Progressive rock stalwarts known as NMB just finished touring the USA promoting their latest record, the critically and fan acclaimed “Innocence & Danger” in front of enthusiastic audiences in selected cities. Every NMB tour is a special occasion, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to catch them on the road, being fortunate enough to see them on several consecutive dates on these tour run.
This chronicle it’s not a summary of my experience on a particular tour date, instead, it aims at providing readers with overall description of the tremendous experience that encompasses witnessing The Neal Morse Band unleashing their unmatchable prog-rock extravaganza on stage. Hopefully it will bring back memories to those who attended a concert, describes what was experienced for those who could not participate in any, and serve as an appetizer for those still waiting for the European leg.
As I was waiting in line to enter the venues, I saw how some excited parents arrived with their young children, feeling proud of having taken them to their first-ever The Neal Morse Band experience. Others commented that they brought friends who were not familiar with the band to the show, noting that they could not wait to see their reaction, knowing beforehand that they were up to a treat that would blow them away. We share our precious things with our loved ones, and for many of those present, the music of NMB is a cherished gift that we want to share with our people.
Inside the buildings, as I was crossing the venues or impatiently waiting by my seat, I could often hear some people stating how many miles they drove to be there or from which city they had to fly over. There were even those who came from abroad. These people came from distant places to have the chance to participate in “An Evening of Innocence & Danger”. Sadly, but understandable, the band had chosen to reduce the dates of the tours due to a lack of fair offers from some promoters, which is incomprehensible considering the indisputable quality of these musicians and the fantastic show they put on. If you are lucky enough to live in or near a selected city for a future show, or if it is in your possibilities to travel to attend one of them, do not overthink it, DO IT. You certainly would not want to miss this; there is a reason why people are traveling and bringing their loved ones to an NMB show.
As the lights would go out, an orchestral piece created by the man of many talents, guitarist Eric Gillette, would play, signaling the start of the spectacle. The album openers “Do It All Again” would set things in motion, and it is beyond my understanding how people manage to stay seated instead of jumping or flailing to the rhythm of this uplifting track with its anthemic vibe. Who does not tend to contain himself and seems to be experiencing a second youth is Neal. With electrifying energy, Morse moves wildly through the stage, engaging with his bandmates while playing a particular intricate section, kneeling and getting up with surprising ease, jumping and overall, letting himself be carried away by the music.
The band is in absolute top form, and they certify it with the energetic performance of “Bird On A Wire”, where their musical chops are set free through the interchange of thrilling solos between Neal and Eric. Only two songs in and the magical atmosphere created with the music becomes evident. The outstanding display of technical skills and their ability to endow its compositions with beautiful melodies and deep emotion works in tandem, and it’d come as no surprise to see how tears were running down the cheeks of many of many in attendance.
After two pure prog-rock songs, NMB showcased their versatility with shorter and poppier tracks. We saw how the band expanded and improved the use of different vocalists, as in the case of “Your Place In The Sun” and the mellow vocal harmonies that enrich their sound, as it happens on the chorus of “Another Story To Tell”. For “The Way It Had To Be”, Hubauer and Gillette were in charge of taking the spotlight. The atmosphere turned ethereal and subtle while a heartfelt guitar solo and an absorbing piano connected with complete naturalness with two surprising renditions of staple Pink Floyd songs. One of the shows I witnessed happened in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Morse modified a line from one of these tracks to allude to his friend and former Spock’s Beard band-mate Nick D’Virgilio, who that night was present among the audience.
After such unexpected surprise, the band performed its prog-rock version of the classic track “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, which acquired a heartfelt element after hearing that Morse dedicates the timeless Simon & Garfunkel piece to his mom. We beheld in delight how NMB took a folk song and transformed it into a glorious prog-rock tune that manages to be familiar yet fresh to our ears. A real highlight of the evening.
The band continued putting their dynamism right in-front, while bringing an acoustic rendition of “Waterfall,” a poignant cut taken from their debut album “The Grand Experiment”. The atmosphere became even more emotional as Neal mentions the hardships we have all faced in these turbulent times and the losses we have experienced, making it more emotionally impactful.
The “Innocence” section of the show was finished at that point, and the excitement for what is yet to come only increased two-fold. For the next 50 minutes, the “Danger” component of the evening would rule, with the 5 top-notch musicians keeping the venue in awe. “Not Afraid, Part 2” and “Beyond The Years” enclosed a masterclass in musicianship, and the audience would be drawn into a rollercoaster of emotions, driven by the combination of intricate, subtle, and melodic passages with quirky turns, heavy and extended instrumental sections and outstanding solos.
It’s noteworthy to highlight the synergy between the duo formed by bassist Randy George and drummer Mike Portnoy, shining with a dazzling light that seems impossible to fade away. The rhythmic support they provide goes beyond keeping time. They maintain cohesiveness through the show and even take the lead during some of the best parts of it. The way they complement each other is completely natural despite how different they are on stage. While George is more reserved and lets his fingers talk with exceptional eloquence and fluency, Portnoy attracts attention due to his inspired fills and grooves and cheeky interactions.
At this point the show seemed to be coming to end, but fortunately, the band has prepared a fantastic encore full of fan favorites taken from their two concept albums based on The Pilgrim’s Progress. From this point forward the electrifying energy reached such a peak that no one could stay seated anymore, with the audience indulging in the one-of-a-kind experience the band still had in store, culminating in all the epicness and emotionality that the closing part of “Broken Sky / Long Day (Reprise)” can offer, with Gillette‘s vocals and guitar solos leading the charge.
In one of the shows Neal joked, stating that NMB could very well be the best band in the world. Although there is no way that his statement can be objectively certified, anyone present could indeed produce a case out of it. What is certain is that not many bands can deliver a splendid show capable of making over two and a half hours of music feel like a short breath, where the focus is on the musicianship rather than the looks, and the astonishing display of technique and virtuosity is perfectly balanced with emotion, catchiness, and melodic passages.
Being at a The Neal Morse Band concert is more than just attending a show. It is a unique spectacle performed by some of the best musicians in the world, where music is not heard through the ears but through the heart and soul. It is an immersive and comforting experience where the attendees find a place to feel, enjoy, heal, and recharge energy to continue with their lives. You come out as a different person from the one who entered the show, with new lessons learned, forgotten promises renewed, and a hopeful perspective of the world that would help with our own struggles. It is an uplifting and enriching experience that I could not recommend more, so wherever you are, do not hesitate and do what you must, drive hundreds of miles or jump on a flight, but you better go and catch this marvelous band in their natural element: playing live.
An Evening of Innocence & Danger Tour Setlist:
Do It All Again / Bird on a Wire / Your Place in the Sun / Another Story to Tell / The Way It Had to Be / Breathe (Reprise) (Pink Floyd cover) / The Great Gig in the Sky (Pink Floyd cover) / Bridge Over Troubled Water / Waterfall / Not Afraid, Pt. 2 / Beyond the Years
Encore: Long Day / City of Destruction / So Far Gone / The Ways of a Fool / Welcome to the World / The Great Adventure / A Love That Never Dies / Broken Sky / Long Day (Reprise)
Brian: Bravo! You nailed it with this piece.