Progressive Development

Based on musical talent alone, the gathering of five area progressive-rock bands Saturday night at Vnuk’s Lounge in Cudahy was exceptional. Even more amazing, however, was the diversity of musical styles fitting the genre’s broad definition offered by Racine’s Kopecky and Milwaukee’s Dimension X, Far Corner, Strange Land and the newly revitalized Quark Quintet.

The free event served as the debut CD-release party for Dimension X’s So… This Is Earth, a heavy and complex album issued in May by Quebec-based Unicorn Records. The band incorporates classical, rock and metal into a sound influenced by Dream Theater, King Crimson and old-school Genesis. Vocalist David Hoover, a giant of a man with a shaved head and a ZZ Top-style beard, sang in a booming baritone, while drummer Jef Jaeger exuded a charismatic stage presence from which the rest of the band could take a cue. (That said, bassist and event organizer Dave Burkowitz was suffering from the stomach flu, which forced Dimension X to cut short its set.)

Earlier, the quirky Quark Quintet opened the evening with a swirling set of off-kilter, Middle Eastern-tinged space music highlighted by the eclectic and airy vocals of keyboardist Julie B. (formerly of True Heart Susie) and Chapman Stick player Drew Rittgers. The trio Strange Land then stormed the stage with its Rush-meets-King’s X brand of progressive metal, attacking songs from last year’s CD, Blaming Season, with a vengeance. Singer Chad Novell’s gargantuan voice and dexterity playing the bass with his left hand and the keys with his right matched guitarist Sean Gill’s fancy fretwork.

The dark instrumental trio Kopecky introduced four new songs that adhered to its thick and rhythmic signature grooves while also revealing more melodic depths. Led by renowned bass/sitar-player William Kopecky, the brothers’ stage show has become notably more animated over the years. William then joined the chamber-rock quartet Far Corner, which gave an intense performance under dramatic lighting usually reserved for an orchestra. Adept at improvising, the cello-and-keyboard-fronted outfit commanded attention by moving with startling ease from structure to dissonance and back again.

Each band debuted new material during its set, and all (save Quark Quintet, still in the reformation stage) have record deals with labels around the world—proving that progressive rock is alive and well in Milwaukee. Here’s hoping for similar events in the future. These artists and their open-minded fans deserve at least that much.
—Michael Popke