Beyond The Curtain: Live at ProgStock by Joe Deninzon & StratospheeriusRelease date: May 19, 2023
Label: Melodic Revolution Records
This 2-CD/1-DVD/1-Blu-Ray set consists of two live performances Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius performances at ProgStock. The band did two shows at the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway, New Jersey. One on October 13, 2019, and October 2, 2021. That’s two hours of an amazing show these guys put together at the festival to bring the house down at the performing arts centre.
For nearly 23 years, Stratospheerius has had various line-up changes and released three studio albums from 2007 to 2012, four singles from 2019 to 2021, and one live album in 2004. The name came from Joe himself when he released his solo album The Adventures of Stratospheerius in 1998. When you hear a title like that, you think of; DC, Dark Horse, or Marvel. But Stratospheerius catches you, very quickly.
For Joe, it is like capturing lightning in a bottle. And it fits very well. The ProgStock festival for those two shows, gives you a front seat to witness the band at their best. And with guests including Alex Skolnick and Rachel Flowers, it’s very much like a family, coming together as one.
Alongside Deninzon, guitarist Michelangelo Quirinale, bassist Paul Ranieri, and drummer Jason Gianni, they’re a band of brothers, bringing the house down in Rahway. For example on ‘Impostor’ Joe is on fire, playing like Curved Air’s Darryl Way, Mahavishnu’s Jerry Goodman, and Jean-Luc Ponty on his 7-string Viper.
You see Ranieri and Quirinale, playing cat-and-mouse between each other as Joe’s soulful vocal lines, are going up the ladder, nonstop. It’s a fast-speeding adventure, and going around the country with some intensive time changes before laying down the wah-wah funk to set up a challenge they’re bringing, front and centre.
And once Joe turns up the metallic tone on his viper, you know that he’s turning his instrument into a shrieking monster, raising hell like no other! The covers between King Crimson’s ‘Frame by Frame’ and Muse’s ‘Hysteria’, he adds his own spin to the two gems, honouring the classics with the Stratospheerius touch.\
He makes sure that both Robert Fripp and Matt Bellamy are being honoured. Not only that, but he hopes that he has given them, his stamp of approval. With Crimson, you can feel the spirit of Adrian Belew in his vocal range by raising up those heat levels to maximum. And with Muse’s golden years from Absolution.
He takes those two songs by adding that fission, energetic roller-coaster rides, and wah-wah’s in all of its glory! When the wah-wah’s hit, they are revving their engines up. That and the subject of corruption coming out of Earth’s rusted core, it reveals the dark side of greed in a Clockwork Orange fashion of the Ludovico technique on ‘Cognitive Dissonance’. Followed by the singer-songwriter funky grooves, channeling the Asylum years in the ‘70s as they channel West-Coast arrangements, combining the sounds of the Doobie Brothers, and the Marshall Tucker Band with ‘Climbing’.
But once keyboardist Rachel Flowers comes in, the audience welcomes her with the dooming turned sombering composition for the ‘Storm Surge’ to approach, it details what everyone was going through during the pandemic that occurred three years ago when the whole world came to a screeching halt.
It’s not just a powerful tune, but Joe pours her heart out in the song. You feel the characterisations of being trapped in your own house during those tricky times. Losing your cool due to cabin fever, trying to break free from being cooped up, there comes a moment where you want to break free and see what’s happening in the outside world.
I also love how they pay homage to Jim Croce in the midsection as if they made a sequel to ‘Time in a Bottle’ before erupting into a massive blaze of glory. But then as Alex Skolnick comes on stage, paying tribute to Chick Corea on the 13-minute piece ‘Spain’, you feel the chemistry between these three musicians.
The combination of Flowers, Deninzon, and Skolnick, it’s what the quote from the incredible movie of Coppola’s 1972 classic, The Godfather once said, “An offer you can’t refuse”.
Now close your eyes and imagine yourself being in South America as the trio lay down some bossa-nova grooves in the heart of Brazil, dancing in the hot-levelling sun across the heat wave. They blend well taking turns in their improvisations while Flowers is filled with joy and happiness. And you can feel that she is accepted at ProgStock with open arms.
As Flowers exits, Skolnick comes back with his electric guitar, and goes for the ‘Heavy Shtettle’. And boy does Alex go full throttle on his Les Paul, creating the middle-eastern themes as if he’s taking us to the heartland of Egypt with some incredible fret work, channeling Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin, Randy Rhoads, and Alex Lifeson.
The rhythm section follows him in hot pursuit, as if they were doing a score to one of the Fleischer Superman shorts from 1942, Terror on the Midway. And if you can imagine that in a parallel universe for Stratospheerius doing a score for Max Fleischer, it would be a match made in heaven.
All in all, the live recording at ProgStock makes it worth the demand to imagine yourself being at that venue, supporting Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius as they bring real good music to our very own living rooms.