I was lucky enough to be able to catch The Neil Morse Band last night at Rocketown. It’s a 3,000 seat venue in the heart of downtown Nashville. This would be my first chance to see this band live but I had the opportunity to interview Neil personally twice as we both are in the Nashville area. Here is a clip of him performing Momentum acoustically from the first interview back in 2013 (Click on the link to hear the audio.) I have seen Mike Portnoy a few different times, the first being back in 1992 I believe in Colorado Spring of the Images and Words tour when he was Dream Theater and most recently back in 2015 when he was performing at the Wildhorse with The Winery Dogs. Here is my review of that epic show. Mike is probably one of the Top 10 most influential in my life. He was the first drummer that made me see all the different musical layers that a brilliant drummer actually brings to the song beyond keeping the a beat and driving the bus. Which seems a bit strange since I grew up listening to Neil Peart, Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham, Dave Weckl, Steve Gadd etc…. But for some reason, Mike just really clicked with my ear and imagination.
But this…. This would be interesting. Their new CD “The Similitude of a Dream” is an epic double concept masterpiece (IMHO) which rises to the level of Dream Theater’s “Scenes from a Memory” featuring Portnoy ironically and it truly brought the Neil Morse Band to life for me in a new way. While lyrically, Neil uses his faith to spur his songs, he does so in a way that is counter to typical faith based music. He does it interestingly, with stories, with relate-able trials one goes through before finding themselves and with out all the tripe and cliches of typical CCM music. I should know, I was in one of those bands and worked that side of the industry for years.
For me, this show was one of the very few times I get to go see live music and see people who I consider to be true musicians who raise the bar each time they put out new music. Most of the time, I feel like I am seeing average musicians or even below and it can be quite disheartening especially if they can’t even be good performers or entertainers let alone musicians. However, I hadn’t seen this band live and knew very little about the other musicians in the band other than hearing them on the CD. In today’s world, we can make everyone sound brilliant on CD no matter their musical skill level, but the live show is the proof in the pudding. This is where we really see if they are as good as their CD sounds. Of course, I know that they wouldn’t be in the band if they weren’t brilliant musicians, my own client Jon Finn, a Berklee college professor tried out for this band a few years back. But I always hold a bit of skepticism until I see a band live. I have been burned too many times. I had watched Neil play for me on two occasions and I had seen Mr. Portnoy on several occasions in different settings.
I won’t go into set lists and songs as the show is the full “Similitude” CD plus a few encores because I want to relate the “experience” to you. To me, the most important part of any live show is the “experience.” Am I truly getting something I can’t get anywhere else or at least from very few bands. To that I can emphatically say yes. The thing that blows me away with this band up front is that their live show sounds EXACTLY like the CD. Even with Neil’s onstage energy, it is a literal duplicate of the CD. So not only am I getting a pitch perfect show in every way, I am getting the energy as well as realizing that this is one of those truly rare bands that put their energy into the recording of their CD such as that when it is played live, there is no difference. Do you see what I am saying here? Either medium of listening, either by CD or live, you are getting the “experience.” Only one has you right there to watch. Now that is an amazing quality to have as musicians.
Neil likes to incorporate a bit of theater in his show by switching into characters and outfits that follow along the story of the CD. Some of the musicians followed suit by “dressing” the part of what I would guess is a bit of a dystopian future. While the band performs, there is a screen up in the back helping to set the stage for the experience by allowing the imagery to help you see in your “mind’s eye” the story which Neil is trying to convey to the audience. The show is divided into 3 parts. The first set of the first half of the CD followed by a short intermission. Then the band returns to play the second half of the CD followed by the traditional encore of 3 songs. That is the basic framework of the show. The band is so busy playing straight through, that are only a few times that they get to stop and talk with the audience, which is normally a very important part of any show. Here however, it didn’t matter at all. The experience did all the work and provided everything we needed to hear and see.
