Sometimes, support bands can be a total impediment at a concert, blocking the way to the oh so glorious headliners and evoking impatience. However, Transatlantic tonight are doing ‘an evening with’ show, meaning there is no opening act. The show is to last a monolithic three hours in true prog rock style, filmed for a DVD release. The lights go out. A spotlight shines over the Transatlantic logo on their backdrop, an expanded version of the cover art of ‘The Whirlwind’ full-length. Celebratory cheers from all ages are in massive abundance and the spotlight moves to position itself over London on its map. Seeing the prog rock super group, composed of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings) and Steve Trewavas (Marillion) with additional instrumentation from touring member Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation), take the stage straight away is so relieving.
The band throws themselves into the entirety of their album from last year ‘The Whirlwind’, a prog epic track spanning 77 minutes. This is a simply mind-blowing experience. The venue heaves as numerous devotees sing along to Morse’s soothing vocal lines with the optimum amount of passion. The musical prowess of each band member shines through as they play with such accuracy and enjoyment. Gildenlöw cannot discard his metal persona as he bounces around the stage, usually remaining between the band members, as if to respect that he is not an official component of Transatlantic. Watching him play the guitar with one hand while dealing with percussion in the other is quite impressive. With the four members all at the front of the stage (including the drum kit), It provides the opportunity to see each of the them in their element. Trewavas’ bass is beautifully study and the venue is particularly commendable in making it sound so clear. Portnoy’s drumming is diligent and obviously less aggressive and technical than his primary band. With all the band members providing vocal obligations (Portnoy sounds far superior vocally in Transatlantic than Dream Theater so he does not taint anything!), a full sound is achieved and strengthens the unity of the super group, despite the lack of much interaction between members. The prog-nostalgia is so captivating, it is impossible not to sing along to the segments ‘A Man Can Feel’, ‘Rose Colored Glasses’, ‘Is It Really Happening’ and any time the ‘Whirlwind’ reprise appeared. The entire affair is so emotional that by the end, lights reflect on the tears building up in Morse’s eyes. He truly is an emotive performer, vicariously feeling the mood of the music while singing and handling keyboards.
A fifteen minute intermission follows before the band return to unveil ‘All of the Above’, from the debut ‘SMPTe’. Thirty minutes of well constructed prog rock goes down beautifully. After this behemoth concludes, Portnoy remarks that in the time that has passed, they have only played two songs and they are not even half way through the set. The applause of the audience underscores the fact that they do not mind for this rarity and the show continues with the ballad ‘We All Need Some Light’, from the same release, but not before an introductive and thoughtful solo from Stolt and Morse, the latter using a twelve string acoustic guitar. Once again, the voices of the crowd sail around the venue as they sing along to the enlightening number. Roine does a great job sharing some of the lead vocals, to make it less Morse-heavy but Morse’s vocals are just as appreciated. ‘Only’ clocking in just less than six minutes, this gentle track breaks up the set before moving on to the fantastic ‘Bridge Across Forever’ release. The characteristic ‘Duel with the Devil’ pushes the band into more dynamic styles and takes an unexpected turn when after the line “Will you ride off into the distance like some highway star”, the quintet launch into a tenacious interpretation of a couple of lines from Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’ before returning to the prog marathon as if no digression had occurred, despite the Cheshire cat grins on everyone’s faces. The ‘Motherless Children’ reprises in this song are particularly stirring and emotional without any melodrama, sounding so ethereal yet fragile live. Vacating the stage, the audience knows an encore is due and the band return with the Morse-centred ballad ‘Bridge Across Forever’, which clearly emotively connects with the audience. The home straight is the closer ‘Stranger in Your Soul’ which showcased some of Transatlantic’s heavier tendencies, evoking more movement on and off stage. Events take a turn near the conclusion of the song when Morse sprints from his keyboards to the other side of the stage at Portnoy’s drum kit and takes over. To prove he is ‘down with the kids’ undoubtedly, Portnoy then takes an unexpected stage dive and crowd surfs in a DHARMA Initiative boiler suit (a fan of Lost, clearly) with tides of fans surging over just to touch of him.
After three hours, only six songs were played. However, considering it is a Transatlantic show, this is nowhere near boredom inducing or dull in any respect. The fans were hungry for more songs but one could only imagine how exhausted the band was. It is fortunate that such a rare tour has been captured on film for a future DVD release. Thankfully, they picked the London date to represent the tour and no doubt that was a great decision. It would have been better if the Shepherd’s Bush Empire had a higher stage as it was tricky trying to see Stolt and Trewavas from further back, considering they were not on platforms like Morse and Portnoy, but the venue’s sound was perfect for such intricate music. This was such an impressive show and those who had an opportunity to attend but waived it should kick themselves in the face.
Friday 21st May 2010
Shepherd's Bush Empire in London, UK
Review by Elena Francis