The real treat here is the visceral element of live ensemble playing by these masters of prog ...technical chops combined with a good dose of passion and more than a little fun.
KaLIVEoscope (reviewing the Special Edition DVD version – a Blu-ray edition with video extras is available and greatly lusted after by this reviewer)
3 CD / DVD package
CD1: 3 tracks – 53:38
CD2: 3 tracks – 66:30
CD3: 7 tracks – 62:37
DVD: 2 hours, 41 minutes
English, stereo – option for 5.1 surround
Metal Blade / Radiant Records DVD
Gathering together from intercontinental shores for a wide-ranging tour, Neal Morse (keyboards, acoustic guitar, vocals), Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), Roine Stolt (electric guitar, vocals), and Pete Trewavas (bass, vocals) – collectively known as Transatlantic – offer a generous helping of progressive rock recorded live at a pair of shows in Tilburg, The Netherlands, and Cologne, Germany. Aided and abetted by Spock's Beard's Ted Leonard on additional guitar, keyboards and vocals, the band displays technical chops combined with a good dose of passion and more than a little fun.
Of course these are stellar musicians – this we know. The amazing thing is that they can come together from far and wide and produce a level of performance that would have you think they've all been living in the same house for the last three years rehearsing the material. The music is big, massively complex and demands an imposing skill level from the respective musicians. Three and four part vocal harmonies sail over instrumental passages with changing time signatures and turn-on-a-dime tandem runs that sing out aggressively from Morse's keys and Stolt's guitar. Winding, sturdy bass lines from Trewavas dance with masterful batteries of sound from Portnoy's kit, while the impressive Leonard fills in any gaps and adds his own special flavor to the musical hot sauce.
The set-list of the DVD pretty much mimics the content of the three audio CDs, with the painful exception of "Knights in White Satin," "Hocus Pokus," and "Sylvia," the last two songs featuring no less than Mr. Focus himself – the mighty Thijs Van Leer on flute and keyboard. Van Leer is quite a visual treat on his own – it would have been wonderful to see as well as hear that performance. The balance of the music will be familiar to fans of Neal and company – and none will be disappointed.
The sound is clean and well-mixed and the visuals are exactly what you want: close-up shots of the soloists, artistically-angled band shots, crowd views, etc. This is a multi-camera shoot that manages to cover all of the angles without feeling manic or unnecessarily 'tricky' or distracting from what's going on between the players.
The complexity of the compositions performed here leave little room for surprises, so the real treat is the element of live ensemble playing – adding warmth and humanity to the more pristine studio versions. As engaging as the audio CDs are, the video disc really brings you to the show. Morse's role is more tied to the keyboards in a Transatlantic concert – that, and of course vocals, which are more natural, more raw, and more emotional than in the studio. Roine Stolt is both a visual and audio centerpiece, the lanky Swede leaning into his powerful and fluid solos, so Zappa-like in tone and often, execution (at least to these ears). Trewavas' fingers race up and down the fretboard as he steps back and forth from the spotlight, obviously putting in a demanding physical as well as artistic night's work. The far end of the line-up has Portnoy, hit kit facing directly across from Morse on the other side – a mental/musical/almost mystical link between the two men that book-end the stage, often seeming to fight the urge to leap over their instruments at the end of a song.
There are highlights a-plenty but what keeps replaying in my mind (at least today) are some of the emotional numbers like the exquisite, "Shine," introduced by a powerful story of the song's origins from Morse and an absolutely stunning solo by Stolt, and the 'rose colored glasses' section of "The Whirlwind Medley," which has never sounded as impactful or glorious as it does here. "My New World" is an amazingly potent ensemble piece, bridging pop and jazz and somehow ending up as prog. If there's one performance that shows that these men can do just about anything they want to, this just might be it.
So, what about the rest? Well, as they say: it's all good. But I mean, like really, really good. There are no weak links in this group. If you're into prog you must have this. If you want to get into prog, give this a try. It's the next-best thing to being there.