The Neal Morse Band’s Randy George: The Progarchy Interview

The Neal Morse Band, Innocence & DangerInside Out Music, August 27, 2021
Tracks: 
CD 1: 1. Do It All Again (08:55) 2. Bird On A Wire (07:22) 3. Your Place In The Sun (04:12) 4. Another Story To Tell (04:50) 5. The Way It Had To Be (07:14) 6. Emergence (03:12) 7. Not Afraid Pt 1 (04:53) 8. Bridge Over Troubled Water (08:08)
CD2: 9. Not Afraid Pt 2 (19:32) 10.Beyond The Years (31:22)

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Randy George from the Neal Morse Band about their upcoming album, Innocence & Danger. What an album! After back-to-back double concept albums, the band decided to make an album of independent songs. It’s still a double album, but it’s very digestible.

Innocence & Danger has quickly risen to one of my favorite albums of the year, and Randy George’s brilliant bass playing has a lot to do with that. His bass is more prominent in the mix, and it really shines opposite Mike Portnoy’s drums in the rhythm section. I think Neal Morse’s vocals also deserve a mention as they are the best they have sounded in years. Maybe that’s due to a lack of touring over the past year+, but he (and everyone else) sound great. The vocal harmonies are turned up to the max, and the prog is in full force. But don’t be surprised if you hear a few other surprise elements in the music – something we talk a bit about in the interview below. Oh, and “Beyond the Years,” the album’s 31-minute epic, may be the best long song I’ve heard from Neal Morse and company.

This interview was conducted on July 21, 2021 via Zoom. There was quite a bit of scratchiness in the Zoom audio, so I’ve decided to spare you that and just give you the transcript, which was edited lightly for readability. The interview is pretty wide ranging. We start with an update on the last year and a half for Randy before we go into a deep dive of the album. Then we discuss some of Randy’s influences as a musician before we talk a bit about the history of prog, it’s place in the music world, and how the future will look back on their music. 

NealMorseBand_2

Bryan: Thanks for joining me here for Progarchy. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Randy: Yeah! Happy to do it.

Bryan: It’s been tough career-wise for musicians without being able to tour. How’ve you been in that regard?

Randy: Well, you know, I guess we’re all feeling it to some degree. I guess as a function of where I live it hasn’t really been that bad. We had done that Cover to Cover 3 CD, and it was wrapped and delivered to the label before the pandemic hit. There were some videos that needed to be [made]. We wanted to do videos, so there were a few videos, and I did a couple of those. And then Neal [Morse] did Sola Gratia. I recorded that and then we did videos for that. Then we did Morsefest in September, and my wife and I have been playing locally since September, pretty much twice a month or three times a month ever since last September.

In a lot of ways, yeah we had to wear masks a little more during the time, but for the most part we kept busy. We felt it most right at the beginning. Everybody was sort of freaked out, got shut down March through July or whatever. Then people started to open up a bit. So initially everyone was a little bit like, wow, there’s nowhere to go. But we both work from home. We really didn’t travel outside very much. We’re here on our own little plot. Plenty to keep us busy here. But yeah I watched it from a distance. I’m sure for some people it was really hard, and it sucks that it had to happen like that. I look forward to the end.

Bryan: Yeah I think everybody does. Morsefest was one of the first – definitely one of the biggest in the prog world of concerts that came back in person. That was kind of exciting because it was a glimmer of hope after so many months of nothing at all live-wise.

Randy: People will always find a way.

Bryan: Yeah exactly. I’ve had a chance to listen to Innocence and Danger a little bit over the last couple of days. It’s a fantastic album. It feels like a little bit of a different direction, especially after the last two concept albums. Can you tell me about how the album came together?

Randy: Well, the whole thing – we were going to start working on Innocence & Danger way back in the beginning of 2020. We initially signed a record deal with Inside Out. Then the pandemic hit. Mike [Portnoy] was really busy with Sons of Apollo, and we didn’t really have any clear cut date in mind that we could get together and do this. So quite honestly between signing the deal and getting in the studio to do this, it was more than a year. We did in January come together at Neal’s house and wrote the whole thing in about twelve days and tracked the drums and took it home and developed it over the next couple months, and Rich [Mouser] mixed it.

We went into it not having a lot of pre-written material. Neal didn’t have anything. Bill [Hubauer] and I both brought recorded ideas that were predominantly raw ideas that could be developed rather than finished demos that already had a lot of development to them. The Neal Morse Band tends to – no matter what you bring in, they want to redo it. So we kind of, it’s easier to bring in ideas that they can all sort of get their head into and write with. Some of it is much easier to do that, between Bill and I and Eric [Gillette], we have plenty of musical stuff. Neal, of course, he may not have come in with anything, but he gets up early in the morning and he’ll start writing and work on ideas then we end up working on them the same day or the next day. So Neal does actually write a fair amount of stuff. He just doesn’t always go into the session with all of it prepared, unless it’s a concept thing were he has an idea. We knew this wasn’t going to be another concept album. We just wanted to do an album of songs. We felt it was the right time for that.

Continue reading “The Neal Morse Band’s Randy George: The Progarchy Interview”

Neal Morse Band Announce New Album for August Release

From Radiant Records:


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Hey, everyone!

We’re delighted to announce details of the eagerly-anticipated new NMB album! Some incredible new music is coming your way. We will be starting pre-orders at www.radiantrecords.com on Friday, June 18th. Watch for our updates as we reveal some amazing exclusives relating to this release, plus another release only available from our website!

** OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE **

NMB are pleased to announce the release of their much-anticipated fourth studio album Innocence & Danger on August 27th, 2021.

With NMB’s previous two releases being concept albums, it’s perhaps remarkable that Innocence & Danger is a series of unrelated songs, but drummer Mike Portnoy says “After two sprawling back to back double concept albums in a row, it was refreshing to get back to writing a collection of unrelated individual songs in the vein of our first album.”

Indeed, making this album came easy to the band; while the initial inspiration came particularly from Bill Hubauer (keyboards) and Randy George (bass), the ideas flowed from everybody from there on, as George recalls: “I am excited about the level of collaboration that we achieved on this one. We even went in with a lot of ideas that weren’t necessarily developed, and I think in the end we have something that represents the best of everybody in the band.”

In fact – like its two acclaimed predecessors – Innocence & Danger is a double-album by inspiration, rather than design, as Portnoy explains: “As much as we wanted to try and keep it to a single album after having just done two double albums, we wrote so much material that we found ourselves with our third double album in a row! That’s pretty prog!”

There is also plenty: “There’s one half hour epic and another that’s about 20 minutes long. I really didn’t realise that they were that long when we were recording them, which I guess is great because if a movie is really good, you don’t realise that it’s three hours long! But there are also some shorter songs: some have poppier elements, some are heavier and some have three part acoustic sections. I’m excited about all of it, really.”

The album will be released as a Limited 2CD+DVD Digipak (featuring a Making Of documentary), 3LP+2CD Boxset, Standard 2CD Jewelcase & Digital Album, featuring artwork by Thomas Ewerhard (Transatlantic). Pre-orders start on the 18th June, and the full track-listing is below:

CD 1 (Innocence):

1. Do It All Again 08:55

2. Bird On A Wire 07:22

3. Your Place In The Sun 04:12

4. Another Story To Tell 04:50

5. The Way It Had To Be 07:14

6. Emergence 03:12

7. Not Afraid Pt. 1 04:53

8. Bridge Over Troubled Water 08:08

CD 2 (Danger):

1. Not Afraid Pt. 2 19:32

2. Beyond The Years 31:22

The Neal Morse Band (now NMB) was formed in 2012, featuring long-time collaborators Neal Morse (vocals, keyboards and guitars), Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals) and Randy George (bass), as well as Bill Hubauer (keyboards, vocals) and Eric Gillette (guitars, vocals). The band’s first album, The Grand Experiment, showed both a freshness and maturity that was further developed in 2016’s The Similitude Of A Dream, 2019’s The Great Adventure and 2021’s Innocence & Danger.

Look for NMB on tour in North America in October 2021 and in Europe throughout May/June 2022. Tour dates coming soon!

Blessings,

The Radiant Records Team

Neal Morse

By Grace Alone: A Conversation With Neal Morse

Scary man with scythe is the winter snow.

Neal Morse, Sola Gratia, September 11, 2020, Inside Out Music

Tracks: 1. Preface (01:28), 2. Overture (05:59), 3. In The Name Of The Lord (04:27), 4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones) (02:43), 5. March Of The Pharisees (01:40), 6. Building A Wall (05:01), 7. Sola Intermezzo (02:10), 8. Overflow (06:27), 9. Warmer Than The Sunshine (03:22), 10. Never Change (07:52), 11. Seemingly Sincere (09:34), 12. The Light On The Road To Damascus (03:26), 13. The Glory Of The Lord (06:17), 14. Now I Can See/The Great Commission (05:17)

Last Saturday, August 29, 2020, I had the great opportunity to talk to the magnificent Neal Morse about his new solo album, Sola Gratia. Morse is perhaps the most ubiquitous artist of “third wave” progressive rock. You’d be hard pressed to find contemporary progressive rock artists that aren’t influenced by him in some way. His latest solo effort proves why. The lyrical and musical songwriting is in peak form.

