The Neal Morse band made a stop on The Road Called Home this past Saturday in Whittier, CA, to impart their latest effort, Similitude Of A Dream, in its entirety, to a sold out crowd at The Center Theater. Similitude quite simply, is a likeness in nature or qualities of appearance. This dream however, appears all too real for the main subject of this particular journey. The performance begins with a darkened stage, illuminated by only a projection screen at the rear, and a string introduction. The darkness of the stage is pierced by a hooded Neal Morse at the right front of the stage, with only his face illuminated by a solitary handheld light, channeling the main character who is lamenting his current state. The stage becomes bathed in light as the entire band joins in on the overture, which is a roller coaster ride of progressive rock, ups and downs with searing highlights provided by lead guitarist Eric Gillette.
When the story begins, the ensemble adeptly takes the audience on a voyage of highs and lows (both musically and metaphorically), triumphs and tragedies, questions and answers. The spiritual journey that is Similitude Of A Dream is creatively woven with threads of soft interludes where the main character provides insight to his soul and his feelings, harder, progressive style rock, mixing synthesizers provided by both Morse and Bill Hubauer, the guitar of Gillette and the precision drumming of Mike Portnoy, and periods of incrementally building pieces that bring the audience to the precipice and gently lay them back in the arms of the main character. This cycle is repeated several times throughout the performance, and helps to fuel the desire to see where this story will take them next.
There are several highlight songs throughout this musical excursion. One of the first is City Of Destruction, which alternates between boot pounding verses simulated by Portnoy and bassist Randy George, and a sinister riff accompanied by a melodic chorus. The Ways Of A Fool, a piano driven tune, that sounds like an unlikely mix of Genesis, Queen and E.L.O., deceptively hides its meaning behind a sunny mask. Breath Of Angels illustrates one of the aforementioned slowly building trips to the precipice. Those appreciating a harder edge will appreciate The Man In The Iron Cage, marked by a groovy, blues inspired lick from Gillette, and Hubauer riffing on the organ. Freedom Song has the entire group at the front of the stage with Portnoy on tambourine and kick drum and Hubauer accentuating the tune on mandolin. Broken Sky/Long Day (Reprise) summarizes the character’s journey to enlightenment, through an emotion evoking finale that brings the audience to a final apex, causing the packed crowd to erupt in a standing ovation at its conclusion.
The above mentioned moments are included to bring attention to some noteworthy instances of this symphonic trek. But, at its base, Similitude Of A Dream is a story, meant to be experienced in its fullness. Also an integral part of the experience is watching the performance mastery of Morse, who adeptly switches between keyboard, acoustic and electric guitar, while traversing the stage like a combination of Peter Gabriel and Dennis DeYoung. Hubauer’s diverse talents playing the keyboards, mandolin and saxophone; George’s stoic precision, Gillette’s tasteful, technical prowess, and Portnoy’s playfulness and dexterity all round out the experience. Whether you want to witness these musicians practice their craft, want to hear some well composed progressive rock or if you are looking for life inspiration, the Neal Morse Band delivers at every turn.
CLICK HERE to view more pics from the show.