The Neal Morse Band is comprised of Neal Morse (formerly of Spock’s Beard) (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Mike Portnoy (drum legend, vocals), Randy George (bass), Eric Gillette (guitar, vocals), and Bill Hubauer (keyboards, vocals, and just about everything else) and 2017 has been quite the year for them especially considering it is only the beginning of March. They have begun a tour in support of their new album The Similitude of a Dream, just returned from Cruise to the Edge (also known this year as Mike Portnoy’s 50th Birthday bash) and announced Morsefest 2017 for the first weekend of September. In the midst of all this, the band has revealed that they will be releasing a live recording of Morsefest 2015 on March 24th 2017 through Radiant Records via Metal Blade Records/Sony.
For those who don’t know, Morsefest (started in 2014) is a two-day music festival where people from all over the world come to Nashville, TN to celebrate Prog music at its finest. Now when I say music festival, I suppose that is not the best description. This is a much more intimate and special event. Neal takes great care to plan something that those in attendance will get nowhere else, and those that aren’t will wish they had gone.
Now that you know what Morsefest is all about, let’s get into the discs. Disc one covers the entire first night of Morsefest 2015, and there was a lot to cover. Friday night started out with a few songs from the NMB album The Grand Experiment, including a full album version of the “MacArthur Park” cover that blew me away. There were also some songs from Neal’s time with Spock’s Beard and his early solo albums. Then in true prog fashion the band brought out a full choir and a small horn section to take the song “New Jerusalem” to the next level. Up next was the “?” (yes that is the title) album in its entirety. Ending this epic 3-hour night of Prog epicness was a reprise of the album opener “Temple of the Living God.”
At this point, disc one ended, and I had to sit back and wonder how it must have felt in that room. The energy must have been incredible.
Disc two covers the second night of Morsefest 2015 and gives you an hour of bonus material including some behind the scenes goodness. Night 2 started off with Neal’s album Sola Scriptura from start to finish. I have to point out that although Paul Gilbert recorded the album, Eric Gillette absolutely shined during this live performance. Next up was an acoustic version of “Waterfall” from The Grand Experiment. With Mike Portnoy coming out from behind the kit to join Neal, Bill, and Eric at the front of the stage you could tell this was going to be good. The harmonies and pure emotion during this song are almost indescribable and I loved every moment of it. It actually gave me chills, the way only an incredible song can.
Next up, giving Portnoy a break and as a cool surprise for the crowd, Nick DiVirgilio (Spock’s Beard) climbed behind the kit and played the Spock’s Beard classic “At the End of the Day.” The audience went wild for this reunion. DiVirgilio then came around and joined Neal in singing “Wind at my Back” with the entire crowd helping out by joining in.
To end this special two-day event, with Portnoy back behind the kit, was a twenty-minute melody of Transatlantic’s Whirlwind. This album is Progressive music at its best and to hear a melody like that, of the entire album, was incredible.
As bummed as I am that I was not able to attend in person (something I hope to rectify this year) this live DVD makes me feel as though I was. The production of both the sound and visuals is something you must see and hear for yourself. There is no way for me to describe just how good it is.
Be sure to go to RadiantRecords.com and pre-order this not to be missed performance of Prog at it BEST. And while you are there you may want to think about getting yourself a ticket to Morsefest 2017 while you’re at it.