Preach it, Neal! The Neal Morse Band Live, 2015

Review: The Neal Morse Band, ALIVE AGAIN TOUR, Aurora, Colorado, February 28, 2015.

Neal, in a quiet acoustic moment, singing "Somber Days" from TESTIMONY.
Neal, in a quiet acoustic moment, singing “Somber Days” from TESTIMONY.

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.

The NMB, 2015: Portnoy, George, Hubauer, Gillette, and Morse.
The NMB, 2015: Portnoy, George, Hubauer, Gillette, and Morse.

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.”

A few years ago, Tad called George "avuncular."  It's true!  And, he's an amazing bassist, too.  But, is he related to Princeton's Robert George???
A few years ago, Tad called George “avuncular.” It’s true! And, he’s an amazing bassist, too. But, is he related to Princeton’s Robert George???  The next album: The Bass and the Natural Law.

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).

I've been listening to Portnoy for 23 years.  He just gets better and better.
I’ve been listening to Portnoy for 23 years. He just gets better and better.

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.

One of the highlights in an evening of highlights: a Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young Waterfall (with more than a bit of Hackett-era Genesis).  And, yet, pure NMB!
One of the highlights in an evening of highlights: a Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young Waterfall (with more than a bit of Hackett-era Genesis). And, yet, pure NMB!

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.

9 thoughts on “Preach it, Neal! The Neal Morse Band Live, 2015

  1. Great review, Brad! Sounds like the band is getting even tighter as the tour progresses. Like you, I had a sense of rock history being made as I heard them. (And thanks for the shout-out – I”m honored!)

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  2. Bryan Morey

    Great review, Brad! Too preachy?!! I find it refreshing that there is an artist out there who is completely UNASHAMED of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It just happens to be a bonus that he and his friends are incredible musicians who don’t compromise when it comes to making great music. I feel sadder now that I missed the show in Chicago, but I look forward to a live DVD!

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  3. J.D. Cetola

    Terrific review and right on point in so many ways. It was truly an epic show and performance and although the setlist and show at the Soiled Dove in 2012 was darn near perfect, the concert last night truly highlighted the fact that this is a tight and confident band hitting stride (as does “The Grand Experiment” album as a whole). The energy and joy was very apparent throughout the show. For me, the performance of “Alive Again” was a high water mark that will be tough to top–each musician on different instruments at one point (and Eric on guitar/drums/keys–that kid is headed for superstardom!). I can’t wait to see where this band goes next.

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    1. JD–so glad to have you comment here. You just said everything I wanted to say in one paragraph! Thank you. And, absolutely agreed on Eric. I’m still on a high from last night’s show.

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  4. Keith Roman

    Just a minor tangent, but it really needs said: Quote- “If Jesus is half as cool as Neal makes Him, call me a follower.” Jesus is a lot of things, but He was NEVER cool. To follow this guy means forsaking a lot of things / attitudes the world considers ‘cool,’ and in some places in the world, it is going to get you killed. There has been an undercurrent in the Christian rock world that if we dressed Christ up in jeans, made Him ‘relevant,’ and gave people two hours of really cool music, people would follow Jesus. Jesus is ALREADY relevant to a lost world and a dying soul.
    I am thankful for artists like Neal who are returning to a long tradition in the church of producing the BEST art and music – far better than what the secular world makes. This is the salt and light the world needs from Christians in all their professions. This is what will change the world – not two hours of cool music.

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