The Neal Morse Band puts you in the front row and creates an immersive experience with The Great Adventour…..
The Neal Morse Band
The Great Adventour – Live in BRNO 2019
Available as 2 Blu-Ray + 2 CD Digipak in slipcase + digital album
Inside Out / Radiant Records
There’s something about prog rock fans – they just can’t seem to get enough – and The Neal Morse Band is happy to feed their collective habit. The Similitude of a Dream was a massive prog/pop/rock extravaganza, retelling the story of The Pilgrim’s Progress in sweeping compositions, intricate instrumental passages, cinematic orchestral sections, and emotional, sometimes complex vocals. The fans and the critics loved it. Morse and friends loved it, too – because they followed it up with more of the same, maybe even kicked up a notch on The Great Adventure, a musical ‘Part II’ of the classic tale. The next logical step was to take it out on the road with a very visual presentation featuring columns of smoke, colored lights, and a large screen behind the band, featuring dramatic illustrations and video effects. Morse deepened his performance by portraying the various characters whose parts he was singing (complete with wardrobe changes). Yeah, prog tends to get that way.
Even though the tour hit some 47 venues across North America and Europe (including Westbury, New York, where I was fortunate enough to catch the show) there was no way for the hard-working band to be able to satisfy the demand for live performances. And that’s what brings us to this fine double Blu-Ray, 2 CD package, filmed in the Czech Republic, and appropriately called The Great Adventour! If you’re already this deep into the review you doubtless already know the music and own the studio version. I’ll be concentrating, then, on the video aspect of the package, which is a two hour and twenty minute feast for the eyes and ears.
Of course the usual suspects are all here: Neal Morse (vocals, guitars, and keyboards), Mike Portnoy (drums and vocals), Randy George (bass), Eric Gillette (guitar and vocals), and Bill Hubauer (keyboards and vocals). The ever-emotive Morse gets to prowl the stage, breaking out the acting skills and donning various costumes, from druid-like hoods and cowls to steam-punk paraphernalia, to mad-hatter carnival garb. Although he never strays too far away from his keyboard or guitars, the competence of this fine band of musicians frees him up to connect to the audience in a more dramatic way. Thanks to the multi-camera format, we’re able to view the band members from a variety of intimate angles, highlighting Gillette’s lightning-fast fretwork, George’s nimble, articulate coverage of the entire neck of his bass, Hubauer’s keyboard magic, and of course Portnoy’s dazzling, theatrical flourishes across the drum kit.
The video presentation of the concert does even more than just’ putting you in the audience’. As previously noted, we get intimate views of the musicians and their techniques, but add to that the digital incorporation of Rios’ images into the performance footage. While the audience saw the imagery projected on a screen in back of the band, the video overlays Rios’ work onto many shots of the band in action– most effectively, the image of a timepiece that appears around Neal Morse during “I’ve Got to Run.” This technique essentially creates a new layer of art to the performance. If you’re a purist you might wish for less effects and more unaltered band footage, but the story is well-served by the visual cues. Double and triple screen techniques were used sparingly and to good effect, especially when showing building layers of vocal harmony and musicians’ interaction. The film was edited beautifully by Randy George, which proves that when a musician edits a live music video he knows instinctively when to cut from one player to another and how long to hold (or not) a particular shot. George’s rhythm as an editor matches his solid timing and foundational playing as a bassist. One bone to pick might be the too-obvious camera operator in many of the shots – the plus and minus is that he got those great close-ups of Eric Gillette’s shredding, but was also a bit intrusive being so present in the alternate view. Still, if that’s the price we pay for those beautiful shots it’s worth it.
Of course the performance is superb. Portnoy is amazing as usual, having a ball and playing astounding fills while spinning, tossing, and catching his sticks – oh, and turning out really fine (and sometimes pretty ominous) vocals. Gillette shreds but never loses his sense of taste and melody – for me his shining moment is the solo on “The Great Despair” – an outstanding spot. Rock solid, holding down the fort and propelling the music forward is Randy George, who creates not only a firm foundation but beautiful, transitional riffs that are mini-compositions of their own. Bill Hubauer is Morse’s secret weapon, creating a variety of sound textures (including full, rich organ parts), intricate runs, impressively detailed solos, and getting those high vocal parts exactly where they belong. Neal, of course, is all over the stage, singing and playing and generally delivering a passionate performance. The incredible finale, “A Love That Never Dies,” left Morse visibly moved – and more than likely will do the same for you.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, the (sweet green?) icing on the cake is the over 27-minute encore, “The Great Medley,” a magnum opus that incorporates memorable themes and songs from pretty much all of Neal’s solo work and his work with The Neal Morse Band! There’s also a bonus disc featuring two documentaries and official videos from the studio album release.
By all means, any serious prog fan will want to experience The Great Adventour – and after you do, you’ll want to make sure you’re part of the audience next time the band comes to your town.
- Bert Saraco
To see concert images from the NY stop of this tour check out my concert photography page at: