It takes a virtuosic musician to be able to play prog rock, and the five core members, and 33 others playing with the Neal Morse Band at Morsefest 2015, show just how talented (and rehearsed) one must be to play this style of music. Morsefest 2015 captures the Neal Morse Band proving themselves as prog rocks gods who have mastered their instruments and show what a huge undertaking it is to learn this material.
Joined by 38 musicians on stage, Morse takes a no holds barred stance to his music by adding live strings, a five piece horn section, and a 14-piece choir to his five piece band. The core members are singer/guitarist/keyboardist Neal Morse, drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Randy George, keyboardist Bill Hubauer and guitarist Eric Gillette.
The group rocks through two complete albums, Question and Sola Scriptura, along with other concert staples, from two shows spanning more than five hours total. The once-in-a-lifetime concert event took place over two nights in September 2015 in Nashville, TN, with each night getting its own video disc or double CD, totaling six discs.
The staging and lighting used are unimaginable. The video editing is very well pieced together, often juxtaposing the concert screen elements and lyrics over the performers. Slower portions often incorporate haunting blue lighting while the faster pieces use an abundance of lighting, including pink and green, that is very warming.
Despite having a large band, the concert setting is quite intimate as it was held at a large church instead of a traditional concert venue. The stage barely rises above the audience which gives Morse a chance to walk through them and chat with them a bit more. During night two, he even asks someone in the front row if they want to play his guitar while performing it himself.
The songs on Question (Night One) are shorter and give Morse more chances to address the crowd. It also gives the band a little break in between songs. However, Sola Scritura (Night Two) is a monster to perform. Two of these songs — The Door and The Conflict — make up an hour of the show between the two. Those who are unfamiliar with Morse (or prog rock in general) will be mesmerized at their complexity as each song has several parts that run into each other. Time changes, key changes, rhythm changes are all intertwined to make mini masterpieces in their own right.
Lengthy compositions are partly what makes prog rock what it is, so if you’re not familiar with it, be prepared to sit through a different show than what you’re used to seeing. Besides two concerts, the set comes with an hour long behind the scenes documentary that includes raw audio captured by the cameras. The doc shows the band convening five days before the shows to rehearse. However, Portnoy couldn’t make it until two days after the band arrived due to his jam packed schedule touring with Twisted Sister at the time.
If you purchase a physical copy of Morsefest 2015, you may notice that “Prog Jeopardy” is listed on the artwork but not included in the package. The producers decided to exclude the piece from the collection since the entire content would have to be compressed and quality would have be lost. The label, Radiant Records, forgot to remove the track from the packaging. However, they have provided fans a chance to view it online.
Overall, this is a nice collection and very well represented. This concert is a great introduction to the Neal Morse Band and prog rock. It will also make a great addition to any music lover’s collection.