Neal Morse reunites with Spock's Beard on Testimony 2: Live in Los Angeles DVD

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Spock’s Beard’s neo-prog debut arrived at just the right time, as old-line legends in the genre like Yes and Genesis cratered out in the 1990s.

They shared an ancestral link to those earlier groups both in the classic sense (these labyrinthine suites of music) and in the contemporary sense (with their smooth pop accessibility). Each has also weathered fanbase-rattling personnel moves.

In 2002, after six albums together, principal songwriter Neal Morse left to focus on Christian prog-rock. Again, following in the familiar footsteps of Genesis, Spock’s Beard drummer Nick D’Virgilio took over as the new frontman. But, though he is a talented multi-instrumentalist and singer, the comparisons with Phil Collins and Co. end there — since each of the remaining members of Genesis were songwriters in their own right. Not so with Spock’s Beard, which had relied solely on Morse as its creative fountainhead. The band carried on, but has had a different sound and feel ever since.

That made this summer’s reunion between Morse and Spock’s Beard at the High Voltage Festival, excerpted on Morse’s forthcoming CD-DVD set Testimony 2: Live in Los Angeles, such a remarkable moment. Morse joined his former band for three cuts found on early releases by Spock’s Beard — “Return of the Catfish Man” and “The Dream” from the title track suite on their 1995 debut The Light; and then “June” from 1998’s The Kindness of Strangers, an early glimpse into D’Virgilio’s strengths as a vocalist.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Neal Morse talks about working with Spock’s Beard again on ‘Testimony 2,’ a fun sideman gig with Eric Burden and his on-going love affair with the Fab Four.]

Midway through the current band’s reading of “The Light,” Morse bounds out on stage — just in time for “Return of the Catfish Man,” which charges forward with a gothic menace. Spock’s Beard then makes a crystalline transition into “The Dream,” the delicately moving closing segment of Morse’s very first prog composition. (I can’t help but hear, as Morse sings about a dream that can “stand up in the light,” the first inklings of his eventual turn toward praise rock.) “June,” meanwhile, is a gorgeous intertwining of vocal harmonies and guitars — perhaps the most approachable and emotionally available song he ever wrote for the band.

Just like that, though, the reunion is over — as abruptly, it seems, as it began. But in that brief moment, filled with great musicianship and even greater camaraderie, you remember all over again what made Spock’s Beard so interesting in the first place.

Neal Morse’s Testimony 2: Live in Los Angeles includes three audio CDs and two full-length DVDs, with a whopping four hours of concert footage and extras from his most recent tour. The entire new Testimony 2 album is presented — note for note, start to finish. For the first time since the original Testimony in 2003, Morse’s music is performed by the original musicians who created it: Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Eric Brenton, Rick Altizer and Mark Leniger — along with two new members, Nathan Girard and Nathan Brenton. Other concert highlights include “Lifeline,” “Leviathan” and “The Separated Man,” as well as a new 30-minute composition called “Seeds of Gold,” before Morse and Co. present the best of his 2007 Sola Scriptura album.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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