HEAVENS CAFE' LIVE
A Rock Opera by John Miner
Art Rock Circus
Live from Las Vegas
The Dark Part 1
Heaven's Cafe' Live
Las Vegas Reviews
Original Rock Opera
Las Vegas Premiere
Surreal Blend of Rock & Theater
Original Rock Opera
HEAVENS CAFE' LIVE [USA]
Updated 9/21/00 Discography ART ROCK CIRCUS (00) Reviews
LIVE THEATER AND ROCK OPERA
After hearing the studio version of this concept rock opera about reincarnation, I became astounded by the improvements and the professionalism on this live version. Although it's exactly the same songs on this live album, everything, and I mean everything, is much better here. The musicians is far better (especially the drummer), the vocals of the cast is far better, and even the dynamic in the production, the balance between vocals/instruments and between the instruments is much better. Strange! How come? After reading the sleeve notes I got the explanation. Almost every musician and vocalist is different from the studio release. Thank god! John Miner's songwriting is too good to be destroyed by bad musicians. The music is classic progressive art rock with reminiscences to Gong, Marillion, Pink Floyd and Yes. The sadness, due to the low quality, I felt after hearing the studio album is completely blown away by this amazing live performance. It's recorded live as a Rock Opera at the Flamingo Theater of Performing Arts. After hearing this album I wish I had been in the audience that night! Highly recommended! -Reviewed by Greger Rönnqvist-
LIVE THEATER AND ROCK OPERA
If your thing is symphonic prog, ambient, electro-prog, or anything associated with keyboards, you might as well stop here. That's not what John Miner and the Art Rock Circus is all about. This is ostensibly Rock-n-Roll in the most visceral sense, guitar bass and drums. A casual listening might cause you to toss this in the "standard music" pile. But there's a catch ... the Art Rock Circus steps out of the mold with some strange twists which put this music squarely into Art Rock genre, and with many parts which can only be described as Progressive.
The Art Rock Circus are a group of performers who gathered to perform the rock opera Heaven's Café as a theatrical production in Las Vegas. I'm not sure if the name refers to just the band or also includes the dancers and other performers. But the members are fluid, John says it's like a real circus where performers come and go. The ringmaster of this circus is guitarist John Miner, who composes the songs and most of the lyrics.
There's hardly a song on Heaven's Café that's in 4/4 time, John prefers 5's, 7's, 11's and more intricate structures. In addition, John is tired of the standard guitar tunings, and has invented several alternates of his own. He uses a doubleneck guitar which allows him to switch back and forth between alternate tunings and standard when playing live, or between two different alternate tunings. The impression this gives is sometimes like the guitar is a bit out of tune, but he can also play chords virtually impossible to finger with a standard-tuned guitar.
Heaven's Café is a Rock Opera in the epic sense, and it's written to be performed rather than just listened to on a CD. The stage production was full of actors, special effects and dancers ... one can only imagine how they felt trying to dance to a piece written in 11/8. To be honest, the live CD's sound quality is, shall we say, less than the most slick production you've ever heard. In spite of that, Heaven's Café Live is much more interesting than the studio version. Heaven's Café is the studio version, which is basically a sketch in charcoals of the finished piece performed in a Las Vegas theater. The live recording captures the performance of Nov. 22, 1998.
The sound quality and texture harks back to The Who's original Tommy, or the stage version of the Rocky Horror Show (not the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was the movie). But the closest comparison to Heaven's Café Live would be Continental Circus or Camembert Electrique-era Gong. This is especially true of the cuts "Classical Man", "Labyrinth" and "Again". Also, "The Dark" is almost exactly the same as "Wurm" from Yes' The Yes Album. Not that this is a bad thing ... I do think it's really a case of parallel development, not a rip-off.
A Passage to Clear is subtitled (a story album). Not a rock opera in the sense of individual characters singing their parts, but a story told partially in lyrics and partially in the sleeve liner notes. Oddly, this album is arguably even more progressive than the Heaven's Café albums and will probably be more rejected by the "progressive rock community" simply because it doesn't fit comfortably into any of the traditional "prog rock" genres. Miner is once again going his own way and not trying to be symphonic at all. The pieces all feature guitar as their main instrument (acoustic, some distorted electric and lots of clean electric), and Miner's oddball chord progressions and odd meters (he seems to like 13's for this album, one song organized in phrases of 7 followed by 6 beats per measure, and another 8 and 5). The other main "instrument" for this album are the two female vocalists Karyn Anderson and Karen Rene'e who sing very professionally, but not in a terribly progressive sort of way.
