Well, this is very different! this set details the first, post-covid, expedition for The Neal Morse Band and was recorded in Hamburg in 2022. Unusually for InsideOut, the set has no accompanying live DVD, which is a pity as the band are on fire for this show. Maybe it was because of them being lockdown totally because of covid but they definitely rose to the occasion here in Hamburg. The show was in the latter stages of the tour so the band were very comfortable with playing these two sets, one of the ‘Innocence and Danger’ album and the second set of longer pieces, The Great Similitude Medley, which features highlights of the band’s previous two albums, ‘The Similitude Of A Dream’ and ‘The Great Adventure’ in an extended sequence. This allowed space for extra parts and for some great improvisation to happen, no doubt all pre-rehearsed and ordered, a band like The Neal Morse Band cannot afford to make errors of judgement and so would have sorted things for such an event.
The album kicks off with a brief overture of about 2 minutes before leading into the opening track Do It All Again, which faithfully reproduces the album version, adding nothing new except the excitement of the live arena, which is itself very good, as is the reception it receives. Obviously the end of lockdown and the return of live shows was important for the band and for the German crowd, who are solidly behind the band. The album continues with excellent recitals of Bird On A Wire, Your Place In The Sun and Another Story To Tell before we are treated to a superb version of The Way It Had To Be with a brilliant, extended guitar section from Eric Gillette, who can sure plank the plank, combining elements and touches of David Gilmour, amongst others. His playing is graceful, melodic and utterly engrossing and captivating. He is a rare talent amongst an outstanding ensemble, also noticeable are the fabulous keyboards of both Neal Morse and Bill Hubauer, whose performance throughout is equally solid and exciting.
Next up is an epic version of Bridge Over Troubled Water (yes, the Simon and Garfunkel classic) which is skilfully delivered, staying true to the original but with prog flourishes like the wah-wah guitar that plays in the opening part. This really is a fabulous version of a really great song, delivered beautifully and with conviction. We are then treated to a rare outing for Waterfall, from ‘The Grand Experiment’ album, this delicate acoustic number also closes the first set.
The second set is spread across discs 2 and 3 and covers Not Afraid Pt. 2 and Beyond The Years from ‘Innocence and Danger’ and also the The Great Similitude Medley. These three track last for over eighty-five minutes so you may need to dig deep for these epic tracks! Expect odd time signatures, excessive soloing and many impressive moments as these pieces are modern day prog at its finest from a group of seasoned professionals. There is a lot going on here including the growling bass of Randy George and the metronomic precision of Mike Portnoy (the man never misses a beat!). This is all highly accomplished and delivered with sincerity and style, the vocals are strong and also clear, the sound is exceptionally defined and focused. Unusually for Neal Morse, these songs are not overtly Christian in their lyrics, which may or not be a good thing depending on your own viewpoint. Rather these songs are possibly more spiritually attuned but open to interpretation by the listener, if so, that is a decision I approve of, no one wants to be preached at, especially at a celebration of music like this.
Not Afraid Pt. 2 is an interesting track with lots of moods in the music and some great sections that together make for a really strong song, it is really an epic performance and there is even more to come, how good is that? The song ends with notes of triumph and resolution, it’s an earnest track that is very well developed and delivered with style. Beyond The Years is another epic, multi-part suite that together make sone song. As you would expect, this is no shrinking violet of a track it, it has seven parts, one of which is an instrumental section, and lots of words. The song is somewhat oblique in its meaning, although there is religious imagery mentioned in the track. The whole song is complex and takes some listening and attention really. Whilst that’s not a bad thing, it does require effort on the listeners part as it’s not background music, it warrants and requests your full attention to get the most out of it really. This effort is rewarded though with some really inspired playing and sentiments expressed that are within the song.
The final track, The Great Similitude Medley, is a skilful amalgam of songs from ‘The Similitude Of A Dream’ and ‘The Great Adventure’. This encore is just shy of thirty minutes in duration and is a concise distillation of what the NMB are all about. Epic music, usually with a Christian message at the heart, all played with panache and seldom boring or understated. For those who follow the NMB there is so very much to enjoy in the epic concert and 3CD set.
‘An Evening Of Innocence & Danger – Live In Hamburg’ is rather stirring stuff all told and is an unqualified success for the group who have played flawlessly and with real passion on this track making it a remarkable feat. Now, either you like Neal Morse and his band or you don’t and, if you do, you are in for a feast with this album. If NMB aren’t your thing then you will miss out on a great performance of some quality musical statements.
Released 14th July, 2023.
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