As a sequel to 2007’s Sola Scriptura, this album finds Morse exploring the story of the Apostle Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians to the faith’s most ardent missionary. It is a profound story of God’s grace. Morse explores the drama of this story as Paul (then called Saul) wrestles with the newly founded Christian church and the sincerity of its followers. While Paul is on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, Jesus appears to him. Paul then converts and repents. The album ends with Paul converting and glorifying God, leaving us on a cliffhanger of sorts for a possible part 2 in the future.

The album pulls a few lyrical and musical highlights from Sola Scriptura, but, as Morse says in the interview below, they are merely sprinklings. It is enough to be familiar without sounding like a retread. The music gives room for the listener to breathe and think about the lyrics, which makes this an enjoyable album to return to. At just over an hour long it isn’t a chore to return to as a double album might be. The music has its expected complexity with the usual suspects playing on the album – primarily Mike Portnoy and Randy George – but the lyrics are the highlight here. There are a lot of calm moments that allow you to reflect. I found that quite appealing about the album, and it has quickly become one of my favorite Neal Morse solo albums.

But enough of that. The interview covers the background of the album, how it was written, and its connections to Sola Scriptura. We talked a bit about Paul, and Transatlantic and Flying Colors came up a few times as well.

Neal Morse at keyboards

Neal: Hello.

Bryan: Hi, this is Bryan from Progarchy.

Neal: Hey how you doing man?

Bryan: Good how are you?

Neal: Good! Good good.

Bryan: Thanks so much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it. I know you’re a busy man.

Neal: Well, you know, got a couple things going on. That’s alright. I’m sure you do too.

Bryan: Well I don’t have an album coming out every month. [laughs]

Neal: [Laughs] Yeah.

Bryan: So tell me about the background for your upcoming album, Sola Gratia. I’ve had a chance to listen to it several times, and it’s fantastic.

Neal: Oh thanks man. Thanks, I’m glad you like it. Well I mean I started getting these ideas while I was on vacation – sort of half vacation half work actually. We did some gigs down in Australia, and then we took a trip to New Zealand and I was just getting a flood of ideas.

Continue reading “By Grace Alone: A Conversation With Neal Morse”

The Neal Morse Band Live – 2017 Tour Kickoff

nmb-2017
The Tour T-Shirt

A fired-up and ready-to-rock Neal Morse Band kicked off its 2017 Similitude Of A Dream Tour last night at RockeTown in Nashville, TN. They performed the entire album before an ecstatic crowd, most of whom knew every word of the 2-disc magnum opus.

This was a different kind of show than Neal and his band mates have performed before. It’s clear that they want the album as a whole to take center stage, and not the musicians themselves. For instance, Neal did not even address the audience until after Shortcut To Salvation, which was in the second half of the set. Mike spoke briefly before Freedom Song. Other than those breaks, the focus was entirely on the songs.

The performance began with a darkly cowled Neal singing Long Day off to the side, illuminated with a handheld light. Then the entire group exploded into Overture, and we were off on an adventure through all kinds of trials and tribulations. Throughout the show stunning videos complemented the songs, and Neal wore various masks and outfits.

As a group, Neal, Mike, Randy, Bill, and Eric have melded into a mighty musical force. When Randy George and Mike Portnoy lock into their groove, the result is ferocious thunder. Eric Gillette has matured into an extraordinary guitarist and vocalist (give him more lead vocals!), and Bill Hubauer’s keyboards and vocals are always rock-solid. Neal, of course, is the consummate showman – singing, pulling off amazing guitar solos, and mugging for the crowd before every keyboard showcase.

But the real star of the evening was The Similitude of a Dream. Everything was done in service to the tale of a pilgrim on a spiritual journey – one that went from the City Of Destruction through doubt, fear, confusion, sloth, and battle until he reaches the shining city on a hill. When I first heard TSOAD, I liked it, but I wasn’t knocked out – it was just too sprawling a work for me to take in. After last night’s performance, I get it now. It all holds together as a unified work of art, and it is a beautiful allegory.

Highlights of the show were So Far Gone, where everyone takes a turn on lead vocals; a very moving Breath of Angels, which ended the first half; Shortcut to Salvation; a heavy Man in the Iron Cage; an all-acoustic Freedom Song; and the concluding Broken Sky/Long Day. By the end, everyone was wrung out and happy.

For an encore, the band tore through rip-roaring renditions of Momentum, Agenda, and The Call. Lasting nearly three hours, it was a very satisfying evening. The boys travel to Seattle and other parts west before heading up to Canada and then over to Europe and Israel. If there is any way you can catch this show, do it – it’s an amazing visual and musical experience.

