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Spock's Beard

Live at RoSFest, April, 2007

Review by Josh Turner

Spock’s Beard was the ideal festival closer. After taking an exorbitant amount of time tuning up and an extensive raffle that proved little to no winners, this wick was lit and the act was underway. They may have been better the other two times I saw them live, but it was a very good show nonetheless.
They started with my favorite “new” song of theirs, which is entitled “On a Perfect Day,” There was problems with sound all day and the extra time spent attuning their instruments didn’t exactly help. The problems with sound were still prevalent as they played this song. As much as I anticipated hearing this number and was happy to have it first, the significance wasn’t lost on me. Due to all the technical problems, this was far from ideal and in some ways, I may have preferred to enjoy this after the sound was fixed. When they encountered feedback, the band was on top of it and discussed it in whispers.

For those who haven’t seen this band, but are familiar with their material, they behave in a manner that’s in line with their music. In other words, they goof around a lot. Nonetheless, when it comes to the quality and conveyance of their music, they are strictly business. I got to talk with Ryo Okumoto and Jimmy Keegan beforehand and they were focused entirely on the task at hand. Watching them amuse themselves on stage, you would have no idea that the gears were so diligently turning.

Every time I see them, it’s like they are a different band with new things to offer. While Al Morse was sharp on guitar, his vocals were lacking a bit. He has never tried to sell himself as a singer, and his latest solo album features not a single voice. So, it was understandable and acceptable. Moreover, his skill on the guitar was the best I’ve seen from him.

It was unusual, but this band was not very loud, and I sat in front. I guess they didn’t see the need to overwhelm the crowd with a blitzkrieg of sound and figured they could dazzle us with brilliance.

As good as they were, I expected more. Due to their pedigree, they were a disappointment by the slimmest margins with a very big emphasis on “slight.” In the grand scheme, this venue might not be for them. Even Karmakanic once upon a time had a weak showing here. It seems that the site is better suited for the unknowns. Nevertheless, Spock’s Beard provided value and did what was expected. They were probably most impressive in the after-show, though Nick D'Virgilio wasn’t around. During the act, he mentioned some sort of illness and it was hard to tell if he should have been taken seriously. Given their track record as comedian wannabees, it’s hard to say if these guys were joking or serious about his disappointing absence from the meet and greet.

Sticking to the tracks, the next one was “Mouth of Madness.” This was the first time I heard this one live. It seemed this set included a lot of rarer tracks. The sound was improved during the tune, so it got stronger as it neared the end. It almost felt as if it was a planned calibration in order to give this piece added impact.

“Is This Love?” was to follow. I always felt this was a great track for the iPod or jogging, and it seemed to be content on stage as well.

By the way, Keegan is a powerful little guy with a strong left-hand for a right-handed drummer. Early on, he gave the familiar songs pizazz with power and supremacy on the skins. In this song alone, he battered the drums till they were sore.

“All That’s Left” came next, and it perused photographs and pondered over falling leaves. “Slow Crash Landing Man” was another unsuspecting and interesting choice.

“Crack the Big Sky” is in my top five, and from what I can tell, it’s made a lucky rare appearance. Day for Night is an album that I like a lot more than the majority of their fans. Originally, this was my favorite song of theirs, considering Day for Night was the first Beard album I ever purchased. Immediately, I fell for this cut and “Distance to the Sun.” While the amorous ballad was nowhere to be found, I got to see this tune in concert. You could say I was a very happy camper early on.

At this point, Alan Morse gave us a taste of his solo work with the song, “Return to Whatever.” My favorite song from that album is without a doubt, “Rite of Left,” and I was temporarily unhappy. During the course of this number, my feelings had changed. I really enjoyed this rendition. By and large, it seemed they wanted to showcase their newest material while it was still fresh, and if it meant they had to go to side-projects, so be it.

“Surfing Down an Avalanche” was a surprising choice considering the fact it’s part of a larger theme from the epic “A Flash Before My Eyes” off the Octane album. They really rocked out on this one and caused, if you can believe it, people to head-bang in the crowd. For progressive rock standards, this is considered wild music.

While I would have been happy with “Thoughts,” we instead got “Thoughts Part II.” This goes to show they were all over the boards, which was great, as there was something for every fan.

This set the stage for dueling drums between D’ Virgilio and Keegan. After this short repartee, the rest joined in with a full-blown instrumental. The notes went on and on, and I had to wonder if it was really a song. Considering my in-depth knowledge about this band, I would have to say it was not actual planned footage. In the excitement, Alan Morse came to edge of stage often and even played foot pedals with his hand. They continued with the long epic from their latest, called “With Your Kiss.”

At one point, Alan Morse found himself on drums (the cymbals to be exact) and then made a quick transition back to guitars with the aid of his guitar tech. My hats off to his assistant for this really smooth hand-off.

Next we were enlightened with the song, “Dreaming in the Age of Answers.” With this, we could see as far as the mind would take us.

They concluded with “Walking on the Wind,” which is a fan favorite and classic from a project that utilized Grammy-winning Kevin Gilbert in its production. That would be the album Beware of Darkness and this was an excellent selection to prime the audience for an encore. They played parts of it in a “Freebird”-style, and D’Virgilio yelled “Stop it.” All the while, Alan Morse had his happiest face on. When the audience responded with a positive uproar to its conclusion, Morse snuck around and hollered at the stage with the crowd. That was pretty funny if you ask me.

While cooling down, Okumoto played a classical piece. With these guys you never know what to expect due to the dynamics.

It was obvious something was cut out for the sake of time, so they made the encore count. It was amazing to say the least. It started with the “The Water.” It was a humorous choice, though it didn’t go through the infamous angry track at all. Instead it turned into a medley that was seamlessly spliced with “Go the Way you Go.” Not even this was what was expected, as it had disco-like solos, more dueling drums, Alan Morse dancing, and others doing the salsa. At one point, Morse stepped out on a crate and almost wiped out. He seemed to be falling and on his knees a lot.

D'Virgilio may have been sick, but he skillfully performed on the keys, guitars, drums, and what may have been his best contribution of the night, the vocals. For a drummer, he is in a class with Phil Collins (and nobody else) as someone who is very skilled on the skins and arguably can sing with the best of them.

Spock’s Beard finished with jingoism that put RoSfest on the map once more, and made it a success for the fourth year running. With headliners such as Starcastle, Pendragon, and Spock’s Beard, one has to wonder, where will they stop next?
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