30 September 2008

REVIEW: Spock's Beard Live (DVD/CD)

Spock's Beard has a pretty extensive live discography, when you think about it...

Official Live Bootleg/The Beard is Out There (1996)
Live at the Whisky and NEARfest (1999)

Don't Try This at Home (April 2000)

Don't Try This @ Home Either (2000) (From the Vaults, Series 3)

There and Here (2000) (From the Vaults, Series 4)

Gluttons for Punishment (2005)

Following on the heels of this lengthy list of live progressive goodness, the band has released yet another double live CD, partnered on DVD this time, under the pithy title Live. At least it does what it says on the label, eh?

As this album was recorded on the tour for the group's most recent studio release (the eponymous Spock's Beard), the setlist relies heavily on that album. Fully 6 of 11 tracks from that album are performed here, including the 4-part epic "As Far as the Mind Can See" (I count that 4-part composition as a single song, even though it is indexed as 4 individual tracks for ease of playback). Nick D'Virgilio and company did a great job selecting tracks to play from the new album, selecting the stronger compositions and playing them with passion. Highlights include the powerhouse show opener "On A Perfect Day," the m
oody and eerie "Rearranged," and the elegiac "The Slow Crash Landing Man," filled with great keyboard tones (including some epic organ patches) and wonderful singing courtest of D'Virgilio.

Fans of the band's earlier work when Neal Morse was still a member need not be disappointed that the early work has been ignored; several Neal-era songs are also covered here. The closing medley of "The Water" and "Go The Way You Go" is an appropriate way to close out the show, and the vocal interplay on "Thoughts (Part 2)" is as solid as ever, even without Neal's voice as part of the mix.

The band is playing a swell as ever; this show seems to have been particularly strong, without some of the hijinks and insanity that seem to follow the band from time to time. This seems a group with a purpose, putting on the show of their lives, rather than an average night out at a club or venue. It is possible that the show was edited to excise things like lengthy asides and/or jokes, but I don't necessarily see evidence of that.

Unlike the previous Gluttons for Punishment release, Spock's Beard has also seen fit to offer this show up on DVD. Dolby 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 soundtracks are pretty standard, of course, and the show is nicely shot in 16:9 widescreen (no notes on letterboxed or anamorphic on the case). Lighting is decent, and camera angles are used to reasonably good effect. I wish shots would develop a little longer, but at the very least individual shots are given a few seconds before cuts in most cases. Quick intercuts work well when there's something exciting happening (the opening of "In The Mouth of Madness" is a good example of where quick camera cuts work well), but in general, cameras should linger. Sound quality for both the DVD and CD releases is very good, not leading to listener fatigue.

Fans of Spock's Beard will already have this, so I would be preaching to the converted. New listeners not familiar with the group may find this a good way to stick their toes in the water, as Spock's Beard invests their songs with great energy live, making these perhaps definitive versions to listen to.


On A Perfect Day

In The Mouth of Madness

Crack the Big Sky

The Slow Crash Landing Man

Return to Whatever

Surfing Down the Avalanche

Thoughts (Part 2)

Drum solo

Skeletons At The Feast

Walking On The Wind

Hereafter (Ryo solo)

As Far As The Mind Can See (Dreaming In The Age Of Answers, Here's A Man,They Know We Know, Stream Of Unconsciousness)


The Water/Go The Way You Go

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