As a music journalist who specializes in progressive music, I’ve witnessed dozens of spectacular concerts from some of the genre’s best artists. With their lengthy durations, intricate music, and personable performers, these shows are always a joy to behold; however, few—if any—have impressed me as much as the double bill I saw this past Sunday, when Neal Morse co-headlined with The Flower Kings at the Keswick Theatre. As two of the best, most beloved acts currently working in the field, their live show is an experience unlike any other, and the way they came together at the end made it even more endearing.
For those still uninitiated, The Flower Kings was founded by Swedish singer/guitarist Roine Stolt roughly twenty years ago. Since then, they’ve released a dozen studio albums (as well as a host of live material) packed with eccentric arrangements, unique production, and plenty of catchiness. Few of their contemporaries have ever matched their zany attitude and colorful sounds.
As for Neal Morse, his solo career really kicked off a decade ago, following a religious awakening that lead to him leaving his original group, Spock’s Beard (who are still going strong in their own way). Above all else, Morse’s solo work is revered for its ingenious blend of religious storytelling (which is never overtly preachy or isolating), exquisite songwriting, and of course, complex music. Although his full line-up may change between albums, the core trio of the group consists of Morse, bassist Randy George, and drummer Mike Portnoy. Together, they’ve made some incredible LPs.
The Flower Kings started things off in style, as both their clothing and the stage’s lighting had a colorful, psychedelic quality. Naturally, their set favored their last record, ‘Banks of Eden,’ with “Numbers” and “Rising the Imperial” being performed. During the former track, the audience attempted to clap along, which lead to Stolt joking about how to keep a steady beat. He also made light of his band’s mixed ethnicities, with each member joining in the antics. They also played “The Truth Will Set You Free” from ‘Unfold the Future’ and a medley of “Last Minute on Earth” (from ‘The Rainmaker’) and fan favorite “In the Eyes of the World” (from ‘Stardust We Are’). As usual, the vocal duties were shared by Stolt and Hasse Fröberg, and keyboardist Tomas Bodin (wearing rose colored glasses) continuously smiled at the audience, encouraging them to cheer. All in all, it was a great set.
After a brief intermission, spiritual music introduced Neal Morse and his band, who were met by a standing ovation. Always modest, Morse thanked his fans before launching into the inevitable opener, “Momentum,” from his newest release of the same name. Afterward, he wowed everyone with “Author of Confusion” from ‘One,’ which features one of the most intricate and lengthy vocal counterpoints he’s ever written. It was stunning. Interestingly, rather than show a preference for ‘Momentum’ or his two adored ‘Testimony’ albums, he included a suite based around ‘?’ that included sections of “The Temple of the Living God,” “Another World,” “Sweet Elation,” “Entrance,” and “In His Presence.” Don’t get me wrong—‘?’ is easily among his best works, but I don’t think anyone expected him to favor it so much eight years later. He closed with “World Without End,” his latest epic track, and everyone loved it. In addition, Morse wore a constant smile as he moved around the stage excitedly or knelt at his keyboard piously, clearly enthralled. Such humility is rare these days, as is seeing a performer so engaged with and indebted to his crowd.
Seeing as how Morse, Stolt, and Portnoy (three out of four members of supergroup Transatlantic) were already there, concluding the show with a joint encore was the only logical choice. Although the concert had already reached the two hour mark, audience members couldn’t have been more excited to see everyone on stage at once. It began with a touching rendition of “Bridge Across Forever” from Morse and Stolt, who were covered in red light. Soon after, the other eight members of the collective band adorned the stage and performed several Transatlantic classics, including parts of “All of the Above” and “Stranger in Your Soul.” They also pulled out “Overture,” “A Man Can Feel,” and “Rose Colored Glasses” from ‘The Whirlwind.” It was a brief but impressive overview of Transatlantic’s career thus far, and it definitely built up anticipation for their impending fourth masterpiece.
By the end of the night (and after three hours of music), both performers and patrons were noticeably tired, but it was definitely a pleasant sort of exhaustion. Both groups did a phenomenal job replicating their art, as well as making the audience feel welcome in the celebration, and they couldn’t have ended the set any better. The fact that such proficient and ambitious musicians could play without a trace of ego or entitlement is amiable (especially when you consider how privileged some of today’s most popular—and untalented—“artists” act). It was definitely one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve ever seen, which is really saying something. That fact that I got to chat with some of them after the show was just the icing on the cake.
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