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Neal Morse – Sola Scriptura and Beyond DVD
English, 2.0 stereo
Label: Radiant Records DVD
5 hours and 52 minutes
Clocking in at just under six hours, Sola Scriptura and Beyond – Neal Morse’s new live concert DVD – is the answer to a prog-rock lover’s prayer. Not only do you get an excellent band performance of Morse’s most recent prog-rock masterpiece performed by an outstanding six-piece band, but you also get a second disc of bonus features that has enough packed on it to be worth buying on its own as a stand-alone DVD.
The Sola Scriptura live set was recorded using a multi-camera set up and looks fine in a 16:9 aspect ratio. We get to see the musicians from every possible angle (including a great shot of drummer and band coordinator, Collin Leijenaar as viewed through the drum-head of one of his tom-toms) and thankfully, without the intrusive digital effects that become distracting on so many concert videos. The show is shot in real-time and offers great on-stage views of the musicians playing their instruments and interacting with one another. 5.1 sound would have been nice to put you right in the middle of the crowd as you sit in your home-theater, but the stereo mix is rich and satisfying, concentrating totally on the music. Yes, you should plan on playing it loud.
If there’s any concern about the line-up of this band, it’s unfounded. The basic band was organized and rehearsed in Europe by the afore-mentioned Collin Leijenaar, a prog-powerhouse of a drummer that will quiet the ‘where’s Portnoy?’ questions before the first song is over. Leijenaar (who resembles Paul McCartney’s drummer, Abe Laboriel, Jr., in more ways than one), is the rock-solid center of the sextet, which consists of Wilco Van Esschoten on bass and vocals, Henk Doest on keyboards, Jessica Kooman (Leijenaar’s wife) on vocals, keyboards and percussion, the amazing Paul Bielatowicz (who I am forthwith dubbing, ‘Lord of the Strings’) on guitar and vocals, and – of course – Neal Morse on lead vocals, guitar and keyboards. This is not simply a pulled-together group of studio players – these musicians play with skill and passion, and deliver an excellent interpretation of Neal’s complex, epic songs. The show, recorded in May of 2007, in the Netherlands, is solidly performed and recorded in a clear, no-frills style that allows the power of the performance to take center stage. There’s no weak link in this band, and be prepared to be mightily impressed by Leijenaar and, especially, Paul Bielatowicz, who just might become your new guitar hero after you see the passion and technique of this amazing guitarist: ‘Lord of the strings’ – you read it here, first.
The heart and soul of this band, of course, is Neal Morse. Playing and singing with total involvement and obvious passion, Morse navigates from keyboard to various electric and acoustic guitars with a masterful touch and real prog-rock credibility, also delivering an impressive lead vocal performance through the entire show. Always the plumb line for the rest of the band, Morse keeps things moving in the right direction and at the right pace. Both composer and front-man, Morse obviously becomes emotionally involved in, and affected by, the music; his passion highlights the message of the composition and keeps things from becoming a technical exercise.
Not satisfied giving you a hefty 2 hours and 49 minutes worth of live concert footage to feast on, Neal and his crew have thrown in a generous helping of Bonus Material to round out this double-disc package. Disc two starts off with “Sola Scriptura Tour – Behind the Scenes.” The John Vis documentary looks at the band on-stage, in rehearsal, in performance, and at play, interspersed with ‘talking head’ segments featuring Neal commenting on the music, the musicians, touring, and how God now ultimately orchestrates the road. The documentary alone comes in at over an hour and a-half, and gives insight into the band members as well as sneak peeks into various stages of the evolution of the tour. A particularly interesting revelation is the ‘warm-up shows,’ which seem to be where the band works out some of the musical twists and turns, often in front of a more intimate audience (the guitar jousting between Paul Bielatowicz and Elisa Krijgsman, for example, was a rare on-stage treat as the two men traded off inspired, passion-filled guitar riffs to the delight of all). Also included on the bonus disc are a solo performance (vocal and piano) of “Bridge Across Forever” and a 119 minute (!) nine song set from the Question Mark tour, adding visuals to the live CD released last year. When Neal throws in bonus material he doesn’t kid around!
Gather up your prog-rock friends, settle in with the snacks, and fire up the DVD player with Sola Scriptura and Beyond – you’ll be in for one hot night with Neal in The Netherlands.