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Neal Morse 

Life & Times Tour

Space - Evanston, IL

April 12, 2018

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this show, having never seen Neal Morse in a setting that wasn’t plugged in (very plugged in) and progressive. Because of his roots with Spock’s Beard, The Neal Morse Band, and Transatlantic, I expected a few band members to sit in and create one of those highly charged “unplugged” sessions. So, when Morse took to the quaint and dimly lit stage at Space in Evanston, Illinois all by himself, I was a little bit surprised. 
Neal’s Life & Times record is strictly a singer-songwriter effort without even a glimpse into his usual prog fare. It’s a record that resonated with me due to its humble and easy spirit, reminiscent of my favorite singer-songwriter Jim Croce. As I listen to it and sing along to the introspective and personal lyrics, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Life & Times is one of those records, and this little lounge-like cabaret concert was the perfect forum to exhibit the spirit of its songs.

Neal’s warm and comfortable greeting made you feel like you were hanging out in his living room. A more sincere and genuine soul you won’t find, and spending time with his genius in a setting such as this was looked upon as a rare gift by all in attendance. His opening song for this tour is something called “Songs Of Freedom,” and it’s a great way to get things rolling. It’s basically Morse’s life in five and a half minutes. With the mention of his faith, his family and his musical influences, this is a song that would be a perfect fit on the Life & Times album. It was immediately evident that Morse brought no setlist with him as he gave random song titles careful consideration as they began to launch from the mouths of fans. Many of those fan suggestions were played as if they were rehearsed for weeks. One of the big highlights for myself was when “The Wind And The Rain” was suggested and played with so much passion. A beautiful song taken from Morse’e solo album It’s Not Too Late, it was one that I definitely didn’t think I would hear. Another highlight, and yet another song I never thought I would hear was “Make Me A Dishwasher”. Standing in front of his anxious audience, Neal stated that there were a few songs he was feeling and “Dishwasher” was one of them. It’s an amazing song sitting by itself, but in the surroundings of this laid back and loose setting it was pure magic.

Just about every facet of Morse’s career was touched upon in the set. Making heavy use of a looper pedal throughout the show, Morse created layer upon layer of percussion, keyboard, and vocals, which enabled him to draw from the Spock’s Beard catalog and pull off a rendition of “Thoughts” that was manic and intense. As Morse created three or four vocal tracks on the spot and sang them all in perfect harmony, you couldn’t help but grip your chair a bit tighter. “Jailbreak” was another intense moment that stirred the mood in the room. 
This whole show had a theme running through it, and that theme was basically “life and times.” Life has ups and downs, and this set had emotional ups and downs as well. Some of the warmest moments of the set came when Morse spoke about his life and the experiences he’s had over the years. The funniest moment came when he discussed the days of struggling to find a paying job in the music business and doing commercial jingles. We got to hear his Pizza Hut jingle that was a complete laugh riot! With all of these wonderful tender moments, and the addition of songs like “There Is Nothing God Can’t Change,” Transatlantic’s “Bridge Across Forever,” and a few from the new Life & Times record (“Livin’ Lightly,” “Selfie In The Square,” and “Manchester”), this was more like an intimate gathering of music-loving friends than a formal concert. After the show had ended I felt like I had been warmly embraced and given a special gift. Being able to see this legendary artist in a small setting such as this was truly unforgettable.

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