The Neal Morse Band – The Great Adventour – Live in Brno 2019 (Album Review)

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Mike Portnoy recently commented that although he had widely proclaimed “The Similitude of A Dream” to be the crowning achievement of Neal Morse’s discography, he ultimately felt that follow-up double album “The Great Adventure” was actually on par with “Similitude” and that together they form an epic 4-disc set. Judging by this performance of “The Great Adventour – Live in Brno 2019”, his observations are well-founded. Simply put, if you like prog-rock concept albums with engaging storylines, expert musicianship and diverse songwriting, “The Great Adventure” delivers in spades. Being their debut performance ever in the Czech Republic (although playing in Prague just seems more apropos), the Brno crowd represented well and filled this beautiful and unique concert hall.

Photo by Csongor Bordy

Seeing that the bulk of this concert is an exact replica of the studio album, most readers are probably aware of what they are getting into in regards to content (if not, see our recap here) and thus are most interested in learning how well the audio and video succeed in delivering the performances. Rest assured, it succeeds on both counts, particularly the audio thanks to the fact that it’s mixed by Rich Mouser. Need we say more? The studio version of “The Great Adventure” had raised an already-high bar in production values for Neal Morse recordings, and this live rendition impressively maintains that standard. While it carries the edge and immediacy of a live recording, it also sounds astoundingly polished and expertly mixed to allow these 5 maestros to each shine in their own right. Comparing the live tracks to their studio counterparts reveals little compromise on both the parts of the audio engineer and the band. The drums are clear and powerful but not overwhelming, every bass note and run is well defined, the keys and guitars perfectly blend while coming to the fore as needed throughout each piece, and the 4 voices are mixed as intricately as on a studio recording. Quite astonishing, in the best sense of the word.

Photo by Csongor Bordy

The video editing is also very satisfying thanks to our editor being none other than bassist Randy George. There are numerous camera angles that George had at his disposal, many of them from stationary GoPro’s, but also from live cameramen as well. The advantage of having the video editing done by a musician in the band is that they are familiar with every nook and cranny of the material, and thus know exactly who to focus the camera on given each vocal and instrumental riff. Thus, when Gillette shreds during “Dark Melody” or “The Great Despair” you get close-up shots of the fretboard rather than some unrelated shot of another band member, as annoyingly happens in too many concert videos. When Bill Hubauer rips a solo, the camera is right there with him. Plainly put, the viewer gets to enjoy the view they would likely most want to see depending on who is being featured in the moment. Two caveats here to mention on the video: there are two cameramen on stage and they are regularly visible throughout the concert, particularly the one behind Gillette. For some viewers that won’t be a problem, but if that aspect happens to annoy you then be forewarned. Another divisive issue is the decision to overlay images onto the video screen. These were skillfully created by Christian Rios for the shows and are projected on the screen behind the band, adding to the total concert experience. But on the video they are at times overlaid on top of the shots of the musicians, which enhances the electricity of songs like “I Got to Run” and “Welcome to the World”. However, some fans seem adamantly opposed to this kind of presentation so again, be forewarned that this technique is frequently employed. It’s a personal preference but overall the approach is tastefully and effectively done. 

