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Spock's Beard - Snow Live (Album Review)

Wednesday, 06 December 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

It was a dark day for fans of Spock’s Beard when Neal Morse left the group in 2002 to pursue a new musical direction inspired by his Christian faith. So when the prog-rock giant recently reunited with his former bandmates to play the concept album ‘Snow’ in its entirety, the spiritual resonance of the group’s performance was shared with an audience who never dreamt that day would come.

Over two years in the making and a ceaseless labour of love for Morse, his brother Alan (guitar, vocals), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals, guitars), Dave Meros (bass, vocals) and Ryo Okumoto (keyboards, organ, and much more), ‘Snow’ tells the story of a young albino man with the power to sense and heal emotional wounds. His gift brings fame, fortune and, ultimately, a spiral into depression that’s resolved when he finds God through his friend’s forgiveness.

Although both parties went on to prosper, ‘Snow’ was the one record Spock’s Beard had never played live until the aforementioned line-up – plus vocalist Ted Leonard and drummer Jimmy Keegan – performed it at Neal’s annual Morsefest gathering in 2016.  

This sublimely shot and edited live package captured that ensemble as they mesmerised a capacity congregation at their prodigal frontman’s Nashville church. Neal opens the show playing Made Alive before the band burst into life on the technically splendiferous Overture, with Morse then switching between instruments at will as the band seamlessly conjure a smorgasbord of styles and moods.  

Having two drummers imbues tight, heavy-hitting grooves, Okumoto’s keyboard sorcery dazzles and trumpet and sax textures enrich the music’s emotional heartbeat. Elsewhere, trademark counterpoint harmonies – which shine brighter than ever thanks to the amount of vocalists on stage – effortlessly belie their complexity on Long Time Suffering. The Morse brothers, meanwhile, relish playing together again, while Neal, D’Virgilio (who took over when Morse departed) and his successor Leonard, all sparkle when singing lead.

D’Virgilio, in particular, excels. Whether decked out as the bouncer for a storming Welcome to NYC, which breaks down into Barry Adamson-esque seedy underworld jazz, or bringing everyone, including Neal, to tears on Carrie, he’s as magnetic as he is versatile. Leonard delivers a riotous Devil’s Got My Throat and the trio unite, perched on stools, for a melancholy Solitary Soul that’s a masterclass in harmonising.

The lighting and backdrops subtly remind us of the concept, but that narrative practically plays second fiddle to the record’s true subtext. Everyone realises how turbulent it was for Neal to record this album knowing he was going to leave, so to see them back together renders each composition contextually reborn in the magic of the moment. When he visibly wells up during Wind At My Back (Reprise), there’s no doubt what this concert means to him.

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