Musicianship wise, I can’t even begin to tell you how amazed I was. On top of being absolutely spot on to the CD, the various different talents I saw was jaw dropping. The harmonies… wow…. The harmonies were amazing. Four voices in harmony sounding melodic, full and almost angelic at times. Harmonies are a lost art in the music industry these day. Always appreciate and never take for granted those that can sing harmonies. They are the most under appreciated skill and quite possibly one of the most important skills to making anything sound huge. The other thing I noticed that I loved was the lack of stage volume. This was very impressive to me as I have witness many bands who all use ear monitors who still have overbearingly loud stage volume. I was right in front of the guitar amp and could barely hear it. This allows the soundman to do his job with having to have massive instrument bleed into drum mics or vocal mics. Hence, a crystal clear sound coming out of the mains in which all parts can be heard and appreciated like they are supposed to be.
I want to talk a bit about a couple guys who probably don’t get much attention in this band. First let’s talk about Bill Hubauer. Never judge a musician by it’s cover. Living in Nashville, you learn to not assume anything based on the way anyone looks or dresses. If you look at me, you immediately assume I am a musician. If I had seen Bill anywhere else, I would have no clue that this man was a musician let alone that he can play keys, sax, mandolin and sing very, very well. I can play one instrument fairly proficiently even after attending school. This man is playing everything in sight and killing it. It’s a very humbling thing to see such talent in one individual. While Bill has spots to shine, I know there is so much more he can do. Unfortunately with a stage full of super musicians, time and space is limited. I truly look forward to discovering more about Bill and his music.
Next is Eric Gillette. Eric is the main guitar player in the band… but wait, what the… He sings like that too? Now I am just feeling demoralized at my abilities lol. Then I go to his website and find out that he also plays drums and keys….. I officially hang up my guitar. Not only did he play flawlessly the whole show, he singing is quite incredible. Eric is a very melodic player that has unique phrasing and the ability to mold, meld and utilize, theory, technique and harmony into rich, complex lines that tell a story versus sounding another GIT graduate shredding scales in an effort to sound brilliant. But most importantly, he only does so when necessary to take a part to its inevitable conclusion. This isn’t a shred fest by any means. Eric is a tasteful player who understands songwriting, composition and dynamics and employs all these things into memorable parts that help take the songs to new heights. I don’t know how old Eric is, I am guessing late 20’s but his playing is mature beyond his years and it honestly a honor to watch and listen to.
Of course Neil is also a multi-instrumentalist on stage. Not only covering most of the lead vocals, he plays guitar, acoustic guitar both 6 and 12 string and pulls out his strat for crunchy rhythms and tasty, jazz induced solos. Neil is the kind of player that blows my mind with his lines. He doesn’t play or sound like anyone else I have ever heard. His lines always make my ears perk up due to the melodic content coming from his fingers. I am constantly going, “how did he come up with that?” or “Why can’t I sound like that?” I honestly think I am most impressed with his song writing/lyric writing. I have had time to get used to the “shell shock” from seeing him play in person over the last couple years. Now I can see the brilliance in his lyrics and the appreciate the vision he has for his shows.
What can I say about Mike Portnoy? Nothing that hasn’t been iterated a million times over from the throngs of fans this man has influenced or inspired. Mike is truly one of the most awe-inspiring musicians I have ever witnessed. He does things with his drum kit that boggle the mind and make 98% percent of the drummers out there sound 2-dimensional. I don’t mean that in a bad way or as in insult. I mean that so as to say that, Mike’s ability to compose on his kit is almost without equal and his innate ability to create sonic landscapes the drumming is absolutely stunning and beyond compare. Today, we now have so many amazing drummers that come out of the woodwork to play things we could never have imagined before. There are some amazing drummers but there is that rarified air that is “John Bonham, Buddy Rich, Neil Peart and Mike Portnoy.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of bass player Randy George as there were a couple gentlemen always in front of me with their camera filming or just blocking the view and I was in the front row on the opposite side of the stage. However, his sound was unmistakable and as a bass player should be, a key component to the overall sound. Randy had a short solo in which we got see/here what most of us don’t get to witness as often, the high level of his talent. Randy drove the bus and that carries the songs where they are supposed to go. He does what all great bass players are supposed to do, he brings it home. He is the foundation that supports the structure so that it can rise high and mighty in its entirety. Not to mention his melodic contributions which I think are probably over looked. I know Randy also plays guitar and I am not sure what else, but he didn’t switch instruments during the live show.
