January 25th, 2017
Last night's concert by The Neal Morse Band was one I'll never forget. To start, my wife and I got to attend the meet and greet with the band, thanks to our good friend Scott Cleland. Thanks so much for your kindness and generosity, Scott! We got a chance to talk to each member of the band, and they couldn't have been nicer.
I was able to connect with Mike Portnoy, the greatest drummer on the planet IMO, and talk about his desire to be on AMC's The Talking Dead. I asked what I could do to help, and he said I could tweet the show and say he should be on. I promised to do so. I connected with Randy George, Neal's long-time bass player, collaborator, and friend, and talk about a mutual friend we have in Denver. Our friend came to the concert, so I got to reconnect with him too. Very cool.
Meeting keyboardist Bill Hubauer and guitarist Eric Gillette was also a real treat. These guys are without peer at what they do. Eric in particular has Star written all over him. Watch out for this guy.
This was my second time meeting Neal, but the first time I've really been able to connect with him. Last April, I felt moved to email Neal to tell him how much his music has helped me during this time in my life as a cancer patient. Our mutual friend Alan Cox passed the note along to Neal, and Neal responded. He said that he would be praying for me. So when I met Neal again last night, I identified myself as the cancer patient who emailed him through Alan. I told Neal he's my hero. I thanked him for his prayers, and as a small token of my appreciation for his prayers and ministry to me through his music, I gave him one of the cross pendants my wife makes. He stood up and gave me a hug. It was very meaningful to me.
At the photo-op, I stood between Neal and Mike, like everyone else who came. Neal put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "Bless you, man." Mike reminded me to tweet The Talking Dead for him, which I did. And he retweeted my tweet! How fun. The whole experience was awesome, and the concert hadn't even started yet!
Prog concerts in Denver are, as my friend Jamie McGregor said last night, like family reunions. The progressive rock community here is very close knit. So the hour between the meet and greet and the show were filled with happy conversations. Our friend Alan reserved seats in his own section so I wouldn't have to wait in line outside in the cold. And it was very cold last night here in Denver. But the temperature, music and feeling were very warm inside the Oriental Theater.
I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the concert. Many others have done that, and if you want spoilers, they're easy to find. All I can say is, The Similitude Of A Dream, the album that the Neal Morse Band is debuting on this tour is a masterpiece, pure and simple. Make no mistake, this is not Neal and a bunch of sidemen. This album, and the last album by this band, The Grand Experiment, are all composed by the whole band. Neal deserves a lot of credit for going this direction. It shows true humility on his part. Most artists would not give up total control the way he did, and look at the results. One of the greatest Prog albums ever made, and it's even better live.
Everyone in the band is at the top of their game, and that was especially true last night. The crowd was enthusiastic. The band was at once polished and human. There were a couple of "clams," (musician speak for wrong notes) and both times it happened, the players made a face, which made me laugh. Kids, if you make a mistake on stage, don't make a face. Act like you meant to play it that way! But that just adds to the appeal of this band. They're regular, genuine guys.
The energy these guys play with and project from the stage is infectious, and so is the joy. You can sense it when you watch them play. They really like each other, and are all in it together. Touring is not an easy life, but these guys are true road warriors, and seem very much like a family.
They played the new album in its entirety, from start to finish, which was what we had all come to hear. You know how, sometimes when you go to hear a band, you only want to hear their old stuff, and go to the bathroom when they play a new song? Not with this band. Everybody there knew what they were about to hear, and we couldn't wait. And all of our expectations were exceeded. It was one of the best concerts I've ever been to, and I've been to quite a few.
Neal Morse has been my favorite artist ever since I discovered his music about ten years ago. I've seen him with other lineups, (though always with Randy George and Mike Portnoy) but with this band, there's no telling what they will achieve. To make an album and put on a tour this good in only their second time around makes me wonder how good they'll get in the future.
The Colorado Prog community owes a great debt of gratitude to Alan Cox for bringing Neal here so many times. Denver has become a regular stop, thanks to him. Thanks so much for doing this again, Alan, and for your kindness to me.
I'm not going to apologize for the length of this post. I don't apologize for my long cancer blog posts, so why should I start now? Last night was a very meaningful, inspiring, and yes, very entertaining night for me and many others. If this tour is coming anywhere near you, do NOT miss it.
I'm still buzzing about it now, almost 24 hours later. Can you tell? The Neal Morse Band has cemented themselves as one of the greatest bands in Prog, if not the greatest. And they've also confirmed their place in my heart as my favorite band of all. #bearingwitness