During their late-seventies heyday, Italian progressive-rock band Goblin never once toured the States or had a properly promoted US release. For the longest time, they remained the sole property of horror-movie buffs that were also heavy-duty record collectors, the kind of people that can start a conversation on the topic of “Italian prog” and expect at least some muttering and knowing nods in return. That the band are now able to play in the States and have LOTS of those people show up, speaks to the power of personal longevity in the internet age: if you can stay alive long enough, enough people interested in your obscure corner of the world may eventually find you, and when they do, treat you like the rock stars you always, secretly, were.
And as the Fonda show proved, not only have the band – in this touring incarnation, 4/5 of the classic lineup, minus founding keyboardist Claudio Simonetti – remained alive, they’ve remained monster players. Prog is no place for slouches, Italian prog even less so, or so I’m led to believe. Unfamiliar with most of the band’s catalog before my arrival, aside from having seen some of the Dario Argento movies they did soundtracks for, I found the whole thing totally captivating.
The rhythm section of Agostino Marangolo on drums and Fabio Pignatelli on bass was a rare treat to see, with jaws dropping before the first track had finished. This is music that requires, and celebrates, its skillful players, but the busy playing never feels gratuitous. It’s just the kind of playing that the compositions require. The mixed-up math in their rhythms and the harrowing speed at which they sometimes play them is necessary for the tension they achieve, and that skill lets them play in a space where very few other bands are capable of going. More than most, this show left me feeling I was in the presence of masters.
As expected, there were a lot of movie themes played at length, accompanied by loops projected on the screen above the stage, but my more knowledgeable friends informed me that some of my favorite moments were deep-album tracks, including the intoxicating “Mad Puppet.” The last few years have seen a spate of live appearances, which appear to have led to a split in late 2013, creating a situation in which Simonetti will be touring with his own rendition of Goblin (coming to the Roxy on July 25). It’s a bit overwhelming, after so many years of silence, to be faced with a situation where different factions are competing for our attention. But, that’s what happens when Italian Prog discovers pent-up demand.
Fort Worth duo Pinkish Black opened the show with a pretty appropriate opening set for an obscure-prog crowd, with thundering Bonham-esque drums under deep, moody banks of synthesizers. The Music Box is a tricky venue for sound, and theirs was booming and murky while the headliner was razor-sharp. But there was a winning gift for melody in there, and as on passerby commented, “once they said they were from Fort Worth, it all made sense.” Long live Texas Psych, and Italian Prog too.