Alive Again is a jam-packed live release from The Neal Morse Band, bringing you a generous helping of what you’d see and hear on-stage at one of their concerts. Big sounds and well-captured images….
Artist: The Neal Morse Band
DVD / CD package
CD 1 – 8 tracks 65:22 CD 2 – 8 tracks 73:50 DVD – 2 hours and 40 minutes (main program) Tour Documentary: 1 hour and three minutes
Metal Blade / Radiant Records DVD and Blu-ray
You know that you’re never gonna’ get short-changed with a Neal Morse release. The hand-picked Neal Morse Band has proven to be the equal to whatever musical challenge that Morse can toss their way, and the evidence is all over this live recording in front of an enthusiastic audience in Holland in March of last year. Despite having really only one project behind them as The Neal Morse Band (last year’s, The Grand Experiment), Neal (keyboards, guitar, vocals, and who-knows what else), Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals, etc.), Eric Gillette (Guitar, vocals, etc.), Bill Hubauer (keyboards, vocals, sax, clarinet….), and the ever-reliable Randy George (bass, vocals, etc.) masterfully perform not just material from their own debut project but songs from Neal’s solo work and even “Harm’s Way,” an epic ‘deep’ Spock’s Beard piece.
You’ll notice that there are indications in the last paragraph that these guys do much more than their ‘assigned duties’ on stage. Each player is a master of many instruments, most notably demonstrated on the 35 minute showpiece, “Alive Again,” from Neal’s “?” album. Despite the grandeur of the multi-part epic the band stretches out in the middle, switching instruments ‘till the band has undergone so many permutations that it’s safe to say there’s a small army of potential sub-bands within the line-up. That’s the thing about The Neal Morse Band: they’re amazingly good at what they do – so good, in fact, that they can afford to have an awful lot of fun while they do it. There’s no lack of showmanship in the performance - Morse seems genuinely involved emotionally in every song. It’s obvious that his trust in this band has freed him up to connect with the audience (and the music) more than ever before and it shows all over the live audio recordings and – especially – on the video portion.
The multi-camera video shoot is covered from every angle, sometimes using lap-dissolves and inserted shots to provide more than one angle at a time. Thankfully, the video crew seemed to be familiar enough with the music to know when to cover the solos, so we get wonderful views of stunning fretwork from Neal, Eric, and Randy, as well as Neal and Bill’s fingers flying across their respective keyboards. Of course Mike is covered from all angles as he relentlessly punishes the drums, creating blistering fills and maintaining rhythmic order in the most impossible of musical places. All is captured in Dolby Digital 2.0 sound (this review is of the DVD version).
For those who need even more, there’s a little over an hour of a visual tour diary edited by Randy George, covering the whole tour and including the fun, mishaps, trials and triumphs of bringing the show to various venues – and three cheers for Morse and Portnoy who each had to deal with sickness a couple of times but managed to still make it onto the stage to perform.
Aside from the expected excellent performance by this amazing group of musicians, there are some surprises, highlights, and revelations, even to Morse’s legion of fans. The acoustic mini-set starts with Neal performing “There is Nothing That God Can’t Change,” a song which offers stories (“all true,” Morse assures) about people encountering God in their lives. Neal delivers the moment very much in a singer/songwriter mode, somewhat Dylan-esque in the songs’s relative simplicity compared to what went on before. “Waterfall” follows, with the band showing what fine command of vocal harmony they have (and what wonderful voices Eric and Bill have). On the DVD this portion is sandwiched between the explosive “The Creation” and the powerful “In The Fire,” and provides a well-delivered oasis of musical reflection.
If there’s a trinity to Neal’s music it’s Neal himself, who pours all of his considerable talent into expressing his faith through music; Randy, whose humor and bedrock-bass playing – which unexpectedly takes flight into stunning arrays of melodic phrases – holds much of what happens onstage together; and Mike, who lends an irrepressible (and almost dangerous at times) spirit of adventure to each performance as he creates thunder with an edge of finesse to the music’s heartbeat. Eric, of course, is well on the way to becoming the latest guitar hero, playing with passion and technical wizardry, while Bill is like The Great and Powerful man behind the curtain – filling in the blanks, creating a multitude of sounds and textures and making it all work together.
By all means, see this band in concert if you get the chance – until then, you can enjoy this package and get an idea of what to expect when a tour comes your way. Alive Again is a fine official first live outing from a band that sounds like they’ve been playing together for decades – not just a couple of years.
To see concert images of this band and many others, visit: