I've been somewhat indifferent to Neal as a solo artist for some years now.
I find his religious message alienating and his annual CD releases sounding like remixes of his previous output.
I was also doubting whether his "European touring band" would cut the mustard bearing in mind the calibre of the musicians Stateside (Mike Portnoy being the obvious, glaring example).
I must also admit that I wasn't even thinking to attend this gig until asked by DPRP editor Joris.
Prog duty and the chance to use my new camera gear won the day, but it would be fair to say that I didn't have very high expectations.
Well hand me a cloth please, seems I've quite some egg on my face...
I'm really happy to say that all my doubts were foolish and unfounded.
I had seen Neal previously with both Spock's Beard and Transatlantic, so his showmanship and energy came as no surprise.
I was however totally unprepared for the competence and virtuosity of this band, they were just amazing.
With 8 musicians on stage the orchestration and sound-scape was full and rich, the sound was clear and well balanced in all areas of the venue.
Neal's music, played live, was far more interesting than on the CD: fuller, heavier, urgent and terribly bombastic.
On top of this I didn't find myself bothered by the lyrical content at all, even during the final encore when it felt more like an evangelical.
Opening the show with the old Spock's tune, Beware of Darkness was an instant crowd-pleaser, not least for the proggers present,
of which I would judge was half of the audience, the rest being mostly young, well-dressed, clean-shaved and respectable Christian folk.
Quite a strange mix if I'm honest, but everyone was having fun and it's nice to see a prog gig packed-out.
Neal then eased into a couple of songs from One and Lifeline before rolling out the 26 minute epic
Seeds of Gold from the second disk of the new CD Testimony 2.
This is one of the best tracks on the album and it's a track I could really imagine being played by Spock's Beard.
It was even better live, allowing the band to really stretch their legs.
Kristoffer Gildenlöw, out of the spotlight since leaving Pain of Salvation, showed he's lost none of his ability, strutting through the bass-lines with confidence and aplomb.
Lead guitarist Paul Bielatowicz (who I had never heard of before, but seems he's also played with Carl Palmer)
was just astonishing with a great combination of technique and tasteful playing.
Nathan Brenton alternated his playing between electric cello and electric/acoustic guitar and together with Ben Mathor on violin,
the supporting keyboards of Ola Hedén and Jessica Koomen, they combined to give a pretty decent string quartet.
A special word too for the drummer, Collin Leijenaar,
apparently he's the leader of this band when Neal's not around (big respect for job very well done there) and the guy was a real monster behind the kit,
at no time did my mind wander to the aforementioned Mr Portnoy...
A few selections from Testimony Part 5 concluded the first set and after a 10 minute break we were treated to the whole of Testimony 2 (disc 1)
I knew this enough to recognise all the music, but not well enough to comment on individual tracks.
Suffice to say that it's an 80 minute piece that was pulled-off with panache, making the studio version seem puny by comparison.
I suspect the show at London's Koto will be filmed for DVD - will be well worth buying that I think.
Only small problem was a nasty case of microphone wilt for Neal.
Being the consummate professional that he is not a beat was missed and Neal just craned his head down to sing (while playing keyboard still)
and carried on until aided first by Ben and a roadie.
Neal of course was a show all by himself, flipping between keyboards and guitar constantly, playing on his knees, hands in the air and jumping into the crowd,
making his way up onto the balcony for a few verses.
He's a real showman and knows how to please his audience, never boring to watch.
The band left the stage to tumultuous applause (this crowd was really into the show I must say) before returning for the obligatory encore.
Someone in the audience shouted for June (the old Spock's Beard track, not the month or a girl...) and amazingly Neal picked up on this and decided to play it.
Not only could he not really remember it that well, he even forgot it was in drop-d tuning.
The band had no idea of the song either, it really was impromptu, but the audience knew the lyrics well enough and buoyed them along.
It's always nice when an artist does this, it makes a gig that little bit special, adds an extra human element to proceedings, it's a little gift to the audience,
and no doubt recognition from Neal of the tremendous reception the band received on the night.
The evening was finished up with Reunion from the One album - it was in this final song where it got a bit overtly religious, but considering nearly three hours of Neal,
I could live with it.
Interestingly quite a lot of the audience really got their rocks-off at this moment...
I met up with DPRP's Joris Donkel after the show - believe it or not, despite being part of the DPRP team for 6 years now, I've only ever met Bart Jan van der Vorst before,
so this was also quite an event.
Joris regularly attends Neal's concerts and tells me that they're always of the same standard, good to know that this excellent performance wasn't a one-off.
As I drove back to Brussels I had plenty of time to reflect on a superb concert and just how good his Euro band are.
I think there are many like myself who aren't really sure about Neal any more.
I can only recommend to those that loved his earlier work to put aside your doubts, get some tickets and go enjoy a really fabulous show.
I'm certain you will not regret it.
P.S. Just a final note...
This was my first visit to De Boerderij and it's a nice venue - not too small, not too large and not so bad to get to from Brussels.
Perhaps the only criticism could be that both their's no tiering at the venue (other than some wooden boxes in the gallery) so viewing is difficult.
However the sound was excellent and they employ the most beautiful toilet attendants I've ever seen anywhere - well worth the 30 cents for a pee (see slideshow)!
Beware Of Darkness (Spock's Beard)
Leviathan (Neal Morse - Lifeline)
The Separated Man (Neal Morse - One)
Seeds Of Gold (Neal Morse Testimony 2)
Sola Scriptura edit (Neal Morse Sola Scriptura)
Overture No. 3 (Neal Morse - Testimony 1)
Rejoice (Neal Morse - Testimony 1)
Oh, Lord My God (Neal Morse - Testimony 1)
God's Theme 2 (Neal Morse - Testimony 1)
Overture No. 4
Time has come Today
The Truth Will Set You Free
Change Of A Lifetime
Jesus Bring Me Home
Road Dog Blues
It’s For You
Mercy Street Revisited