Neal Morse is like the rolling stone which gathers no moss. Working seemingly constantly, whether it be creating an epic concept record, touring with The Neal Morse Band, or being involved with any number of other projects he stays pretty busy. So what does one do when they need a break from the hectic pace of such things? Why, you write and record an album and go on tour. Sounds like more work, right? Not so fast. You see, when you make a record which has a general mood of lightness and relaxation, and you get to do what you love, it’s not really work, is it? However you choose to categorize it, Morse brought his one-man show to the Whittier Center Theater on Friday, March 30th, for an evening of music, laughter and honesty.
Solo shows can make a performer very vulnerable, in that there is nowhere to hide if something doesn’t go as planned. In an interview prior to the show, Morse shared his feelings about the pitfalls that may beset a solo performer. Speaking about making mistakes, Morse says, “I think people really appreciate honesty, they appreciate that I am sharing my heart with them.” This appreciation of honesty allows him to feel free to “just launch into some song, someone can yell something out, and if I know it, I can just play it. The authentic sharing of the thing is really cool.” Morse has a unique ability to connect with an audience. Honesty and openness combined with humor create a bond with them, which seems to make them want to go wherever he feels like going. Morse also commented on the difference between a tour such as last year’s The Similitude of a Dream tour and a solo tour, stating, “It’s different, because it’s just me. I mean, they’re both really good, the thing I enjoy about the solo tour is I can be very spontaneous.”
Morse takes his fans on a trip through parts both known and unknown. The opening number, Songs of Freedom which is unreleased, relates his being born into a family to which music was central and the influences which inspired him to pursue music as a lifelong mission, rather than a profession. Morse takes the liberty of the intimate nature to just stop in the middle of a song, this and others, to share a brief anecdote, then seamlessly resume the song as if there had been no narrative detour. Livin’ Lightly, one of the three tunes from the current record Life & Times that he would play on this evening, is about that period of rest and relaxation, a break from the hectic pace. The second tune from the current record is another upbeat number. As Morse explains, “Walking around Luxembourg City on our day off… I was just looking at all this stuff, thinking how much my wife would enjoy it, and I just started singing it into my phone. I was enjoying what I call Hemingway-esque style of writing, where you just talk about, very factually, what you’re seeing and hearing.” That became Selfie in the Square. During this tune, when the line “there are bright flowers, yellow” appears, he seizes the spontaneity to break into snippets of songs with yellow in the title or lyrics, I Am the Walrus, with the yellow matter custard, Mellow Yellow, Yellow Submarine and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. There are a good number of laughs in this segment as Morse playfully marvels at the crowd’s sub-par participation ability. It’s all in good fun and is truly part of his charm. The third piece from Life & Times, Manchester, is a feel good song about a an unusually sunny day in Manchester, England and his realization that even though the song sings about Manchester by the sea, that it is really landlocked and the humorous remedy to that fact.
The hour and 40 minute set also features guest appearances. First is Neal Morse Band bassist Randy George and his wife Pam. All three play acoustic guitar and provide vocals on the Transatlantic tune We All Need Some Light. Lastly, Morse’ brother Alan Morse joins him on stage for two songs. The first is one they learned in their youth, both play acoustic guitar as Neal does his best, bad Elvis vocals in the Bonzo Dog Band piece, Death Cab For Cutie. The finale of the main set is the Morse brothers doing the Spock’s Beard song, The Doorway. The encore is Spock’s Beards’ June, with the Georges and both Morse brothers playing and singing. The smile on Morse’ face at the conclusion of the show says it all. This solo show which is not static in the sense that the set list changes from night to night, is definitely a delightful experience, which all seems to flow through Morse. Morse sums up this feeling in a quote from the interview. “We write, we create from our hearts, at the risk of sounding really corny. So, when you’re angry, you write angry music. When you’re feeling good a lot, which I am these days, really, just feeling thankful, I feel like God’s brought me to a beautiful place.”
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