FLYING COLORS IN CONCERT – 10/07/19
SONY HALL - NYC
Flying Colors at Sony Hall in NYC
Flying Colors at Sony Hall in NYC
From the lush, propulsion of “Blue Ocean” to the relentless near-grunge pop of “Mask Machine,” the band played a steady stream of crowd-pleasing songs…
It takes a lot to get New Yorkers to go to a concert on a Monday night, but The Sony Hall was packed on this particular Monday night in October for a rare east coast appearance by Flying Colors, the superstar group featuring Neal Morse (keyboards and vocals), Mike Portnoy (drums and vocals), Steve Morse (guitar), Dave LaRue (bass), and Casey McPherson (guitar and lead vocals). How excited were the people in this audience to see this band? Excited enough for a bunch of them to stand in one spot in front of a stage for two hours before a note was even scheduled to be played, and then to stay there for the next three hours until the last notes of “The Storm” faded away. The rest of the crowd, equally euphoric, was seated at tables, although most ended up on their feet as well. The two screens on either side of the art-deco decorated stage looked like those you might see in a modern evangelical church, but advertised up-coming shows instead of projecting the words of modern worship songs - they would later on be very effectively used to add creative visuals to accompany Flying Colors’ set. The standing in one spot is somewhat of an endurance test but there’s a surge of adrenaline as the lights go down and The Beatles’ “Flying” sends an ethereal anticipatory vibe through the speakers. The song ends and Flying Colors starts their show.
The interesting thing about this band is that they’re unique even within their own connected circle of musical friends. Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy are common elements of The Neal Morse Band, Yellow Matter Custard, and Transatlantic (as well as other side projects), lending a very distinct prog/metal element to any band they’re associated with. Steve Morse is a founding member of the Dixie Dregs and has in recent years been guitarist for Deep Purple, and even put in a brief stint with Kansas! Bassist Dave LaRue has also played with Portnoy, and both LaRue and Steve Morse have played in the Dixie Dregs. McPherson fronts the band Alpha Rev and was lead singer for Endochine – one of his big fans was a drummer named Mike – and here we are. Flying Colors manages to sound like all of the aforementioned artists and yet sounds exactly like, well – Flying Colors. The thing that marks this band is that they’re essentially a pop band - a pop band with sophistication and a musical pedigree that allows them to extend the pop format and take it - to borrow a phrase from Star Trek - where no band has gone before. Remember the song that introduced the show? That was no coincidence…
The songs were drawn from the band’s first three studio albums, the third one – Third Flight – having just been released. Being the first post-release show, we were treated to premier performances of “The Loss Inside” and “Love Letter,” both enthusiastically received. The crowd, which age-wise spanned several decades (I saw one girl of about twelve, several ‘seasoned citizens,’ and everything in-between), immediately responded to the first notes of every song, often singing along and fist-bumping the air. “Good energy here,” noted McPherson, following “You are Not Alone.” Portnoy confirmed, “They party like New Yorkers!”
Flying Colors gets a live crowd reaction similar to the bands of the classic rock era and the British Invasion. The fans are intense, they know exactly what’s coming, and they’re very much into the whole lead singer backed by a band experience. Casey McPherson is a strong presence as a frontman, with and without his guitar. His vocals are emotionally delivered and he knows how to ‘sell’ a song whether it’s a love song or something more esoteric. The harmony back-up vocals of Morse and Portnoy – and Neal’s lead vocal spots – added just the right seasoning to this musical stew. Super-tasty at all times. Still, unlike the ensemble feel of the Neal Morse Band, Casey is without question the Flying frontman. McPherson clearly knows how to work an audience.
Those fans that showed up to see some heavy musical chops weren’t disappointed. Neal Morse is a keyboard wizard – as solid a player as you could ask for, whether creating textures of sound or playing dazzling solo runs. Of course in Flying Colors you get two, yes TWO Morses for the price of one. Steve Morse (no relation) plays with as much drama and emotion as speed, making his solos funky and full of power. LaRue’s bass lines are melodic as well as solidly foundational to the songs – incredible technique and lots of good taste. Mr. Portnoy is, of course, a legend behind the drum kit, and the somewhat more pop-oriented nature of some of the songs provides a really uncluttered way to hear him create stunning fills that seem to leap quite naturally from the songs.
From the lush, propulsion of “Blue Ocean” to the relentless near grunge-pop of “Mask Machine,” the band played a steady stream of crowd-pleasing songs that proved just what an amazing range these guys can handle stylistically. Flying Colors makes a 12 minute song seem like a four minute single (remember those?). The band enjoys playing, and just as important, performing. This is not a typically narcissistic heavy rock band. They’ve got all of the musical muster they need to ‘rock the house’ and strut around …if they chose to. Instead, these five men come out and play some pretty difficult, but very hooky and enjoyable songs – you know, just like the bands used to do back in the day. They seem to enjoy doing it – and we all enjoyed the show. See them if you can. Here’s the setlist:
A Place in Your World
You Are Not Alone
Forever In a Daze
The Fury of My Love
The Loss Inside
- Bert Saraco (words and images)
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