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.
Courtesy 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.
Alan Cox was the promoter of the Neal Morse Band concert in Aurora, Colorado, on February 28, 2015. It was a truly glorious evening. Here are Cox’s amazing photos from that night–posted with his kind permission.
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.
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.
Hot 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.