Spock's Beard - Snow Live album review
Time to get the band back together…
Released in 2002, Snow marked Neal Morse’s first foray into the full-blown concept album with Spock’s Beard. Unfortunately, once the record was done, he promptly left the band and went solo (at the risk of sounding facetious, because he thought God wanted him to). Fourteen years later, Morse reunited with his former bandmates to perform Snow from top to bottom at MorseFest 2016, recorded for posterity in this CD/DVD set.
The gang’s all here – Nick D’Virgilio shares drum duties with Jimmy Keegan, although they generally switch off from song to song, rarely going for the double-drummer approach. Even current Spock’s Beard frontman Ted Leonard gets a song, Devil’s Got My Throat, although otherwise he’s mostly constrained to a supporting role.
It’s always tempting to compare Snow with Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Aside from the circumstances of the frontman quitting, they’re both double albums that follow the story of a protagonist in New York City. For Genesis, it was a young Puerto Rican hustler called Rael, for Spock’s Beard it’s an albino hero called, ahem, Snow.
Unsurprisingly for Morse, there are heavy religious overtones to his tale, but that’s very much his wheelhouse and not likely to be an issue for his fans. The significance of the MorseFest reunion is that it marks the first and only time all this material has been performed live, although the players are faithful in recreating what they did in the studio.
On Ladies And Gentlemen, Mister Ryo Okumoto On The Keyboards!, the keys player extends the introduction, but the bulk of the track is played verbatim as he channels Jon Lord. D’Virgilio takes his fair share of lead vocals and hits the high notes more comfortably than Neal Morse, who sounds strongest on the tracks where he gets to use the lower end of his register, such as I’m The Guy.
Both D’Virgilio and Morse are shameless hams onstage – the latter can’t resist an opportunity to dramatically fall to his knees in I’m Dying, while D’Virgilio is ridiculous trying to look like one of the Beastie Boys (presumably) in Welcome To NYC. Wardrobe choices aside, the live version really brings out the song’s groove.
Morse’s musical approach to progressive rock isn’t so much about pulling in disparate influences but more about crafting a rock opera. Snow boasts overtures, movements and refrains that the band return to, but it’s all firmly rooted in Morse’s bombastic hard rock approach. It’s often cheesy – Wind At My Back is nauseatingly saccharine – but the musicians throw themselves into it all with gusto.