REVIEW: Flying Colors – Live In Europe (2013)

FLYING COLORS – Live In Europe (2013 Mascot Music)

There hasn’t been a new band that got me going like Flying Colors did in a dog’s age.  Their 2012 debut is a fantastic album, and it’s only grown on me more since I first reviewed it.  Songs like “Kayla”, “The Storm”, and “Shoulda Coulda Woulda” had me hooked on repeat — in the car, at home, it didn’t matter.  Flying Colors has been on constantly for months.

That’s why I decided to get the double Live In Europe CD.  I had to have more.  Who cares that it’s a double live album immediately following a debut!  All 11 songs from that album are here, plus covers and songs from each member’s past.  I am glad to report that Live In Europe is as stunning as the debut, even over its long running time.  When you have a band made up of guys like Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Neal Morse and Casey McPherson, you can count on a live show full of explosive instrumental pyrotechnics.  And that is present.  But it’s the quality of the songs and the humour of the band that makes it special.

The band open the set with three album tracks in a row, each different from the last.  “Blue Ocean” is the long, breezy opener, which is followed by the pummeling “Shoulda Coulda Woulda”.  Then, “Love Is What I’m Waiting For” is more soulful.  All three are outstanding songs with stunning playing.

Portnoy does most of the talking, but Casey McPherson gets the first solo outing.  “Can’t Find a Way” is from his former band Endochine, but played by Flying Colors, it fits seemlessly in the set.  Its soft vibe is similar to some of the quieter material on Flying Colors, and McPherson’s emotive vocals set it apart.  Steve Morse throws down one of his classic solos and seals the deal.  This powerful number could have been on the album easily.   They follow this one with my favourite song, “The Storm,” and the whole place ignites.

From 1978’s What If album comes the Dixie Dregs’ “Oddyssey”.  Since Flying Colors don’t have a violin player, it’s very different, but every bit as jumpy and complicated.  Coming back to something a little more straightforward, the band rock out to “Forever In A Daze.”  Then McPherson stuns the crowd with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.  Yeah, it’s been a trendy song to cover lately, but when you pull it off as well as MacPherson does, why not?

The first CD ends with a mellow “Better Than Walking Away,” and by now a Flying Colors concert already feels like an emotionally uplifting experience.  It is a song like this that underlines not just the chops, but the melodic tendencies of this band.  It’s always fun to listen to a bunch of guys shred for 90 minutes, but it’s even better when they play a bunch of great songs, too.

The second CD commences with “Kayla,” which to me is already a classic.  The vocal harmonies of Neal Morse and Casey McPherson really dance.  After this, Mike Portnoy takes over, at the request of Neal Morse, sings lead on his “Fool In My Heart.”  I quite this swinging little ballad, and there’s nothing wrong with Portnoy’s vocal.  Dave LaRue’s solo piece, “Spur of the Moment,” leads into a Dream Theater classic.  “Repentance,” from 2007’s excellent Systematic Chaos, is part of Mike’s “12 Step Suite.”  As such it’s only fitting that he sings it himself.  It’s not the whole 10 minute version, it’s pretty much just the first half, “Regret.”  But it is every bit as powerful as Dream Theater’s original, yet very different.

From 1998’s The Kindness Of Strangers, Neal Morse performs “June” by Spock’s Beard.  This bright ballad enables McPherson and Portnoy to harmonize very nicely with Morse.   It’s certainly a nice respite before the slamming “All Falls Down.”  After the band lays waste with that tune, it’s only epics from there forward.  From the album, 8 minutes of “Everything Changes” is only topped by 12 minutes of “Infinite Fire”.  While these two are still “songs,” the shredders get their wishes granted with some long-bomb jams.

In a band like Flying Colors, you can’t single out any one player as an MVP.  It seems like a band powered by all five members equally.  Having said that, Steve’s Morse’s guitar solos are always a treat, and it also a pleasure to hear the rhythm section of LaRue and Portnoy gel like this.  They give the whole album a tremendous pulse.  Turn up your bass and see what I mean.

5/5 stars

24 comments

  1. I’ve not got round to these guys but I did hear a couple of live tracks on the youtubes and it looks like a fun listen. Neal and Steve aren’t related are they? And I used to always get Steve Morse mixed up with Gillan’s Steve Morris too. It’s all very confusing. There’s something to be said for all those ridiculous Black Metal names.

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    1. They are not related.

      Do you have the 1999 Deep Purple Albert Hall CD? Gillan introduces Morris on stage —

      On guitar, Steve Morse…I mean Morris…I always get them confused!

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        1. Always! I used to think he was a shitty frontman, but I was wrong. He has his own style and it’s not like anyone else. I love when he says things “wrong”.

          This song is called Perfect Street Rangers!

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  2. Thanks for the reminder!! This band went onto my check-them-out list and somehow I haven’t gotten there yet. And now you’re on your second review of them. I am so out of the loop and my own undoing. However, I will seek to remedy this immediately. To the youtubes!

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  3. Great review, and I completely agree with everything you said about this excellent live album. It took a few listens (and changing of expectations) to initially love their debut album, but it quickly became a new favorite. MacPherson’s voice is so strong that I had to check out his band Alpha Rev. I own two of their albums and they’re both fantastic. If you’re craving more of his vocals, I can’t recommend that band highly enough. Thanks for shining a spotlight on Flying Colors again. I’ve heard they’re working on album #2, so that’s something we have to look forward to.

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    1. Sounds like Alpha Rev is going on the wishlist, along with Spock’s Beard.

      I too have heard that they are working on album #2. I don’t know Rich, for whatever reason this band just makes me feel good. But like you it took a few listens! I was bored with it initially, filed it away, and then when it came time to review it, my feelings had completely changed!

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      1. As someone who’s been a Spock’s Beard fan since the release of their first album, let me know if you want any recommendations. There’s a lot to love in their discography.

        Glad we feel the same about Flying Colors. Initially I expected a prog supergroup like Transatlantic, and on that level I was disappointed. Of course, as a fan of melodic rock, I eventually came around and now I love them. Bring on album #2.

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        1. I expected that as well. But on the other hand, Portnoy alone has so many great ones (Liquid Tension being my favourite). Uncle Meat touched on that a bit last week in his Dream Theater review. There was another with members of King’s X and Dream Theater called Platypus. James LaBrie has some great progressive solo albums too. I used to have a Jordan Rudess solo album, and I think a Derek Sherinian too — I can’t remember because I purged them years ago.

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        1. Me too, at least when the camera and editing work is good. Sometimes you’ll see a video (older ones in particular) where they cut AWAY from the guy taking a solo!

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