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Morse, Neal: Testimony 2 Live in Los Angeles (CD/DVD)

As the original leader of L.A.'s Spock's Beard, Neal Morse was a crucial member of the 1990s progressive rock resurgence. Showcasing exceptional skills as a vocalist/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist (he's a damn fine drummer, too), Spock's Beard was arguably the best prog band of its time. Around the turn of the century, Morse decided to leave the band and focus on a much more religiously focused solo career. Several months ago, he released the incredible Testimony 2, a direct continuation from his 2003 magnum opus, Testimony. Recently, Morse released Testimony 2 Live in Los Angeles, a live CD/DVD companion set to the album. Despite less than engaging sights, it's a terrific collection, and fans of Morse shouldn't hesitate to check it out.

In 2002, while finishing Spock's Beard's masterpiece, Snow, Morse felt a calling to leave the group in order to focus on a solo career that would combine his devotion to progressive rock with his devotion to Christianity.

While his departure undeniably changed the dynamic of Spock's Beard (as well as angered many fans), the group has been quite successful artistically in its second phase. Meanwhile, Morse has released several outstanding solo records in the last decade; Testimony was the first post-Spock's Beard release, and it contained the first five parts of his autobiographical journey. Almost a decade later, Morse put chapters six through eight together for Testimony 2, and like its predecessor, it weaves religious sentiment into beautiful, catchy melodies and astoundingly complex music. On Testimony 2 Live in Los Angeles, Morse performs the entire album (as well as several other epic pieces) with great precision and passion.

Joining Morse is the original "Testimony" band which appeared on both Testimony albums; perhaps the most famous member is drummer and co-Transatlantic eccentric, Mike Portnoy (who, like Morse, also founded one of today's biggest prog bands, Dream Theater). Also on the stage are bassist Randy George and the father/son duo of Eric and Nathan Brenton. The musicianship is impeccable and the musicians are highly enthusiastic and excited, making the performance equally pristine and welcoming.

As for the setlist, well, you can simply check below. The first set consists of Morse solo classics, including "Lifeline," "Leviathan," "Sola Scriptura," and a medley of songs from the original Testimony. This initial bunch of songs would be enough to fulfill the expectations of an entire concert (most of the songs are long), but of course, Morse is quite the showman, and thus he and his band only need to take a brief intermission before returning to perform Testimony 2 in its entirety.

Honestly, not much needs to be said about the actual replication; these are dedicated masters of their craft, and so, save for a few different timbres and improvisations, every note is identical to its studio counterpart. What's truly special about this collection is seeing and hearing how overjoyed and emotionally involved Morse is in his music; he frequently jumps around and smiles as he plays, and most songs are complemented by a joke and a story. The most poignant moment comes when Morse recollects the inspiration for "Jayda," a touching tale of how his daughter was born with a defect in her heart, only to have it heal itself miraculously. I saw Morse perform in New York in May, and just about every member of the audience had a tear in his or her eye during the song; months later, watching it on television, it's still quite affective.

Really, Testimony 2 Live in Los Angeles is almost perfect; however, seeing as the DVD is responsible for auditory and visual entertainment, a flaw does stand out. Considering the complete lack of set design, the awkward close-ups of the band, and the infrequent shots and sounds of the audience, it feels a bit like watching a rehearsal for a show rather than the actual show. Granted the music sounds fantastic, but it usually feels a bit too isolated, as if the band is performing to an empty room. This is even more noticeable when compared to the simultaneously released Transatlantic CD/DVD box set, More Never is Enough, which couples the top-notch sounds with plenty of spectacle on stage and applause off stage. While it may be unfair to compare the two, seeing as both products contain the same two musicians (Morse and Portnoy), identical package layout, and the same materials (3 CDs and 2 DVDs), they feel like two halves of a collective whole, and thus it's hard not to judge them against each other.

All in all, Testimony 2 Live in Los Angeles is a must own for fans of Morse, and really, the genre in general. The main reason why Morse is such an incredible artist is that he brilliantly blends religion into phenomenal songwriting and musicianship. Even genre fans who are wholly disinterested in Christianity can still find plenty to love about his magnificent melodies and complicated compositions. Rather than openly preach to convert, Morse simply shares his personal stories and heartfelt enthusiasm, and just about every listener can identify with his spiritual freedom and humanistic messages. Morse represents exactly what an artist should be: he is entirely in love with his music and his inspiration. He crafts masterworks so that he can share his joys with others, and this collection is a great reflection of that. It's truly endearing to watch him play.

