a little repetitive, but the rest of the show didn’t have that problem.

    I had come for IZZ (2 or three prior concerts under my belt), and they did not disappoint. I am in awe of John Galgano’s bass playing, and he blew me away as usual. The rest of the band were tight and turned in fabulous performances, as well.

    I continue to be dismayed at the lack of attendance at these events. Great music at a great price.

  2. rick on June 3, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Hey Brett,

    Great review of what was a highly enjoyable day. Not to nit-pick (but this is what we proggers do best) but this was my third time seeing IZZ and I have some of their studio output; not what I would characterize as a “neo-prog” band, a term typically used to denote a strong Genesis-like style of symphonic rock that was displayed by Mavara (yeah, the flyer got the spelling of their name wrong). As always, so cool to hang with you at the show, which my prog-savvy wife enjoyed as well.

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