For a band who’ve suffered more than their fair share of upheavals in personnel, American prog rockers Spock’s Beard have, in response, shown more than their fair share of resolve. Resorting, as some observe, rather Genesis-like to having their drummer step up to lead vocal duties on the abdication of main man and inspiration, Neal Morse, they recently recruited former Enchant singer Ted Leonard when drummer/singer Nick D’Virgilio then took his leave. And as bizarre as it seems, they appear even stronger for the change.
On the back of an extremely well received new album and perhaps their most consistent for some time, Spock’s Beard have hit Europe, with the second date of a 17 concert tour taking place at Sheffield’s cosy Corporation venue. The first tour featuring new vocalist Ted Leonard and with regular live recruit Jimmy Keegan taking now taking a full time place on the drum stool (along with a lucky Flat Stanley mascot), and anticipation was high. The long term stalwarts are still there of course – characteristically rock steady and unassuming bassist Dave Meros flanked by the gurning twins (dictionary definition : to use the facial muscles to pull and twist the face into an absurdly grotesque expression, especially in a competition) , Alan Morse and Ryo Okumoto, who seem to be in a constant battle for bragging rights for pulling the most outrageous expression and rock poses. All part of the fun and entertainment that is the Spock’s Beard live experience.
With the newly released Brief Nocturnes & Dreamless Sleep backed by a stack of healthy reviews, confidence was high enough for the whole album was performed in the evening’s set (with the strange exception of A Treasure Abandoned – arguably the highlight of the album for many) along with addition of The Man You Thought You Were as an bonus for those in the know who had bought into the expanded version of what the band are calling the BNads album. Something Very Strange was a low key and slow burning opener with Ryo’s use of vocoder emerging from the deep blue shadows and Meros and Leonard adding keyboard parts until the verse kicked in.
Ably supported on the tour by Swedes Beardfish and promising newcomers Sound Of Contact (fronted by Simon ‘son of Phil’ Collins and including Porcupine Tree sideman John Wesley in their midst), a few nostalgic touches were sprinkled alongside the new material with Leonard’s fellow new full time member, singing drummer Jimmy Keegan stepping up from behind the drumkit to add some vocals on the Cakewalk On Easy Street from the archives as well as some particularly effective harmonies on the likes of Walking On The Wind from 1996.
If flamboyant keyboardist Ryo Okumoto was slightly subdued and distracted with software problems through the night (apart from a break to request a pint of local ale Tetleys, from the bar), it was fellow founder members Alan Morse and bassist Dave Meros who provided the foundations for a solid performance; Meros’ bass style being the closest you’ll get to the sort of virtuoso contribution Chris Squire made to classic Yes, he allowed his instrument to become more than just a typical rock steady platform for Morse to weave his sounds. Betraying any signs of likely nervousness, and having had the chance to break the ice by playing live at the US album launch, Leonard fitted like a glove; the inclusion of his guitar playing to add to his vocals also giving Alan Morse the impetus to up the invention and quirkiness in his playing.
With a curfew to meet and 8 minutes to play a 12 minute encore it was a case of Ryo calling the shots – “no solos!” – although he still managed to sneak a few moments on his portable keytar during Go The Way You Go from the first Spock’s album. With its clarion call of “trust in the ones you choose” this signature tune has never quite matched the intensity of its performance from the Neal Morse days (sorry guys!) but it was a crowd pleasing way to end the first of the UK gigs.
With the likes of Steven Wilson, Big Big Train, and Amplifier acting as flag bearers and pushing the boundaries of progressive music , it’s gratifying to see that the genre has some longevity; The Beard and their peers still holding their own and acting as mentors to the new guard with the likes of Sound Of Contact ably picking up the baton. To quote Ted Leonard – “We are Spock’s Beard and will continue to be.” Long live Spock’s Beard!
Photography and text by Mike Ainscoe
More photos on: http://www.michaelainscoephotography.co.uk/