Neal Morse

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

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REVIEW: Flying Colors – Flying Colors (2012)

 

FLYING COLORS – Flying Colors (2012 Mascot Music)

How many bands is Mike Portnoy in anyway?  I have no idea, but I’ve bought many of them over the years.  Flying Colors is another, a supergroup featuring Steve Morse, the unrelated Neal Morse of Spock’s Beard, Dave LaRue from Steve Morse Band, and Casey McPherson of Alpha Rev.  McPherson is the only one I’m not familiar with from elsewhere, and he handles lead vocals as well as keyboards and guitar.  Peter Collins (Rush) produces, a man who knows plenty about progressive rock that gets played on the radio.

FLYING COLORS_0004Together they created an accessible album of jaw-dropping chops but also something melodically engrossing.  While these guys are all primarily renowned as musician’s musicians, together it seems they know how to write a song or two.  The 7-minute opener “Blue Ocean” is a great example.  It’s very hard to describe because it’s not any one thing.  It has a hypnotically cool lead vocal, but backed by a neat shuffle and Morse’s trademark hybrid style.

“Shoulda Coulda Woulda” is a heavy one, again with a hypnotic vocal.  It’s unforgettable and one of the most powerful tunes.  Steve Morse lays yet another awesome guitar solo on top of it.  It’s not how many notes he plays or how fast he plays them.  It’s what he wrenches out of them.  Then like a 180, “Kayla” opens with some gorgeous classical guitar, as if we switched to a Blackmore’s Night album!  But this is temporary; “Kayla” is a sparse mid-tempo rock song, with an anthemic chorus.  “Kayla” is one of the most instantly catchy moments on Flying Colors.  The vocal harmonies in the middle section are killer.

This is followed by my favourite tune, the radio-ready “The Storm”.  The chorus here is the best one on the album, powerful and layered.  The verses are soft and melodic; commercial rock goodness.  Portnoy perfectly compliments the song without overplaying.  Only a classic Steve Morse solo could further elevate “The Storm” to the heavens, and that’s exactly what happens.

LaRue funks it up a bit on “Forever in a Daze” which thumps along nicely.  “Love is What I’m Waiting For” has a Beatles vibe, which is interesting enough.  It’s probably worthy of radio play in a perfect world.  “Everything Changes” is another 7 minute long-bomber, and I don’t want to call it a ballad, so I’ll call it “quiet”.  It’s an epic.  It has acoustic guitars and strings and all kinds of cool stuff, including plenty of electric Morse.  Once again, I hear Beatles.

The introspective “Better Than Walking Away” is another really good song, soft and pretty but lyrically intense.  Then like a cold slap in the face comes “All Falls Down”.  This the most “metal” moment on the album, a blazing blitzkrieg of guitars and drums.  It’s over in 3 minutes and 20 seconds, but it’ll leave you knocked out.  I really love the vocals on this song too.

Approaching the end, “Fool in My Heart” is a slow dance.  Its melodies are warm and classic sounding.  This serves to cleanse the palette  before the final 12 minute feast of “Infinite Fire”.  It’s one of my favourites, and it’s over more quickly than it seems it should be.  It doesn’t wear out its welcome; it has a bit of everything in it including melody and spellbinding playing.

How the hell have Portnoy and Morse managed to put out multiple great albums in 2013 is beyond me.  Why are guys like these not the biggest rock stars on the planet?  Thankfully, a live album and second studio record are on their way.

4/5 stars

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