Back in 1995, a totally unknown quartet released their debut album. This was back in the days before the internet existed, and the mainstream hated prog, so it was actually incredibly hard to hear about new bands, especially from America unless they were signed to a label such as Kinesis who was getting publicity. But, pretty soon everyone involved in the underground scene in the UK knew who they were, and we’re talking about them. I remember going to a gig at Shepherd’s Bush, and afterward, everyone just seemed to be talking about this new band, and had anyone actually heard ‘The Light’? Martin Orford was incredibly excited that GEP had secured the European rights and the first time I played that album I was in awe.
From there on Spock’s Beard could do no wrong in my eyes or ears, as anyone reading Feedback at the time will attest to, as I was shouting from the rooftops that this was the best band I had ever heard out of America. I saw them every time they came to London, and each gig was better than the last. Then in 2002, they released ‘Snow’. At the time I was working on a project which involved me spending many hours in a car visiting different supermarkets each Thursday, which gave me the opportunity to blast this out at the correct volume in its entirety, and I was saying that the best band in the world had just released the finest album possible. Then it was announced that Neal Morse had left and that there would be no tour. I was in shock, and went through all the stages of grief (especially denial), as it just made no sense to me whatsoever. I mean, Gabriel went through with the Lamb tour didn’t he? But no, it was all over. The next time I saw Spock’s Beard they had California Guitar Trio as the initial support, followed by Enchant. They had a long time been a favorite band of mine, so I really enjoyed the set, but the same can’t be said to Spock’s Beard, and I left halfway through the gig. I was fortunate enough to catch Neal on the ‘Testimony’ tour, and it was like old times, but I accepted that the finest album released in the past 20 years would never be played at a concert.
Fast forward to Saturday,
July 2nd, 2016, at New Life Fellowship Church in Cross Plains, and the unthinkable happened. The current line-up of Spock’s Beard (Alan Morse, Ryo Okumoto, Dave Meros, Ted Leonard and Jimmy Keegan) was joined by Neal Morse and Nick D’Virgilio for one night only, and they performed ‘Snow’ in its entirety. Being performed in a church (as part of Morsefest) there was only ever going to be a small audience, so it was also recorded and filmed, and what I have here is the 2 DVD/2 CD set. There was no pressure on the band, all they had to do was perform the album note perfect for an audience that knew the words as well as they did, but also it was very much a one-off, never to be repeated. The first thing I did was play the DVDs so that I could then listen to the CDs knowing what was going on. I must state that I felt sorry for Ted Leonard through this whole performance, as although he was always onstage, and made valuable contributions, he was very much the third wheel. Having a second drummer made a lot of sense as it allowed Nick to be at the front when he needed to be, but Ted was raised on a small dais behind Alan and just didn’t look comfortable, which is a real shame as he is one of the best singers around, and I have always enjoyed his work.
But, tonight was all about Neal being back where many SB fans feel he totally belongs, front and center of the Beard, performing his songs. Not only was he the voice, but he also wrote the majority of the songs, and his ability to move between keyboards and guitar gave the band presence and ability they have missed without him there to provide it. Was it a brilliant performance of the album? Pretty much, it has to be said, and with an additional electric guitar from Leonard when the time was right, it added some crunch that would have been missed otherwise.
The DVD filming of the evening is also good, and the interplay between Jimmy and Nick is wonderful to see, especially in the duet on “Falling For Forever”, one of the only two in-‘Snow’ songs from the night (the other of course being “June”). The question and answer section was interesting, especially as Rich Mouser was involved. The “making of” was also really interesting, where they talk about the original recording and what had happened. I hadn’t realized that the combination of Nick being incredibly unwell and the falling of the Twin Towers had a major impact on the album, which was basically re-written due to that.
Anyway, if you have no idea what ‘Snow’ is about then this four-disc set isn’t the place to start, go and get the original instead. If you are already a fan then this is indispensable. ‘Nuff said.
Kev Rowland 10/10