1. Behind the Curtain 4:08
2. Release 5:48
3. Impostor! 8:20
4. Frame by Frame 5:54
5. Climbing 5:24
6. The Missing Link 4:08
7. Gods 4:26
8. Game of Chicken 6:38
9. The Prism 5:10
10. Take Your Medicine 5:02
11. Cognitive Dissonance 4:41
12. Storm Surge 8:17
13. Spain 12:59
14. Hysteria 4:58
15. Heavy Shtettle 17:25
16. One Foot in the Next World 6:16 


Joe Deninzon – vocals, violin
Michelangelo Quirinale – guitars, vocals
Paul Ranieri – bass, vocals
Jason Gianni – drums, vocals
Rachel Flowers – piano, flute
Alex Skolnick – guitars

Prolusion. US band Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius have been around for 20 years or thereabouts, with the band name being a nod back to Deninzon’s solo album “The Adventures of Stratospheerius” from 2002. Just where the dividing line between Deninzon’s early solo career stops and the chronicles of Stratospheerius begins is, I guess, a bit of an open question. Following three studio albums and one live album designated to Stratospheerius, the band are now out with a live CD/DVD/Blu-Ray box set. This creation is called “Behind the Curtain. Live at Progstock”, and was released by USA label Melodic Revolution Records in the spring of 2023.

Analysis. The music and the images captured on this production comes from two performances at US progressive rock festival Progstock: One from 2019 and one from 2021. The concerts showcase somewhat different aspects of the band, which obviously makes this box set a bit more interesting than what the initial description might indicate. As the video aspect of such a production will perhaps be the most interesting aspect of it for many, it is good to see that there is a high quality to the footage captured here. The image resolution is good, the colour balance comes across as being of an equally good quality, and the audio capture is probably a notch or two above both of these. This isn’t a high budget production though, so we do have a limited amount of camera angles which does result in the concert footage alternating between a finite set of angles and shots. In editing the producers have chosen to alternate band and musician shots with clips from the backdrop stage video here and there due to that, and they have also played around a bit with image effects. Restraint has been used for this latter part though, thankfully, so that those with a more passionate interest in watching the concerts as they unfolded won’t get too many disturbances in that respect. A lot of the focus goes towards Deninzon himself, as he is the lead vocalist as well as the violin player in the band, and as it turns out he is also the entertainer, taking on the responsibility of being the frontman with a passionate execution. He has a lively body language and facial mimic, and has an energetic stage presence of the kind where it seems to be crystal clear that he wants to entertain the audience. The rest of the band are musicians first and foremost, with a more restrained presence, especially in the first of the concerts captured here. They come across as more animated and entertaining to watch in the second concert, and are also given more footage time probably for that reason. With Alex Skolnick participating for a substantial part of the second concert, he is obviously given his fair share of time of the footage there, and while not being all that active his body and facial language showcase that he is a skilled entertainer that have learned to master the art of less is more as far as stage presence is concerned: He is entertaining to watch without having to be all that animated. The style of this band is a bit all over the place, with hard progressive rock, jazzrock, jam band antics, world music oriented material and quirkier compositions more aligned with the King Crimson’s and arguably also the Frank Zappa’s of the world all being a part of the repertoire, with a little bit of a guitar hero turns to violin antics thrown in for good measure. The first concert visits most of these forms in some manner or other, but the most defining aspect of the material explored here for my sake were the regular inclusions of passages and sequences with a bit more of an Americana tinged feel to them, often giving me associations towards Kansas. While the songs would travel out into many different directions, at one point even giving me associations towards Hawkwind, that Americana tinged landscape would never be too far away. For the second concert the funkier and jazzrock bits were much more central, alongside a few different kinds of folk and world music orientations. The homage to Chick Corea on ‘Spain’ obviously being one of those, and the blazing runs through multiple landscapes that always came back to the Jewish inspired world music orientation of ‘Heavy Shtettle’ arguably being the most impactful, with aforementioned Skolnick playing a vital role in both of those songs. The brilliant Rachel Flowers sits in on a couple of songs in this second concert too, and ‘Spain’ is one of those songs. That she covers the piano and flute portions of this song with ease is probably everything one needs to say about her as an artist, a brilliant musician of the kind that makes everything she does sound much easier to perform than it actually is. In my book this box set is a solid production. The video part of this package comes without too many distracting bells and whistles, and while a lot of the entertainment aspect of this experience relies on the talents of Denionzon as a frontman and entertainer he manages to pull off this part very well indeed, and musically this is just about flawless. At least as long as you enjoy the kind of musical landscapes the band explore on this occasion. Since the release of this box set, Deninzon has also joined an additional band, namely legendary US band Kansas. Given the associations I got especially from the first of the two concerts captured here, this doesn’t surprise me at all. Deninzon can produce those Americana-tinged violin textures Kansas are known for with ease, and he is a more than capable vocalist that should be able to take on a vocal role in that band just about as easy as he can deliver the violin parts needed I gather.

Conclusion. If a well executed concert experience made on a budget but with solid quality and a focus on the performance sounds interesting for you, this box set is one well worth acquiring. For fans of Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius I guess this will be something of an obligatory purchase, and completionists with an interest in Testament and Kansas respectively will obviously want to get hold of this production too. Other than that, those with a fairly liberal taste in progressive rock and with an affection for the violin as a lead instrument might want to become more familiar with this production I gather.

Progmessor: May 2023