Review: Flying Colors live in Hamburg, Markthalle 9/9/2012

I said in March that Flying Colors‘ new and first record would be a hot contender for album of the year and that still holds true. Last night they came to Hamburg to play only their third show, first show in Europe. And it was great! (See some bad photos here.)

I had to miss epic Beardfish’s support performance unfortunately but that’s ok, I saw them two years ago with PoS, but was positively surprised to see that the Markthalle was packed when I arrived. Judging from the audiences reactions both Portnoy and Steve Morse had a lot to do with the turnout, maybe Morse even more so than Portnoy.

As announced, the setlist was basically the album plus one track from each artists catalogue. Not to pick bones, but I would have picked different tracks for Portnoy, Morse and McPherson, but hey, it’s their show. Neal Morse’s track was an ace. As a newfound bass player I would have liked a separate song by LaRue as well, the small solo he played was exactly that.

Overall it was an awesome concert mostly due to two take-aways:
1. If anyone ever doubted Portnoy needed a break from Dream Theater (let’s put aside the fact that there was a point where he would have gone back) all you have to do is watch him with all his new projects. He seemed to really enjoy himself (same with Adrenaline Mob in June), lots of fun with his direct stage neighbors Neal Morse and Dave LaRue, and drumming that was very creative, improvisational (in a good way) and the old goof that was missing at times during the final DT shows (I have been to DT shows since 1995 and I think in hindsight that is a possible deduction). The band was received very warmly and it seemed as if they weren’t sure themselves that would happen. McPherson especially looked like he couldn’t believe his luck and Portnoy stood up from his drum chair looking at him and the crowd, saying to himself “told you (,) Casey (, it) would turn out great.”

2. When the line-up was announced and with it the info that the album would not be technical fusion-prog but Beatles-que people wondered. Amazingly, the beautiful vocal arrangements of the record held up live perfectly. Mc Pherson and Morse’s (Neal) voices compliment each other and Portnoy has improved so much from the early Falling into Infinity backings that it sounds awesome. The not so secret ingredient here is the songwriting-power of Neal Morse who has timed this tour beautifully with the release of his new solo album 😉 But in all seriousness, he knows how to write great hooklines that you won’t forget.

Additional take-aways:
– I’d never thought I would say this, but it wasn’t loud enough. Very ear-friendly, but I wish it would have tingled in the stomach a bit more…
– If you didn’t know, McPherson can sing. Following one of MPs best-of-20xx-lists I picked up the AlphaRev record which is a very cool album and he totally delivered live.
– @MPDrumTech had some work to do early on changing a broken cymbal. All during a song while MP just played on the other side of the set.
– Steve Morse looked old when the show started but turned back the clock with every song.
– I have yet to see a “guitar hero” who seems so low maintenance during a full concert. I might have missed it but I think he never changed guitars, just tuned the guitar himself. Met him once in the mid-nineties, still a nice guy it seems 😉
-They had the “Making of”-DVD on sale at the merch stand. Had I known I wouldn’t have ordered it online – still hasn’t arrived…

One small issue with the jazz police:
Infinite Fire has longish instrumental parts, during some of which McPherson played, at other times he had to wait which seemed unfair. Either give him a complete second line to play or just chords or no guitar at all. But during Sunday’s show it was a crazy mix that didn’t seem to justify his chops.

All in all, a highly recommended concert experience

Review: Flying Colors – Flying Colors

(before you get any ideas, I have the pre-order confirmation so I think it’s ok to write about it)

Although it’s only March I can say without a doubt that this album will contend for album of the year. Flying Colors, the supergroup consisting of Steve Morse (Dregs, Deep Purple), Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, Solo), Dave LaRue (Satriani, Dregs, numerous others), Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev) and of course Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic, numerous others) was for once not the brain child of Mike Portnoy but producer Bill Evans. With maybe the exemption of singer Casey McPherson, Evans put together a room full of egos and made it work. Flying Colors – Flying Colors is a great debut album and I am not just saying this as a Dream Theater/Mike Portnoy fan boy.

During the first listen, I didn’t even notice/remember/pay attention to the drums because they don’t stand out. Portnoy’s playing is of course outstanding, but this isn’t a drums album. When Portnoy characterized the album as Beatles meets Yes meets I don’t remember, I was thinking that this might be a tall order to follow. Of course I was hoping for it to be true but then of course the artist is going to laude is work.

Rest assured though: This album is a must have for music connaisseurs as it is as song-oriented as you would like a Beatles album to be, yet delivers enough nuggets for lovers of every instrument/fans of all participants to be very happy. Although only Portnoy knew singer McPherson and he was kind of the wild card in that quintett the vocal lines are catchy to a degree that I was whistling some lines after one listen. For a bunch of guys who haven’t been rehearsing material for half a year but just got together in a studio for 9 days, this album is truly epic. You think I am exaggerating? Listen to Blue Ocean and Kayla and try not to sing the chorus under the shower tomorrow? Listen to Fool in my heart and try not to think of old Steve Morse , listen to Better than walking away only to have your heart ripped out by McPherson’s lyrics.

Seriously, give it a spin.