Wobbler @ Progheads 10 Års jubileum, Cosmopolite, Oslo

It was the celebration of ten years of the Progheads virtual community, by now going strong with thousands of members. So, they gathered around the bar and the Belleville stage to toast their continuity, jo, bare for å bli med. What better way to cap off the evening than a set from Norway’s finest progressive rock ensemble – Wobbler.

Lørdag 2.mars 2024

It was the celebration of ten years of the Progheads virtual community, by now going strong with thousands of members. So, they gathered around the bar and the Belleville stage to toast their continuity, jo, bare for å bli med. What better way to cap off the evening than a set from Norway’s finest progressive rock ensemble – Wobbler.

It was to be a high-powered set, only six pieces (I dare not call them “tracks” – that’s for pop music, ikke sant), but still we were treated to over an hour and a half of music. It was something of a greatest hits collection, cutting across their output, but the focus was appropriately enough on the compositions they have put out with Andreas W S Prestmo in the vocalist’s chair, 2017’s “From Silence To Somewhere” and 2020’s follow-up “Dwellers Of The Deep”.

But we started at the beginning, with “Rubato Industry” from their first record, “Hinterland” (2005), and at high speed too, an edgy, dramatic start which quickly drew in any laggard Progheads still in the bar debating the relative merits of ELP vs Dream Theater’s early work. So, by the end of the first section, we were almost at capacity in the intimate curved space, and the atmosphere was building.

If Prestmo’s voice was in good shape this evening, his attitude, his engagement, his energy, were even better.  When he wasn’t singing or playing the guitar (which he did very well), he was dancing, stamping, gesturing, or getting the audience involved. We were still in the first piece when he had us all clapping along with the off-beat snare during the first of many keyboard obligatos for the evil genius of the outfit, Lars Fredrik Frøislie. Prestmo banged the tambourine like his life depended on it as the piece closed, and there was huge applause. There would be more of that to follow.

That was just the hors d’oeuvre. The pasta plate arrived immediately – “Five Rooms” from “Dwellers Of The Deep” and the band and audience were warming up nicely.  Prestmo got the audience joining in for the opening “ah-ah”s. The piece was perfectly delivered.  Frøislie’s keyboard work was first rate, not a note out of place, and Marius Halleland’s lead guitar playing on the mid-section was nimble, jaunty, full of the slightly edgy mischief that is part of the band’s sound. People on the floor were starting to dance, and as Prestmo sung “We are nothing but debris”, there were hands in the air everywhere.

Not forgetting where they were, Prestmo took a moment in between numbers to note the celebration, to praise the assembled company and the organisers of the event. But they knew that there was more – they were in the presence of fans, “ildsjelener” as Halleland would later called them, saying that their support “means the whole world to us”.

Next came “From Silence To Somewhere” from the record of the same name. This is, I suspect, the most anticipated piece in any Wobbler set. The initial passages were dense and tight, then that motif was delivered by Frøislie. You could feel the audience draw breath – everyone had been waiting for it. Martin Nordrum Kneppen’s drumming here, with the timpani mallets, was beautifully executed, timed and weighted to perfection. He would get another warmly-received cameo moments later, for the melancholy lilt of his wooden recorder. After that, the band were starting to jam, rocking out. Halleland nailed the guitar solo, and when the flamenco-style section started, the crowd went mad, almost until the end of the first part of the piece, when some let the atmosphere get the better of them and cheered like it was the end, but Kneppen’s excellent snare work drew us back into the reprise which ended with explosive vocal delivery from Prestmo, who almost shouted out the finals stanzas.

The pace continued with “Fermented Hours” from the same record. The tempo was high, pushed even, a really impressive delivery, with seamless transitions between the different moments. Kristian Hultgren had his first standout bass part here, which was lush and smooth.  There was a running joke during set about wanting to hear more bass (the audience did), and there was no shortage of first-rate bass playing throughout. Whether in these moments where the instrument was more directly foregrounded or more generally when playing as a strict rhythm instrument, Hultgren was, as always, solid, unflappable, dexterous, and deeply musical. The piece finished with more intense, dynamic, almost frantic playing from Halleland for his solo in the reprise.

There followed what Prestmo called “a little pause in the intensity” with “This Past Presence” from “Rites At Dawn” (2011), which featured another excellent guitar solo from Halleland. The central, more ambient, open section in the middle of piece seemed to lose focus a little. There was another long keyboard solo and then another excellent bass solo from Hultgren, slow, melodic, jazzy in places. Halleland then started his break, but swiftly segued into Happy Birthday and the band celebrated their hosts one more time, before he brought the main theme back and notched the song up. The song burned to a close, finishing with Prestmo on his knees at the edge of the small stage, and then disappeared in smoke.

Then it was time for the last dance, “Merry Macabre” from “Dwellers…”. And there was dancing. People had calmed down a bit during the middle of the set, but their fervour returned, with more coming down from the balconies to join in.  There were cries of “Mosh pit!”. The band were feeling it too – Prestmo opened the piece with a howl of – well, what? Jubilation? Terror? Something visceral and untamed. One can never doubt his utter commitment as a frontman and vocalist. Kneppen laid down a solid rock groove that set the piece up nicely for the variations to follow. As it slowed for the first time, Prestmo left the stage and moved through the audience finally lying down at the edge of the floor – “here I lie, slowly descending”, but he was later reborn for the rapid section which followed. For the next soft passage, Kneppen was again outstanding, this time with snare rim and ride cymbal. For the undersigned, this had been Kneppen’s show. His playing throughout, very well supported by Hultgren’s playing, had been excellent, and this piece was the perfect example of his versatility as much as his absolutely solid sense of rhythm which kept the band on point the whole evening. The piece closed with more dense, textured vibraphone and then organ from Frøislie, a master of his instruments and their sounds, and some extraordinary wailing vocals from Prestmo, and time for one last, frantic, manic dance.

And so, we were finished. Only six pieces, but we had been shaken and stirred, moved and grooved, had been led into the underworld and reborn several times over. As always, a top-drawer ensemble performance from one of our best bands in any genre – a fitting celebration. 5/6

Text: Alex Maines
Photography: Anne-Marie Forker