On June 18, 2000, Transatlantic played their first ever show in Bethlehem, PA. It was a loose, joyous set that was technically a little off, but felt like a big event. At the time, I thought “well that was fun. Too bad I won’t get to see them again.” Why? Because supergroups hardly ever last, and prog rock supergroups are even more fleeting. So to be sitting in front of a stage watching Transatlantic nearly 14 years later was an absolute treat.
Transatlantic is touring behind their fourth studio album, Kaleidoscope, and this itinerary takes them all across North and South America, to Europe, and in between they’ll be on the Progressive Nation at Sea boat (as will I), a cruise full of amazing prog rock acts. It’s literally transatlantic! I bet they haven’t heard that one before.
Our cast of characters for the evening:
Neal Morse on vocals and keyboards: most people still think of him as “the singer from Spock’s Beard” but those that do are probably missing out on his inspiring solo work.
Roine Stolt on vocals and guitar: a Swedish virtuoso who leads his band The Flower Kings through explorations of classic ’70s prog through the lens of modern world music rhythms.
Pete Trewavas on vocals and bass: he also daylights in Marillion, a band that has been the standard bearer of modern prog rock for the last 30-or-so years, and additionally moonlights in Edison’s Children.
(The Mighty) Mike Portnoy on vocals and drums: often called “the busiest guy in rock,” he’s best known for being a founding member of Dream Theater, but he’s also in all the bands ever. Two highlights of his current work are an excellent hard rock combo known as Winery Dogs and another project with Neal Morse called Flying Colors that has a classic AOR-era sound.
Ted Leonard on vocals and various instruments: Ted is the current lead singer of Spock’s Beard (all of this in one … band), as well as the long-time singer of the Bay Area prog band Enchant, the rest of whom were in the audience cheering on their friend. Ted was sitting in for Daniel Gildenlow who usually fills this spot, but Daniel recently fell ill, and Ted learned three hours of complex material in a few days.
There’s so much to enjoy about a Transatlantic gig. There’s patches of tremendous musicianship, moments of beautiful melody, and nimble interplay between the band members. Tonight was no exception. The band started with “Into the Blue,” the first track off the new record, otherwise known as “the dreamer and the healer” song. This number is just full of twists and turns, and the sold-out audience just sat there rapt with attention. After it was over, Mike Portnoy said he hoped we had all digested the new album well enough to listen to it, which of course we had!
Next, though, we were on a journey back and forth through the band’s catalog. The highlight for me was the 30-minute excerpt from 2010‘s The Whirlwind. They really did pick the bets parts of this album, from the anthemic choruses to the runaway train of an instrumental jam that comes near he end of the original album (you know the one I mean). That one has an insane, can-you-top-this energy that comes the closest to whipping the crowd into a frenzy that anything would all night.
The set went through all the moods of Transatlantic, bringing singalongs to “We All Need Some Light” and “Stranger in Your Soul,” songs that had me renumbering my list of my all-time favorite singers (Guy Garvey, Jon Anderson, Neal Morse, Peter Gabriel, Greg Lake), and fabulous guitar solos that had me reconsidering who my favorite guitar players of all-time should be. (I’ll get back to you on this one.) That hardly mentions the rhythm section, who brought the thunder all night long.
Speaking of thunder, an absolute highlight of the night was “Black as the Sky,” the soon-to-be fan favorite instant classic from the new record. This track has a fantastic bass line that Portnoy supports perfectly with a driving beat. Then Neal Morse takes over the middle section with a classically brilliant synth solo, all wrapped up in a powerful package underneath the lead vocals of Roine Stolt. This is the track you should play for people who think prog lacks soul, or that it’s stuck in the past.
There’s a book that’s been discussed a lot recently in prog circles; it was even gifted to me. It’s called Yes Is the Answer and Other Prog Rock Tales, and although it’s the kind of book I should like, it’s fundamentally flawed in this way. It only talks about prog rock as something that happened in the past. It treats prog with a winking irony that frankly pisses me off. If you were at The Regency on Saturday night, or you go see Transatlantic anywhere on this tour, you’ll know that prog is alive and well. Wink with irony all you want; you’re the ones missing out.
All photos above by Emily Anderson
Transatlantic’s setlist for February 1, 2014. This was Pete’s setlist, but the Adidas shoe print could be from anyone’s shoe.