Grand concept translated into persuasive stage performance establishes venerable ensemble as a great rocking force.
Not perceived as a prog rock veteran, Neal Morse has been around for so long it’s almost impossible to believe “Similitude Of A Dream” was only a second album by his band, and this 2CD/2DVD package goes a long way to bring home such a strange thought – and does that quite convincingly. Unlike "Alive Again" – the group’s previous report from the road, also laid down in Netherlands – there’s no logically patterned potpourri of the ensemble leader’s prominent moments from the past but, save for encores; instead, there’s the entire record taken on-stage. It could alienate uninitiated yet, given the faithfulness of Morse’s followers, the decision looks like a safe move, as people in the audience sing along to every word. What’s more important, those words are coming from every member of the quintet now and, with the most collective-centered studio offering under the musicians’ belt, they’re finally blending into a real band.
Earlier, Neal never relied on attire in order to create a mood, but here he immerses the crowd into the story with “Long Day” by cutting a lonely figure in a hood whose face is half-lit with torchlight, getting wrapped in a ghostly shroud further down the line, and pacing like a predator in front of the punters during “City Of Destruction” where the group’s sweet harmonies help intensify the sense of dread. If Morse is very theatrical – up to kneeling behind the keyboard at the end of the show – it’s only to encourage everyone to join in the triumphant confusion and pass vocals lead to his mates. The blinding interplay of “Overture” may display the band’s immense technical abilities, that take a back seat to a song this time around, yet on the singing front Mike Portnoy is also charging through “Draw The Line” like a man possessed while Eric Gillette is raging on “Breath Of Angels” before they all demonstrate the dynamic amplitude of “Draw The Line” to lay bare the band’s fusion bent.
Everything seems rather technical in their hands, Bill Hubauer operating iPad Mini instead of Mini-Moog on “So Far Gone” and the concert being shot with GoPro cameras to cut down expenses and enhance spectators’ experience by removing traditional film crew from view, yet the team aren’t averse to wild wigout on “Slave To Your Mind” – augmented with lights going mental, too – to the almost reckless rocking of “I’m Running” with Neal’s frantic guitar solo. He goes in and out of character and wears a mask not only on “The Mask” but also on “Sloth” to which Portnoy would add hilarious pantomime as if to undermine the instant’s solemnity, and which Randy George’s deliberately lazy bass rumble would deliver the gist of – with a stuffed sloth hanging down from his fretboard. Although the bombast of “The Road Called Home” can somewhat jar, the heavier likes of “The Man In The Iron Cage” breathe life, working wild wonders on-stage, and should become concert staples, and while the country-rock, communal feel of “Freedom Song” is a direct way for the whole ensemble to come to the fore to snap the audience out of their cosmic mindscape and put the crowd in a playful mode, “The Way Of A Fool” sees its refined prog passages sabotaged by pastiche rendition.
As for the aforementioned encores – that, despite the cover statement, are present both in visual version of the show and in pure audio form – the group flaunt majestic vocal polyphony in “Author Of Confusion” and allow the celebratory “Momentum” to give the public what they want. The dream is becoming reality here.