November 16th, 2003
Lucky & Co, Rijssen, The Netherlands
Was Black, Is White...
Remarkable. And that might even be an understatement. The decision Neal Morse made last year to leave his buddies in Spock's Beard whilst on the top of their career.
An inner battle resulted in a choice to follow his heart and gut feeling; he felt that God had a different career in mind for him. So he left Spock's Beard and after a while the inspiration for new music came automatically to him. (More about that later)
He recorded Testimony, a double album telling the story of the road that led to his dramatic choice. With all the typical Neal Morse sounds and high quality songs but with a different lyrical content, especially on CD2.
November 16 was the day Neal Morse came to Holland with an 8 piece band to bring the music to life. Here's what happened in Rijssen's Lucky, at the Morseweg...
In a beautiful dancing like venue like this the first of the two Holland gigs was booked. An audience of about 500 people came to see what and how Neal had changed. First of all the band itself! No less than 8 musicians on the stage, a mini orchestra!
Introduced by Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer, (the song stopped at the line "This will be my testimony.." and that was repeated until Neal walked into the audience from the back of the room. (Kinda like Jon Anderson did on the ABWH An Evening Of Yes Music Plus video). It was said before already that the whole album was going the performed and so it began..."I wish there was a way to start again", Neal on acoustic guitar.
The band assembled on stage while Neal came walking towards the stage, greeted by fans who all were excited because of this special entrance. Once on stage it immediately stroke me that all musicians were dressed in black. The break where the album really takes of was impressive, the sound was wonderful! Neal's company was made of high skilled musicians, it didn't took long to discover that. One of the leading guys was Violin, Flute, Hawaiian Steel, Backing Vocals and Lead Guitar player Eric Brenton who played with such ease that it seemed he had been playing this kind of music with Neal for ages. This was only their 3rd gig!! He also enjoyed playing the material, a smile was on his face more that often and because of his long curly hair I thought he looked like Beethoven's good twin. Bassplayer Randy George stood at the background, watching the whole spectacle of a fantastic band being warmly welcomed and cheered by a very enthusiastic audience. But this playing was accurate, melodic, warm and together with Cellist John Krovoza he laid down a atmospheric bass-carpet.
Bert Baldwin on keyboards and second vocals, Rick Altizer on Rhythm / Lead Guitar, Keyboards and Backing Vocals and Mark Leniger were the oil in the machine that was lead by Neal Morse himself on Lead and Acoustic Guitar, Keyboards and Lead Vocals of course. Did I leave out anyone? Oh yeah...I'm sorry DT fans...the amazing Mike Portnoy on drums! The engine... What a power this guy delivers, it's not of this earth, really.
Way into the album Neal suddenly stopped the performance, irritated by a noise. This turned out to be the feedback of Mike's bassdrum. How the band picked up where they left off was impressive. You could tell how well they knew the material and that shows dedication. It isn't exactly Status Quo music you know.
After a 15-minute break the band picked up CD2 but now all dressed in white shirts...what was black was now white, how symbolic. Not necessary but I understand the idea, knowing the content of the album and the point in the story.
But as the story becomes lighter I began to feel a little uncomfortable. Not by Neal but mainly by Rick and Bert who started dancing, clapping and making direct eye contact with the audience. An disturbing feeling grew in me. Were they really trying to preach and convert me? I guess it wasn't their intention but as this was the very first time I witnessed 'this kind' of music with fanatic religious aspects I guess I was struck by surprise. This ís the way they enjoy the music and lyrics and as soon as I realized that I could go back enjoying the show, which is always that counts the most for me.
There were several highlights in the performance but the one thing I want to emphasize is this; Neal addresses the audience to tell the true story of his daughter Jada, who had a serious heart problem as a baby. What happened was that Neal's wife Cherri took the baby to church, asking God to either take or heal her. A few days later at the hospital it turned out to be that the hole in her heart had almost closed up. While telling us this Neal burst out in tears, crying and thanking the Lord. How quiet the audience was... Was this the moment where God literally came into Neal's heart and mind? It could very well be so. It was a moving moment, no matter if you agree with the content of the album.
The story was finished in the first encore and in came a new exciting moment; what's next? Spock's Beard, Transatlantic, Dream Theater? First it was June from the Spock's Beard album The Kindness Of Strangers. One of the best sing along songs ever. Then to everybody's second surprise Transatlantic's Stranger In Your Soul was introduced by Neal...and how well this one was done I can't hardly tell. Wow! I never thought I'd say this but Roine Stolt is not exactly needed, he IS replaceable, by Eric Brenton that is. Rick Altizer beautifully sang the parts of Pete Trewavas. So there might be a future for Transatlantic after all?? After this 20 minute song people were starting to leave, satisfied and thankful for having witnessed a superb concert. But there were also people not leaving...They stayed on the floor, waiting if there was a third round of desserts. And it came! "So 3 hours wasn't enough for you?" Neal Morse is back on the stage and he and his band threw in an equally amazing version of Transatlantic's We All Need Some Light. What a treat. The conclusion of this song and actually the whole performance. I was there....I saw it. Honestly one of the most impressive shows I've seen in the past 10 years.
The day after, in Tilburg's 013 I got the chance to sit down with Morse and have a chat. A lot of things he told me are already said; how hard it was for him to leave Spock's Beard because they were doing so well, how long he had been battling with mixed feelings because of his religious beliefs that grew stronger and stronger. I asked him what the main differences are, if there any, compared to things around Spock's Beard. He said not that much but one big difference is the fact that he totally let the Lord tell and decide what he should do. So when I asked Morse what he thinks that will be next for him in terms of music he said he really doesn't know. When the time comes he will ask and it will be shown to him by the Lord.
One thing I wanted to know is, after seeing the live show in Rijssen, how was this live band assembled. All are very good musicians and show true dedication, as if this band has been around for 10 years. "It just happened, everybody stepped on board at the right time, I never met the Cellist before we boarded at the airport. He was recommended by someone in the band and I trusted on that. It turned out fantastic."
All of the musicians, except for Mike Portnoy, are active in the religious music scene so I asked Morse how he would handle the likely to be growing interest from that corner. He's hoping for that to happen but it's not he whole purpose, he is very happy that a lot of his fans are showing up for this tour. He would like to keep both sides happy and see what will happen in the future, it's unpredictable.
One of the most emotional moment in the set in Rijssen was the moment where Morse is telling about his daughter. I asked him why he wanted to share that. Before that moment he told the audience that he felt strange by leaving that particular moment out of the album but now he told it anyway. He still thinks that the album is good the way it turned out as it is but that moment was so important to him and his family that he felt should share it. Not in the sense of making it a element of the live show but to emphasize how his life was influenced by that. (later in the show he told the audience that too).
I personally think, especially after talking with Morse that the spiritual thing element of the whole thing came over him like tidal wave. When there is or was a special plan for Morse by the Higher Power (whatever it may be) he feels he was steered into the right direction, although I think that the direction he was heading wasn't that different at all. Experiencing the music of Testimony is the same as Spock's Beard and/or Transatlantic. So that power is maintained, the changes are the lyrical aspects and the way of life. Personally I feel that a return to one or both former bands is still possible. Once coming to terms with the choices Morse made I hope he will be realizing that in all ways his musical talent hasn't changed at all and that talent is in the person Neal Morse. Rejoice!
Testimony Part 1:
The Land Of Beginning Again
Overture no. 1
Colder In The Sun
The Prince Of The Power In The Air
Testimony Part 2:
Overture no. 2
Break Of The Day
Power In The Air
It's All I Can Do
Testimony Part 3:
Ready To Try
Sing It High
Testimony Part 4:
Moving In My Heart
I Am Willing
In The Middle
The Storm Before The Calm
Oh, To Feel Him
Testimony Part 4:
Overture no. 3
Oh Lord My God
God's Theme 2
The Land Of Beginning Again
Stranger In Your Soul
We All Need Some Light
Photos © Frank Alders, for DPRP 2003