Neal Morse is a man that needs little or no introduction. He started his career in the early 90's with the Progressive Rock band Spock's Beard, and has cooperated with, among others, Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) in Transatlantic. He has also released quite a few solo albums throughout the years.
Sola Scriptura And Beyond is the name of Neal Morse’s new DVD. To sum up shortly how this DVD came to life; Neal Morse met drummer Collin Leijenaar while playing in churches across Europe, and Leijenaar suggested that they could do a full band thing. Leijenaar gathered talented musicians from his home country, The Netherlands. The band, led by Leijenaar, rehearsed a good deal and then hooked up with Neal Morse for a couple of more rehearsals before they played live concerts.
Disc one contains a live concert that was recorded May 26th, 2007 in The Netherlands. The stage at this venue isn’t the biggest in the world, but Neal Morse isn’t the kind of “Rock Star” that needs to move around that much. There’s a good crowd and everything is set for almost three brilliant hours of Progressive Rock.
They open the concert with ”The Creation” from Neal Morse’s album One (2004) and Morse is located in the front with his keyboard, and after some keyboard solos on the intro of the song, he immediately switches to the guitar and does some impressive stuff with that instrument as well. The band seems very tight and this is an impression that lasts throughout the concert. The song slows down a bit from the crazy Instrumental intro to the more calm verse, and Morse’s voice is great as always. Towards the ending, drummer Leijenaar takes you through a great drum break that leads into a great instrumental part that literally kicks ass. The drums are massive and Morse plays an arpeggio solo on the keyboard, and this part will blow you away.
Next is a medley from the Spock’s Beard era. The songs are “The Good Don't Last” from the album The Kindness Of Strangers (1998) and “Open Wide The Flood Gates” from Snow (2002). Morse plays an acoustic guitar for this one, and where “The Creation” is a bit Jazzy, these two are visiting Classical music a few times. It even has a short excerpt from “Seasons In The Sun” (made famous by Terry Jacks in 1974).
Before going on to the third track Morse tells the audience that they’re going to play almost the entire critically acclaimed Sola Scriptura album. The album mainly consists of four songs that are divided into parts, and they play the entire album with the exception of the third track; “Heaven In My Heart.” First is “The Door,” an extreme Progressive Rock song with incredible instrumental efforts as well as great vocal parts. Guitarist Paul Bielatowicz does a great job playing the solos that Paul Gilbert (Razor X, G3, ex-Mr. Big) recorded on the album. He does some excessive taping where he uses all the guitar strings, and you can see clearly that this is Paul Gilberts doing. Bielatowicz masters all of Gilberts’ extremely difficult solos.
The two other songs from Sola Scriptura are melted into one. Those are “The Conflict / The Conclusion” and we through massive keyboard driven Symphonic Rock parts, acoustic guitar solos with Flamenco rhythms, Jazz and Progressive Metal the band with Morse in the front tells us about the life of the German theologian Martin Luther.
After this mind blast of Progressive Rock Mr. Morse won’t let us rest, so the band takes us into the “Question Mark Medley” which takes us through most of the ? album. This album from 2005 tells us about the tabernacle in the wilderness. What’s so great about hearing more than one song from Neal Morse is that his music is so varied and diverse. You don’t grow tired after twenty minutes with this guy. Once again he enchants us with his acoustic guitar in a part that leads into an incredible guitar solo courtesy of Bielatowicz. This is a guy everyone should be aware of because he is truly a guitarist with an amazing talent. It would be most surprising if the name Paul Bielatowicz isn’t a name that most “guitar virtuosos-to-be” knows within a couple of years.
When the last chords of “The Temple Of The Living God” are played, the band goes off the stage. Shortly after they re-enter the stage again and starts playing the “Testimedley.” This medley consists of ten of the twenty-nine songs from Morse’s 2003 release Testimony. This album deals with Morse’s life and conversion to Christianity (Morse became a born again Christian in 2002). There’s a lot of traditional Progressive Rock here, but there’s also room for some acoustic guitar driven redneck Country music. This part creates an entirely different atmosphere for the concert, until it transcends into a Mexican part, also with acoustic guitar, which suddenly goes Metal. This medley is far more emotional than the previous numbers and if Morse’s voice was good on the previous songs, then he is great on this one. You can hear this especially on “I Am Willing” where he really sings with his soul, and you really can tell that he means the words he sings. On “Oh, To Feel Him” it seems he’s moved by his own words, and his voice is a bit shaky, but it all enhances the musical experience in the end.
“We All Need Some Light” from Transatlantic’s 2000 effort SMTP is next in this almost three hour long set. This is an acoustic, ballade-like song that gives the audience a chance to sing along, and it seems that the people that showed up for this concert knows Morse’s discography well. “We All Need Some Light” merges into “Wind At My Back” from the Spock’s Beard album Snow. These two acoustic driven songs function great as closure for the set.
Throughout Sola Scriptura And Beyond we really get to see how good these musicians are. The already mentioned drummer Leijenaar is rock steady and launches challenging drum beats at times. Bass player Wilco Van Esschoten is both technically skilled and spot-on on every note. It’s a thrill to hear Morse play keyboard solos along with guitarist Bielatowicz and keyboardist Henk Doest on top of the steady rhythm section. The band have found a great keyboard player in Henk Doest and with his two keyboards he plays arpeggio inspired solos, adds church bells to the songs, and really completes the band and their sound.
The sound on this DVD is great and it’s mixed (by Jerry Guidroz, Neal Morse and Collin Leijenaar) so everything worth hearing from each instrument, vocals and backing vocals is hearable. It’s also great to see footage that centers around the finger work of each instrument instead of focusing on the musicians faces all the time. The guilty parties have done a great job on the production of the audio and the footage on this DVD.
Disc two contains a lot of bonus material. First is behind the scenes footage of the Sola Scriptura Tour. We get to hear Neal Morse talk about how the band got together and his thoughts about the tour and the band members, we are introduced to the band members and their gear, and we get to see some footage from rehearsals, some concert footage, backstage footage, sound checks, you know, the works. Some of this is interesting, but after a while things become bit boring and there are simply too many internal conversations and jokes that aren’t funny if you aren’t in the band. This part lasts for approximately an hour and a half, and that’s a bit too long for behind the scenes footage.
Next is an acoustic version of “Bridge Across Forever” which is the title track from Transatlantic’s 2001 effort. It was recorded during Neal Morse’s acoustic church tour, and this particular footage was shot February 17th, 2008, in Utrecht, The Netherlands. It’s a beautiful version of the song where Morse plays piano and sings. The sound isn’t great, but it’s sufficient and it actually gives a more live impression. You can actually hear Morse’s chair squeak as he moves.
Last on disc two is live footage of the album ? being played live. It was recorded at Columbia Club in Berlin, Germany, during the ?-Live Tour on July 14th, 2006. The lineup is the same as the concert on disc one, with the exception of a different guitarist. The guitar player is Elisa Krijgsman, and he turns out to be a good guitar player, only not as good as Beilatowicz. The footage doesn’t cover the entire concert or the entire ?, and it’s the same concert that was released as a live double CD in 2007, entitled ? Live.
None of the discs contains subtitles, but everything is spoken in English. The live footage on both discs shows Neal Morse in great shape, and he has a real connection with his audience. The band is super tight all the way and no real mistakes can be detected. If you are into Progressive Rock and it’s sub-genres you should get this DVD right away. Fans of Neal Morse will no doubt run to the stores to get this one, and it’s really a no-brainer: This DVD kicks some serious ass!
Total running time:
Disc 1: 2:49:00
Disc 2: 3:03:00
Click here for Neal Morse’s official Web site
Click here for Radiant Records’ official Web site