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NMB – An Evening of Innocence and Danger: Live in Hamburg Review by Bill Feltovic

NMB The Neal Morse Band – An Evening Of Innocence Danger Live in Hamburg Image 2023 07 13 at 11.39.00 5

The latest Neal Morse Band release chronicles the Evening of Innocence and Danger tour, 30 dates across the United States and Europe celebrating the namesake album. The specific show included in this set, played in Hamburg on June 13, 2022, was nearing the end of the European leg, and showed a band that had become comfortable with the music they were playing.

NMB The Neal Morse Band – An Evening Of Innocence Danger Live in Hamburg Image 2023 07 13 at 11.39.00 6

Like all the shows on that tour, the release is divided into the “Innocence” section, the “Danger” section and the encore. The “Innocence” section is comprised of the bulk of the first disk of the studio release, omitting only the instrumental “Emergence” and the accompanying “Not Afraid, Part 1”, but adding the track “Waterfall” from the first Neal Morse Band album, The Grand Experiment. From the very start, the band captures the varied stylings of the first disk superbly. A synth “Innocence” intro gives way to the clear chimes of “Do It All Again”, echoing the strong Genesis influence on the song. Neal’s voice takes a few bars to warm up, but by song’s end, he’s on form, combining with Bill Hubauer (keyboards) and Eric Gillette (guitar) to deliver some incredible multi-texture vocals. The momentum carries into the excellent and exuberant “Bird On A Wire”. Neal sings the verses, and Bill carries the bridge, but the choruses are one of several showcases for Eric’s lead vocals during the show. His tenor cuts over the driving rhythm section and carries much of the song, even when doubled by Neal during the outro chorus.

NMB The Neal Morse Band – An Evening Of Innocence Danger Live in Hamburg Image 2023 07 13 at 11.39.00 1 1

The next few songs exemplify the “innocence” part of the night’s theme. Following what is most likely the first edit of the show (perhaps an introduction from drummer Mike Portnoy) both “Your Place In The Sun” and “Another Story To Tell” are concise (by prog standards), upbeat numbers that amply demonstrate the strength of the song-writing on this particular set. “Your Place…” features four of the five members sharing lead vocals, each taking a verse before ceding the microphone to Eric for the chorus. “Another Story…”, sung primarily by Neal, continues the positive message of rebirth and redemption even as it leads into the moody, ethereal “The Way It Had To Be”. For this reviewer, the studio version of the song is the cornerstone of the “Innocence” side of the studio album; it is an affirmation, a lyrically uplifting song of redemption. Live, the song is yet another showcase for Eric; he takes the lead vocal, and the latter half of the song is a musical tour de force, essentially a solo spot for him as he takes an extended solo to finish the song. On most of the dates of the tour, the finale to the song was a segue into the Pink Floyd song “Breathe (Reprise)”, but, in what may be the second edit of the show, the song as presented on this set simply ends after Eric’s impressive solo that imagines the Floydian influence on the song but doesn’t seem to quote it directly.

NMB The Neal Morse Band – An Evening Of Innocence Danger Live in Hamburg Image 2023 07 13 at 11.39.00 2

The remainder of disk one, the remainder of the “Innocence” portion of the show, is in many ways the highlight of the set. Starting with the now-epic “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, and ending with the beautiful and elegiac “Waterfall”, the next 16 minutes or so are quintessential Neal Morse Band. “Bridge…”, both musically and spiritually evoking a similar Simon and Garfunkel cover done by Yes many years ago (“America”), elevates the song, giving it almost a hymn-like aura. Controversial with some fans for its inclusion on the studio album (why cover a song when the band are such prolific writers?), the song justifies its place live, providing an emotional spot for Neal, who sang the song in honor of his late mother, and an energetic chance for the band to stretch its wings on the powerful closing section. Again the three main singers work together seamlessly to bring color and resonance to the song. This portion of the set ends with the beautiful, almost intoxicating “Waterfall”. Played “acoustically”, with Mike joining the band in the front of the stage on percussion, the ethereal song is mesmerizing live, each voice swirling around the others to create something greater than the sum of its parts. The studio version is evocative of mid-period pastoral Genesis, but live it takes on a life of its own and is almost shimmering in its glory.

NMB The Neal Morse Band – An Evening Of Innocence Danger Live in Hamburg Image 2023 07 13 at 11.39.00 3

Part two of the set, the “Danger” portion of the set, begins with the quasi-epic “Not Afraid, Part 2”. Over 20 minutes in length, the music moves and sways in sections, and builds to a suitable climax. The band is clearly having fun, both during the middle instrumental improv section and at the start of the middle “Mystery Man” section, where Neal improvises some impromptu lyrics about Cherie’s cooking in the kitchen and Colonel Sanders’ finger-lickin’ chicken! The music is no joke, though, and the band segues perfectly into the “Run run runaway” section flawlessly. Not as edgy as the previously released Morsefest! version, but then again, at that time the band was still learning the material; here it’s road-tested and solid, and the audience is clearly feeding off that. The main set ends with the REAL epic, the thirty-five minute “Beyond The Years”. Bookended by a symphonic idea from Bill Hubauer, the piece is an ocean of textures. From the initial “I Am The Far That’s Near” lyrical idea, reminiscent in parts of the more accessible “Innocence” material, to the raucous instrumental workout that is “Islands In The Sun” to the beautiful “Watercolor Sky” instrumental passage (and including an excellent spot showcasing bass player Randy George, quoting Yes’ “Tempus Fugit” in the bargain), the piece runs the gamut of all that the Neal Morse Band is, both practically and spiritually.

NMB The Neal Morse Band – An Evening Of Innocence Danger Live in Hamburg Image 2023 07 13 at 11.39.00 4

The set concludes with an almost 30-minute medley of the highlights of the NMB’s previous two records, “The Similitude Of A Dream” and “The Great Adventure”. The medley is a powerful end to the set, weaving as it does the songs into a cohesive whole. It starts with “Long Day”, traverses through both stories, and circles back to end with the “Broken Sky/Long Day (Reprise)”. It is clear from the performance that the band is comfortable with this music, having played it in one form or another across three tours (and at least one Morsefest! appearance).

NMB The Neal Morse Band – An Evening Of Innocence Danger Live in Hamburg Image 2023 07 13 at 11.39.00

Overall, the set is an excellent representation of both the Innocence and Danger record specifically and the current collaborative state of the Neal Morse Band in general. Well played, well recorded, this balances the sometimes faithful reproduction of the new material against the need to let the music breathe and expand, bringing it to a new place the studio either couldn’t or didn’t capture. In this way, the live release acts almost as a companion piece to the studio album, and is a worthy addition to the catalogue.

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CD 1:

  1.  Do It All Again
  2.  Bird On A Wire
  3.  Your Place In The Sun
  4.  Another Story To Tell
  5.  The Way It Had To Be
  6.  Bridge Over Troubled Water
  7.  Waterfall

CD 2:

  1. Not Afraid Pt. 2
  2.  Beyond The Years

CD 3:

  1. The Great Similitude Medley

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