Rarely are we here at BGM stirred by the possibility of a live album, but upon inspection of Flying Colors’ new two-disc album “Second Flight: Live at the Z7,” we felt compelled to comment. Not only because the work is the product of laudable musicians like Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy (though that helps,) but because “Second Flight” hits so many of the right notes for a live album, capturing the subtleties of a concert that can normally only be observed, well, live.
What makes this live compendium work so well relative to many of their contemporaries and live albums in general is that it doesn’t feel nearly as long as it actually is. That’s a fairly good-sized accomplishment for any band that partakes in the occasional musical embellishment, but especially unexpected from a double album of progressive music, where the natural assumption is that very little has been left on the cutting room floor. Flying Colors, by contrast, keeps their wanderings to a minimum; each individual musician is allowed to show his technical acuity in bursts just long enough to prove the point and not a measure longer. This keeps the listening experience of “Second Flight” appropriately brisk, but still imparts the feeling of experiencing the unique talent of each person on stage.
By way of example, the unparalleled Mike Portnoy (who hardly needs an opportunity to prove himself,) is allowed to blossom during the outro of “Shoulda Woulda Coulda,” immediately snapping up the attention of the crowd and drawing their appreciation. Bassist Dave LaRue does a similar exhibition for “Forever in a Daze” with much the same result. Flying Colors shows off just enough to be compelling through their performance, without crossing the line into unnecessary attention seeking.
With respect to the crowd, one of the subtle successes of “Second Flight” is that there’s just enough crowd allowed to seep through to remind the listener that they’re sharing in a celebratory live experience. They clap, their cheer, they whistle vigorously and call out when they recognize songs. This is paired with the robust production of the album in general, excellently mastered as to render the sound full but not overflowing.
For the sake of due diligence, there are also plenty of highlights in the songs themselves and the performance that brings them to life. The second disc, like the first mentioned above, is equally abound with enjoyable listening, including a fulfilling and light rendition of “One Love Forever,” where the keyboards come alive and the song floats along without worry for about seven minutes. The same goes for the sanguine “Peaceful Harbor,” which bounds with measured enthusiasm.
“Second Flight: Live at the Z7” is a fine example of what a live album should be. The joy of the musicians is evident in the proceedings, evident in the tone of their music and evident in the supportive cheering of the crowd. The production is loud but crisp, a smooth and easy listen that belies the depth of its running time. Flying Colors has done this right, and other bands considering a live production should take examples from what they hear here.