DVD REVIEW: THE NEAL MORSE BAND – “The Great Adventour – Live in Brno 2019”
Release a new album, tour said album, film and release a new DVD of said tour. Repeat. This has been the pattern as of late for Neal Morse and The Neal Morse Band. And it is something I most certainly am not complaining about. I am perhaps making light of it, but the band is getting set to release ‘The Great Adventour – Live in Brno 2019’ in early March, and it is the sixth DVD that Morse and has released with this band since 2014. Shot during the band’s first visit to the city of Brno in the Czech Republic, it captures the band at the height of their touring prowess performing the entirety of their last album ‘The Great Adventure’ and it is a release that any of us fortunate enough to have seen the tour, and those who were unable to, should be glad to have.
As stated, the band performs all of the last album straight through, with an intermission in between the two disks of the album. Unlike some earlier DVDs, however, this performance is captured on a single disk, with a bonus disk of background material. The band kicks off with the 10 minute “Overture” before continuing on through the rest of the album. Two things are immediately obvious, first the audio quality is excellent, and second bassist Randy George does a superb job with the editing. Unlike so many concerts I’ve seen in recent years, he knows that a cut every two seconds is incredibly annoying, and instead allows the camera to linger on the musicians, focusing on each, and staying on them depending on what is happening musically. This allows the audience to actually see what they’re doing when they play, and gives us a front row seat the whole time.
There are a number of fan favorites early in the show that need mentioning, “Welcome to the World” and “Dark Melody,” the second of which was recently released as a music video. For this tour Morse is rather shabbily dressed and unshaven as he portrays the main character of the album, the eldest son Joseph (son of the main character from their previous album ‘The Similitude of a Dream’). The two songs are some of the heaviest on the album, and both Morse and drummer Mike Portnoy don large steampunk looking glasses for “Welcome to the World.” Throughout the show Morse will don a variety of masks and outfits. These of course get a great reaction from the crowd, whose energy the band feeds off of all night.
The band had been touring this album for quite some time by the time this was shot, and the tightness and chemistry is obvious from the very beginning. Randy George’s bass is rock solid throughout (and you can actually hear it in the mix!), and his interplay with Portnoy is as good as ever. Mike of course needs no introduction, suffice to say he’s as good as he always is. For both their stellar playing and vocal work, keyboardist Bill Hubauer, and guitarist Eric Gillette are indispensable. Bill’s key work is reminiscent of the prog legends of the 70s, and Eric’s technical guitar work and speed bring a modern metal edge to the music. Neal of course switches between keys and guitar, handling both with ease, and during the climactic moment of the title track during what is “in my opinion the most important part of the album!” plays a whistle as well. Yes a police whistle, it is a rather amusing and light hearted moment in what is often a heady and dark album. It does, however, demonstrate the humor, and fun this band has together on stage. They take their music seriously of course and are laser focused throughout, but they are clearly having a lot of fun while doing it. Neal and Mike of course have long teased and played off each other while performing, and this concert is no exception.
The second half of the show is unsurprisingly every bit as good as the first with multiple highlights. The first coming during the whimsical “Vanity Fair” with Neal donning a hippie frock coat and a hat large enough to please The Mad Hatter. Mike then gets a chance to talk with the audience and prepare to “serenade you with my vocal stylings” for “Welcome To the World 2” which starts the final act of the story and brings the music into what is probably the heaviest and darkest of Neal’s career. Mike’s vocal stylings have been hit or miss over the years, but he absolutely nails it during this show. Special mention always has to go to Eric Gillette and his performance both vocally and on the guitar during “The Great Despair” which is show stopping in both regards. It is I think his best vocal performance to date. The final highlight worth mentioning is Bill Hubauer during “Freedom Calling” while singing counterpoint to Neal.
The show ends with the emotional “Love That Never Dies” which is complete with the audience singing along with the band and giving them the applause they deserve. Rather than a lengthy wait for an encore, the video screen switches to show an old TV set and flipping channels going backwards showing video clips of Neal’s solo career until it reaches his first album ‘Testimony’ marking the beginning of “The Great Medley.” What follows is a nearly half hour medley hitting all of his prog albums to date, ending with the closing track from the ‘Similitude’ album which bleeds directly into the beginning of the album they just finished performing. The circle being complete, the lights go up, and the crowd erupts. It ends what is pretty much a perfect evening of modern prog rock and metal.
I do have a slight complaint about the DVD however, and it is one I’ve heard from other fans of the band; the inclusion of animated projection covering the screen, and the band. A quick viewing of “Dark Melody” will show what I mean. Flashes of lightning, and other designs cover the screen, and obscure the musicians, and you can’t see anything. They are of course not alone in doing this, but I hate the look of it, and I know I’m not the only one. That being my only complaint however means this DVD still knocks it out of the park.
Unsurprisingly The Neal Morse Band have put out yet another excellent live release, that is well shot, well edited, and sounds fantastic. ‘The Great Adventour – Live in Brno 2019’ is a DVD that should be on the top of every fan of the bands list of things to get this year. And any fan of modern (or classic) prog should as well. The band continues to impress, both in the studio, and even more so in live performances, and are easily one of the best live bands in modern music, regardless of genre. Highly recommended.