It seems there was a little drama in the build-up to tonight’s performance from The Neal Morse Band, with under-the-weather drummer Mike Portnoy expressing his frustration on Twitter at being unable to see a doctor before the show. Perhaps as a result, there’s a long wait to enter the venue and everything is running almost an hour late.
When Beardfish finally take the stage, they’re worth the wait. Rikard Sjöblom’s voice takes a minute to warm up, but once he’s in full flow he hits some spectacular highs, particularly during Coup De Grace. Beardfish showcase three songs from their new album, +4626-comfortzone, opening with the richly melodic Hold On, followed by Comfort Zone and If We Must Be Apart. Beardfish have a great ear for arrangements that blend catchy hooks with a broader sonic palette; from big rock-outs in _Green Waves _to gentle piano lines in Ludvig & Sverker from 2012’s The Void.
Whatever illness beset Mike Portnoy earlier, he powers through his performance with
a smile on his face. His enthusiasm is almost a match for that of Neal Morse, who bounds onto the stage and throws himself into The Call. At times he can come across like somebody’s dad getting carried away at Rock’N’Roll Fantasy Camp, but there’s no denying the enthusiastic reception from a devoted London crowd.
Musically, Morse and his band tend to go full throttle all the time. There’s less of Beardfish’s light and shade and more pure, unadulterated bombast in tracks such as Leviathan and The Grand Experiment.
Morse revisits his Spock’s Beard days with Harm’s Way before bringing his Christian rock side to the fore with The Creation. Two acoustic tracks, Waterfall and Shine, from Transatlantic’s Kaleidoscope, follow, but Morse’s guitar skills are never going to give Al Di Meola a run for his money, and when keyboard player Bill Hubauer busts out his clarinet it all threatens to go a bit Kenny G.
The volume returns with an extended shredding solo from guitarist Eric Gillette before the band launch into Alive Again, which turns into a free-for-all jam as the players swap instruments. At one point Gillette is on drums (he’s actually rather good!), Portnoy is on bass, bassist Randy George is on guitar and Neal Morse is grinning from ear to ear. They eventually return to their original instruments to finish the song, then line up to take a bow to the sound of justified thunderous applause.