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Spock's Beard

The X Tour Live

Review by Gary Hill

When Spock’s Beard filmed and recorded this show in 2010, they had no idea the type of significance it would have. Since the show Nick D’Virgilio left the band. That made this the final US appearance for the drummer / singer. In addition, this concert would ultimately be the only US performance of the tour for the X album. These guys played their hearts out and it was a great show. The majority of the set was made up of material from that same X album, but they included a few older numbers, too. I really think the material came to life in the live performance. This double disc set (in the deluxe edition) also includes a killer DVD of the entire concert. If you haven’t gotten a chance to check out the Beard live, buy this thing right away. Those who have seen the band will know what it’s all about and don’t need to be told to get this.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Edge Of The In – Between
After a short introductory bit, the Beard launch out into the majesty that starts this epic cut. It’s got a lot of energy and oomph. It’s such a cool track because it combines both classic progressive rock sounds with more accessible sections. There’s a killer guitar solo around the four minute mark. I’ve reviewed the studio version before (on the X album review) so, I’ll leave a lot of the composition comments stand from that review. However, I will say that I think this track really gains a new sense of power and majesty in this live telling. It’s a really cool tune and this is an excellent performance.
The Emperor's Clothes
I love the acoustically driven opening section and how it sets up for the rise to the harder edged, but nicely symphonic and quirky jamming that follows. Spock’s Beard have always had a great knack for combining seemingly disparate factors and merging them into an arrangement that’s oddly accessible. This cut is a perfect example and works well in this telling. Again, the studio version has been reviewed elsewhere at MSJ, but I’ll just say that this rendition seems to really bring out the more rocking side of the Beard. They don’t compromise the progressive rock complexity for that rock element, though. This is creative, expansive and cool.
From The Darkness
Powering out from the gate, the whole tune seems more powerful here to me than it did on the studio release. This one, though, is truly and epic at over seventeen minutes in length. I’ll leave the song structure specifics to my studio album review (again this is from X), but I’ll say that it really comes to its full fruition in the live music arena. This is a killer. While I really liked the studio version, I feel that this recording blows that one away. This is really a powerful and incredibly dynamic piece and it is certainly one of the highlights of this live disc.
The Quiet House
Still sticking to the X album, I don’t remember this song rocking quite this well. It’s an excellent jam as delivered here. Of course, it was great in the studio telling, but like most of the material here, seems to gain energy and an intensity in the live arena. Of course, Spock’s Beard is seldom a one trick pony, and while this cut includes some killer hard rocking elements, it also includes some of the most sedate and poignant music of the set. That contrast between hard rocking and mellower is a concept lost in a lot of modern music, and one of the things classic progressive rock was so good at. Beard have always been masters of the art. One has to just listen to the killer metallic fusion-like jam that follows the ballad-like movement to understand how putting mellower music before the hardest chops make that rocking music sound much harder edged and energetic. And when they launch from there into the melodic chorus, it seems all the more accessible and melodic.
The Man Behind The Curtain
Some parts of this track come across as very balladic and yet there are sections that rock like crazy. Such is the power of The Beard. I like this performance a lot, but it doesn’t feel dramatically different to my ear from the studio rendition. Of course, I’d also consider sections of this to be among the most effective music of the whole set. For that reason, the previous comment is by no means a complaint. These guy still sound so much like classic Spock’s Beard after all the years and with a different front man. It bodes well to the kind of legacy the Beard will continue now that Nick D’Virgilio has left and Ted Leonard will be the front man. This is progressive rock that pleases both fans of killer instrumentals and quirky changes and those who look for hooks and emotional segments. That’s what really makes great prog rock.
Kamikaze
This instrumental surely must be a showstopper live. I mean, it has elements of ELP, but also calls to mind Kansas and yet is uniquely Spock’s Beard. Alan Morse’s guitar seriously screams with a major passion and Ryo Okumoto is a powerhouse of epic proportion in terms of keyboard voicings and skill. This thing has so many changes and evolutions and yet feels like a straightforward and organic journey. At the end, you’ll be thinking “wow!”
Jaws Of Heaven
Whether in a studio recording or the live concert venue, this epic is one of the most powerful you can expect from the Beard. It conveys a myriad of different sounds and moods and provides the kind of rush one gets from a thrill ride. The instrumental passages are awe-inspiring, yet the cut features hooks and lots of emotion. This is truly Spock’s Beard at their best. I don’t know whether I feel that the studio or live rendition is the better one, because they are both amazing. This is one of the most incredible portions of this live album. It really would serve as a great single track (albeit over seventeen minute track) introduction to modern Spock’s Beard.
Disc 2
Drum Duel
I’m not a big fan of drum solos, but when you have two drummers soloing as a duel, well that can be special. Although (again, I’m a hard sell) not a huge fan of this solo (“dual” would be a better description), it certainly has its moments.
On A Perfect Day
This song has its share of magical moments. It does a great job of managing the Beard concept of harder rocking and mellower contrasting sounds, and in a lot of ways feels a lot like something from the early days of the group. To a degree, though, I feel like it’s not up to the same quality standard as the songs we’ve heard to this point. There are enough special moments and cool shifts and changes, though, to make it belong here. It is certainly all Spock’s Beard and the performances are impeccable.
Thoughts
The studio version of this number comes from the days when Neal Morse was still in the band. It has so many of the trademarks that Beard continue to this day. There is sort of a more advanced, and slightly off-kilter, Gentle Giant or Pentwater like vocal interplay here that’s not heard on the other material of the set. It’s still a powerful tune, but perhaps not as polished (and I mean polished as feeling organic, not pop music) and some of the later compositions. Of course, that’s more about experience as a maturing band than it is about any lack of talent in the old days. I know there are those who still consider this version of Spock’s Beard to be something less than worthy without Neal Morse, but for my money, they pull this off as well as they ever did. It’s a strong tune and works quite well here.
Ryo's Solo
Many times Ryo Okumoto’s keyboard solo is one of the highlights of a Spock’s Beard show. He can really get pretty crazed when playing, and I mean that in the best way. He seems somewhat restrained this time around, keeping it closer to classically tinged music. Make no mistake, the talent and power and unmistakable, it’s just not as fun as some of his solos. Still, it’s awesome and works into the introduction of another Neal Morse era song.
The Doorway
This epic piece is one of the more accessible of the Neal Morse era of the band. It’s quite melodic, but still has a lot of that hard edged and mellower contrast that works so well with The Beard. It’s perhaps closer to a classic progressive rock sound, eschewing some of the newer elements, than a lot of the rest of the music here. Again, I really don’t miss Neal Morse here (and I am a fan, by the way), but I could see where some fans might. I can’t imagine anyone not liking this rendition, though. It’s an awesome ride.
June
Here the Beard turn their attention to another Neal Morse era tune. I think they do a great version. It’s another, though, that’s more melodic and perhaps less modern in sound. Of course, it’s an old song, so that makes sense. The audience sings along at times and it’s quite a satisfying way to end the concert and the disc. This caps off a real thrill ride with sort of a gradual chill down.
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