Disc 1:
1. Lifeline
2. Leviathan
3. The Separated Man
4. Sola Scriptura

Disc 2:
1. Seeds of Gold
2. Testimony 1 Part 5
3. Reunion

Disc 3:
Testimony 2:
Mercy Street
Overture No. 4
Time Changer
Nighttime Collectors
Time Has Come Today
Jesus' Blood
The Truth Will Set You Free
Chance Of A Lifetime
Jesus Bring Me Home
Road Dog Blues
It's For You
Crossing Over/Mercy Street Revisited

DVD 1:
T2 Concert Part 1 Plus Neal Morse REUNION with Spock's Beard

DVD 2:
T2 Concert Part 2 Plus Tour Documentary

Added: January 21st 2012
Reviewer: Jordan Blum
Related Link: Artist Website
Hits: 2691
Language: english

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Morse, Neal: Testimony 2 Live in Los Angeles (CD/DVD)
Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-01-21 21:48:23
My Score:

Neal Morse should need no introduction in these pages as the ex-Spock's Beard front man has been at the fore front of the progressive rock scene for almost two decades now. To say he has been busy these last few years is an understatement. Since leaving Spock's Beard in 2002 Neal has released over twenty albums (including compilations and DVDs). Coming on the heels of his most recent studio album Testimony 2 is the live DVD/CD release Testimony 2 Live In Los Angeles. My review copy only included the two DVDs so I cannot comment on the CD part of the set.

The concert took place at the Whittier Theater and it seems to be a packed house. The venue is not that impressive visually as compared to other theaters I have seen. The band has a simple stage set up and the lighting is fairly basic. However, it is the band that people came to see and what a band it is. The musicianship from Morse and company is pure virtuosity from the first note to the last. Besides Morse who dabbles with vocals, keyboards and guitars, we have Randy George (bass), Mike Portnoy (drums), Eric Brenton (guitar, violin, flute), Nathan Brenton (cello, guitar, vocals), Rick Altizer (keyboards, guitar, vocals), Mark Leniger (saxophone, percussion, vocals) and Nathan Girard (keyboards, vocals). A cracking eight piece band if there ever was one.

As to be expected Neal's spiritual journey is well documented in his songs and narratives but even non-religious people can take a lot from this performance. Anyone who likes symphonic progressive rock should love these songs. The songs are reproduced flawlessly proving the exceptional quality of the musicians.

The first DVD has many highlights and none more so than "Seeds Of Gold" taken from Testimony 2. Neal proves he is as adept on the guitar as he is on the keyboards offering a soaring solo. The band transitions between heavy and lighter sections with ease and the more atmospheric/acoustic parts are excellent. Also noteworthy is the "Sola Scriptura Medley" showcasing fantastic solos from Morse and Portnoy's considerable drum skills.

As an added bonus Morse joins his old band on stage at the 2011 High Voltage Festival in London. Essential viewing for Spock's Beard fans.

DVD 2 features all of Testimony 2 performed live for the first time. In this set Morse straps on the guitar more frequently and provides many of the highlights. His atmospheric slide work in "Time Changer" is superb and in the heart wrenching ballad "Jayda" his soloing is elegant and moving. In the slow burning blues of "Jesus' Blood" Morse's guitar takes on tones of Gilmour, very soulful and emotive.

Suffice to say the entire band rocks, in no small part to George and Portnoy's monster bass and drum work. This formidable rhythm section is at the heart of this music. That said, there are no weak links and all band members shine often.

Also featured is a rockumentary made by Randy George offering much insight and behind the scenes footage. What is great to see is the band's sense of humour and just how much these eight musicians enjoy playing together.

The sound of both DVDs is excellent but my only gripe is the video quality. A higher resolution would have made the experience that much better but this is only a small complaint as the music is so enjoyable.

For those who have never seen Neal perform live now is your chance. Great music performed by a great band, what more could one ask for?

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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