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Neal Morse Band Set to Release Epic Live Album
"An Evening of Innocence & Danger: Live In Hamburg" displays the band's energy and musicianship.
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. Over the past couple of years I’ve conducted interviews with various musicians who have worked with Neal Morse in various bands and projects. It was always my hope to get Neal himself to spend some time talking about music with me and I recently got to do that.
Morse is one of my favorite progressive rock artists and he’s constantly working, so it’s sometimes difficult to fit things into his schedule. A prolific songwriter, gifted arranger, and talented musician, Morse has turned out some of the best progressive rock in the past few decades as a solo artist, as well as with various bands, such as Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, the Neal Morse Band, Flying Colors, Morse/Portnoy/George, and D’Virgilio, Morse & Jennings.
With Neal having a new Neal Morse Band live album and a new solo concept album coming out in the coming weeks, I was happy to get the opportunity talk to this legendary prog rocker, especially after hearing the live tracks (I don’t yet have the solo album tracks).
There are exceptions, but in general I’m not the biggest live album guy. I love attending concerts, but when it comes to listening at home I tend to prefer listening to studio albums. Most of the notable live albums that blow away the studio records have been enhanced in the studio as well — Alive by KISS leaps to mind — but I’m fine with that.
With that said, a great live album can take songs to new heights. Listen to albums like Cheap Trick’s At Budokan and Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive for a couple of perfect examples.
The Neal Morse Band has a new live release coming up on Inside Out Music on July 14 that I’ll be coming back to often.
An Evening of Innocence & Danger: Live in Hamburg was, as the name implies, recorded on the band’s Innocence & Danger tour, and it is filled with vibrant, energetic performances of most of the songs on the band’s most recent studio album. The songs are not only expertly performed, but the crowd at The Markthalle in Hamburg, where the show was recorded, almost becomes a sixth member of the group, driving the band to dizzying heights of progressive rock goodness, although they don’t do it in an intrusive way, as the album has a good mix by Jerry Guidroz.
Morse said he doesn’t always know where his live albums will be recorded when he goes on tour.
“Sometimes there’s talk about it in the beginning,” he said. “But on this one, Jerry Guidroz, who was running front of house, brought a recording rig, so he recorded several shows. I don’t remember how many. But it was such a special show. The audience was so amazing. I mean, the whole thing was just so off-the-chart fantastic. When we came off stage, I think (drummer) Mike (Portnoy) said, ‘Hey, you know, if we’re thinking about releasing a live album from this tour, this is the one.’ So, we had always talked about that we should release the Hamburg one because it just stood out to all of us as a really even-more-explosive-than-usual kind of night for the band.”
All five of the supremely talented musicians in the Neal Morse Band shine throughout the nearly two-and-a-half hours of breathtaking musicianship, soaring vocal harmonies, and white-hot solos.
The band on the live album is the same as the lineup has been since the group’s inception:
Neal Morse — keyboards, guitars, vocals
Mike Portnoy — drums, percussion, vocals
Randy George — fretted and fretless bass
Bill Hubauer — piano, organ, synthesizers, vocals
Eric Gillette — guitars, vocals
The album consists of nearly the entire Innocence & Danger double album in the order the songs appear on the studio double album. The exceptions are the absences of “Emergence” and “Not Afraid Pt. 1.”
In addition to the eight Innocence & Danger songs, the band performed “Waterfall” (placed between “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Not Afraid Pt. 2”) and “The Great Similitude Medley.” The latter is a 30-minute abridged version of the band’s two double albums based on The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, The Similitude of a Dream (2016) and The Great Adventure (2019).
For the medley, the band expertly weaves together chunks of sublime prog rock such as “City of Destruction,” “Welcome to the World,” “A Love that Never Dies,” and “Long Day” with other sections of those two epic works. Condensing about three hours and 20 minutes worth of music into a half hour isn’t easy.
I asked Morse how the band chooses which songs to put into the band’s live medleys.