The Neal Morse Band are quite possibly, the most underrated band out there today along with King’s X but for different reasons. Their live show is immaculate, breath taking and inspiring in both music and message. It is a sight and sound unlike any other and worth every penny you can spend to go see them. When every you get the chance to see this band or any other iteration of music that any of these gentlemen are involved in, you are doing yourself an injustice by not checking it out and allowing yourself to be immersed in what it truly means to be musical, brilliant and awash in a wave of sound, imagery that will not be replicated by anyone else again ever. True originality is a rare thing. These men have it, because they are so musically diverse in skills, they have a massive pallet of colors to always work from for true creativity and inspiring themes.
To steal a phrase from their the last CD “The Grand Experiment,” seeing The Neal Morse Band live is the “Grand experience.”
Final note: I don’t think any of these musicians are doing it for the fame. I don’t sense any ego, or need to be musically justified. I think at least in Neil’s case, he does it for the love of his faith and his music. This is true artistic authenticity at it’s finest.
The Neil Morse Band “So Far Gone” Official Video
The Neil Morse Band “The Man in the Iron Cage” Official Video
The Neil Morse Band “City of Destruction” Official Video
Buy “The Similitude of a Dream” CD Here:
Find out more about The Neil Morse Band and the musicians at these links:
The Neal Morse Band:
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David Lowry talks about submitting your voice over auditions to The Lowry Agency.
Photo: Mark Manion
Apart from demolishing her mother’s violin with Pete Townshend-like vehemence at age three, Gretchen’s passion for all things guitar didn’t fully surface until her early teenage years. It was under the tutelage of classical guitarist Phillip de Fremery, a student of Andrés Segovia, that Gretchen began her path on the instrument. Her father, noted writer and former editor-in-chief of Guitar Player Magazine, Don Menn, was quick to point her in the direction of the greats as soon as she expressed interest in guitar.
While earning a degree in music at Smith College, Gretchen’s adventurous approach to her education would foreshadow her approach to the guitar. She convinced a professor to allow her to launch a special studies project on the intricate and unclassifiable music of Frank Zappa. Her analyses of “The Sheik Yerbouti Tango” and “The Girl in the Magnesium Dress” showed a love for epic, melodic, genre-shattering rock and roll composition that would manifest later in her original instrumentals.
After college, Gretchen began heavily incorporating her love of rock guitar into her daily regime, the only hitch being that the music of her rock gods, Steve Morse, Eric Johnson, and Frank Zappa, wasn’t exactly Guitar 101. She also began considering her career path, and how she might prevent a situation she sought to avoid: tainting her love of music with the necessity of paying rent.
The solution? She went directly from college to flight school, and two years later was flying regional jets for the airlines. Yet Gretchen was never without her guitar.
After a year in the jet, with the life of an airline pilot being more than a little incompatible with a career in music, Gretchen relinquished her position with the airlines, knowing that there was a pilot out there somewhere who would appreciate the opportunity. She decided to take a more direct approach to realizing her musical dreams.
Playing with tireless passion and constantly seeking out new challenges, Gretchen’s projects have spanned the genres of jazz, funk, rock, progressive, and metal. In 2003, she donned a schoolboy uniform and joined AC/DShe as “Agnes Young.” In 2005, she joined forces with drummer, Clementine, to form Zepparella, currently with singer Noelle Doughty and bassist Angeline Saris. In 2007, Gretchen formed Sticks and Stones, the high-energy, instrumental “bassless power trio” with guitarist Mickael Tremel and drummer Sam Adato. In 2010, she played in Lapdance Armageddon, an aggressive acoustic duo with Jude Gold. In 2011 she wrote, produced, and recorded her first solo album, Hale Souls, which features bassist Stu Hamm, drummer John Mader, violinist Emily Palen, and guest artists Angeline Saris (bass on “Scrap Metal”), Jude Gold (second acoustic guitar on “Fast Crowd”), and Gretchen’s sister, Kirsten Menn (soprano on “Fading.”) Gretchen’s solo project, a trio with Angeline Saris on bass and Thomas Perry on drums, played their first shows in November of 2011, and will be starting to tour more in 2012.
