I was never too big on these guys, but there are two things about SPOCK’S BEARD that I know about them going into this live album. First; that their ambitious symphonic take on prog was hampered somewhat when their frontman Neal Morse decided to leave the band in favour of religious pursuits. Second; that even though Morse was not at the helm for their latest studio album ‘X’, it still kicked ass, moreso than anything else I had heard from the band to date. Still, I would not go as far to consider myself a fan of the band, but the prospect of a two-disc live album showcasing ‘X’ was certainly more promising than the heaps of prog ‘live’ albums that have been pouring out over the past year. Anyone familiar with live albums in general should agree that the studio album is better nine times out of ten, and this is certainly true in the case of this. However, fans of SPOCK’S BEARD and of the ‘X’ album will find this a very pleasing extension of the experience.
As I have said in past reviews, writing reviews for live albums is difficult; am I judging it based on the quality of the music itself, or the exclusively ‘live’ aspects of it? My appreciation of the original ‘X’ certainly helps me warm up to this performance, however. This is a nearly two hour monster recording, split into two halves. The first half comprises almost everything from ‘X’, essentially recreating the album in a live setting. Although it’s tempting to start waving angry fingers that they’re not going for the full album, it’s easy to guess why someone would not want to attempt ‘Their Names Escape Me’ live (Answer: try memorizing the lyrics!). Although this should not be a surprise to any existing fan of the band, a few of modern progressive rock’s greatest musicians are here. Bassist Dave Meros and key-man Ryo Okumoto are both standouts where I’m coming from, each enjoying a greater presence live than they do in the studio. Although the music on this performance is mostly based in pre-existing song structures with little deviation from the set course, there is a chemistry between these musicians, and everyone gets their turn to shine in the mix.
The second disc is the seemingly-necessary collection of ‘older’ tracks. As someone not terribly familiar with SPOCK’S BEARD’s entire discography, I cannot tell how much liberty has been taken with updating these tracks to the live setting, although the more live- exclusive pieces (such as the drum duel) are something of a disappointment, exhibiting talent without ever getting the feeling of intensity across that I would look for in a drum showcase. The greatest strength about ‘The X Tour Live’ is also at times it’s biggest weakness; the mixing and production. The music itself aside, ‘X Live’ sometimes feels wonderfully organic, overcoming much of the ‘noise’ that comes with live performances. On the other end of the spectrum, some parts of the show feel poorly mixed and unclear. In particular, Okumoto’s keyboard seems to get thrust into the background whenever the mixing engineer got lazy. A little inconsistent perhaps, but ‘The X Tour Live’ is a fair success for SPOCK’S BEARD, and does a good justice to the studio material.
1. Edge of the In-Between (10:51)
2. The Emperor’s Clothes (06:16)
3. From The Darkness 17:06
4. The Quiet House 09:05
5. The Man Behind The Curtain 08:13
6. Kamikaze 06:49
7. Jaws of Heaven 17:13
1. Drum Duel 04:25
2. On a Perfect Day 07:39
3. Thoughts 07:32
4. Ryo’s Solo 05:21
5. The Doorway 10:50
6. June 06:41
* Nick D’Virgilio – vocals, drums, guitar
* Dave Meros – bass
* Alan Morse – guitar
* Ryo Okumoto – keyboards
* Jimmy Keegan – tour drums