Tour details can be found here.

Neal Morse Band Announce Epic Concept Album: “The Similitude of a Dream”

a072010e-c952-475b-955f-0d3386f1fcc7Courtesy of the folks over at Prog, the Neal Morse Band officially announced their upcoming double concept album, The Similitude of a Dream. According to Morse, the concept is loosely based upon the beginning of John Bunyan’s classic story, Pilgrim’s Progress. The first song released, “Long Day/Overture,” features both the quiet and proggy sides of Neal Morse’s career. From the get-go, this song captures your attention and leaves you wanting more. It is definitely one of the proggiest new songs I’ve heard this year.

The Neal Morse Band is made up of, obviously, Neal Morse, as well as Mike Portnoy, Randy George (bass), Bill Hubauer (keyboards), and Eric Gillette, who is quickly proving himself to be one of the best guitarists in the prog world.

Mike Portnoy has said that this is the greatest album of his entire career, even surpassing Dream Theater’s classic Scenes From a Memory. He has gone so far as to compare The Similitude of a Dream to The Who’s Tommy, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Those are bold words, and time will certainly judge whether or not those statements are true. If the first song is any indication, though, this album may very well be the best yet by Neal Morse.

The album is set for release on November 11, but you can pre-order the album from Radiant Records now: http://www.radiantrecords.com/products/634-the-neal-morse-band-the-similitude-of-a-dream.aspx.

The band embarks on a four month tour across the US, Canada, and Europe (and a show in Israel) in the beginning of 2017.

 

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.

The Neal Morse Band – Alive Again and On Tour

Alive Again

Last Night in Nashville, TN, The Neal Morse Band kicked off their tour in support of their new album, The Grand Experiment. Performing in the intimate confines of Rocketown to a very enthusiastic audience, Neal and his cohorts tore through an energetic set that lasted more than 2 hours and included some surprises in the set list.

They got things started with the a cappella opening to “The Call”, with every band member nailing his vocal part perfectly. Eric Gillette, a veteran from the Momentum tour, is on lead guitar, while Bill Hubauer (another Momentum vet) plays keyboards, clarinet, and sax. Of course, no Morse band would be complete without longtime collaborators Randy George on bass and Mike Portnoy on drums. I brought a friend with me to the show, and he was blown away by Mike’s performance, saying, “I haven’t seen anyone play drums like that since Keith Moon!” Eric was incredible throughout the show, singing occasional lead vocals and playing some absolutely shredding guitar. Bill’s instrumental and vocal versatility give the band almost two musicians in one person, and Randy George holds it all together with his fluid bass runs. As Neal proclaimed at one point, “Randy with the bass pedal solo – how prog is that!”

The band played every song from The Grand Experiment except (surprisingly) “Agenda”. Highlights included Neal playing a beautiful instrumental on acoustic guitar that led into “Waterfall”, as well as the Kings-X-sounding title track. They also played “Into the Fire” from ?, “The Creation” from One, and they got a roar of approval when the intro to “In Harm’s Way” (from Neal’s Spock’s Beard days!) boomed out.

This being the first gig of the tour, there were some inevitable glitches, but Neal took them in stride – even stopping “The Grand Experiment” to restart a tricky vocal section. The audience loved it, and once they were back on track, they never looked back.

There are few performers who can connect with their audience the way Neal does – conducting them during singalongs, raising his arms in appreciation, and even jumping off the stage to sing and play among them. He and the entire band gave all they had, every minute. As my friend exclaimed to me in the middle of a song, “It sure is nice to see a band just having a great time playing together!”

Neal asked if we could handle “one more epic” (of course we could), and then launched into “Alive Again”. Neal has written many, many epics, and this one is near the top. It rocks, it soars, it ebbs, and just when you think it’s over, it comes roaring back for an incredible finale.

As far as the encores, I won’t be a spoiler. Suffice it to say that there are some really fun surprises, both in terms of performance and song selection!

It’s been said (I have no idea if it’s true) that Keith Richards was once asked what it was like to be the world’s greatest rock and roll band. He replied that on any given night, there was a band playing in a club, somewhere, and for that night they were the world’s greatest rock and roll band. Last night, Rocketown hosted the world’s greatest.

You can get details of the rest of the Alive Again Tour at Radiant Records. Don’t miss this one.

Update: I mentioned above that “Alive Again” is one of Neal’s best epics. Actually, all of the songs on The Grand Experiment are a group effort, and Neal, Mike, Randy, Eric, and Bill all deserve credit for them.

