Thursday, March 2, 2017

DVD Review: Morsefest 2015

There are a few things that are certainties. Yes, this is where I insert the joke about death, taxes, and a new Neal Morse DVD. Over the course of his time as a solo artist, Neal has made it a habit to document every recording and every tour. While that can seem like overkill to some people, his fans are more than happy to see each one rolling down the line, because they are all different enough to justify themselves.

This time, we get the second installment of Morsefest, the ultimate Neal Morse experience. The first installment covered the "Testimony" and "One" albums, which moving chronologically makes this the installment where Neal and his band cover the "?" and "Solo Scriptura" albums, playing them both in full, while throwing in a set's worth of other classic Morse music.

Let's just state the obvious right off the bat; this is a package for the die-hard Neal Morse fan. Having four hours of material, including two prog epics performed in their entirety, is a lot to ask of anyone who isn't already sold on the music. Myself, "?" is my favorite of Neal's prog solo albums, so I was excited to see and hear what it would be like for Neal and his band to bring it to life on the stage. Before we get there, the band performs a set of material that includes tracks from the (at the time) most recent Neal Morse Band album, but also a few deep cuts for the die-hards. We get "Go The Way You Go" from the old Spock's Beard days, which is a nice treat, and we get the first performance of "A Whole 'Nother Trip". It's a song that doesn't get much attention, but in the live setting, it's a (pardon the pun) trip to hear.

That leads into "?", which is a beautiful, horn-laden conceptual suite that translates beautifully to the stage. The hints of funk and groove pop when played live, and the energy the band puts into the performance is infectious. In fact, that's the biggest selling point of everything Neal does. Sure, there are moments throughout the shows where things are a bit hokey, but that's part of the charm. You can't watch the band, and Neal in particular, play this music without seeing how much it means to them. That's actually a rare quality, and it's refreshing to see.

Night two gives us the prog workout of "Sola Scriptura", with it's massive prog slabs, along with Spock's epic "At The End Of The Day", and a medley of tracks from Transatlantic's "The Whirlwind". It's an amazing amount of dense and involved music, and while it's brilliantly played, it can be a bit much to take in all at once.

But if you're a fan of prog, and of Neal, this is the sort of show you want to see. The band is delighted to be playing some of Neal's best music, and the result is a DVD set that gives you the chance to be there to see an epic show that will never be duplicated. With a horn section, a choir, and a few special guests and unusual instruments, we're seeing something unique. It's not just a band playing the music. It is a show, and it's one that prog fans should be elated has been captured for us to enjoy.

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