The Neal Morse Band — The Great Adventour - Live In Brno 2019
Neal Morse is no stranger to live albums, this being his band's fourth official live release in five years. This outing sees them in support of their latest double concept album, The Great Adventure, which is a follow up to 2016's wonderful, The Similitude Of a Dream. It seems to have become the norm to record a live album for every studio album released these days, this is especially popular in the progressive rock scene and I've noticed a number of bands doing it over the last number of years. Joining Neal are his usual band of multi-talented collaborators, the ever impressive Mike Portnoy on drums, Randy George on bass, Bill Hubauer on keyboards and the incredible Eric Gillette on guitars, all members of the band tackle lead and backing vocals at some point, with the exception of Randy George.
The album was recorded at the bands first ever show in the Czech Republic, in the beautiful city of Brno. With it being the first time they'd passed through these parts, the crowd are understandably enthusiastic, clapping, cheering and singing whenever they get the chance. This participation is well slotted into the albums mix as to not become intrusive, but still provide a much needed atmosphere, as it should be with any good live album.
The band themselves sound, as you would expect, about as close to perfect as you can get. I must admit, when The Great Adventure was released, I was going through somewhat of a "prog drought", and therefore it flew over my head a little, I've probably played it maybe five times. It came as a nice surprise to my ears that this album is much, much better than I initially remember. Everything from I've Got To Run, is very, very good indeed. I think perhaps I felt as the album starts relatively slowly, I may have not gone back to it after feeling underwhelmed on the first few listens.
I've noticed this about Neal Morse in the past, whether it was with Spock's Beard or his current line up, he's always had a way of making his live performances sound more energetic than the studio versions of the album. This is again true here, the songs are brought to life with an energy you can literally feel through the speakers. Every band member sounds like they are giving it their all, especially in the vocal department. The harmonies throughout the album are flawless, almost entirely, without ever sounding like there is any overdubbing or studio magic happening. A great example of this is during the title track, where Neal and Eric swap vocal passages beautifully, nailing everything, while Mike Portnoy plays with the tempo of the song, deviating slightly from the original to the delight of the cheering crowd. It's a masterclass that we've come to expect from musicians of this calibre, and it's breathtaking to behold.
Venture In Black is another song that benefits greatly from the live atmosphere, it oozes a haunting quality that I just don't hear from the studio version. The blusey, Hey Ho Let's Go, was another one I found comes to life in the live setting, showcasing Eric Gillette's vocals at his best here. Another example of Eric's huge contributions to the band is the chorus from I've Got To Run, he changes the timing of the vocals just slightly from the album, but it's done just enough to give your ears an interesting new perspective on the song. Many other examples of this can be found throughout the tracks here.
Moving onto the second part of the show, and although Overture 2 is a suitably epic piece, I also felt that the album takes a bit of a dip here, it's not until Vanity Fair that my feet were tapping again and the smile returned to my face. Despite this, the band are still on fire, their performances never stutter as they plow through Fighting With Destiny, sounding almost like a proggier version of Nine Inch Nails at times.
The remainder of the set is equally brilliant, The Great Despair being a highlight of the final part of the show and, Freedom Calling, clearly being a favourite with the crowd. It is, however, the closing track to the main set, A Love That Never Dies, where you can really feel the emotion and power of the band at its clearest. This is a fantastic song in every way, and hearing it live with the guys pouring their hearts into it is a beautiful way to end.
I imagine after all this though, the main selling point of this double cd set will be the encore. The Great Medley is a near 25 minute run through of Neal's more recent career, with, as far as I can tell, one song from every album since Testimony. I won't spoil what they actually play, but it's all put together and arranged in the usually superb way that we're used to from Neal. It's a great way to end the whole experience and the band still sound fresh at the end of this long night of prog. So if you're a Morse fan, this is a no-brainer. It's exactly what we've come to expect from these guys and if you enjoyed the album originally I imagine you'll enjoy this version even more.
As well as the CD version I've reviewed, the album is available as a double Blu-ray plus double CD set with a host of extra's including documentaries filmed over the European and US tours, music videos and of the course the entire show in all its glory.
The Neal Morse Band — The Great Adventour - Live In Brno 2019 [Blu-ray]
Neal Morse is one of a spate of current prog artists who tends to follow each studio album with a live release of the subsequent tour. I am a bit conflicted by this practice as it can get a bit repetitive. On the other hand, looking at it from a historical perspective, I now wish that bands like Genesis and Yes had done the same in their heydays. Regardless, I go into releases of this type with a slight lack of enthusiasm and some question as to whether they are necessary.
In circumstances like this, where the bulk of a tour's setlist comes from one album, I tend to value the video release more so than the accompanying live album. That is certainly true of The Great Adventour - Live in BRNO 2019. It is an extremely well produced and entertaining concert film. The camera work, editing and visuals are all excellent. At times, images of the backdrop stage videos are superimposed over the actual performances, but the effect never feels cheesy or intrusive. In fact, it adds to the overall viewing experience.
The impeccable live rendition of The Great Adventure is a challenge to criticise. I am a fan of the original studio recording and the piece works very well in a live setting. Neal even helps to keep thing interesting by making occasional wardrobe changes and drummer Mike Portnoy is always an exemplary showman. The closer of the album, Love that Never Dies was memorable on the studio release, but here cements its status as a true Neal Morse classic. The performance of the song, which ends the main set of the concert, is breathtaking and reason alone to own the Blu-ray. Also, The Great Medley encore is an effectively compact way to end the show with a number of rousing songs from Morse's discography.
The merit of this release is heightened by the fact that it documents the band's first ever concert in the Czech Republic. The audience is very enthusiastic throughout which clearly adds to the overall energy of the performance. This was the perfect show on the tour to capture as there is no doubt that it was a special evening for the band and the crowd in attendance. There is certainly no shortage of Neal Morse live releases, but when they are this good, who can complain? Seeing The Neal Morse Band can be a powerful concert going experience and this Blu-ray captures that feeling about as well as any I've seen.