“The Great Adventour – Live in BRNO 2019” Album Artwork

As for the performances, the band are on fire. Being towards the end of the tour, all of the kinks have been worked out and everyone is in prime form, playing ease-fully and flawlessly. Bill Hubauer’s performance on keyboards is as impressive as it is dynamic, while his voice has never sounded better. Portnoy gets a little more room for drum fills in “Overture” and especially in “Freedom Calling” but otherwise delivers his precise and enthusiastic attack with a frequent grin on his face, grimacing only during his dark vocal moments which still carry humor: “Do you feel lucky, well do you, Brno? You better get used to this inferno” during “Welcome to The World 2”. Gillette is the consummate guitarist who can switch from tender to shred at the drop of a hat with seemingly no effort but it is his smooth vocals that equally astound, whether the lightness of “Hey Ho”, the passion of “I Got To Run” and “The Great Despair”, or bringing it home on “A Love That Never Dies” and again for the climax of the encore. And George is the rock who grounds the entire proceedings, largely playing bass with a pick but at times like in “Dark Melody” you can spot him using his fingers on the 5 strings. He essentially closes the show in the final emotional moment with a Chris Squire-like presence reminiscent of the ending of “Awaken”. Front and center, Morse guides the entire evening with an ever-changing wardrobe which brings the spirit of Gabriel’s The Lamb right into the 21st century. But more than that, the audience always feels instantly at home and welcomed by the spirit that exudes from Morse’s glance…during “Long Ago” he looks right into the camera during the line “I’d not be here if not for you” and tingling chills ensue. The opening section of the “Overture” reveals Neal’s voice is a little rough from the tour, but instead of detracting it only adds to the character that he delivers. As he later sings “I can almost hear the minions…” the joke is that his goggles indeed make him look like a Minion character. His slide guitar work on “The Great Despair” is one of the concert highlights, before Gillette closes the song with a jaw-dropping solo of his own. We even get a very brief “country-fied” version of “The Great Adventure” for one verse, an inside joke partially explained by Morse in between songs. The pacing is relentless, each new song providing a different color or, in the case of “Vanity Fair”, a rainbow of colors. Were it not for the “Similitude” tour two years prior, this could easily be considered the Neal Morse Band’s finest hour. 

Photo by Csongor Bordy

As if the two-hour performance of the double album wasn’t enough, the thirty minute encore alone is worth the price of admission. “The Great Medley” expertly plucks choice moments from each Neal Morse album in a chronological rollercoaster ride which starts out with spine-tingling emotion as a clever and powerful video rewind ends with Morse entering the stage solo for his acoustic “The Land of Beginning Again”. That this epic medley culminates in “Long Day Reprise” is almost too much for the faithful to sustain in one evening, having already been broken open from “A Love That Never Dies” a half-hour earlier. It’s over-the-top. It’s classic prog-rock at its best. 

Photo by Csongor Bordy

For any fans of the studio album still questioning if they should purchase “The Great Adventour – Live in BRNO 2019”, or wait for the inevitable Morsefest release of the same show in the future, there are two reasons to say yes: One – while the Morsefest shows offer a unique performance with added choir, strings and horn sections, there is something powerful and immediate in seeing these five musicians serve it up in the element of a rock concert hall. This is a killer performance that is more than a souvenir from the tour, it’s a chronicle of the band at their peak. And reason two – with a Morsefest ‘19 release likely being quite a while in the future, there’s no reason to wait so long. The band is that inspired and the material is that good that it beckons to be enjoyed right now. Let the great adventure now begin. 

Released by: InsideOut Music
Released Date: March 6th, 2020
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Neal Morse / vocals, keyboards, and guitars
  • Bill Hubauer / organ, piano, synthesizers, vocals
  • Eric Gillette / lead and rhythm electric guitar, vocals
  • Randy George / bass, bass pedals and vocals
  • Mike Portnoy / drums and vocals

“The Great Adventour – Live in Brno 2019” Track-listing:

1. Intro
2. Overture 
3. The Dream Isn’t Over
4. Welcome To The World
5. A Momentary Change
6. Dark Melody
7. I Got  To Run
8. To The River
9. The Great Adventure
10. Venture In Black
11. Hey Ho Let’s Go
12. Beyond The Borders
13. Overture 2
14. Long Ago
15. Child Of Wonder
16. The Dream Continues
17. Fighting With Destiny
18. Vanity Fair
19. Welcome To The World 2
20. The Element Of Fear
21. The Great Despair
22. Freedom Calling
23. A Love That Never Dies
24. The Great Medley

9.5 Excellent

The Neal Morse Band narrows the focus of their latest tour to deliver prog’s most infamous cliche: the double-concept album. Played in full during the course of their two-hour concert - plus an epic encore medley - what is startling about The Great Adventour is that they not only convincingly pull it off, but that this is the followup to a previous double-concept album and tour as well with “The Similitude of a Dream”. Well filmed and expertly mixed, this concert is a keeper for Neal Morse fans, whether they attended the tour in person or not.

  • Performance 10
  • Video Production 8.5
  • Audio Production 10
  • Setlist 9.5
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