It is Amplifier who have the role to be the first headliner to the newly instated Progressive Rock stage at this year’s Desertfest, held at the Jazz Café. Last year’s “Mystoria” album made my ‘best of’ list and I am quietly looking forward to seeing them since I last saw their appearance at the now defunct High Voltage Festival several years ago. It’s quite a bizarre scenario seeing the band soundcheck directly prior to starting their set as the venue fills up. Sel Belamir wittingly says “We’ve already started” as they give directions to the soundman. But you sense a slight nervousness from them, which would normally take place backstage, and probably not helped by this odd situation they find themselves in.
All smartly dressed in black, so the Jazz Café may be a fitting venue after all then, AND with no fanfare they head straight into their set as people still find their spaces. A large chunk of the set is provided from their “Mystoria” album, and they are definitely here to rock. ‘Named After Rocky’ gets the heads nodding and when they play the glorious ‘OMG’ you sense they are really hitting their stride. It becomes a two-way circle between the band, who become a bit looser and start enjoying the show, and the now vastly appreciative audience as we become captivated by just how bloody good they are.
They combine the meaty, heavy riffs of Soundgarden with the intricate playing and subtleties of Rush; this is in evidence with a staggering heavy version of ‘Black Rainbow’ and the sublime ‘Open up’, but what really comes across is a band at the peak of their powers with a masterful display of stage presence. Sel moves with such grace and occasional bursts of jerkiness, and this growing confidence and enjoyment sees him join us in the crowd while we in turn allow him the room to continue his… er… thing. By the time we get to the stunning version of ‘Interstellar’ I am, and have been for some time, completely lost in their musical powers.
Amplifier has finished the Prog Rock Stage day with an immense and triumphant performance. Proof that prog can, if there were any doubts, indeed rock. I shall give the final word to a guy standing near to me who, as we are left breathless while the band departs the stage, lets out – mainly to himself and probably still caught up in the moment so fails to hear my total agreement – “Incredible”.