Review: The Neal Morse Band, ALIVE AGAIN TOUR, Aurora, Colorado, February 28, 2015.
Last night, I had the incredible privilege of seeing the Neal Morse Band live in Denver (actually, in the suburb of Aurora), playing at the Soiled Dove Underground. To make it all so much better, I had the company of my beautiful, prog-friendly wife, Dedra. Colorado prog friends, Geddy, Vince, and Amy, were there as well. And, just to make the company even more interesting, Dedra and I sat with two brothers—Joe and Dave, originally from Columbus, Ohio, but now residing in Denver. Joe might even have been a bigger Neal Morse fan than I am, if such a thing is possible. The guy waved, pumped his fist, and screamed “amen” throughout the whole show. I loved it. Before and after the concert, we talked about the American founding fathers and the constitution! Not something I was expecting. But, when I told them I taught history at CU, they became pretty animated and wanted to make sure I taught only from primary sources. As it turns out, I do. So, a great geek time was had by all. Neal Morse and Thomas Jefferson have far more in common than you might suspect.
But, of course, if you’re reading this, you’re not interested in my pedagogical style or my views on the saint of Monticello. You want to read about Neal! Or Mike! Or Randy! Or Bill! Or Eric! Of course, you do.
Whether or not I can add much to Tad Wert’s excellent review of the Nashville show remains to be seen. I will do my best.
Let me get the suspense out of the way. This was one of the single finest rock concerts I’ve ever seen, and I feel deeply honored to have been there. All day, today, I’ve been able to think about little else. I’ve seen Neal Morse before, and I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed myself at his shows. But, this. This was truly something special. Not only is Morse coming off of the single best album of his career, The Grand Experiment, but he has also truly expanded the show into a “band” effort. He is still the leader, to be sure, but this was the show of the band, not of an individual, or of an individual with a supporting band. These guys meshed so very, very well together.
So very well. Sigh. . .
I took pretty copious notes, trying to record my reactions, during the 2.5 hour concert, and words such as “AWESOME” and “INSPIRED” appear frequently. At one point, I looked at my notes and thought, “I’m turning into a teenaged girl. All I need is some hearts on top of my ‘i’s.”
As to the set list, the guys played The Call; Leviathan; Harm’s Way/Go the Way You Go; The Grand Experiment; The Creation; Somber Days; Waterfall; In the Fire; Alive Again; Rejoice; Reunion; King Jesus. In between there were several solos—all quite good.
Let me offer a number of observations.
Neal and Mike were clearly in the highest of spirits, and the two really served as the pillars around which the others moved (Randy’s a pillar, too, really).
Morse was in full “ham” mode, and I loved every moment of it. I wasn’t alone. Morse had the audience, totally and completely, from the first second to the last.
When I first saw Eric Gillette and Bill Hubauer on the MOMENTUM tour, they properly blew me away. I’d not seen a thing, as it turns out. They’ve each grown so much in confidence, it was almost like watch two entirely new players last night. Hubauer could’ve been in Procol Harum, and Gillette would’ve been a nice substitute for Trevor Rabin on 90125.
Holy schnikees, these guys are amazing. Given his age, Gillette has fantastic future ahead of him. And, he sings as well as he plays.
Every one of the members of the band played wonderfully. Randy even played a bass pedal solo!
The second best moment of the night was the performance of Waterfall from the new album. As I’ve noted here and elsewhere, this is the best album of Morse’s career, and I’ve been a huge (huge!) fan since THE LIGHT. In context of the new album, Waterfall offers a beautiful 6.5 minutes of Genesis-like delicacy and wonder. In concert, however, it’s an altogether different thing of beauty. Watching Neal, Bill, and Eric on guitar and Mike on tambourine exuding love and tenderness, I was moved at the most profound level.
The best moment, though, arrived with the finale of the main set, the title track of the show and one monster of a prog tune, Alive Again. I realize some will take this as hyperbole, but it’s how I felt and how I feel: I was at a 1973 Yes concert, listening to the first live version of Close to the Edge or at a 1978 Rush concert, hearing the first live performance of Xanadu. Yes, this is how good “Alive Again” is. This is the greatest prog epic Neal has written, and it’s one of the best prog epics ever written. In hindsight, I realize the entire set list had been carefully constructed to lead to this 30-minute plus finale.
Before heading to the concert, I checked out some reviews and came across some of the standard comments about Neal. Too preachy is the most common complaint. Really??? If Jesus is half as cool as Neal makes Him, call me a follower. I love Morse’s convictions, his sense of purpose, and his humor. Morse is a natural leader and a man endowed with immense gifts. Preach it, Neal. Preach it until the end of days.