Concert review: Neal Morse Band – Club Soda, Montreal – February 18 2019

The Neal Morse Band brought their new concept album “The Great Adventure” to the stage at Club Soda last night, and for the fans who braved the cold Monday evening, it was 2 and a half hours of musical bliss.

Musicianship was at a premium on stage, with singer/guitarist/keyboardist Neal Morse, drummer Mike Portnoy (seriously, I could hit my word count just by listing the acts he’s played with), guitarist Eric Gillette, Bassist Randy George and keyboard player Bill Hubauher. But the Neal Morse Band isn’t about random virtuosity: it’s a music-first group that doesn’t shy away from technicality.

Randy George & Mike Portnoy (Club Soda – February 18 2019. Photo by Jean-Frederic Vachon)

The band played their latest record “The Great Adventure” from start to finish, and anything less would have been a disappointment. Live music, in the hands of amazing musicians, can reach a higher plane of existence, and the album, as fantastic as it is on record, was infused with a new vitality that elevated it. There’s a certain sadness that comes with such performances once you realize that it’s a moment in time that will never be duplicated. But for that instant (and the concert flew by, making it seem like an instant), it was pure delight.

All the musicians took turns at the microphone, bringing forth the continuing story of the abandoned son from “Similitude of a Dream“. The bulk of the lead vocals falls on Morse, Gillette and Hubauer, with all 5 often harmonizing together. The sound inside Club Soda was perfect, allowing the listeners the luxury of paying attention to the little details. Video screens ran throughout the concert, with simple videos that anchored each song’s theme.

Randy George & Neal Morse (Club Soda – February 18 2019. Photo by Jean-Frederic Vachon)

To follow such a tour-de-force, the band had prepared a special encore in the shape of a 25-minute medley that went chronologically throughout Morse’s solo career up to the first two Neal Morse Band albums. The devoted crowd had already awarded the band a few standing ovations throughout the night (with one in particular for drummer Mike Portnoy as he addressed the crowd with a “Bonsoir Montreal”), but the most enthusiastic came at then end, as it should.

If form and musicianship have attached the label of “progressive rock” to this band, it is a somewhat narrow view of the quality of these musicians. “The Great Adventure” is great rock music. Heck, let’s take it further: it’s just great music. What a night.

Jean-Frederic Vachon
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