Artist: Three Friends
Venue: B.B. King Blues Club (New York, NY)
Opener: Kenny Forgione from Wonderous Stories
Label: Independent Artist
While I like to consider myself a person who appreciates and understands the Progressive Rock movement, I have to admit that I really don’t know a whole lot about it outside of several of its mainstays. Over the years I have listened to and enjoyed the likes of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Marillion, classic Genesis and of course Renaissance but there was one influential band that I did not have the most background on at all and their name was Gentle Giant. Originally active from around 1970 to 1980, the band was one that pushed the acceptable boundaries in Progressive Music by having multi-instrumentalists in their roster and always raising the musical bar with what they were presenting to their fans. Of course the band broke up long ago and its members never truly reunited despite some of their number having interest in doing so. Fast forwarding to today’s music realm we find a band calling themselves Three Friends forming and playing the music of Gentle Giant for all to enjoy. This would work based on its membership roster having three members of the band in Gary Green, Malcolm Mortimer and Kerry Minnear. The show would be at B.B. King Blues Club which is of course the perfect venue for something like this and would have Kenny Forgione of the band Wonderous Stories opening up for them. Here is how the night went down.
Kenny Forgione (Wondrous Stories): Musician Kenny Forgione who hails from the aforementioned band Wonderous Stories is not a stranger to many Progressive Rock fans from the region based on the level of musical delivery he brings to the table and how many gigs he plays in a given month. Admittedly, I’ve only caught that band once and that was several years ago when they opened up for Zebra at the now closed Downtown club but I was happy to see him performing for the crowd this evening. Investigation found me learning that Kenny was originally only supposed to do an acoustic set but as the show approached the premise changed and instead we got something a little more interesting and much more suitable for this particular crowd. The band Wonderous Stories is known best for playing classic Yes but this evening the guitarist would present a set of Peter Gabriel era Genesis and begin with “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”. It was killer to see it done so well and this would be followed by “Blood On The Rooftops”. Sadly the next song would be his last but it would be the epic “Supper’s Ready” which is a long tune and when it was announced the audience collective gasp of shock could be felt at every corner of the venue. After the set I spoke to the keyboard player who mused how nice it was to play such a tune for an audience that got it 100%. The band was comprised of Kevin McAn (electric guitar), Kenny Friedman (keyboards), Harold Skeete (bass) and Gregg Bendian (drums). McAn and Forgione are actually founding members of Wonderous Stories and while not considered “official members”, both Friedman and Skeete are regular players with the group. Drummer Bendian tours with Mahavishnu and The Musical Box, that pre-eminent Genesis tribute band that I am still hoping to catch one day. From beginning to end this was an impressive opening set and one that would likely go over well on its own perhaps at a venue like The Highline Ballroom or as an opener to someone like Fish at this very place. Now it was time for Three Friends and my musical education would continue.
Three Friends: I mentioned how the band was made up of three former members of Gentle Giant with Green, Mortimer and Minnear but sadly by the time this enterprise reached NYC, Minnear was no longer a part of the lineup and had left for personal reasons. Without being curt that would make the band be more like “Two Friends” now but I digress. Another interesting turn of events would be when the bands dedicated singer Mick Wilson (of 10CC) was not going to be able to perform the US dates and instead we would find Pierre Bordeleau in his place along with Roger Carey (bass) and John Donaldson (keyboards). I guess the border patrol was once again more concerned with travelling musicians as opposed to actual terrorists but let me stop with that comment. It would be interesting to see how Pierre sang the material once delivered by singer Derek Shulman because the singer had such a unique register. The original band featured both Derek and his brother Ray but to my knowledge neither of them adventures into music performance nowadays.
The seated show was very well-attended and if you’ve never experienced a true Prog-Rock gig, you should know how the audience remains at such a silence during each tune as they absorb every melody. They only come to visible life when the song ends and the musicians appear ready for their applause. It’s quite interesting to observe and much different from the chaos often found in the populace that hit the Metal shows I primarily attend. The band was definitely on their mark this evening and began with a brief into that led us into “Three Friends”, a very appropriate choice as an early tune since this was also their name. Guitarist Green was all smiles at the reception the band was getting and acted as their main spokesman this evening. He spoke softly when he felt it was a necessity and instead let the bands music captivate our senses more than idle chit chat. Clearly the mission statement for tonight was to best present the material from the iconic band and not worry about fluff. The band was tight and this was an expectation of mine coming in because you cannot be a Progressive band and have the notes go in all directions without coming to a single point and according to some friends who were with me at the show, the repertoire did not focus on any single body of work and instead was a wide gamut of resource from across albums like “Gentle Giant”, “Acquiring the Taste”, “Three Friends”, “Octopus”, “In A Glass House”, “Power & the Glory”, and “Free Hand”. I was also told that “I Lost My Head” came from the bands most “recent” work “Interview”. I say “recent” and mean the album released closest to where we are today.
The drumming of Malcolm Mortimore was great and he seemed to be executing the songs once done by John Weathers rather well. Malcolm was only on the “Three Friends” album while Weathers played on the rest. His style was clearly a little more straight forward than Weather’s was but still a pleasure to watch as he has some complexity to his technique as well. Focusing on the vocals again I had to say that while possessing a different register from what Gentle Giant fans have long known in this material, that Pierre was really impressive. He was to be commended for coming to the bands assistance so late in the touring plan and for getting all his melodies in order for the bands audience. This would be the second and final night of the bands brief US visit. They played over the past weekend at the popular Prog event NEAR Fest but after the amps went off in New York City this band would go away for a little while. My favorites from the night came by way of “Free Hand”, “Giant” and “In A Glass House” since I had some more knowledge on those than most of the rest. It was okay by me since that let me absorb all that the band was about a little differently than I am able to usually. Truly one cannot be the expert of every band and every genre out there. It’s just impossible but if you are such a person perhaps we shall see you on Jeopardy.
The gig ended with the audience on their feet and the band accepting this much deserved attention. Although this was not packed to the very doorway there were only a couple of tables empty to speak of. One had to wonder if many of the audience around us had also attended NEAR Fest but if some folks passed on the NYC based on that they were clearly at a loss since this place gives off such a different vibe. I know the band mingled about with the fans a little afterward which was nice to see but I wasn’t sure if the bands former singer Derek Shulman was among the crowd tonight. Having seen him at shows in the past I glanced around the venue to see if he was around somewhere but alas he did not appear to be. I am sure that his presence would have been like Paul Stanley coming out to an Ace Frehley gig which means there would have been quite a stir wherever he ended up. There is also a chance that he doesn’t support the project at all and if this is the case I have only one response – Gentle Giant reunion/fare thee well tour. It’s as simple as that.
All in all this was a great time and as mentioned an education in material that I didn’t know enough about. This was also my third time in the B.B. King’s venue in a matter of four days. Tomorrow would be my fourth visit as Uriah Heep was paying the city that never sleeps a visit. Stay tuned.
Kenny Forgione Set List:
1. Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
2. Blood On The Rooftops
3. Suppers Ready
Three Friends Set List:
2. Three Friends
3. Playing The Game
4. The Advent of Panurge
5. Empty City
6. Just The Same
7. Pantagruel’s Nativity
8. I Lost My Head
10. The Boys In The Band
11. His Last Voyage
12. In A Glass House
14. Mister Class & Quality
15. Free Hand
I always love when I get to see a band perform at a particular club for the very first time. That being said, here is the bright marquee from B.B. King’s as it aims to draw more Progressive’s into the room. Of course I am speaking of those with Progressive as their musical mind and nothing else.
My colleagues and I were afforded some time with the band backstage at the venue and were kind enough to let me snap these moments for all the rest of the world to enjoy. Here’s a nice group shot.
We didn’t know where bassist Gary had stepped off to when this shot was taken but were happy to get their fill in singer Pierre Bordeleau, Malcolm Mortimore (drums), Gary Green (guitar) and John Davidson (keyboards) in the shot.
This next one gets most of the Three Friends along with openers Kenny Forgione and his band.
Once again we were missing Gary the bassist but we stuck our buddy Pete Pardo from the Sea Of Tranquility website in there for good measure. Thanks to his influence I know just a little bit more about the music of Gentle Giant.
Here’s our second to last shot of the guys before it was time to deliver the Progressive goodness to the masses. Yes Gary, I will put the camera away now LOL.
This just reminded me of something I would see when looking at Keith Richards guitar but I am sure many more do it. I couldn’t resist snapping this before getting back out among the crowd to enjoy the show. We’ve assembled a healthy number of Gentle Giant releases for you to peruse on Amazon.com so click around the widget below and expand your musical mind.