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Snow LIVE (CD/DVD/BluRay) - Spock’s Beard

When I think of Spock’s Beard, I think of progressive music at its finest. I also think of iconic prog genius Neal Morse. Morse and his band of progressive giants constructed five albums together before making Snow, which turned out to be their leader’s swan song. Neal Morse, after climbing the mountain and releasing one of the most inspirational pieces of music known to mankind, stepped away from Spock’s Beard. The band would never tour upon the album’s release in 2002, and fans would never witness Morse perform any of his masterpiece on stage.

Until now.

At Morsefest 2016, fans got to witness Snow performed in its entirety, with Neal Morse leading them once again. Spock’s Beard had continued on after Neal’s departure, enlisting new members Ted Leonard (guitars, vocals) and Jimmy Keegan (drums). In what could have been an odd collaboration, Leonard and Keegan joined Neal and his original band to perform the music in which they had no involvement. What roles would they play? How would they have two drummers perform together? Would this work? These were only some of the questions and concerns I had, and they were answered immediately upon viewing this performance.

Morsefest is an annual festival, held at New Life Fellowship Church in Tennessee, that celebrates Neal’s music. The room in which the performance takes place is intimate and accommodating, but a bit of an odd choice for such a monumental piece of music and event. Intensity is minimized by the setting, as fan’s are planted in seats that are quite a distance from the slightly elevated stage. It’s obvious that these folks are diehard Beard fans though, as we hear them cheer and watch them rise from their seats often throughout the show. If we lost the chairs and put people up against the edge of the stage, the visual intensity would be amped up. But, with that said, the action and emotion that radiates from the stage is incomparable.

Seeing Ted Leonard do guitar support and actually sing “Devil’s Got My Throat” was excellent, and even more of a surprise was seeing Jimmy Keegan put the sticks down to sing “Freak Boy Part 2”. But, having watched the bonus material with footage of a full band Q&A, it was obvious that these guys all have great chemistry together, even away from the stage. One of the best examples of this comes during the encore song “Falling For Forever”. Original drummer Nick D’Virgilio and Jimmy Keegan have a drum duel that’s injected with enough humor and respect to fill the entire state of Tennessee. They even take the duel away from their drumkits and to the front of the stage. It’s just a great moment with two tremendous talents from two versions of Spock’s Beard. But the truly spine-tingling moments here are where you might expect them, in the uplifting and spiritual emotion that drives this music. From the beginning with “Made Alive,” “Stranger In A Strange Land,” and “Long Time Suffering” to “Open Wide The Flood Gates” to the first version of “Wind At My Back”. All of these songs make you feel something move inside yourself. The first set is inspirational, but it’s the second set that really kicks the emotions over the edge. During “I Will Go” you can see it all coming to a head. “I Will Go” is a song that is extra special to Neal Morse, as he was really finding his spiritual path at the time the song was written. And, for the closing number of “Made Alive Again/Wind At My Back,” we see Neal completely breakdown to a point where we wonder if he’ll be able to continue. He is obviously choked up, sobbing, and completely immersed in the power of the song. His attachment to this material is incredibly strong, and seeing it boil over in this setting is my favorite moment on this entire set. I’m not sure that any fan will be able to keep their eyes dry at this powerful point of the performance.   

There are so many great things about this performance. We get to see keyboard wiz Ryu Okumoto play the super cool rock star behind the shades, complete with growling faces and a keytar solo that he takes into the crowd. This is fun stuff. And one of the best things about the production itself is where the cameras land during particular parts of the songs. One of the most frustrating things I find with live DVD’s is when the camera follows the singer around during a brilliant guitar solo. Most of these things are filmed by someone unfamiliar with the music, and they miss capturing the guitar player’s fretwork or the drummer’s cool drum fill. That’s not the case here. There are many times when these cameras are zoomed into the finger work, or they are there to capture that outstanding bass line.

I’ve always thought that Snow was one of the best concept albums ever. And seeing this very special performance with both original and new members of Spock’s Beard, and all of the emotion and inspiration it brought to the surface, there is no question that Snow has moved even closer to the peak of that concept album mountain. 


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