Review: Neal Morse and Flower Kings live in Hamburg, Markthalle 2/25/2013

I had originally planned to interview Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy for Backstage in Hamburg but my request wasn’t even answered. So I changed plans, spent the afternoon with the kids, arranged with the neighbors to take the baby monitor once they were asleep and then headed to the Markthalle.
I did catch the last two songs by The Flower Kings and with the little time they had they have intrigued my interest. I will definitely revisit and spent some time with their albums on spotify.
I had seen Neal Morse only twice before: with Transatlantic 10 years ago and with Flying Colors last September but spent lots of time listening to Testimony 2 and the new album Momentum as well as the newest Transatlantic release plus of course the Flying Color album. To make the story short: I think his style of composition is marvellous and his music has – at least for me – the perfect mix of rock grooves and catchy melody lines. On most songs you can join in humming the chorus after one listen and realize they have already crept deep into your melodic memory. It’s uncanny really, especially adding in the fact that the lyrics are sometimes not the easiest to digest or accept.


(as always I took many bad pictures, you can find them on flickr)

From the opening sequence of Momentum it was obvious that Morse and his band – Mike Portnoy on drums, Randy George on bass plus the YouTube-found threesome of Bill Hubauer on keyboards, violin, saxophone and vocals, Eric Gilette on keyboards, guitars and vocals and last but not least Adson Sondre on guitars and vocals – were there to have fun and had no place else to be. How refreshing when everybody brings the energy, his A-game and is totally in the moment. I had watched parts of the Momentum live DVD ahead of the concert and was fascinated by Morse’s openness, gratefulness and the moment of pure emotion when he had to wipe away some tears after a song had ended. On Monday there were some close calls but the whole experience showcased that he chooses to be a musician 100%. And the audience thanked him and the band for this attitude, singing along, rocking along, knowing the music and it’s nuances. Weathering Sky‘s epic chorus made it into every last corner of the room and people were very happy to hear Thoughts Pt 5.

Advertised was 1.5 hrs Flower Kings, 1.5 hrs Neal Morse and 30 minutes Transatlantic. Neal Morse’s setlist (linked is Cologne but HH was very similar I think) was heavy on the new album and the arrangeur Morse took full advantage of the versatility of his band in order to bring the album sounds to life, from 5-6 voices on Author of Confusion to slide guitar to Dregs-ish feelings when Bubauer brought out the violin. Every musician had a little solo spot as well, so it was a real band effort. I am not the die-hard Morse fan so I admit there was one part in the program where I wouldn’t have minded two shorter songs instead of the World without End Suite from the new album but that is really petty whining – I enjoyed all the melodies immensely, Morse is right there between the Beatles and Frank Zappa. No kidding!

A lot could be said about the Morse/Portnoy partnership, I think this picture of the two says enough.

In my book the song Momentum is in a way a little bit about Portnoy…

And in case you are a guitarist like me and were wondering: Adson Sondre played wonderfully, playing Paul Gilbert’s solo in Momentum with ease and a smile.

The Transatlantic encore did surprise some parts of the audience and turned into a great party – aside from the Flower Kings’ keyboarder, all musicians were on stage at one point and they had a great song selection covering all studio releases.

A lot of notes, for sure, but again, few composers in today’s music have the ability to write hook lines as catchy as Neal Morse. If you get the chance, go watch him and the band for a great live show.

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.