Review by Andrew Bansal, photos by Brad Worsham
January 21st 2017, Whitter Community Theatre, Whittier CA: A mainstay in the world of progressive rock/metal through his exploits in bands like Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, Yellow Matter Custard and Flying Colors, Nashville, Tennessee based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Neal Morse started his solo career with the eponymous ’99 album, and eight solo albums and 16 years later, formed the Neal Morse Band (hereby referred to as NMB). This band has already released two full-length albums, ‘The Grand Experiment’ (2015) and ‘The Similitude of a Dream’ (2016). Featuring in its ranks prog rock greats such as Mike Portnoy (drums) and Randy George (bass), NMB set out for a North American tour in January 2017 to perform the latest album in its entirety, with no opening acts in an “evening with” format. They visited Southern California for a sold-out show at the Whittier Community Theatre, and prog fans in the area gathered in large numbers in anticipation of a spectacular evening in a very intimate setting.
The show started promptly at 8:30 in this all-seated theatre, and the NMB went about their performance in a manner much like that of a play or a musical, not breaking to address the audience at any moment, and aside from the intermission at the half-way point, the show flowed non-stop. With visuals projected onto the screen in the stage backdrop to go with the music, portrayed the story of ‘The Similitude of a Dream’. A group with musicians of this magnitude and repertoire playing on this small community theatre stage was a surreal treat in itself, but more importantly, their flawless live rendition of the studio recordings held the audience captive. Neal Morse himself was, as expected, the leader and driving force, exhibiting great degree of energy and expression into his own performance, showing his class on vocals, keyboards and guitars. He was often seen using a headset microphone, not quite a usual sight in the world of rock and metal, and it not only allowed him the freedom to move around on stage, but also added further to the spectacle from the audience’s perspective.
Of course, for the writer of this article as well as the readers of this website, drummer Mike Portnoy was as much of a reason and motivation to attend this event as Neal Morse, if not more, and granted Portnoy has successfully transitioned himself from the Dream Theater days to become the most versatile drummer in our world through his past and ongoing work in bands like Avenged Sevenfold, Adrenaline Mob, Stone Sour, Twisted Sister, The Winery Dogs and Metal Allegiance, it was perhaps a greater pleasure to witness him in a full-on prog rock band such as NMB. Already working with Neal Morse in Transatlantic, Flying Colors and Yellow Matter Custard, Portnoy was the obvious choice to sit on the kit for NMB. So, even though he never left the prog world, in all honesty, this is the closest thing he has done to Dream Theater since parting ways with that band in 2010, and Mike Portnoy the prog rock drummer clearly still has all the chops, with the sticks as well as on vocals.
Besides the band’s exemplarily pristine and precise display of musicianship, the best part of this event was the fact that the audience’s behavior was perfectly suited to the nature of the show, and in fact, this may have been the best behaved audience we have been a part of. Hardly anyone was holding up their cellphones to take photos or videos, and as a result, the seated area was completely dark for the entirety of the show. This being an alcohol-free venue, people were also not leaving their seats to go to the bar or use the restroom. The Whittier Community Theatre was a new, unknown venue for many in attendance, but NMB could not have picked a better setting for their LA area performance on this tour.
Overall, a true prog rock spectacle, and a highly recommended one for all fans of the genre to experience live.
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Neal Morse Band remaining North American tour dates:
01/24/2017 – Denver, CO @ The Oriental Theater
01/25/2017 – Dallas, TX @ Curtain Club
01/26/2017 – St. Louis, MO @ Delmar Hall
01/27/2017 – St. Charles, IL @ Arcada Theater
01/28/2017 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
01/30/2017 – Toronto, ON @ Mod Room
01/31/2017 – Montreal, QC @ Club Soda
02/01/2017 – Quebec City, QC @ Salle Jean-Paul Tardif
02/02/2017 – New York, NY @ Highline Ballroom
02/03/2017 – Washington, DC @ State Theater
02/04/2017 – Atlanta, GA @ City Winery