Spock's Beard is one of the most impressive groups in the current progressive scene, formed by excellent musicians that have in the front role a great composer with a splendid voice. The North Americans already have four studio albums, the last one of which, "Day for night", was a small but forgivable deception for followers of progressive, for its quite mainstream content, but which we are also able to enjoy. The current line-up of the band is Neal Morse (lead vocals, keyboards, guitar), Alan Morse (guitar, cello, backing vocals), Dave Meros (bass, synthesized bass, backing vocals), Ryo Okumoto (Hammond, mellotrón) and Nick D'Virgilio (drums, backing vocals).
This CD contains a part of the interesting repertoire the band offered in a concert in the Dutch city of Tilburg in 1999. Keeping in mind that the band has four studio and three live albums, included one double launched last year, somebody could think that it is too much, but it is clear that that thought is a mistake. To enjoy Spock's Beard in concert is one of the biggest pleasures of this world, and I hope they continue offering us new versions of their live performances. Their positive music, with multitude of rhythm changes, clearly influenced by Yes, Kansas, Genesis, King Crimson, The Beatles and classic American groups as CSNY, America and others, is innovative and very pleasant.
The songs included in this 50 minute set are "Day for night" (8:03), played very much in the style of the studio album, but with an interesting final section; a calmed version of "Mouth of madness" (5:06), with a scream before the instrumental development that shows that Neal Morse was having real fun; a piece of pleasant commercial tendencies "Skin" (3:54), very well interpreted; the tribute -second, and hopefully there are more- to Gentle Giant "Gibberish" (4:48), with some beautiful vocal games; the acoustic and calm “June” (7:11) a la Kansas, with a good final; and to end up, the stellar song of the concert: a 20 minutes version of “The healing colors of sound” that, as their studio version, fills us of emotion for its innovative character inside the music of Beard.
The fact that "Gibberish", "Skin" and "June" were included in the previous live double album "Live at the Whisky" and NEARfest is a mere anecdote, as the arrangements and developments are different and the pieces are of great interest. A great live album of a band that improves daily.
Well, up to this moment, you have read one of the two possible readings of this new direct album of the Beard. When I face the music of groups like this or The Flower Kings I always have a double perspective that I cannot avoid. I always think that possibly this progressive rock standard is the successor, maybe with more quality, of the neoprog of the 90s, in the sense of offering a modernized sound with the target of attracting a wider public spectrum, progressive or not, and I believe that I am not very far from the truth. To maintain a balance, the fair and equal thing would be to offer the second perspective to approach this work, and I will make this next.
Spock's Beard is one of the current progressive rock groups that seeks to offer a modern version of the classic sound of the genre, without any intention of assuming risks or to experiment. It is formed by excellent musicians, as many others in the progressive scene, with a good composer in front that, also, has a very appropriate voice for the music style of the band. The North Americans have four studio albums, the last one of which, "Day for night", supposed an enormous and unforgivable deception when going shamelessly into commercial lands, with the pretension of reaching a wider public, that is to say, to increase sales.
The current formation of the band is Neal Morse (leading vocals, keyboards, guitar), Alan Morse (guitar, cello, backing vocals), Dave Meros (bass, synthesized bass, backing vocals), Ryo Okumoto (Hammond, mellotrón) and Nick D'Virgilio (drums, backing vocals).
This CD includes part of the repertoire the band offered in a concert in the Dutch city of Tilburg in 1999. Keeping in mind that the band has four studio and three live albums, included a double album launched last year, somebody could think that it is too much, and it is clear that it is true. To launch a succession of live albums is one of the classic methods to sell a lot with little effort (Mr. Wetton?), and if the ratio of studio albums to direct ones reaches this limit, it becomes a shame. It is true that the Beard are very good alive, but it is not necessary for them to remind us of it every single year.
Their positive music, with multitude of rhythm changes, is clearly influenced by Yes, Kansas, Genesis, King Crimson, The Beatles and classic American groups as CSNY, America and others. It is fresh because it is very well composed, but it does not offer any innovation in spite of being pleasant to listen. It would be interesting for them to experiment and risk more, even more when they are one of the big progressive groups, but this is outside of their field of vision. It is a pain because I am sure that they could do very well expanding their musical limits.
The songs included in this 50 minute set are "Day for night" (8:03), very similar to the studio album version, with a good final development but not amazing; a calm version of "Mouth of madness" (5:06), without too much power and with a quite pathetic shout before the instrumental development, more characteristic of Tarzán than of a singer, of whichever musical genre; the shameless commercial piece "Skin" (3:54) that has never been appealing at all; the tribute -the second, and already too many- to Gentle Giant "Gibberish" (4:48) that was composed only and exclusively because they were tired of playing "Thoughts" in concert and they had to renew themselves (the artist's restlessness, we go); the acoustic and calm let-us-compose-a-piece-a-la-Kansas "June" (7:11), with a correct finale; and, to end up, what is supposed to be the key piece of the concert: a 20 minute version of "The healing colors of sound" that, as the studio version, didn't have too much interest as it is already included in previous albums of the Beard.
The fact that "Gibberish", "Skin" and "June" were included in the double album "Live at the Whisky" and NEARfest is pure craziness. It is true that they are key songs in the concerts of the band, but it is abusive that one year later they come to present them again in a live album. It is true they are longer and more developed, but the “extra” music is the typical of the band, nothing new. Summarizing, a completely forgettable album of a band on which I have more queries than admiration, and which makes me think that the future of the Beard is closer to mainstream rock than to progressive.
"That the stars of the sky point out the route to follow…".