The closest analogy I can draw for you to visualize (audialize?) what this music is like is to say it's what you might hear in a coffee bar where everyone is drinking expresso, smoking cigarettes and wearing berets, listening intently to the band and occasionally commenting, "that's really deep, man" to each other. I can also once again draw comparisons to Continental Circus or Camembert Electrique-era Gong, which I am frequently reminded of when I listen to this. The combination of the guitar sounds, the sax playing and the ethereal female singers somehow create this effect. I also must say, however, that Pip Pyle sounded very comfortable playing in these odd meters with Gong, but Miner's drummer Devon Lesback sounds like he would rather be playing in 4/4.
My advice: Try out Heaven's Café Live first. If this is to your liking, then you should enjoy A Passage to Clear as well. If you just loved Heaven's Café Live and want to see how it evolved, then check out Heaven's Café last. -- Fred Trafton
Music Street Journal (Israel)
What if a bunch of prog rockers decided to write and perform a Broadway musical? That is essentially what we have here. The music is definitely progressive rock, but the show tune sensibilities are marked all over this material. The rock influences range from Spock's Beard to Styx to Flower Kings all the way to The Who, but the musical sort of structure is ever present. This makes for an unusual and intriguing CD that should be of interest to most fans of prog.
Track by Track Review
Last Smile Sunshine: Feeling like a progressive rock take on a Broadway show tune, this cut is a solid prog jam and sets the tone for the whole album.
Astralography: This one comes in a bit more straightforward in its rocking style. It feels quite a bit like Styx trying to do a Broadway show tune. The guitar work on this track is particularly strong.
Heaven's Caf�: With a good rock and roll basis, this one is pretty straightforward, almost generic.
Never Alone: This is another fairly generic composition.
Classical Man: This cut feels a bit like a psychedelically tinged hard edged Spock's Beard. It evolves into a killer spacey jam after a time.
Labyrinth: Starting with bass, the cut begins a gradual building process. It is a rather strange one. It dissolves into near chaos at times, then turns into a very psychedelic progish space rock jam.
Tower of Information: Beginning in a sedate prog mode, based on piano and acoustic guitar, this one begins slowly growing from there. It feels quite a bit like something from Spock's Beard or Flower Kings, but with a stage musical sort of beat to it.
Again: With an almost funky The Who sort of texture, this is a brief cut.
Flowing Home: Another short one, this piece is a pretty rock and roll oriented number.
The Dark: This one is actually a bit of a suite, being composed of several distinct segments. This first part starts off in a Spock's Beard sort of mode, then starts building in a slow process. This section is brief and sans vocals, but it has some strong prog tendencies. The next movement/song in the suite begins a gradual ramping in intensity and carries the cut through with power and style.
Robins' Lullaby: This number is a brief and fairly pretty classically oriented balladThe Music Street Journal USA
PROGRESSION MAGAZINE INTERVIEW
Quarterly Journal of Progressive Music
Hanging out at HEAVENS CAFE'
Progressive Rock meets musical theater in the fertile imagination of John Miner
By John Collinge, Progression Editor
John Miner is a rugged individualist in the classic American sense, a survival trait common to the progressive rock rank and file. He has already written, produced, directed and performed in a critically acclaimed musical theater production in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, "Heavens Cafe'", co founded the Vegas based Tributary Music Label and plays in his own prog band, Art Rock Circus.
"I basically like having control of my own thing" says Miner who's real estate dabbling allow the freedom to have such independence.
Honing his chops and progressive orientation with California band Mantra Sunrise, Miner found a generous benefactor in Mike Lewis, who initially bankrolled Tributary and helped the innovative musician bring his ambitious dream to the theatrical stage. Six years after it's debut in Las Vegas and a longer run in Los Angeles the allegorical Heavens Cafe' still has legs. A leap to the silver screen could be next as a live album of songs from the Vegas stage production continues to sell quite well. With Las Vegas being fertile ground for the performing arts, Miner needn't go far to flesh out his various projects". I just find the best smoking players I can to come in and do the session work," he says.
