Besides PFM, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso is perhaps the best known of all the Italian progressive rock groups, and certainly one of the most influential. I hold in my hand a monument to the beauty of Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso's mastery of their art. Aptly named Quaranta, which is Italian for 'forty', this album is the band's fortieth release, and it chronicles their sold-out headlining performance of the second night at the Teatro Tendastrisce in Rome, Italy in November 2010. I knew the moment it arrived for review this one would be special.
The fact is that Banco is no ordinary progressive rock group. They're part of the elite, members of those select few groups whose music shaped and defined our beloved musical genre. There are few groups who can produce the majesty that seems to be second nature to them, and they have simply never stopped being true to their own standards. Even during the darkest of times for prog rock you could find the beauty in any Banco album as it came along. Other Italian groups often cite them as influences and inspirations.
What is it that separates Banco from the pack? I have a pretty solid working theory, and his name is Francesco Di Giacomo. He commands a voice that isn't to be considered as an instrument, no, he has the voice of a large orchestra. Why do I mention this? Simple, I often advise first-time listeners exploring Italian prog to consider the singing to be another instrument rather than focusing on what's being said, unless of course they happen to speak Italian. There are even a select few Italian prog rock albums that have been recorded in both Italian and English versions. Over the years I've had quite a few first-timers express a desire to hear the lyrics in English.
However, I believe it's a tragic mistake to think this way. The Italian language brings to the music an element of beauty and majesty that cannot be reproduced with another language, and with Maestro Di Giacomo at the microphone the experience is simply the peak. I have to believe he could have easily chosen a different road and might as well have become a major pop star, or perhaps even a world-renowned operatic master. He instead chose to lend his unique talents to the pursuit of true art music rather than commercial gains revealing a character and conviction that is unparalleled in the prog rock world. And I would be remiss if I didn't also lavish some praise on the band's keyboardist Vittorio Nocenzi, who has been present since the beginning and has provided a great many of the group's finest songs. It's his great skill as a composer that affords Francesco the means to move us all with each and every note.
Now let's go on to the performance. The band is in top form for the show and the audience is clearly excited. Keep in mind that this is not a recently reformed group in the last few years; Banco have remained active since the early seventies. They have performed at NEARfest in the USA and many other great venues over the last forty years. As a result they sound as fresh as they did in the beginning. Far from a bunch of old men trying to recapture old glories, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso have the energy of 25 year-olds live, and the experience to deliver an unforgettable show. Even a live audio recording comes to life when you close your eyes, as if it were a DVD performance. I don't normally enjoy live records − okay, there are a few truly special ones − but they must have been thinking of me when they played R.I.P. as the second song of the evening as it is my favourite of all their pieces. I can only say I wish I had been there in person... That said, I think it's time for a studio album of new material.
**** Thomas Rhymer (edited by Peter Willemsen)
Where to buy?
All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2013