“Sometimes it changes after we decide,” he said. “I think at the beginning of the Innocence & Danger Tour we weren’t doing ‘Long Day.’ I think we ended with ‘A Love that Never Dies.’ Then I made a pitch. Everybody was feeling like ‘Oh God, my hands are full. I don’t want to have to learn any more music.’ But I made this little edit with ‘Long Day’ on there too because it’s just so powerful, and you want to leave everybody just all the way in the heavens.
“So, it changes a lot and depending on the group there’s a lot of discussion about what songs to put in the medley, and what not to put in, and how to fit them together. I actually did that one. That one was me, but sometimes other people are really spearheading it. It doesn’t really matter who does it. It’s all about the audience. Is it rocking their world?”
The highlights are constant, from the soaring chorus of “Do It All Again,” to the keyboard-driven “Bird on a Wire,” to the more accessible “Your Place in the Sun,” and beyond.
The Neal Morse Band brings to life the re-imagined cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” from the studio album on this new live release. It’s a majestic, inspirational, and decidedly progressive take on the iconic Simon & Garfunkel classic. It wasn’t originally supposed to be part of the Innocence & Danger album at all, but it was added during the recording process.
“It’s because we had too much material,” Morse said. “When we were writing the Innocence & Danger album, we were just kind of going along…thinking that we would listen back through later and cut stuff. We wanted it to be one disc. But when we went back through it, nobody wanted to cut anything. So, we had too much material for one disc and not enough for two discs.”
The band decided to add more, rather than make painful cuts, and one of the additions was the song “The Way it Had to Be.”
“Mike and Bill put that together because that’s something that was left over from The Great Adventure sessions, I think,” Morse said. “So Bill wrote a bridge for it, because it was just a little section. And then, it still wasn’t enough (for two discs), so (we thought) well, what about a cover? And, so Bill — he’s the master of the prog covers — started throwing out things that he had thought about. He played me some pretty developed things. I wasn’t that inspired about it.”
Hubauer then pitched the idea of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and Neal found his inspiration.
“Basically, Bill and I started thinking along the lines kind of what Yes did with ‘America,’” he said. “That was our goal as a kind of model. It’s a really fun thing to do. Everything in there has some element of the (original’s) intro or the melody.”
The band ends the show on consecutive high notes, with three songs over 20 minutes in length each — “Not Afraid Pt. 2,” “Beyond the Years,” and “The Great Similitude Medley” — saving their mammoth epics for last. These feature multiple moments of magic, sending the Hamburg crowd into ecstasy.
If you’re only going to buy one live progressive rock album this year, this is the one. The band gives generously of themselves, feeding off the Markthalle crowd. Gillette’s vocals on the “Long Day” section that brings the evening to a dizzying crescendo have no right to be as perfect and emotional as they are after singing for more than two hours.
The band combines the right blend of technical ability, melodic hooks, heavenly harmonies, and emotional heft to the entire performance. It’s a remarkable achievement. (And remember, I’m not a big live album guy!)
To find out more about Neal’s music or to pre-order An Evening of Innocence & Danger: Live in Hamburg or his new upcoming solo concept album, The Dreamer — Joseph Part One, visit his website at www.nealmorse.com.
Do It All Again (10:23)
Bird On A Wire (8:08)
Your Place In The Sun (4:18)
Another Story To Tell (4:50)
The Way It Had To Be (9:18)
Bridge Over Troubled Water (8:43)
Not Afraid Pt. (21:45)
Beyond The Years (34:08)
The Great Similitude Medley (29:58)
The quotes from Neal above don’t even scratch the surface of our conversation. For my complete interview, check out the video below or stream/download Episode 110 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. Topics covered include Neal’s early exposure to music (and, naturally, his first favorite record), how he decided to come back to the band dynamic with the Neal Morse Band and Flying Colors after spending a few years as a solo artist, starting up his Waterfall streaming music service and the Neal Morse Inner Circle, and much more.
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