After nearly a year's absence from local stages, Pittsburgh's many-membered post-prog instrumental group Mandrake Project is back. In the meantime, the rotating lineup led by guitarist Kirk Salopek has recorded its as-yet unnamed follow-up to the debut A Favor to the Muse, of which I've managed to hear a few early drafts. (Full disclosure: Salopek collaborated on separate recordings with the writer earlier this year.) While Mandrake's two-drummer percussive drive remains intact, you can also expect a trance-inducing waltz, dominated by stringsman Rick Nelson (of Polyphonic Spree, and a contributor to St. Vincent's excellent Marry Me album), and tracks featuring vocals from John Schisler of area Brit-pop faves New Invisible Joy. Get a sneak peek of your own when Mandrake plays a free show Thu., Aug. 21, at the South Side's Tiki Lounge.
Those who've seen Mandrake perform in the city's galleries and bars know the group's sprawling compositions lean more toward the post-rock indie vibe than towards arena-sized prog. But that doesn't mean they won't fit nicely alongside some of the genre's current standard-bearers at the Three Rivers Progressive Rock Festival, a.k.a. 3RP, debuting this year at the Pepsi-Cola Roadhouse, in Burgettstown.
The suitably epic two-day event kicks off Sat., Aug. 23, with Manifesto, followed by Mandrake, then sets from Gongzilla and long-running prog faithful Spock's Beard. Neal Morse, a Spock's Beard alum currently pursuing a more Christian-themed solo career with several albums to his credit (many featuring Dream Theater drummer extraordinare Mike Portnoy) closes the evening. On Sunday, the festival opens with Kalon, followed by IZZ, Rocket Scientists, instrumental acoustic-guitar adventurers the California Guitar Trio, and closes with the symphonic Swedish outfit The Flower Kings.
You'd think that such a schedule of 10 bands could somehow be condensed down to one day, wouldn't you? But then again, if Rush's recent concert at the nearby Post-Gazette Pavilion is any indication, the two-hour sets 3RP's main acts are delivering -- as well as the long changeovers to "clear your mind," however you need to do that -- are likely exactly what progressive-rock fans are after.
Mandrake Project 10:30 p.m. Thu., Aug. 21. Tiki Lounge, 2003 E. Carson St., Southside. Free. 412-381-8454 or www.tikilounge.biz
Three Rivers Progressive Rock Festival 10 a.m.- midnight, Sat., Aug. 23, and Sun., Aug. 24. Pepsi-Cola Roadhouse, Rt. 18 and 22, Burgettstown. $95-195. 724-947-1900 or 3rprogfest.com