Show Review: Transatlantic at The Palace of Fine Arts, 4/18/10

by Gordon Elgart on April 19, 2010

The return of the Neal Morse face! Yes!

Everything you really need to know about Transatlantic’s virtuoso performance on Sunday night at The Palace of Fine Arts can be summed up like so:

Six songs, three-and-a-half hours.

If this doesn’t appeal to you, you’re probably done reading. If the thought of such things makes you grin uncontrollably for hours, then this review is for you. Read on, prog nerd. You’re among friends here.

A prog rock supergroup isn’t an uncommon thing, really. The history of prog is littered with bands built from other bands. But in the modern prog renaissance, there’s only one super group worth mentioning, and that’s Transatlantic. It’s basically a collection of the coolest guy from four different, amazing bands. Neal Morse, the brilliant songwriter and keyboardist from Spock’s Beard; Roine Stolt, the songwriter, singer and guitarist from The Flower Kings; Pete Trewavas, the bass player for neo-prog legends Marillion; and Mike Portnoy, drummer and de facto musical director of prog metal powerhouse Dream Theater. It was an awesome combination ten years ago when they first started. And it still is.

This was the second night of Transatlantic’s Whirld tour promoting their newest album, The Whirlwind, and rather than look at the previous night’s setlist, I decided to go in cold. I assumed they’d play the new album, which is made up of one 75-minute song, and then I didn’t know what would happen after that.

At 8:00 on the dot, sure enough, they started playing “The Whirlwind.” Sound effects first, and then the four members (plus Daniel Gildenlow from Pain of Salvation as a fifth member) walked on stage to glorious applause. The largest applause was saved for Neal Morse, who famously (in these circles) retired from secular prog when he became a born again Christian. Since then, he’s made some remarkable Christian prog, but hasn’t been on tour in the U.S. Seeing him on stage again was tremendously exciting, as it would mean the return of the Neal Morse face.

What’s the Neal Morse face? Well, it comes in many shapes. There’s the face of absolute joy when he’s finished a song, smiling bright for all the world to see. There’s the “this keyboard lick is really hard” when he’s staring down at his keys playing a nasty lick. And then there’s the arms raised, fist pumping face, working hard to get the crowd excited. There really isn’t a more charismatic figure in prog rock. It’s a bit ironic that Neal Morse would leave the touring world of a prog rock band to focus on religious music because the fervor and reverence of this audience is the closest he’s going to get to being a preacher.

All of the musicians in this band are incredible, too. There’s the joy of watching the tiny Pete Trewavas, his bass nearly bigger than him, play super-fast, technically challenging bass lines while jumping up and down with joy. He doesn’t get to do this in his day job with Marillion; he looks happier here. Roine Stolt never seems to show too much emotion, but he’s an amazing guitarist playing amazing solos. I’ll let him be still. And then there’s Mike Portnoy who makes ridiculous fills look entirely too easy. If he wasn’t smiling so much, I would have thought he was bored.

The show wasn’t without its difficulties, though. The sound crew didn’t seem to have the band’s vocals figured out. All four of them take turns singing lead and harmony, and microphones weren’t turned on in time for the lead vocal on more than one occasion. Neal Morse was wearing a headset microphone that didn’t seem to want to stay in place, either. Once all this stuff got figured out (perhaps they told the sound guy to just leave the microphones on), there wasn’t a single out-of-place note. Ok, maybe one or two, but atfer ten years, do you expect every 30-minute song to go off perfectly?

As for the setlist, it was inspired stuff. After “The Whirlwind” and an intermission, the band came back to play three half-hour epics and two five-minute songs. Attempted singalongs toward the end fell short, but I think the audience was mainly out of breath at this point. When a show is three-hours in, the last thing you expect is for the encore to include a 26-minute “Stranger in Your Soul.” But it did.

I’m so incredibly glad I went to this show as opposed to doing something else.

Transatlantic Setlist from 4/18/10

The Whirlwind

All of the Above
We All Need Some Light
Duel With the Devil

ENCORE:
Bridge Across Forever
Stranger in Your Soul

And, some photos from the show as well:

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jacovich April 19, 2010 at 4:47 pm

GREAT CONCERT BY A GREAT GROUP. ALL OF THEM IN AWESOME FORM EVEN THOUGH IT WAS ONLY THE SECOND GIG IN THE CURRENT TOUR. GREAT MUSIC, GREAT SOUND, VERY TIGHT GROUP. CONCERT HAD INCREDIBLY INTENSE MOMENTS SHOWCASING THE GROUP’S COLLECTIVE AND INDIVIDUAL QUALITY. MUSIC STILL RESOUNDING IN MY HEAD DESPITE BEING BACK TO REALITY. REALLY HOPE THEY WILL CONTINUE RECORDING AND TOURING FROM TIME TO TIME.

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Ben April 19, 2010 at 7:32 pm

I still remember that time that Morse and Spock’s Beard played the first NEARfest, and you ended up in an elevator with him, barely able to contain yourself! : ) Good memories. Glad this show was so good.

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Paul April 20, 2010 at 7:27 am

Pure magic! This was an amazing concert. If you get a chance, and you are a fan of prog, this is an absolute must see concert!

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DJ Kuul A April 20, 2010 at 8:11 am

Shouldn’t “Neal Morse Face” be fully capitalized?

This reminds me, Porcupine Tree plays Miami this weekend. I wonder if Junior is ready for that. . .

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