Spock's Beard, November 2nd 1998
Tivoli, Utrecht, The Netherlands
By Ed Sander and Derk van Mourik
In the beginning of 1998 I was given a review copy of Spock's Beard's
Kindness of Strangers album. I was immediately swept away by their
music and before long I owned all the albums. Since the last gig in Holland
had only been a couple of days after I received the aforementioned album, I had not been
able to see them 'in the flesh' yet. I therefore was very anxious to see if they could
recreate all those complicated tunes live on stage.
After having bought the new rarities album (of which a review will appear
on DPRP soon) I watched support act Enchant - who played well but are not
really my taste - and chatted with Martin Orford, who had come to watch
the show of the band who used to be on his GEP label.
There were some other IQ related guys as well; Rob Aubrey was doing the
sound while Laurence Dyer took care of the lights.
The show started with a tape of the (cello) introduction of The Good
Don't Last while the band walked on stage. Soon afterwards they kicked
in and performed a good version of the opening track of their latest album,
while Rob worked like a madman to make the final adjustments to the sound.
The ending of the song did not include the The Radiant Is part but
instead went straight into a kick-ass version of The Mouth of Madness.
During the keyboard solo by Neal, keyboardist Ryo came from behind his gear
to applaud for his fellow band-member.
'You might recognise this one', introduced the familiar squeaks of
Thoughts. Noticing the reaction of the crowd, Ryo used this intro
to get the audience even more exited by asking for cheers in between the
squeaks. An almost perfect version of Thoughts followed and I was
amazed by the incredible 'ensamble playing' between the musicians.
What's more, everybody seems to do some (backing) vocals now and then, which
is a nice change from the normally 'static' situation of instrumentalists in
The next two songs were Strange World (with backing vocals by bass player
Dave) and Go the Way You Go in which Ryo and Neil were playing their
keyboards on their knees.
Alan and Neil picked up their acoustic guitars and started playing a nice
ditty which eventually flowed into June. Nick came from behind his
drumkit to the front of the stage to join in for the close-harmony. The
sparkling fireworks which were lighted by the audience gave a wonderful atmosphere
to this brilliant performance.
'Do you want Harm's Way ?', shouted Neil, and off they went. Although
the performance of my favourite track of the last album was very good, I once
again noticed that the band did not play the recent material as tight as
the old stuff. I found this a bit remarkable because the material has already
been out for almost a year. Besides that, Alan's guitar playing wasn't as
impressive as on the albums, which might be partially caused by him being
too low in the mix for part of the gig. On the other hand, he wasn't really
able to produce the same level of quality as on the studio album.
Don't worry, these were my only two minor 'complaints' about the whole concert.
Except for Ryo, the whole band left the stage while he took center stage with
a bright red portable keyboard. This piece of equipment clearly used a
midi-link to his other gear because the ambient sounds he produced from that thing
were amazing. Alan, Dave and Nick came back to join him for a keyboard/bass/guitar
duel. At one point Ryo was scatting along to his playing and in the end of
his solo he jumped into the audience, walked over to give Rob a high-five at
the mixing desk and back to the stage, all the while continuing his solo.
The main set closed with a version of The Light, which also included
a drum solo after the Senior Valasco section. Lighting operator
Laurence Dyer (which you might know from the IQ crew) created a very effective
show with Neal Morse singing in spooky green light. The whole light show was
great throughout the show, with many colours, smoke and use of the two
Goldscans which Tivoli owns.
The first encore was a big suprise. Nick came from behind his drum kit and
changed places with Neil to sing a nice version of the Genesis classic
Squonk ! A fantastic version of Waste Away closed the first set
But the crowd hadn't had enough yet and wanted more, so the band came back
on stage to play all-time favourite The Doorway, featuring an extended
acoustic middle piece.
What a fantastic gig ! One of the highlights of 1998. Not only the audience
really enjoyed this night; you could tell that the band was having a great
time on stage as well.
Let's hope the new album will arrive soon and the band will return to
Spock's Beard - 1998, November 2nd
at the Tivoli venue, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
by Derk van Mourik
When we entered the venue at around eight thirty there were already quite a lot of people present. After the storming entrance Spock's Beard had made in the Dutch scene earlier this year, I expected the venue to be almost sold out and it was. I knew *I* had looked forward to this gig for a long time. I was one of those "victims" of last January’s onslaught! My only fear was that maybe they wouldn't be able to top that performance. Well, it turned out that there was absolutely no reason to worry on that count!
On one side of the entrance hall a merchandise booth had been set up, where, among other things, the long awaited Spock's Beard rarities album was on sale. After I had bought a copy I checked out the hall. The balcony was closed, just like it had been last January, but the floor was quite crowded already. I didn't have to wait long for the first performance because at ten to nine (ten minutes too *early*!) Enchant took the stage.
Enchant is an American band who had a very well received debut album A Blueprint of the World which had been produced by Marillion's Steve Rothery. This tour was in support of their fourth studio album, Break. I had only heard their 'leftovers' album Time Lost a couple of times so most of the material played was unknown to me. When they started playing it became almost immediately apparent that there was something terribly wrong with the sound. The drums and bass were way too loud and the keyboards couldn't be heard at all. One would think that the sound engineers would hear that something was wrong, but during the whole set of more than an hour the sound didn't improve significantly. This was really a shame because the performance was very good and Enchant played some really beautiful songs. But because of the sheer loudness of it all and the virtual absence of keyboards it wasn't as enjoyable as it could have been. To put in a bright note, the band was very well received by the audience and as I said before, the performances in themselves were good. The singer made a very good impression on me, even though I don't like his voice on the studio albums that much. At the end they played a song of the Time Lost album, actually one of my favourites of that album. During Enchant's performance the crew of the venue discovered that actually more people had turned up than could fit in the main arena so the balcony was opened. This shows the rising popularity of Spock's Beard in our little country! Although I do think that there were quite a lot of people from abroad, especially England that didn't get a gig again.
While the bands' crews took care of setting up the stage for the Beard's performance my two companions on this trip decided that they wanted to have the rarities disc after all but the disc was sold out when they arrived at the merchandise booth. Too bad, guys! Maybe next time.
And then the moment was there. With the familiar opening notes of The Good Don't Last on the intro tape the five members of Spock's Beard entered the stage, welcomed by the shouting of five hundred throats. A perfect opener of the The Kindness of Strangers album and a prefect opener of the gig. The Good Don't Last flowed smoothly into the ferocious In the Mouth of Madness, another track from the newest album. Then came the rather strange song Thoughts, off the Beware of Darkness album. I say strange, because this song doesn't really seem to start until the fifth minute or so and by then it's almost over! Nonetheless I really like this song a lot and the vocals were beautifully done by the a capella choir of about every member of the band except Ryo! I especially like Alan Morse's soaring guitar on this track.
Lead singer/keyboardist/guitarist Neal Morse introduced the next song, Strange World, by saying that it was the first time this tour that it would be played live. Not one of my favourites of The Kindness of Strangers, but this doesn't mean that I don't like it, it's just like it less than some other songs!
Next was Go The Way You Go, the first track of the debut album The Light featured tonight. Twelve minutes of sheer ecstasy, as far as I'm concerned! When drummer Nick D'Virgilio appeared from behind his drum kit to take position at the front of the stage and Neal an Alan Morse took acoustic guitars to hand, the die hards knew that it was time for June. Although Spock's Beard's live set features quite a lot of long complex songs which are all as great as the other this gorgeous ballad was the absolute highlight of the show for me. It's clearly a crowd favourite because everybody sung along at the top of their lungs! Probably the Spock's Beard song with the most hit potential.
The band remained in The Kindness of Strangers spheres with Harm's Way, the fifth song of that album played that night. Although this is my favourite track of that album after June, I had the impression that all didn't go well during this song.
Ryo Okumoto had been jumping up and down behind his keyboards all evening, making weird faces to the crowd and yelling all sorts of things I couldn't understand. He clearly was yearning to go for it completely and now he was given his chance. Wielding his portable keyboard like a guitar he prepared to do his solo and unleash himself on us. Well, actually it wasn't a solo because Alan Morse, bass player Dave Meros and Nick D'Vigilio were there to assist him in the rhythm department. Strangely enough Ryo started out with some very sweet and rustic melodies and just as we were fearing for his sanity (or is it insanity? ;-) ) all hell broke loose. Jumping up and down the stage he widdled his way through a barrage of blistering solos. Just like last time he didn't keep his antics confined to the stage but at one point jumped on the floor of the arena and made his way through the crowd, all the while playing like a madman. He even dropped himself on the floor, lying there on his back playing.
After he had been helped back on stage the rest of the band (id est Neal Morse) returned for the last song of the main set, The Light. The last time I saw them this was played as the first encore but I think it works better this way. Well, The Light is one of my favourite Spock's Beard songs so needless to say I enjoyed every millisecond of it. In the middle of the song the band left Nick D'Virgilio alone to do his drum solo. This man has played on a Genesis album. Nuff said.
The band came back for the final part of The Light and then said their goodbyes, only to return for the first encore of course! I had already heard that they had covered Genesis' Squonk a couple of times so it didn't come as a complete surprise when this was in fact the first encore! Although not one of my favourites of the A Trick Of The Tail album I enjoyed it tremendously. You won't hear Genesis playing this song anymore. Funny thing was that Neal took seat behind the drums (is there anything this guy *can't* do?) and Nick did the lead vocal!
The second encore was the sing-along Waste Away, off the Beware of Darkness album. The band made their second goodbyes, once again professing that they were very pleasantly surprised by the high turn out of the gig and the enthusiasm of the crowd.
Of course there was still one song missing and there was no doubt that this was to be the last encore. The Doorway is vintage Spock's Beard. It contains everything that makes them so special: superb musicianship, delicate piano melodies, great guitars, fast and complex passages, tight drumming, a great duet on acoustic guitar between the Morse brothers and, well, that Spock's Beard feel. You gotta hear it to know it!
And then it was all over. Curfew at half past twelve prevented any more encores from being played. Needless to say I had a great night, saw a lot of friends I hadn't seen in a lot of time (hi Margarethe, Edwin, Mark, Dave, Ed, JJ, Nicole, Bart Jan, Herbert, Armand, Martin, Jeroen, Erwin!!) and witnessed another brilliant exhibition by the best live band of this moment.
The Good Don't Last (Introduction/The Good Don't Last)/
The Mouth of Madness
Go The Way You Go
The Light (incl. drum solo)