GIG REVIEW: THE NEAL MORSE BAND Live at Ridgefield Playhouse, Connecticut
I don’t often get a chance to see a band at the very beginning, and then the very end of a long tour run. But last night at the Ridgefield Playhouse, in Ridgefield, CT I had the pleasure of seeing The Neal Morse Band, who I had reviewed earlier for their Toronto, ON show back in January. And as incredible as they were back in January, after months of touring their last album, ‘The Similitude of a Dream,’ that time has paid dividends, and they were even tighter and more impressive than they were the first time.
Last night’s show was special to me on a personal note as well; I traveled to Connecticut with my Dad, the man who first introduced me to the wonderful world of progressive rock when I was in middle school. It was his first time seeing the band, and he’d gotten us tickets before I even knew that were even covering the show. As far as the show went, the main set list was identical to all the shows this tour has had, as they have been performing the entire 100 plus minute ‘Similitude’ album in its entirety on a consistent basis for the past 7 months. And as I said previously, all those shows have combined to take what was already one of the best and most impressive live bands in music today, and make them even better together. The show last night was, to put it mildly, an awe-inspiring performance of technical and emotional skill.
Neal Morse, besides being the main vocalist, transitioned between playing keys, electric, and acoustic guitar the entire evening and never missed a cue. He was, of course, joined by his long time collaborator, friend, and drum legend Mike Portnoy, who for my money has saved his best drum work to date for this current tour and album. Mike is always a showman, and incredible to watch, but the clear amount of fun he was having on stage last night, and joking back and forth with Neal (all the while playing insane drum parts), was one of the most joyous things I’ve been able to witness in a live setting. They were joined by long time Neal alum, bass maestro Randy George, who while stoic and solid, continues his playful touch with a large stuffed sloth hanging from his bass throughout “Sloth” from the second act. And one cannot forget guitarist Eric Gillette, who has been making a name for himself as amongst the best young guitarists in prog rock and metal. He recently joined Mike for Mike’s Shattered Fortress tour celebrating his music with Dream Theater, standing in for John Petrucci; the chemistry the two share was readily apparent and his impassioned vocals shined throughout the evening. Bill Hubauer rounds off the band, providing key work, vocals, and, for two (separate) songs, saxophone and mandolin as well. And, as the first time I saw them, Bill’s performance on “Worldly Wiseman” was jaunty and spot on perfect.
There haven’t been any real changes in the show, however, if you happen to get the chance to see any of the next three performances (which are the last times playing ‘Similitude’ in its entirety) it is still worth seeing again if you saw an earlier tour. Neal still dresses the part of the pilgrim throughout, wearing all black for the majority of the performance, but at the end of both acts when the character finds salvation switches to white. And he goes through several mask changes, including a sloth mask for the above mentioned “Sloth” and last night, laid down on the floor of the stage to take a brief nap in the middle of the song. The crowd, to say the least, loved every minute of it. But the band is playing at much a higher level, it will make it well worth anyone’s time. The highlight last night came during a chilling performance of “The Mask” (which includes a dark video with an almost X-Files vibe) through “Broken Sky/Long Day (Reprise)” which ends the show. This section is arguably the best work Neal has done throughout his entire career. And by the end of the night with the final song of the main set, Neal was literally in tears singing it and he certainly wasn’t the only one. The crowd which was very active and truly fed off his energy the whole night and he in turn fed off them throughout. The evening ended with a brief encore of “The Call” which was a fun and fitting ending to a perfect night of prog.
Last night was a truly inspiring and powerful evening of some of the best prog being produced today by some of the best musicians on the planet. And as they keep playing together they just get better at what they do. There are only a few shows left but if you can attend one you’re in for a true treat. Thankfully, a DVD shoot is planned for Morsefest so this memorable tour will be captured forever. The Neal Morse Band are clearly passionate about what they play, and even if you don’t share Neal’s religious beliefs, his message of hope, redemption, and salvation clearly can still move plenty of people.
Also check out our photo gallery here!