Hale Souls (Mach Zero Records, 2011)
Lapdance Armageddon (self-released, 2010)
Conversation with Francis Bakin (self-released, 2009)
STICKS AND STONES
Unbreakable Strings (self-released, 2007)
THE HOUSE OF MORE
The House of More (self-released, 2006)
Live at 19 Broadway (Bonny Boy Records, 2005)
A Pleasing Pounding (What Are Records?, 2008)
Progressive rock legend Neal Morse will be dropping by Live From Music City to talk about the upcoming “Live Momentum” tour, the music business and his other projects. Stay tuned!
NEAL MORSE BIO
As a young musician, Neal’s dream was like many others—to find success in the pop music world. But after years of struggling in the Los Angeles singer-songwriter scene, he realized that this dream would not materialize. Rejecting conventional wisdom, Morse took a courageous step: He about-faced and devoted himself to progressive rock, the music truly in his heart. The obscure and fiercely competitive genre held little chance of commercial success.
Undaunted, he formed the quirkily-named Spock’s Beard with his brother, Alan. They recorded The Light with what money they could scrape together. Against all odds, it was a breakout success, sending shockwaves through the small genre’s community.
Over the next 10 years, Spock’s Beard released 10 critically acclaimed CDs and 2 DVDs, ascending to the top of the prog world. Neal also released 6 CDs and 3 DVDs with Transatlantic, the heralded prog supergroup comprised of the genre’s best musicians.
The proverbial wayward son, Neal had finally found the success he sought. On the outside he seemed to have it all. On the inside, however, something was missing.
Morse came to realize that for him, embracing the Christian faith was the fulfillment of his spiritual quest. His walk was at once gradual and sudden—and as with so many, completely unexpected. As he continued, his path increasingly revealed more of what his heart had sought all along. Yet he also began to find his career growing at odds with his faith. The rising spiritual tension and increasing commercial success finally came to a head with the release of Snow (2002), the group’s magnum opus…and swan song with Morse.
The extraordinary 2-CD rock opera, composed by Morse, was widely acclaimed as the group’s finest. But it was the end of the era. Neal felt God calling him out of his former musical life and into the unknown. He made the agonizing decision to leave both Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic. Despite having finally achieved the success he had long sought, Morse had to begin all over again; musically, emotionally and spiritually.
Neal then embarked upon the most ambitious musical project of his career. Entitled Testimony (2003), it chronicles his spiritual and musical journey in words and music. The 2 CD set spans over two hours as one continuous piece of music. In genre, it ranges from a gospel choir to hard rock; from symphony orchestra to contemporary pop. Testimony was also Neal’s first of many albums with drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater). A deftly woven musical tapestry, Testimony takes the listener on a fascinating journey as unique as the man behind it.
The ensuing world tour was captured on one unforgettable night for the 2-DVD set, Testimony Live (2004). Morse was recognized as a remarkably passionate and engaging performer by Britain’s Classic Rock Magazine, who included him in their “100 Greatest Frontmen of Rock” listing. The tour was awarded “Best Rock Tour” from the popular Dutch website, DPRP, besting nominees Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, RUSH and others.
Morse’s next studio album was a conceptual, progressive rock album entitled One. Mike Portnoy returned to perform on drums (in what is regarded as perhaps his finest performance), with up-and-coming bassist Randy George. They were joined by legendary guitarist Phil Keaggy. The result was a band-focused sound, harkening back to Neal’s Transatlantic work. Continuing in the tradition of Snow and Testimony, One proved epic in scope and sublime in nature.
For Morse’s third progressive rock album, he took a new approach, artistically. On Question (2005), Morse weaves a compelling storyline that owes as much to C.S. Lewis as Indiana Jones. His journey is a timeless quest—to find the biblical dwelling place of God. Joining Neal are more of prog’s brightest stars, including Mike Portnoy and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Roine Stolt (Flower Kings, Transatlantic) and Steve Hackett (Genesis).
Bringing Question to the stage required an outstanding tour band. Fusing technical wizardry with musical nuance, a young band of unknowns proved themselves in the fire of Question’s musical roller-coaster. The audience responded with energy and passion, with the experience captured on CD. Unrestrained, raw, and magnificent, the resulting 2 CD set Question: Live (2007) was fitting as Neal’s first live album.