 

Mass x Velocity = Band on Fire

Live MomentumHot on the heels of his Live Momentum Tour, Neal Morse has released a 5-disc set (3 CDs, 2 DVDs) that is a worthy alternative for those of us who didn’t get a chance to see this band live. You always get your money’s worth when Neal is involved, and this release is no exception. The DVDs (available in Blu-ray, as well) and CDs document the entire 3-hour set, and what a performance it is!

Recorded and filmed in HD on October 11, 2012, at the Highline Ballroom in New York City, Neal and the band turn in an incredibly tight, high-energy set for an enthusiastic audience. Neal’s long-time collaborators Mike Portnoy (drums) and Randy George (bass) are joined by Bill Hubauer (keyboards, violin, sax, vocals), Eric Gillette (guitar, keyboards, vocals), and Adson Sodré (guitar & vocals).

I’ve been a fan of Neal Morse since his days in Spock’s Beard – keeping up with Transatlantic and his solo efforts. He is an amazingly prolific songwriter, but of late his work seemed to be suffering from a “sameness”. Then came last year’s Flying Colors and Momentum albums, where it was clear something lit a roaring fire to his creativity. Momentum is his finest solo work since the Question Mark album.

In the liner notes to this release, Neal mentions that he found Hubauer, Gillette, and Sodré through YouTube auditions, so I before I popped in the first DVD, I was a little apprehensive regarding their ability to keep up with Morse, Portnoy, and George. My fears were completely unfounded, as Adson lays down a jaw-dropping guitar solo in the opening song, “Momentum” (you can see the performance of the song in the promo video below). Eric Gillette shines on guitar, vocals, and keyboards throughout the entire show, and Hubauer adds wonderful depth with his keyboard pyrotechnics and fine violin and sax work.

Basically, what Neal put together is a three-keyboard/three-guitar front lineup that is incredibly versatile. Add in their ability to execute complicated vocal harmonies on songs like “Thoughts Part 5”, and this is one of the best live outfits I’ve ever seen. Mike Portnoy is the hardest working drummer in showbiz, and he is obviously having a blast propelling this group through epic after epic. The avuncular Randy George is the anchor on stage, nimbly laying down rock-solid yet melodic basslines, while eschewing the spotlight.

Neal himself is, of course, the center of attention as he moves back and forth between keyboards and guitar, conducting the band (and the audience) from one emotional peak to another. It’s clear he’s delighted with the tight rapport between himself and the band. They are able to shift from a delicate flamenco-style acoustic interlude to crushing hard rock in the blink of an eye and make it look easy.

The set includes four major epics. “Testimony Suite” clocks in at 21 minutes, and it  includes highlights from Morse’s 2003 album, Testimony. Neal is upfront and open about his Christian faith, and it is a genuinely emotional moment for him as he sings this account of his conversion. “The Conflict (From Sola Scriptura)” is 27 minutes long. Initially, I was put off by Sola Scriptura, but this performance illuminated aspects of it that I hadn’t heard before. It’s a beautiful piece.  “Question Mark Suite”, at 21 minutes, is an outstanding distillation of Neal’s exploration of the symbolism behind the Exodus and the Hebrew Tabernacle. After a change of pace with the relatively brief “Fly High” (I would have preferred something like “Absolute Beginner” here; “Fly High” isn’t that strong a song, IMO), Neal and the band wrap up the show with the 33 minute magnum opus “World Without End” from Momentum. It’s an incredible performance that outdoes the original, and leaves the audience yelling for more.

The band fulfills that request with a three-song encore: “Crazy Horses” (yes, the Osmonds oldie!) sung by Mike Portnoy while Neal takes over the drums; “Sing It High” (which features every member taking a solo turn), and finally, “King Jesus”. As the exhausted musicians leave the stage, you can clearly hear a member of the audience call out, “Neal! Neal! Thank You!”

The second DVD disc includes an hour-plus tour documentary. Beginning with rehearsals in Tennessee, we follow the band from their first show in Nashville on October 2, 2012 (which, to my eternal regret, I had to miss) to their last in Chicago on October 12. In the space of ten days, they perform shows in Nashville, Jacksonville, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, New York City, and Chicago, all the while practicing and continually refining their parts. It’s a marathon run at a sprinter’s pace. There is video footage of every performance, and much of it is quite good. One definitely gets an appreciation for how much hard work and how many hours it takes to make a live performance look easy. As Mike Portnoy says, “This band kicks ass! I mean, the second gig – it’s tight; a really tight second gig.” Neal himself describes them as “A band on fire”. I can’t disagree.

You can order this CD/DVD set direct from Radiant Records.

Here’s the promo video for “Momentum”: