2nd Street 2022
Cerebral entertainment not tainted by needless seriousness of career-spanning observations brings cathartic smile to art-rock maven’s face – and the faces of prog aficionados, too.
Performing on stage has always been one of Robert Berry‘s fortes – only seeing the veteran in concert turned into a rare pleasure not a lot of his followers had the privilege of experiencing in the recent years, and having the pleasure of meeting a receptive audience turned into a rare experience for him too, which is why the 2019 New Jersey festival appearance preserved for posterity on two CDs and DVD captures the American artist in rare form: playing, singing and conversing to reveal his innermost feelings and reveal the stories behind his songs. What transpires as a result of such an approach feels quite intimate for a prog tour de force delivered in a rather muscular, if colorful and finely textured, manner with the help of the scene stalwarts, despite the infectious pomp and circumstance of “Life Beyond L.A.” and a part of “Karn Evil 9” that, respectively, open and close this recording, signposting Berry’s solo path and Robert’s link to the progenitors of his chosen genre. However, his quartet are in no way restricted by any stylistic framework – instead, they feel free to apply rock riffs and pop passages even to familiar fare, let alone their leader’s own pieces.
Of course, all this doesn’t get in the way of his stylish looks – red shirt and red shoes contrasting black suit and black bass – and his flair as a robust vocalist and instrumentalist who, after not touring for three decades, is raring to share his music with the public and is sure new renditions of old numbers – like the romantic ballad-to-wallop “Last Ride Into The Sun” or the stunning, funky “No One Else To Blame” he cowrote with Steve Howe and prefaces with flamenco-esque strum here – will elicit a warm response from those who forgot about “Pilgrimage To A Point” released under Berry’s name, as opposed to the likes of “Desde La Vida” that Robert laid down with 3 in the company of Carl Palmer and Keith Emerson to drive to delirious grandeur now thanks to Andrew Colyer’s histrionic ivories and Jimmy Keegan’s stentorian tom toms. The foursome’s interplay fills the live takes on the fantastically bombastic “Somebody’s Watching” and “Powerful Man” from 3.2’s "The Rules Have Changed" with vibrant vivacity and covers of classics Berry used to produce in the ’90s for tributes to his progressive predecessors – “Minstrel In The Gallery” or “Watcher Of The Skies” which are given exquisite sheen and shimmer – with spirited freshness, especially when Paul Keller’s six strings unleash a flurry of flying figures.
Robert is left alone with his black acoustic guitar for the tremulous “You Do Or You Don’t” but it’s collective attack that balances the impressive dynamics of “Talkin’ Bout” and “Eight Miles High” where Coyler’s keytar joins in the fun before “Fanfare For The Common Man” is touched upon, and the Keegan-voiced “Deck The Halls” from Berry’s Yuletide repertoire is provided with a heavy veneer and Keller’s filigree. Albums artwork projected over the backdrop may pinpoint every track’s provenance, yet there’s a sense of wholeness to this show: a perfect conceptual envelope for performances of a lifetime where a footnote to other artists’ history has finally written a history of his own.