Neal’s next prog epic was his most daring, stirring passions and controversy. On Sola Scriptura (2007), Morse tells a compelling and sometimes macabre tale of the darkness that inevitably falls when humankind tries to elevate itself to God. Focusing on the Church in the Middle Ages, Morse is unflinching in his description of its abuses. Neal frames the issue as just one example of faith separated from its true foundations. The album closes not with an end but a beginning—for us to consider our world, and feel called to illuminate it.
Question and Sola Scriptura were received as Neal’s best to date, and the ensuing tours were captured on film. The ensuing release, Sola Scriptura & Beyond (2008) was an extraordinary live concert 2-DVD set that brought both albums to life. Also included were generous selections from One and Testimony, a Transatlantic selection, five songs from Spock’s Beard, and an hour of behind-the-scenes tour footage.
Less than three months later, Neal completed Lifeline (2008), his next studio album. Unlike his other releases, Lifeline wasn’t a concept album. Free from this constraint, Neal stretched out in all directions. He revisited early Spock’s Beard, Snow, Transatlantic, his solo releases, and launched into new territory. Joining him once again were Mike Portnoy and Randy George.
A Transatlantic reunion had been the dream of many fans, and after ten years, a seemingly quixotic one. On April 16 of 2009, though, they were surprised to hear of a new album from the prog supergroup. The album began with Neal’s work a 45 minute composition, “The Whirlwind”. As he progressed, Neal, who felt it was taking on the attributes of a Transatlantic piece. He shared it with the band, and they agreed. Each band member brought material to the eight days of writing/recording sessions; by the end, they’d written a completely new album. Retaining Neal’s original title, The Whirlwind went on to be the group’s highest charting album to date.
Meanwhile, Neal had been touring in North America and Europe. Several shows from the end of 2008 were recorded to multitrack, and saved for future release. On November 16, 2010, the 3-CD set So Many Roads was released, presenting an astonishing 3.5 hours of new live music. Featuring 29 tracks spanning Neal’s entire 20 year career, So Many Roads is the definitive live Neal Morse release.
Later in 2010, Transatlantic embarked on their biggest tour yet, with dates in 11 nations across Europe and North America. The London, UK show was immortalized for the double-live DVD, Whirld Tour 2010: Live in London.
Neal begins 2011 with completion of his forthcoming progressive rock studio release, Testimony II. Mike Portnoy and Randy George returned to revisit the trio’s unique and powerful chemistry, and as usual, special guests and surprises await.
Neal’s largest ever tour will follow, over the summer, with his international live band led by Collin Leijenaar. Meanwhile, Neal continues development on his unnamed rock opera and a new collaborative mainstream rock project. In 2012, Neal shines brighter than ever with the next remarkable chapter in his musical and spiritual journey.
Scott was raised and has lived in the Seattle, Washington area for his entire life. He started music and drum lessons at the age of 11 and focused his studies on music and film classes throughout his high school years. In 1981, at the age of 17, he founded the now multi-platinum rock band Queensryche. Since the band’s inception thirty years ago, they’ve sold over 20 million albums worldwide and have toured around the world, encompassing 45 countries.
Scott first started composing music for film and television in the late 80’s during his time spent with “The Maestro” Michael Kamen. During that time, Kamen asked Scott to work on some additional drums and percussion for the 1993 film, Last Action Hero, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Michael continued working and mentoring Scott in all aspects of film music and compostion for many years to come, until his unfortunate passing in 2003. This began Scott’s exciting new journey scoring music for film and television. After only a few years in the specialty, Scott received a coveted Grammy Award nomination for Best Original Music for the animated feature film Televoid in 1998.
Scott has done a variety of projects since then including the recently completed additional music and all LIVE drums for the immensely popular video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops. Released in November 2010, the game set a new five-day sales record with an estimated take of approximately $650 million worldwide. Just prior to his involvement with Call of Duty: Black Ops, Scott did the orchestrated and electronic score for the horror flick, Albino Farm, released in September of 2009.
