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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

Spock's Beard

Live in Chicago, May 2006

Review by Josh Turner

It's been five years since I saw them last, but the boys were back in town. Actually, the last time they came by, they were somewhere near my backyard. This time I had to road trip in order to see them. The show had an early start and the site was reasonably within reach. As if I was a cruise missile locked onto a target, I simply had no other choice. Personally, it takes an elite band to draw me hours away on a Sunday. However, these artists are the exception and the chosen venue, the House of Blues in downtown Chicago, made it all that more special. The last show I saw there was Dream Theater many eons ago. What I remember from that show was the pristine and lucid sound. As expected, it was so superbly-tweaked; you could hear a pin drop.

I'll begin with my short-list of complaints and get those out of the way. They all occurred when the show began and soon after, they were immediately dispensed. For starters, the show lifted off from its launch pad a whole hour past what was listed. Secondly, it took some calibration before the sound engineers fully debugged their systems. Nevertheless, these sticky situations were resolved in a flash and for the remainder of the night, they were fine-tuned and humming. Once they got going, neither I nor anyone else in attendance really seemed to care. With that said, I have nothing else to impugn upon without getting inanely roguish or overtly petty. Even the grumbles over the delayed discharge were quickly incinerated once the wick was lit.

My only straggling grievance has nothing to do with the band, but with the absent fans. I have to ask, where were you? As Wayne and Garth would state, this band is not worthy of this kind of disregard or neglect. For those who stayed behind, you missed one heck of a show. Nevertheless, the attendance was scarce and deficient With the administration issues out of the way, let's assess their set list:

They have so many songs in their arsenal; it's impossible to satisfy everyone's druthers. The song I really wanted to hear was "Thoughts" and at least for me, they didn't disappoint. Several songs in, they convincingly nailed this hit. They admitted this was difficult to perform and they had their fair share of mistakes, but even the slipups were immensely amusing. I would have liked to hear more from Day for Night, like "Healing Colors of Sound," "Gibberish," and "Distance to the Sun." Let's just say, before it was over, they happened to fulfill many of my other desires.

Rewinding the tape and returning to the introduction, they began with the blazing hot overture from Octane (also known as "Flash Before My Eyes"). Then, they quickly switched gears to reawaken the gentle giant of a title track from "Beware of Darkness." Following close behind, we got a wily interpretation of "Strange World" from Kindness of Strangers. Right from the get go, they were exciting and just when you thought it couldn't improve, guess what, it continued to change for the better.

There were two, count them, two medleys scattered at odd times of the show. The first was a folksy cornucopia of cuts between Al Morse and Nick D'Virgilio. This pair exclusively used their acoustic guitars as the others stood silently off in the shadows. The second jumble of jingles appeared much later on. For this, they chose an indiscriminate mix of moody tracks from Snow.


Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
   
No stone went unturned, no faucet untapped. They played the bubbly "Gameface" from their bonus disc. In addition, they covered "Counting Down Time" from Genesis. They gave no notice and didn't announce its arrival. With all their added wit, they took an approach that made this effervescent effigy from Lamb Lies Down on Broadway almost unrecognizable. It took a moment for the crowd to acknowledge the influx of this persuasive piece, but once they identified the riffs, it wasn't long before they got their balance, bearings, and grip. Somewhere in the middle of things, we also got heartfelt tellings of the similarly titled and equally emotional, "Carrie" and "Carry On." In the studio these were bittersweet and somber. When enacted live, neither lacked their sad or surly state, though something about them was inspirational.

With all the energy they leeched from the gas tank, you would think it'd take its toll; they'd eventually slow, and then stall the catalytic converter. At this point, many bands would conk out and then start to waver. As if they guzzled a bottle of Gatorade or gulped down a pack of PowerGel, it seemed like nothing could stop their climb or ascent.

Emerging late in the game, "East of Eden, West of Memphis" quickly became the best song of the night. With a clean rag and a liberal squirt of Pledge, this song was wiped upon the upholstery until it glistened and sparkled like new. From the same album, which would be Feeling Euphoria, "Bottom Line" was another impeccably executed tune. It was immaculate and sanitized whilst secreting a breezy Pine-Sol fresh scent.

In the closing stages of the concert, they finished appropriately with "As Long As We Ride." Here they said goodbye and see you soon. They dimmed the lights and left the room. With the arrival of this convincing tide, several people were permanently washed away in the flood.

The crowd, even as small as it was, wouldn't let them go. In a hysteric panic, one fan yelled, "Don't stop!" At first his attempts seemed silly and futile. Then, this attrition arrested when Okumoto resurfaced on the shore. The last time I saw him perform a solo; he leaped from the stage with a Keytar. While he shredded upon the device in his mitts, he baffled onlookers as he booted furniture to the floor. This time, he squelched the concerns of the crowd with elegance and panache. What emanated from his piano were passages that were as refreshing as dew, but as cool as ash. Since the band already gave us sufficient service, this was like a considerate maid leaving chocolate mints on your pillow.

It definitely seemed it was over at this juncture, but that would not to be the case. The earlier highlight was dethroned when they returned and performed "At the End of the Day." This trendy and precocious track made for a truly awesome encore. Anybody who left prematurely really missed out!


Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
   
Now that we we've gone over the songs, let's have a look-see at Spock's Beard's bevy:

It was intriguing to find that they had two drum sets setup for the occasion: one embossed with the words "House of Blues" and one without the hip brand name. This meant that Nick D' Virgilio would be tapping the skins in addition to his hand-picked surrogate, the elusive Jimmy Keegan. When the concert commenced, D'Virgilio initially sat behind the untagged set. During the opening instrumental, he sounded outstanding and grand. As soon as D'Virgilio stepped aside and grabbed the mike, misguided apprehension was soon realized. Fortunately, there was a plausible explanation. As previously mentioned, the amplifiers appeared to be out of whack, which made it seem as if D'Virgilio didn't have the pipes. It was immediately fixed and as a result, my mistaken trepidation lasted no more than a split-second. The engineers were on the case and adjusted the dials. The problem was fixed in no time flat. D'Virgilio's voice, from there on out, was strong, resolute, and booming. Not only can he sing, but he is one heck of a frontman. He commands both his audience and crew, fluently cracking jokes, while diplomatically dealing with hecklers and problematic gear.

Not too long ago there were murmurs of whether or not he was up for the job. I can say there couldn't be a better fit. Being totally honest here, he has the perfect personality for this line of business. In addition to drums and vocals, he also applied his abilities to the guitar, assisting the rhythm in a couple of vital places. In an apparent effort to prove himself, he has been pulling more than his own weight.

Okumoto played the keys just fine, but he had some problem as his equipment went bizerk. Without warning, he had a cataclysmic failure on his keyboards and yet it had nothing more than minor implications. For a moment, it appeared like he lost all the programming. It took a very long time to recover from this error. As bad as it was, it didn't seem to detract from the show. He shed a phony tear and then got right back on his horse. In lieu of resuming where they trailed off, D'Virgilio announced they would shutdown and restart. As if riding on Seabiscut, Okumoto proceeded to tear up the track. The setback was so inconsequential and hardly hindered the act that I have no recollection of when it actually occurred. In general, songs were played in their familiar way while Okumoto sprinkled on the supplementary drama and spice.

On the flip side, Dave Meros took his place in the back, firmly rooted and rarely moving his feet. In contrast, his bass playing was as solid as a rock, or in other words like a Ford Truck.

Then there was Al Morse who had a plethora of staggering guitar solos. I swear his abilities keep on improving. Plus, he incorporates a bounty of unusual sound effects in his playing. They modulate in a way that's adroit and distinct. It would be uncommon to see them crop up elsewhere. We also got to hear a sample from his upcoming album. It was news to me, but I was delighted to have a sneak peak. I can tell you it'll be something worth picking up. Supposedly, Al Morse was sick that night. It probably affected his backing harmonies a bit, but not his instrumental aptitude in the slightest. Okumoto filled in for a lot of the missing vocals.


Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
   
The odd man out was Jimmy Keegan, whose presence is solely required for tour-time. As the record shows, D'Virgilio is the original drummer and he's still wields the sticks in the studio. All that aside, Keegan was shockingly impressive on drums. With him in this essential seat, the songs lost none of their essence or vigor. While D'Virgilio is the grooviest of players, Keegan was right there with him. D'Virgilio still has the goods, but he might be out of form and slightly rusty. When this pair of devilish drummers dueled, Keegan, in my opinion, came out on top. I suspect D'Virgilio let him have the trophy, but it's not like he needed to go easy on his mate. Keegan's display was so fast and furious; I expected to see smoke come from his tom toms and snares. As if it weren't enough, he hit everything double-time and even gave vigilant attention to, would you guess a cowbell? This goofy piece of percussion made its way into many other parts of the set. In a separate instance, D'Virgilio announced, "Baby, I gotta cowbell!"

Speaking of tomfoolery, this is one aspect that sets this band apart. They enjoy themselves on stage, making their performance scatterbrained and capricious. Then again, their musicianship is a far cry from being flighty or frivolous. In spite of their immunity, the lunacy seemed to be contagious. Keegan, who at first seemed introverted and timid, at one point, ran into the audience and took a seat in the front row. Even with all the antics, they managed to create meticulously mind-blowing music.

In the past, I recall Neal Morse using animated hand gestures and the rest of the band sneaking around the stage on, "Beware of Darkness." That seemed mild compared to what they were doing on this night. There came a time, I kid you not, when D'Virgilio and Okumoto got into a wrestling match right on top of the keyboards. You could say I was waiting for the crash and what an expensive accident this would have been for the maniacal maestro. I share all this to assert the fact that this band has not misplaced an ounce of their garrulous and glib behavior. To the contrary, they were pleasantly down-to-earth and nice. As if they were our closest friends, they acted professional, cordial, and informal at the same time.

In some respects, they're improved without Neal Morse, but I do concede they are weaker in a couple areas. If Nick D'Virgilio is the meat and his troupe the potatoes, you could say Neal Morse is the extra bowl of gravy on the side. I do miss the duet on the guitar when the two brothers (Al and Neal Morse) go at it. If you are wondering why I'm fussing over this particular display, it's because they only used a single guitar between the two of them. Let me stress, they played the same strings at the same time.

Ultimately, it all works out in the wash, but if you want to stay up-to-date, install their newest program. Spock's Beard 2.0 is certifiable and earns the coveted stamp of approval, which is why I suggest you upgrade to their latest and greatest version.


Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
   
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