As the stage went dark, dimly lit by a screen announcing the band, a silhouette made its way to the front of the stage. The hooded figure turned out to be singer Neal Morse, lit by a single flashlight, singing “Long Day”. When the lights went up, he was joined by his bandmates as they went into “Overture”. Divided in two acts separated by an intermission, the concert would showcase the entire “Similitude of a Dream” album. The sound inside Club Soda was perfect, and not too loud, so you could hear every little nuance. And with music this intricate, it’s important.
As each song tells parts of the story of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, the screen showed footage setting each scene. At times, Morse donned accessories to portray the various characters encountered during the protagonist’s journey, but the real highlight of the show was the virtuosity displayed by the five musicians. On guitar, Eric Gillette dazzled the crowd with fluid solos and precise rhythms. He also brilliantly took over lead vocal duties on many occasions, as did Bill Hubauer, who was solid behind the keyboards as he maneuvered complex runs with an astonishing ease.
It would be a mistake to overlook the stoic Randy George on bass, who lays down the band’s foundation but can also go into complicated runs when the songs call for it. And it’s an important concept because all through the two hour opus, the songs are clearly the point of focus for the musicians. Sure they’ll break into virtuoso passages fairly often, but it never detracts from the songs. Even drummer Mike Portnoy has toned down his style of playing; he’s still amazing to watch and hear, but every hit, every nuance, serves a purpose.
And what can one say about the band leader, the multi-talented Neal Morse. All through the concert, he went from playing keyboards to guitar, even displaying some tasty lead work. while singing most of the lead vocals. He made the most of the small stage, moving about as much as he could, but his strength as a frontman clearly relies on his charisma and affable nature, and the respect he’s earned from his devoted fans.
The first act, covering the first CD, flowed as one song almost entirely. After a 15 minute intermission, the band played the second act, culminating in a chaotic display of virtuosity in “The Battle”, before settling back down in the bookend track “Broken Sky/Long Day (Reprise)” which recaps most of the piece’s musical themes. The crowd, who’d listened intently for two hours, rose to its feet for a well deserved standing ovation.
As an encore, the band played the convoluted “Author of Confusion”, from Morse’s “One” album, before finishing with the magnificent “The Call”, from the band’s debut album “The Grand Experiment”. They could have played all night, but it was time unfortunately for the music to end. Until next time.