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Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Neal Morse Band - Alive Again

This 2-CD/DVD (Blu-Ray) set consists of The Neal Morse Band’s performance recorded last year on March 6th at the Cultuurpodium Boedrerij in the Netherlands to a sold-out crowd as Beardfish was their supporting act. They were on tour promoting their new album of The Grand Experiment which was released last year. The Alive Again live album is released on the Radiant Records label. Once you put on the DVD (Blu-Ray) on, you can imagine you are at the concert being in awe of the band exhilarating performance.

Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Bill Hubauer, and Eric Gillette, bring the audience together and give them a performance they will never forget for many years to come. You have The Grand Experiment which has this symphonic roaring composition that reminisces the Album-Orientated Rock eruption (AOR) followed by a cross between Gentle Giant meets Styx as if it was recorded back in 1977 for the Arena Rock sound.

With the haunting opening of the Alive Again Intro begins with a haunting distortion drone of a Church Organ sound before it turns into a symphonic roar of the keyboards filled with the audience’s applause as it segues into the 10-minute epic, The Call. With a-cappella introductions, Portnoy’s roaring drum of a militant rhythm, organ and uprising melodies, Gillette’s lead guitar takes flight as the audience are in awed of showing their stamp of approval.

Randy’s Bass brings some intense work as the Keyboards help him out through the melodies and a nod to the Wah-Wah pedal in the nod of Herbie Flowers. Then it goes from a Thrashing-Prog Metal approach and ending in to a heavenly climax. Leviathan features intense rhythm sections, Mellotron done with a Brass sound in the style of King Crimson as if it’s a combination of the Red-era meets ELP’s Tarkus.

Neal also wanted to make sure that he still has the magic of his old band, Spock’s Beard and making sure that he’s not letting the fans down. He brings a classic of the band’s material from the third studio album, The Kindness of Strangers entitled Harm’s Way. There is a late ‘70s/early ‘80s sound between the approach of Genesis and Yes while Neil introduces Mr. Hubauer.

Bill goes into an amazing piano concerto. There are moments that you can close your eyes as Bill goes through the styles of Freddie Mercury, Keith Emerson, and George Gershwin and influences of both Jazz and Classical Music are blended. It segues into the 16-minute adventure, The Creation.

As the audience embarks more of Neal’s journey, Eric’s solo on the intro is a killer before the band lead in the chorus as the last 3-minutes of the piece, you could feel the emotion Neal lets outs for the earth to grow. The crowd is completely in awe for the stirring epic finale. Portnoy introduced Neal to the audience as they are about to head into an acoustical sound.

Listening and watching both the CD and the live performance that is both on the DVD and Blu-Ray, you can imagine Neal is fighting back tears as he sings, There Is Nothing that God Can’t Change. The first half of the story in the song deals with the characters going through of becoming their own worst enemies. Neal then tells his story to the audience about what he and his wife were going through of the birth of their daughter, Jayda.

After praying, Jayda’s heart problems disappeared. And she remains healthy to this day. I can hear Neal’s tears in his singing as he is trying to finish the song and he nails it. As the audience are showing support and know that they are not just fans of his work and Spock’s Beard, but they are also family. The 34-minute piece of Alive Again is where the magical circle comes into swing.

Here, the band give everything in what they got. With a symphonic introduction followed by a droning sitar including a pop momentum in the movement, it is improvisation time! They take turns of playing each of the instruments one including Neal on the Drums, Eric on the keyboards, and Randy playing an exhilarating solo that got the audience’s applauding. As one of the members say, “You can’t get much Prog than that!” And they are absolutely right.

The DVD contains a documentary called Inside the Neal Morse Band tour. It’s very much like a home movie footage of the band’s tour of the new album. There are couple of moments including meeting the band members at a hotel and Portnoy giving his humoristic take of the Broadway musical Annie singing excerpts of Tomorrow. Driving through ice-slid roads and doing rehearsals in Nashville from February 18 to the 20th to make sure they got it right.

Frank Zappa always said, “Touring Can Make You Crazy.” And it’s a big job to not just go on the road, but to make sure they get the fan’s approval and show they are doing it 100%. And they would take time sing a few songs on the bus in an acoustical manner of The Beatles I Feel Fine and Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. And a photo of meeting Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult in an Airport.

While it showed their European tour, it showed some serious moments including Neal’s run to the doctor’s office at Switzerland of a fever and Mike to the Emergency room in London and seeing if the show was still about to go on or not. And other moments also on the road. Including interviewing with the fans in London about their appreciation of Neal Morse.

Now while I’m not a giant fan of both Spock’s Beard and Neal Morse, I was completely spellbound and blown away of listening and watching at the same time. This is magical and promising at the same time when you watch or listen to the performance to know they give it all and what they got. So buckle your seat belts and get ready for an amazing journey of The Neal Morse Band’s Alive Again. 

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