And meanwhile, the Art Rock Circus band has found a niche in the region's bustling music community. "When we play we have a healthy following not far off the jam band crowd, although we are not "jam band" per se, but we are complex, interesting and different, and there are always people who like and appreciate that".
In the following interview Miner explains among other things, why an otherwise sane person would apply progressive rock to musical theater:
Progression: You have a pretty interesting family background in the arts, which apparently had a big influence on you. Please tell us about it.
Miner: " I come from a family of artists and musicians. My mother has her own art gallery in Sedona AZ and my sister is a well known batikist and designer, she has traveled extensively and many of her pieces are now in museums. My father was involved heavily in musical theater when I was a child, so I was around theater a lot as a kid. I think that had a big effect on me as far as theatrical influence. Both my parents were always supportive of free thinking and not necessarily going along with the masses or the general consensus of the population....always supportive of doing you own thing, sort of a 70's paradigm I suppose. I also played a lot of golf when I was young and went to University on a golf scholarship. Golf took me a lot of places and allowed me time to do other things as well. I started golf a age 4 and guitar at age 8. By the time I was in my mid twenties I had been playing guitar almost 20 years! I was getting pretty good on the instrument. I have always enjoyed dabbling in alternative tunings which even to this day still fascinate me. Before that, I always felt I sounded too much like someone else. With the tunings it was like opening a doorway to a whole new sound and approach and I came to realize I was developing a unique sound on the guitar.
Progression:: What was your beginning orientation toward progressive music?
Miner: Yeah, I started working with different or "alternative" tunings and found an area to work in that was relatively fresh and certainly exciting to me, like uncharted waters really. I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, stuff like that. I think somewhere along the way I was turned on to some of the more progressive bands or better know ones and then found out about many other ones from that golden age. What separated the progressive bands from the standard rock fair were the rhythm sections, what was happening there I found much more interesting and exciting. The use of odd metering and polyrhythmic structuring and of course the dynamic of it all. It seemed quite clear to me that from an artistic standpoint music must go there in that direction and more specifically into the world of odd metering and such. So much music is written in 4/4 time, and I thought, why are other meters not getting equal exposure? There is no reason you cannot bring in strong memorable melodic lines into other meters. I found that idea to me a new challenge. I had dinner with Yes drummer Alan White and we talked about this concept and agreed that the challenge is to write melodically in odd time. That is one of the distinguishing differences of progressive music. When I think of examples of this kind of thing in musical theater the first thing that comes to mind is the Jesus Christ Superstar tune, "Everything's All Right" : That's in 5/4 yet very melodic. It's a wonderful song. So you have to ask, why are songwriters neglecting odd meters? Progressive artists are working in those meters some but still not enough yet. My point is that over the longer course of time, say a few hundred years, inevitably will lead to this sort of thing.
Progression::Before becoming involved with Heavens Cafe', what bands were you part of?
Miner:The first band I put together was called Mantra Sunrise in the early to mid 90's around central California. We were a three piece band, myself, Joel Bissing on bass and vocals and Wayne Garabedian. Joel was very, very talented both as a player and writer, and all three of us were like minded as far as the desire to explore music more progressively than what was typically going on at the time. We were a good band and sold well and very strong live. Being active around the grunge scene was a challenge as we would bring flutes and violins on-stage with guest features and such and played a much more dynamic set than what people were commonly used to. At first I figured our audience would be older and more "sophisticated"...and we did have those ...but for the most part we were attracting a younger set, lots of 15 year old girls with nose rings. They were attracted to the almost gothic quality Joel had in his voice I believe. We had major labels starting to court us soon after we finished our self titled debut album. One record industry exec told me it was his favorite album to have sex to! But they just had a hard time to place us marketing wise in that current scene. I think Def American or Sony were giving the most attention. We were doing 20 minute "art rock" pieces with odd meters and dark tunings, in a way looking back, similar to Zeppelin circa Physical Graffiti era stuff, when they were dabbling with progressive rock...but us with a more contemporary vocal approach.
Progression::So what spelled the end for a band showing so much promise?
Miner:We were the hottest band around at that time drawing 200 to 300 people a show. We would typically sell out our CDs and every gig, which was pretty good money for us at the time, We didn't venture too far, staying mostly in central or northern California. We were based out of Fresno which proudly had a pretty hot little scene going on at the time which of course we were very much a part of. To answer your question we started working on a second album and with Joel leaving for an art scholarship to Seattle, too much alcohol and drugs and all that just got in the way, typical rock fan fair, both we were all very moody and difficult, the drummer quit..you get the idea! I did however really like working in a three piece band. It's unanimous or it's odd man out. I don't like four piece bands with two on two taking sides.
Progression::So what lured you to Las Vegas?
Miner:I met a private investor (Mike Lewis) in Vegas who loved my work in Mantra Sunrise and the new stuff I was working on. We came up with the idea of starting a record label. He threw some money at it and we got it off the ground. That was the basis of Tributary which Mike coined, off the mainstream! We founded it in 1996. The Mantra Sunrise album was released on Tributary in 2000. My new project Art Rock Circus, Saunders and Syroid, a local disc "Live at Wilson's" were all shaping the label at that time. Eight bands in a little experimental scene that was trying to flourish. We do have our own recording facility but the logistics of getting far away bands out here to do a record here is not so easy. I would like to do that, and much more a possibility these days with the moderate success of the label.
Progression::How did the Heavens Cafe' concept evolve? Moving from being in a band to developing a full blown theatrical production is no small feat!
Miner:"Well, there was a theater connection out there, and interest in putting on the rock opera, and Mike and I got involved of and before long we had put together the whole plan to make it happen for real. Most of the Material for the music was left over stuff from the Mantra Sunrise era, and of course some new ideas. I was always into concept albums growing up. If I'm in a car and driving for 5 hours I have time to listen to a concept album. I don't have a problem with putting my mind on something for an hour or longer and letting it take me away. Sometimes I do think progressive rock artist do have "attention deficit disorder. Techo music is really the opposite of that. The music of progressive compositions is changing so much from moment to moment, I guess we just can't stay on one idea for too long or we get bored! ADD....I think it is a good thing...certainly I have a case of it! I don't like to stay on one musical idea for too long! But getting back to Heavens Cafe'...I was working on it towards the tail end of Mantra Sunrise and with Mike and Christine's help we started putting together this team of individuals around here to bring it to life. Charis Wallace had just choreographed Jesus Christ Superstar in New York, and Christine Keppel was involved with the Follies Bergere show here in Vegas at the Tropicana Hotel. I knew Christine from the local art scene and then she found Charis. Christine was instrumental in pulling together the right people in the dance world. The dancers were very important to the show, both with modern and jazz background. You know...we have a lot of talented people here in Vegas doing the most mundane, horribly trite stuff just to get work. This gave some of them an opportunity not often found out on the strip, something really creative and I think it was greatly appreciated.
Progression::How extensive was the production and where was it staged?
Miner:It involved about 35 people, twelve dancers, four musicians, two choreographers and assistants, six tech people, seven or eight actors or singers, and of course foot people hitting the streets promotion the show. Some of dancers and cast were from shows like Siegfried and Roy, artists doing it on the side or moonlighting it. For sure an art thing really, but we still paid everyone as well...I really believe in doing that...you just get more professionalism if you do. We did six performances at the Flamingo Theater and then later at the Charleston Performing Arts Center, 1997 and 1998.
Progression::What is the play's storyline?
Miner:Basically there is this hedonistic pleasure seeker, a typical Vegas lounge lizard type guy named "Classical Man" He dies and his death is sort of open to interpretation, very nonspecific. He is escorted to this place called Heavens Cafe' where he meet four aspects of his own personality-who he just was "Classical Man" who he is now "Lark", the potential of what he can become "Robin" and the alter ego, a non sexual entity named Kral, the comic relief of the show. Lark is in a state of confusion, bewilderment. His guardian angel is there too. Essentially, the angel says she is tired of seeing the same mistakes being made over and over, hoping Lark will get his soul's evolution to the next level. There is also a "western" style God passing judgment on his past life- either go on and get past that and move on or he'll end up being reincarnated back on Earth. There is quite a bit of humor in the show to keep it entertaining on a surface level, but if you look into it there are a lot of deeper metaphysical principles at work here as well. While at Heavens Cafe' he also meets one of his possible potentials, in this case a 60's style hippie chick named Robin who he finds rather attractive and a bit more spiritually sophisticated, then ends up falling in love, searching for her in his inner mind labyrinth, fails the test from the Tower of Information and finally unites with her near the end ....then travels back to earth in the mother womb to become the baby Robin. Simple enough right? lol! I am sure it all sounds a bit complicated but quite appropriate for progressive rock! Each song is a progression of the story involving all these different characters. It really does open up and allow for a lot of creativity for the musicians and dancers. Nearly the whole thing is in odd meters and polyrhythmic structures and the like, even some meterless music as well. The choreography was having fits until I explained the time signatures to her. These young dancers had never done anything like this before, day dancing in 11/8, 7/8 or 5/4. It was very challenging for them. After the shows some of these dancers would come up to me and thank me for giving them the opportunity to be involved in something so different and creative. Most of them were into hip hop stuff like that. It was very touching and just goes to show that much of what people like is really just what there exposed to. So in a way this was one of the best ways for progressive rock to find a new audience.
Progression::I suppose it's safe to assume they were never exposed to this kind of music before, at least in the context of performance.
Miner:Absolutely, kind of progressive rock in disguise! Many of the people who would come to the shows were really more"theater people". It certainly has an appeal to more of a mass audience than some of the stuff I have done before and since...yet to me it is some of the strangest material I have written. We have moved more CD's of Heavens Cafe' Live than any other disc on the label, and in a way to an unexpecting audience. Maybe 6000 discs.
Progression::Selling 6000 discs is pretty impressive.
Miner:Many sold through the internet, it caught on some in the progressive world and in the theater world.
Progression::Why only six performances?
Miner:Funding really- it costs a lot to pull it off correctly. There were scheduling problems too with the theaters. We did six in Vegas and 18 in Los Angeles with the Insurgo Theater Group in 2003. So there were about 24 all together. Not bad really. I am sure we will do more performances in the future. I have just been working on other things for right now. It is fun to revisit from time to time. but it is a complex undertaking. I started to call it Headache Cafe' after a while! lol!
Progression::What did you like most and least about Heavens Cafe"
Miner:Getting on stage and getting it done correctly. When that happens it is just a great feeling. So many things have to click. Some of the early shows had horrific technical problems- wireless mikes picking up interference from taxi cabs, bad lighting cues, etc....we would never seem to get enough tech rehearsal. But when we finally nailed it, it felt triumphant. The least fun was dealing with all the red tape, and I mean mountains of it. When we did the Charleston Arts Center, we were the first "rock" anything to ever perform in there. These stuffy theater people just couldn't get over the word "rock" having anything to do with culture. I had to explain that we had this choreographer from NYC and all these pro dancers from big shows on the strip like Siegfried and Roy and all that. Good art is always pushing to edge I suppose, and we had a really tough time getting dates nailed down with all their rules and regulations. I remember the day before opening night there was some tech geek with a decibel meter, saying we were too loud and in violation of OSHA standards. I am thinking, what a bunch of crap when you have bands like Megadeath playing down the street at the Hard Rock. It was just Gestapo madness!
Progression::What is the big difference between gigging in a band and doing a theater show?
Miner:Well for one thing, in the theater, the band is not the center of attention- it's the actors, and that of course is how it should be. but being a part of the whole thing is just amazing because of that. Most band connect with themselves and then with the audience, but in the theater there are actors and vocalists and dancers and a choreographer and someone directing the overall vision, and of course all the behind the scenes people- make up artists, set designers, and lighting designers. It's not just standard rock fair with blinking lights and all that. Everything has a purpose that supports the higher cause. Everything is more thought out. We could do this interview and talk about just anyone of the aspects, for example say the lighting and design. It is all so important.
Progression::The kind of music you do seems to work well for theater.
Miner: Yeah, I suppose so. If one experiments a lot and is open to it, things can start sounding very theatrical. I like to experiment.
Progression::What is your definition of progressive rock?
