“Vim and vigour fizz… energy levels are cranked up compared to the studio versions”: Transatlantic’s two-night Live At Morsefest 2022

Seemingly without the use of oxygen tents, the supergroup risk exhausting the listener with The Whirdwind, The Absolute Universe and a selection of crowdpleasers

Transatlanic - The Absolute Universe
(Image: © InsideOut)

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It’s commonplace for prog acts to recommend that listeners consume their music “like a book” and/or “in one sitting” – in conscious opposition, perhaps, to the cherry-pick-your-favourite-tracks approach the digital era has fostered.

But presented with the two 140-minute-plus shows included here, performed by prog supergroup Transatlantic across two nights at vocalist Neal Morse’s Morsefest in 2022, a double-bill might stretch even the most tenacious fan’s concentration span.

Both shows were centred around full performances of two entire albums, 2020’s The Absolute Universe and 2009’s The Whirlwind. Despite the considerable reserves of energy and concentration required – not to mention memory in attempting to recall such structurally complex musical pieces, seemingly without sheet music or autocues – the energy levels are cranked up considerably compared to the studio versions.

Even when listening without the accompanying DVD footage, it’s clear how fully these men (three of them already in their 60s when this was recorded) are injecting these marathon sets with an infectious passion that would outdo performers a third of their age.

After warming up with crowd-pleasers such as a singalong rendition of We All Need Some Light, a rifftastic reading of Procol Harum’s In Held ’Twas In I – both from the band’s 2000 debut – we’re into The Whirlwind as Wagnerian sturm und drang fills the air.

Later, Lay Down Your Life is full of dramatic, verging-on-camp tritones and a charismatic guest vocal from Spock’s Beard frontman Ted Leonard, strutting across a constantly evolving syncopated rhythmic stomp.

And even those of the ‘ungodly world’ Neal Morse sings of in Set Us Free will find it hard not to be swept up as Dancing With Eternal Glory bursts into choral ecstasy testifying to the spirit – whether holy or imaginary – that imbues these performances.

Presumably after spending a night in an oxygen tent, they still had sufficient reserves of energy to fire up the band’s most recent (and supposedly final) album, The Absolute Universe. They do so with similar vim and vigour, which fizzes from this recording on the joyous synth-decorated romp of Reaching For The Sky, the muscular prog-metal textures of The World We Used To Know and a melodramatic Owl Howl.

This time the greatest hits come after the album set, with a soulful revisit of Bridge Across Forever from the 2001 album of the same name, before a medley springing forth from Duel With The Devil adds a 26-minute coda. Once again, Morse means more.

Live At Morsefest 2022: The Absolute Whirlwind is on sale now via InsideOut.

Johnny Sharp

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock