Prog Rock came and (mostly) went during the period from the late ‘60s through the ‘80s, the initial monsters of the genre with their concept albums, virtuoso players, and side-long tracks giving way to punk rock with shorter, simpler songs that were easier to play. The genre never went away completely as neo-prog and prog metal subgenres have developed. Pink Floyd kept going until after the 2000s, Dream Theater and King Crimson are still going relatively strong.
Locally, Café Peyote is the prog rock brainchild of Ricardo Beas, with his vocals, guitar, and songwriting as the focus, with Luis (guitars, bass, keyboards, effects) and brother Paco Elorza (drums, percussion, effects). The trio’s sound on their latest CD, Tales of Humanity, draws much from the bombast of ‘70s arena prog groups. The 12 slickly produced songs are big, even huge, constructions (in spite of Beas’ smallish vocals) with layered keyboards and guitars—walls of sound that convey his social-consciousness and political messages. In fact, it is a bit heavy in the political message department, as Beas’ lyrics weigh down some of the material.
“That’s Simply Life” takes the form of a seven-minute prog suite with some of Paco’s instrumental prowess on display—he impresses throughout. The climbing mountain of keyboards and guitars is executed beautifully, there are dynamics to the dynamics. Beas manages a catchy, lighter melody on “In Heaven,” a floating mid-tempo song about how much better it will be upstairs.
The ethereal start of “We Have to Try” is quiet and innocuous, with words about each of us feeling alone. Then the buildup, and the tune settles into a semi-rocking stride; Beas is preaching togetherness and change to a mounting prog crescendo. “Obsessions of the Mind” is a change of pace that concerns Beas’ dealing with the physical romantic urges he has toward his lover. The verses address his obsession and eventual surrender, and sax fills by Edmundo Arroyo lift the tune into a jazzy ozone layer. “Johhny’s Song” is a personal song that Beas directs to his longtime mate; it is shorter than many of the other tracks but has a lot to say about a relationship. “Let’s Make Amends” starts out as what could have been the disc’s best track, with power and a hook, which lasts two minutes, then the verse structure gives way to conversational Spanish instead of singing, then a guitar break, then it throws in a chorus and just stops. Too bad.
This is an album with a lot of political protest on it, and the two tracks “Howard’s Song” and “We Fail to See” push the messages. Some are hard to deny, like “He who has the gold is the one that rules.” Nonetheless, Beas isn’t going to be confused with Dylan, and on “We Fail,” attacking the United Nations and vaccinations with a theme that “Either we change our ways/ Or we’ll be killed,” spoils the Pink Floyd-inspired track with needless hyperbole.
Café Peyote’s Tales of Humanity has some interesting moments for fans of progressive rock.