By Lorraine Kay
Downey, CA — Prog-rock band, Spock’s Beard appeared for one night only in Downey, CA, this past Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 8 p.m. As the one and only U.S. show of the band’s “X” Tour, promoting their most recent CD release, simply entitled “X”, the show was presented by CalProg at the Downey Civic Theater.
Not since 2007, had Spock’s Beard performed live in the United States. Members Nick D’Virgilio, Alan Morse, Ryo Okumoto, Dave Meros, and Jimmy Keegan, reminded fans what they have been missing for the last four years. Slamming down tracks from the new CD from the moment they mounted the stage, it was obvious that SB’s time away from live performances have been well spent.
The band performed “X” in its entirety and then treated fans to a few tried and true oldies, including “On A Perfect Day”, “Thoughts”, and finished up with “June”.
The performance of the new album left some fans speechless, others commented “I couldn’t believe that SB could ever get better, but I was wrong.” “They out did themselves.” “SB is tighter than ever before.” “Nick’s voice was filled with more confidence and a quality that far exceeded my expectations.” “Nick’s stage presence and performance really branded the show with fun this time out.”
This performance was the virgin outing for the band and this material. According to Nick, they are still working out some of the kinks in the show, but if he is saying it can only get better, U.S. fans have a lot to envy those that will be attending the upcoming European tour, which starts Wednesday, Sept. 15 in the Netherlands.
Spock’s Beard has always been known for their expertise with their instruments and as the tightest and most accomplished group of musicians on the planet. Being some of the very best, of the very best, the band seemed relaxed and just wanting to have fun. And that they did, dragging the audience along with them. Even when technical issues and mishaps happened on stage, the band took it in stride and still delivered a wallop of a show. Guitarist Morse, traded guitar licks with Singer and drummer D’Virgilio without missing a beat, even when he knocked his guitar and stand over on the stage, even when it was discovered that his guitar was not plugged in.
Also joining the band on stage was guest guitarist Stan Ausman, who collaborated with Morse on “The Man Behind The Curtain”, another new tract from “X”. The three guitarists made quite an impact huddled together for an instrumental lead trio.
The band continues to enjoy certain playfulness on stage, always letting the audience in on the punch line. D’Virgilio, who played drums on the entire recording of “X”, stayed out front for most of the night, with Jimmy Keegan, an equally impressive drummer, filling in on drums for the live performance. But when he is not singing or playing guitar, he delivered just what fans remember, – monster drumming and incredible drum solos. The most fun is always had by the drummers. The two drummers, traditionally, will meet each other head-on sometime during the evening for one of the most outrageous drum battles ever, like two Titans of percussion. . This time when D’Virgilio and Keegan swapped licks during their signature drum duet. This time the fun carried on to the floor of the stage and they had the two crawling about tapping on the floor and other equipment scattered about the stage before returning to their kits for some monster drumming. According to D’Virgilio,” That is a highlight for me in any SB show.”
The thing about SB is their versatility. Composing all their own material with the help of a few friends, they seem to easily manipulate each tune finding a wide range of moods for the audience to experience. They can effortlessly pound out a hard, edgy-rock tune and find a point of sensitivity in the middle that brings the audience into a more intimate place. Even though the whole band excelled throughout the night, it was D’Virgilio, a true showman in every sense of the word, who was truly showcased. He showed what he is made of moving from one area of the stage to the next, changing instruments and duties in a heartbeat. Delivering the most powerful vocals of his career, his voice did not waiver at any point. Every song in every register was delivered clearly and powerfully. Once known as a premiere drummer, his vocals are clearly taking first place over his talent on the drums. That is not to say that his drumming is slipping, quite the contrary. He hammered out every song at the drums with equal precision and power, if not more than before. One surprise of the evening was his performance behind the guitar. Switching throughout from acoustic to electric guitar, he showed a vast improvement over other times out with the guitar. But more than that, his ability to bring the audience into that intimate place inside his head was the most fun part of all. With a simple hand gesture or facial expression, the fans felt they were in on whatever was happening on stage, not just in the audience. Even when he protested, stating that he wasn’t even sure from one song to the next what it was that he was supposed to do yet, the audience was sure, he was always exactly where he meant to be. He easily holds the audience attention keeping the performance fun and energetic.
Keyboardist Ryo Okumoto, that wildman from Japan, seemed to be having the time of his life, surrounded by his many keyboards, with just enough time between licks to invite the audience to the stage for just one more extravagant turnaround. Adding to the gyrations of D’Virgilio, Okumoto energetically threw his body into the mix with every note. His latest compositional contribution to “X”, the hard-hitting “Kamikaze”, lived up to its name, so much so, that you could almost hear the rapid machine gun fire and dive-bombing of each powerful arpeggio. But as expected he was able to take those powerful keyboard attacks and smooth them out to some wonderful whimsical melody. His solo thrilled the audience as he took them on a virtual tour of every music genre, from classical piano to twisty jazz to gospel to all out fun rock and roll, just strutting his stuff.
Bassist Dave Meros, wasn’t just biding his time in the background. Out front on many a baseline, he also contributed much to the composition of the new CD. Most noteworthy was his songwriting contribution to “Jaws of Heaven”, a four part composition he collaborated with John Boegehold. Offering up an occasional bass solo, Meros, who is by far one of the best bassists on the planet, keeps up his part and then goes some, keeping the band honest when it came to rhythm.
As a band, SB is many things. It can be summed up by a few words, Power, Versatility, and Talent. It takes talent to take a song from one end of the musical spectrum to the other and not lose its integrity. Very few bands can harness the attention of an audience and keep them literally on the edge, even through the smooth parts with expectation. There is nothing mundane or predictable with this band. Every song has a surprise, something akin to a box of Cracker Jacks. There is nothing stale about the show. It is impossible to say “Oh, it is just another SB concert.” They pour something new into every show and this time they pulled out all the stops to make it totally worth the trip to Downey.
The band left early Monday morning to begin the European tour. There are a couple of spots on the tour that may change, If there are any changes to the schedule below they will be posted on their official web site www.spocksbeard.com. They will be touring with Enochian Theory. The shows will begin Wednesday, September 15 and conclude Tuesday, September 26. Check their web site for a complete line-up and ticket info
In addition to the Spock’s Beard concert, CalProg will be presenting its annual prog-rock festival in Whittier, CA, on October 2. CalProg (the festival) is held in a traditional community theater that holds 400 people. There isn’t a bad seat in the house and the acoustics are excellent. It is part of the Whittier community center complex and as such there is no age restriction and no alcohol allowed on the premises. It is a family friendly atmosphere at the venue, and both the Whittier house staff and the all-volunteer CalProg staff work very hard to make sure you have the best possible concert experience. This year the festival will feature miRthkon, District 97, RPWL and Ambrosia. Visit www.calprog.com for more information and tickets.