Early 2015 The Neal Morse Band embarked on a small world tour to promote their album The Grand Experiment (2015, see review). It would bring them to countries such as the USA, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Great Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands. I guess it did not come as a surprise that during this tour one of their shows was recorded for a possible release on CD and DVD. The Netherlands have always been kind of a second home to Neal. Therefore it wasn't so strange that the full show they did on March 6, 2015 was recorded and is now released as a DVD/2CD set and on Blu-Ray. They named it Alive Again after the long epic from the album they were promoting.
Since a couple of years Neal Morse (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards) has been working with the same musicians on his solo albums, whom also shared the stage with him during his live performances. Their contributions became bigger and bigger over the years and for this reason Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), Randy George (bass, vocals), Bill Hubauer (keyboards, clarinet, guitar, sax, vocals) and Eric Gillette (guitar, vocals) all became members of The Neal Morse Band. They were not just Neal's backing band anymore. That he made this decision becomes very clear after watching and listening to Alive Again. This release proves that all of them are versatile musicians who can handle different kind of instruments, just like Neal himself. Their craftsmanship is of a very high level, again just like that of Neal. The almost two and a half hour long show the band presents here is of the finest quality possible. On both audio discs you can hear a band in great shape. They must have practiced a lot to come to this high level of musicianship. It didn't matter if they played tracks from their latest release The Grand Experiment (every track from this album was done except for Agenda), or compositions of Neal's large back catalogue. Even a song from his former band was played with so much ease. It sounds as if Spock's Beard themselves performed Harm's Way (with the closing section of Go The Way You Go) when Neal was still in the band. And when you get the best possible audio of the show you just can't ask for more! This way Neal's great compositions are even more enjoyable to listen to.
When you think you had it all, the best is yet to come. The DVD is of a superb quality. It was filmed with lots of cameras from different angles. This way you can see all the band members play their instruments from a very close range, just the way you want to see it. Multiple interesting parts are edited in one frame. It's almost impossible to miss anything of this great performance. The sound of the video footage is excellent as well. It is just amazing to watch all members changing instruments during the fantastic epic Alive Again. For example you can see how Eric and Neal took place behind the drum kit. Randy gave his bass to Mike and performed a solo on the bass pedals after hitting the electric guitar and keyboards first. It's also wonderful to see them perform Waterfall at the edge of the stage. It is like watching Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and they play this mellow track as if you are listening to the studio version. The excellent harmony vocals sent shivers down my spine! With so many cameras you can enjoy the solo spots of Neal (acoustic guitar piece about the tragedies in life), Eric (great electric guitar part in the style of John Petrucci and Steve Vai) and Bill (a kind of Rick Wakeman piece performed on the keyboards) in the best possible way. After watching the entire concert I can only come to one conclusion. It was the right decision to let the Dutch film The Neal Morse Band concert and Neal made the right choice to have their show recorded at Cultuurpodium Boerderij in Zoetermeer.
The DVD bonus is a tour documentary. It contains footage of the band's rehearsals and them on and off stage in different American and European cities. It is rather enjoyable, but after you have seen it once you will probably not watch it a second time!
Rating Alive Again by The Neal Morse Band wasn't very difficult. This is without any doubt one of the best releases of a Neal Morse concert ever made. Everything about it is just perfect. Sound and vision are of a very high level. You just can't ask for more! This is a superb product and therefore a must have for any fan of Neal's music. Highly recommended to everybody who enjoys fantastic melodic progressive rock by some amazing musicians, so the highest rating of five stars is very well in place. The best live release in a very long time, that's for sure. Words can hardly describe what I went through., I am just speechless about this awesome live experience!
***** Henri Strik (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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