To me it is simple. The fusion of classical music and rock, and course a million and one spin offs, but that is what is basically is. Now as a guitarist, I am into two things mostly, as mentioned earlier, alternative tunings and odd meters. Not that this hasn't been done before, but I think there is still a lot of uncharted waters there, and that being the vast ocean I choose to swim in. I am sure you will here a lot of things in my playing, and classical is one of them, but I don't nicely into any a category and even with the progressive rock thing, but that is the easiest place most people put me. I don't always relate to gymnastic soloing and whirling keyboards as much of the genre seems to identify itself with. But I do love odd meters, and polyrhythms, long conceptual pieces, so here I am! But as in classical music the bigger picture is always more important than and of the pieces that make it up. I think that is why I love the theater, and classical. So in that sense I am very much progressive rock...but I would rather be a small part of something great than a great part of something small.
Progression::What other projects are you involved with?
Miner:Well the rock trio that did Heavens Cafe' is my band Art Rock Circus. We release another recording called "A Passage to Clear". Next up is a double CD set called "Tell a Vision" 86 minutes of progressive rock type stuff, very 70's sounding and a really big undertaking which we just finished recording over the last three years. I think it is no doubt my best work to date. We also have a lot of film footage from Heavens Cafe' so I think a DVD of that is in the can down the road as well. Maybe a few years away. I am also doing some extensive guitar work on Ken Jaquess's album "Book of the Dead" with his K2 project. It's going to be a really interesting album with Shaun Guerin, Allan Holdsworth and Ryo Okumoto.
Progression::Any other long term goals as far as music?
Miner:To be prolific, and constantly developing artistically, as a musician, artist, song crafter, producer and engineer. That should keep me pretty busy , don't you think?
Progression: Thanks John!
A sentence or two describing this item.
Art Rock Circus: Heaven's Café Live
Art Rock Circus is a performance rock band headed by guitarist John Miner. Some of you may know him as the other guest guitarist on K2's new CD Book of the Dead. Heaven's Café Live is a rock opera performed and captured during six weeks of shows in Los Angeles. The troup includes six singers, guitar (Miner), bass (Jon Cornell), drums (Jon Weisberg), and violin (Melanie Grimmett).
There is no mistaking the "live" sound of this. At points it reminds me of a recorded high-school play with the interjection of the brief dialogue that introduces the song. And as sad as that is, what I most take away is the amateurish production of this release. Minor is a fabulous guitarist and the singing of Todd Ashmore and Miche' are excellent. But although this might make a good DVD, it is hard to get into this CD's show-tunes formula.
It should be noted that originally the bass lines were played by Ken Jqaquess and Cornell does an excellent job of filling those really large shoes. I have not heard the studio release of Heaven's Café but this CD peaked my interest enough to try and seek it out.
I would recommend this to any fan that has seen the live performance and wants a really good memory captured on CD. Otherwise I think for most, Heaven's Café Live will not hold the attention enough to get many spins on the CD changer. The production just doesn't enhance the performances.
1. Last Smile Sunshine (3:07)
2. Astralography (3:41)
3. Heaven's Café (4:08)
4. Never Alone (4:23)
5. Classical Man (4:13)
6. Labyrinth (7:12)
7. Tower Of Information (7:58)
8. Again (1:44)
9. Flowing Home (1:40)
10. The Dark (6:12)
11. Robins' Lullaby (1:41)
Added: July 18th 2005
Reviewer: Steve Ambrosius
A sentence or two describing this item.
"HEAVENS CAFE' LIVE"- LOS ANGELES
Miner is a smoking composer and his psychedelic progressive guitar stylings are wickedly good. This is definitely music to blow a few trillion brain cells to...OC Weekly
Miner's music is wonderfully original...like a rock music fantasia! ...Orange County Register
A psychedelic masterpiece with a soundtrack that may leave you plastered to your theater chair for eternity. The director offers up a magic carpet ride that takes you far away from the comforts and constraints of our everyday lives...an hour and a half of mind blowing rock and roll cosmic mayhem! It's been a long time since a writer and director have teamed up and delivered such a unique and compelling vision in the theater arts! ...American Theater Web
Prepare yourself for something different!...Wall Four
The music is awesome, the cast; enthusiatic and talented.. a very ambitious Rock opera...OC Weekly
Live In Los Angeles
The Original Live Performance
On Stage Look
Stolz, Miner, Jaquess