By Lorraine Kay
April 2006 – Just returned from a European tour, Spock’s Beard performed in concert at the House of Blues in Hollywood on Aapril 10. It was the final date of the tour promoting their latest CD “Octane” and only one of two concerts performed in the United States.
There was some concern voiced by fans before the concert began as to whether the band was up to par without founding member Neal Morse, who left the band in 2002. Fans waited over an hour for the concert to begin, all the while discussing as to whether Spock’s trademark sound had departed with Neal.
Most agreed that the new CD had surpassed their expectations, but what about a live performance? Could the new lead vocalist pull it off on stage as well as he did on the CD? Their fears were quickly relieved, however, when the band did finally take the stage. If the CD, “Octane”, proved that the band relied equally on the contributions of all five players and not just lead singer Neal Morse, the HOB performance confirmed it.
Without Neal at the helm, however, the band has leaned into more standard rock environments with a streamlined sound and a slightly more aggressive approach. But there was still plenty of complex musical passages for prog-rock fans throughout the evening.
Musical fireworks have always been one of SB’s main draws and there was no reason to be disappointed this time out. There was a mountain of instrumental virtuosity displayed on every tune but there was more. Drummer Nick D’Virgilio (who also drums for Tears for Fears) took over as frontman on vocals when Neal left, but very early in the set one wonders why he has been hiding behind the drums at all. Not only was he hiding an incredible rock and roll voice, hitting every note clearly and perfectly on pitch, but hiding one of the most relaxed and confident stage presences. Watching him, it seemed he was exactly where he was meant to be. He easily held the audience attention keeping the performance fun and energetic.
When he was not singing he was delivering what the fans expected – monster drumming and incredible drum solos. But he wasn’t the only drummer on stage. While he was out front, the drums were covered by Jimmy Keegan, another monster drummer. The two squared off for one of the most outrageous drum battles ever. But it wasn’t just the awesome drumming that made it special, but the playful chemistry between the two drummers.
Besides great vocals, most of the new songs are centered around Neal’s brother and Spock’s Beard’s co-founder, Alan Morse’s, crunchy guitar-work. Just as significant are the contributions by both keyboardist Ryo Okumoto and bassist Dave Meros, who shine in their own right.
There is nothing ordinary about the performance by this guitarist. Alan was out front on all tunes switching back and forth from the magical electric sounds of a custom Stratocaster to the warm Spanish and classic guitar tones of an acoustic guitar. Alan’s finger-picking style of playing both on electric and acoustic guitar made for a unique experience, especially for the prog-rock genre. One fun moment was a guitar solo by Alan accompanied by scatting by Alan as well.
Okumoto delivered just as expected, energetically attacking the keys at every turn. The signature riffs and keyboard combinations took the band to an “other-worldly” dimension. Focusing on tracks from the new CD, Okumoto and the band presented their latest epic track – the eight-part “A Flash Before My Eyes”. It tells the story of a man watching his life flash before his eyes at the moment of his death. With the atmospheric abilities in multi-keyboards, Okumoto took the audience through the blizzard of memories that follow the moment after the windshield explodes.
A special moment on stage for Okumoto was the presentation of his son, Sage, to the audience. The 14-year-old drummer wowed the audience as he performed a duet with his world-class keyboardist father.
As always, Meros was the glue in the rhythm section that held the rest of the band together, keeping everyone honest. By far one of the best bassists on the planet, He kept up his part and then went some as he took the stage in too brief a solo performance.
All-in-all, the band was supercharged by artsy, not-so-subtle nuances ranging from an array of synths, both old and new, to symphonic flourishes and ominous guitar jams. The band’s hard-rocking new focus has been compared to “a freshly emerged butterfly”, with songs ranging from heavy odd-metered headbanging to melodic outings of stunning beauty and sensitivity. One thing for sure was there was a lot of fun being had on stage. When asked if they were indeed enjoying themselves, smiling Alan responded with, “Yeah, we look like we’re having fun. You’d never know we’re actually seething cauldrons of barely repressed rage, but there you are! But, seriously, that was a really fun show, great audience, cool place, good PA. What’s not to like? Being in our hometown is cool, too.”
Unfortunately, the band does not have any other live performances scheduled at this time. According to Alan, “There is some talk of a fall tour. Until then I can tour pretty much any time, but the other guys have other commitments.”
Critics have compared this outing of Spock’s Beard to be one of its best. The CD is right on top. It has been compared to other legendary albums. “It might even be in company with some of the greatest rock albums ever made. It’s on par with The Who’s Who’s Next, Rush’s Moving Pictures, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, and Kansas’ Song For America.”
When asked about the possibility Neal returning to the band, his brother felt it was “pretty unlikely at this point. Maybe if we were touring in the same town or something… A few of us have gotten up to do a tune or two at his gigs, but it’s pretty rare. Life goes on.” And so does Spock’s Beard. After this last performance, no one can deny that the band still has it happening and no fan can be disappointed.
For more information on Spock’s Beard and for an update on new tour dates visit their website www.spocksbeard.com.