Flying Colors second flight copyFlying Colors' Second Flight is a live experience that screams 'state of the art' from start to finish. A feast for the ears and the eyes, this is one flight you want to book in a hurry...                                                                                                            

Flying Colors - Second Flight: Live at The Z7
Flying Colors
Mascot Label / Provogue Records
CD 1: 8 tracks  45:19      
CD 2: 7 tracks    52:27         
DVD / Blu-ray:  1 hour, 50 minutes, 34 seconds  5.1 sound + soundscape options

There have always been plusses and minuses to live albums. On the plus side you have the energy of the live experience - the interaction with the crowd, the unpredictability of the situation, the potential variations of the studio-recorded versions, and the freedom to stretch arrangements and improvise. On the minus side there's the possibility of poorly-balanced sound, sloppy playing, and badly mixed crowd noise. The best of both worlds would be the energy of a live performance coupled with the high-quality recording of an excellent live sound-mix. Thankfully, we get the latter scenario from the new live package, Flying Colors - Second Flight.

Flying Colors - Second Flight is a three-disc package, with two audio discs and one exceptionally well-produced video disc of the show. Taken separately, the audio experience and the video concert are equally stunning.

I'd say that, in all my years of listening to live concert recording, none has ever come close to the clarity and richness of sound that Flying Colors - Second Flight has achieved. The audio itself underwent a new audio engineering process, Harmonic Phrase Analysis, which reduces the unwanted processing normally associated with contemporary live recordings, and gives a more organic feel to the sound field. Every nuance of drums, guitar, bass, keyboard and vocals are distinctly and vibrantly reproduced on the audio discs as well as the video disc. To achieve the warmest sound and highest possible fidelity, every one of the show's mixes was mastered to 2" analogue tape, and digitized separately for each audio format, by mix/mastering engineer Rich Mouser (Transatlantic, Weezer). As pristine as the sound is, there's still that crackling energy of a live performance that shines through. While Flying Colors' music pretty much demands a careful performance (the songs, after all, are tightly and intricately arranged), there's that extra passion that happens thanks to the concert environment. "Peaceful Harbor," in particular, comes across with incredible power and emotional gravitas.

Directed and masterfully edited by Bernhard Baran, the video version of the concert is a visual delight. Shot in High Definition by 24 (!) cameras, every aspect of the performance is stunningly revealed on the video version of the concert. We’re transported from the audience to the stage, to tight close-ups of the musicians’ hands on their instruments, to a musician’s-eye-view of the enthusiastic crowd. Briskly edited, but without the sometimes too-frenetic jump-cutting of some concert videos, Flying Colors – Second Flight, in video form, is a delight to both fans and serious musicians, thanks to the intimate look at these artists at work. Viewers can listen in 5.1-Surround from the ‘seat’ of their choice: behind the front-of-house soundboard, or right in the front row.

For a detailed review of Flying Colors’ two studio projects, where this music is drawn from, you can find my reviews in the archives of The Phantom Tollbooth. For those who need to be reminded, Flying Colors is a unique combination of musicians that come together periodically to emerge, Brigadoon-like, creating music that’s a combination of prog, pop, and classic rock. The frequently tag-teaming Neal Morse (keyboards, vocals) and Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals) are legends in progressive rock circles. No less daunting are the talents of bass player extraordinaire Dave LaRue, guitar master Steve Morse (The Dregs), and guitarist/vocalist Casey McPherson. Playing hook-filled songs with the complexity of prog but minus the melodrama and excessive length (not that they’re above tossing in the occasional ten minute-plus epic), Flying Colors is captured here at the height of their considerable powers, performing an impeccable live set filled with passion and recorded with the best technology available.

 If you enjoyed the two studio albums by this fine band you should enjoy hearing the best of that material played every bit as well as the studio counterparts, but with the energy and passion amped up. The band soars. For the listener/viewer, it’s a flight well worth taking.

Bert Saraco