The Neal Morse Band, nearing the end of the U.S. leg of their Great Adventour world tour, took the exit off the road called home in Whittier on Friday, March 8th. The Whittier Center Theater in conjunction with Cal Prog has hosted numerous Neal Morse projects under various names for years. On this evening, Morse and company recreated their latest double concept album, The Great Adventure in its entirety to a sold-out venue for the next to last time in the United States, at least for the foreseeable future. The group has been imparting the entire album to audiences across North America since February 2nd. After one last show in Arizona on March 9th, the band takes a two week respite before commencing their European dates in London on March 24th.
The show begins with Morse spotlighted at the front of a dark stage, draped in a white hooded cloak, while reprising the last line from The Similitude Of A Dream. The audible backdrop is that of harp strings, undulating in rhythmic simulation of a running river, the river being a fundamental keynote of the evening’s offering. After a lyrical transition to themes of the The Great Adventure, the Overture explodes with drummer Mike Portnoy punctuating the staccato opening. Overture is a ten-minute jewel, reflecting elements of the musical themes of the opus. Morse dons costume elements throughout the performance to help illustrate the main character’s mindset at that particular point of the story. The first change is into a tattered leather jacket missing a sleeve, to which is later added welding goggles. The performance is separated into chapters, Chapter Two begins with Welcome To The World which features some very tasteful heavy guitar from Eric Gillette. The second chapter culminates with To The River, which begins with a slowly building organ piece that eventually erupts in a majestic, symphonic crescendo.
Chapter Three opens with the title track The Great Adventure, as Joseph, the main character sets out on his own spiritual journey to follow the path his father took. This 80’s style rocker is preceded by Morse prompting Gillette to do his comedic, country style vocal rendition of the chorus. Venture In Black plods along like a funeral march with Portnoy in a black hood taking lead vocals on the chorus. The third act of the production closes with Hubauer lending his soulful utterance to the lead on Beyond The Borders.
There is a brief intermission between what is disc 1 and disc 2 of the record. This show is being recorded for an unknown purpose. There is no formal announcement as to what exactly the recording will be used for, but Portnoy will later elude to the possibility of a full length concert release. As the second half of the show begins, there is a recorded intro to the back half. When the intro concludes and the band is supposed to begin playing, Hubauer’s keyboard computer seems to malfunction and there is no sound emitting from his instrument. Without missing a beat, Portnoy grabs his microphone and hums Hubauer’s part that ushers in the tune. After a minute or two to sort out the technical difficulties, order is restored, the recorded intro is replayed and the second half of the show is under way.
Overture 2 kicks into high gear with Portnoy and bassist Randy George blending together in a tribal beat. More Gillette technical guitar mastery and a funky toned Hubauer keyboard lead are on display in this piece. The third chapter concludes with Vanity Fair and its poppy sarcasm. This cynical, human condition parody is accentuated by Morse exhibiting his most elaborate and ridiculous costume. Wearing a golden peacoat, adorned with brightly colored patchwork and streaming cloth swatches, a floppy brimmed top hat and a mardi gras mask, Morse runs through the cynical lyrics. All this while looking like the some sort of Mad Hatter dreamt up by Peter Max.
The fifth and final chapter begins with Welcome To The world 2 with Portnoy on lead vocals. This sister song is hard and edgy. Portnoy seems to enjoy delivering the lead vocals on this number. As the performance nears its end, Freedom Calling, brings the performance to a final head before the audience is dropped only to be slowly uplifted again by the finale of A Love That Never Dies. The band leaves the stage and returns to impart an encore of a chronological medley of songs from each Neal Morse and Neal Morse Band album. The medley ends with Broken Sky/Long Day Reprise , which is kind of fitting as the evening comes full circle with the first words sung also being the last.
CLICK HERE to view more pics from the show.