In 2003, Scott Launched his own custom drum company called RockenWraps, which specializes in custom graphic laminated wraps for drums and musical instruments. Working with artists such as Lady Gaga, SlipKnot, Beyonce, Rod Stewart, Rob Zombie, Megadeth, WASP, Metallica, Tesla, 30 Seconds to Mars, Snoop Dog and many many, more, RockenWraps has had a chance to design some of the most memorable drum and stage graphics ever to be available.
Scott also has his own music company, Hollywood Loops, that specializes in Sound FX for film, television and video game composing. Distributed around the world, Hollywood Loops products have now been used in video games such as Call Of Duty: Black Ops and also in numerous film and television trailers.
Scott now has dozens of film, television and multimedia projects to his credit and owns his own state-of-the-art recording studio.
He lives in Seattle with his wife and three kids.
Michael Brandvold is a freelance music industry consultant based in Northern California. Having launched Michael Brandvold Marketing to leverage his years of experience to provide direction to large and small clients in the areas of online & social marketing as well as e-commerce and customer acquisition and retention.
Gene Simmons of KISS first tapped Michael’s skills as a pioneering online marketing strategist to launch and manage all aspects of Kissonline.com’s multi-million dollar enterprise, including their ground-breaking VIP ticket program.
Michael has also managed the online efforts for Motley Crüe, Rod Stewart, Madonna, Ozzy Osbourne, and Britney Spears to name only a few.
It’s been surmised that the success of the long-running TV series “Sex and The City” was due to the fact that each of the very distinct characters represented a fac-et of every woman; the searching and inquisitive Carrie, the highly sensual Saman-tha, the sensible and objective Miranda, and the sweet girl-next-door Charlotte. Together, they are everywoman.
Former pro wrestling personality and touring musician, Goldy Locks, is Ameri-ca‟s real everywoman … and her multi-faceted life is prime fodder for endless non-fictional entertainment. Men want her. Women want to BE her … and mothers want to take care and guide her!
She appeared on the CMT television series, “Running Wild with Ted Nugent” and she just returned from an Armed Forces Entertainment tour in Afghanistan where she and her band entertained US troops serving in harms‟ way. She spent 6 years as a pro wrestling manager and interviewer with Spike TV‟s Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. She has opened shows for some of the biggest names in rock including Saliva, Sevendust, Nickelback, 3 Doors Down, Collective Soul, Stevie Nicks, Pink, Pat Benetar, Maroon 5, Ted Nugent and Grand Funk Railroad.
Goldy lockS has appeared on the following albums: “V” is For Viagra, The Remixes, TNA’s Theme Songs, Top Cow Comics The Proximity Effect and Steve O’s Jack Ass compilation, selling over a total of 430,000 copies. She‟s done a hilarious „webisode‟ series including the tongue-in-cheek “Cooking in a Corset” which is as tasty to the eye as the actual recipes are to the palate!
She can be harsh and direct or soft and sweet and her soul is reflected in the songs she writes and performs. Her original “Today I Won‟t Be Afraid” has been used to raise thou-sands of dollars for the YWCA, Sole4Souls and breast cancer prevention. It is also the basis for her schools program in which she gives motivational talks to teens and tweens, urging them to pursue their dreams without fear … and without falling prey to drugs, alco-hol or reckless sex. She looks like a sexy, hard-rockin‟ chick, but Goldy has principles and she stands on them firmly.
Follow Goldy as she navigates the constantly turbulent waters of fronting the touring band that bears her name and plays “boss” to a cast of rock musicians while also managing her successful celebrity photography studio and overseeing her growing accessories line. Laugh out loud as she pursues love through both traditional and online avenues … wait „til you hear her commentary on the photos she receives from men all over the country! She‟s also a relentless “punisher” when it comes to injustice and a mere trip to the local Wal-Mart can result in Goldy‟s public chastising of someone providing poor or disrespectful service, or a parent cruelly disciplining a child.
She lives life out loud, lays it on the line; does it without apology … and in 5 languages! She‟s driven, professional, a neat-freak and an occasional mess, a hard-bodied fitness fanatic and tender heart looking for love but willing to stand on her own. She‟s in search of mad love and wild success and is unwilling to settle.
She‟s Goldy Locks … she‟s everywoman.