Monday, May 27, 2024

NMB (The Neal Morse Band) – An Evening of Innocence and Danger

If, as Freddie Mercury said, “nothing succeeds like excess” then NMB (The Neal Morse Band) have succeeded beyond anything they ever expected. Their last three studio releases have been double albums and they’ve now followed these with a triple ‘live’ release. ‘Live’ in Hamburg’ was recorded on their 2022 tour and is an almost complete run-through of their Innocence and Danger album, with only ‘Emergence’ and ‘Not Afraid, pt1′ not being aired. They’ve even included their progged-over take on ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ (yes, that one) which has become a live favourite.

The setlist proceeds mostly along the lines of the 2022 studio album, with CD1 containing the shorter tunes, meaning songs are less than 10 minutes; in one case only just over four. Then the second disc features what’s been described as their ‘huge sprawling prog epics,’  ‘Not Afraid, Pt2’ (22 mins) and ‘Beyond The Years’ (34 mins). CD3 features the lengthy ‘Great Similitude Medley’ (30 mins), an assortment of pieces from their Great Adventure and The Similitude Of A Dream albums. Who dares to say NMB doesn’t give you value for money?

In terms of sheer musical prowess, NMB are easily the equal of Dream Theatre and Transatlantic. It also helps that all five members of NMB have now played together for several years, which shows in the tightness of their playing and how adroitly they handle some quite complex musical arrangements with consummate ease. The flow of all three of the lengthy pieces is well thought through and each contains moments of majestic brilliance, with virtuosity to the fore but never the dominant factor. They may well be long pieces but, as Neal Morse says, “if a movie’s good, you don’t notice it’s three hours long”. ‘Beyond The Years’ sees all band members engaging in short solo bursts, and their vocal interplay at several points brings Gentle Giant to mind. On the studio version, what sounds like a jam session in the middle was originally wholly improvised in the studio, and they follow this on here.

We’ve come to Hamburg to do it all again” say Neal Morse as he welcomes the audience as the band opens with the one-two flat-out punch of ‘Do It All Again’ and ‘Bird On A Wire’. After this they take a sort-of eight-minute breather with two shorter pieces, The Beatles influenced ‘Your Place In The Sun’ and ‘Another Tale To Tell’, with its almost 80’s pop vibe, before following it with a glorious rendition of ‘The Way It Had To Be’, which was originally a demo for Similitude of a Dream but held over for this one. It’s reminiscent of Floyd circa their Dark Side of the Moon period and is a standout track with some gorgeous guitar from Eric Gillette. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is an amazing progging-up of an undeniable pop classic, with the basic structure of the song remaining the same but surrounded on all sides by some highly complex instrumental histrionics, and has become a stage favourite. Think of how Yes played The Beatles ‘Every Little Thing’ and you’ll have an idea. The shorter pieces conclude with the emotive ‘Waterfall,’here by the riverside, all the tears I’ve cried, washed clean…” taken from Morse’s solo album Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone) and is a beautiful, largely acoustic song with the band engaging in the most delightful harmonies this side of Crosby Stills and Nash.

NMB have a well-deserved rep for their epics and, on discs 2 and 3 of this album, they give you three lengthy pieces, with the three together leaving you little change from almost ninety minutes! There’re lots of intricate mesmerising passages weaved and, while it’s an extraordinary challenge to perform a 30-minute track and retain the listener’s interest, NMB are more than equal to the task, as the reception they garner illustrates, and nobody would’ve been short-changed if there’d been a double ‘live’ CD of just the three longer pieces.

If John Mitchell is a prog army of one, Neal Morse can’t be too far behind him. Morse is a creative force of nature and whether it’s with NMB, Transatlantic, his solo albums or guesting on other albums, his creative output remains consistently high. With NMB, as with Transatlantic, Morse has surrounded himself with a cast of stellar musicians who’re able to bring his music to life, with a special shout out to Eric Gillette, whose guitar work and vocals are exemplary. One also to drum maestro Mike Portnoy, who’s appearing on his second ‘live’ three CD set of 2023, after Transatlantic’s Absolute Universe: The Final Flight.

Overall, this album captures an evening of some quite incredible playing from five stellar musicians who all sounded like they were at the top of their game, and this is very likely one of the best ‘live’ albums you’ll hear in 2023.  

Laurence Todd
Laurence Todd
Took early retirement after many years as a teacher in order to write books as well as about music. A long-time music obsessive, has wide and eclectic tastes but particularly likes prog rock and rock in general. Enjoys going to gigs and discovering new acts.

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If, as Freddie Mercury said, "nothing succeeds like excess" then NMB (The Neal Morse Band) have succeeded beyond anything they ever expected. Their last three studio releases have been double albums and they’ve now followed these with a triple ‘live’ release. ‘Live’ in Hamburg’...NMB (The Neal Morse Band) - An Evening of Innocence and Danger