nealmorselive-11Some stories take a lot of telling... Neal Morse offers a typically generous package of amazing live music on 2 DVDs and 3 CDs. It's Testimony 2 Live and a lot more...

Testimony 2 – Live in Los Angeles
Artist: Neal Morse

DVD / CD package (2 DVDs, 3 CDs)
English, stereo – option for 5.1 surround
Metal Blade / Radiant Records DVD

You've read the book! You've heard the album! Now see the major motion picture!

Well, not exactly (although a bio-pic about Neal wouldn't be a bad idea), but here's yet another incarnation of Neal Morse's dramatic journey of faith. The book followed the CD, and now a massive live DVD/CD set gives us Testimony 2 performed live, in its entirety, at Los Angeles' Whittier Theater – that, and much, much more.

Morse and the good folks at Metal Blade remind me of my Italian parents, who were never content to let you leave the house with just a snack – there was always a little more to eat before your visit was over. The musical feast served up by Neal and his exquisite touring band (Neal Morse / vocals, guitar, keyboards; Eric Brenton / guitar, violin, flute, pedal, steel guitar, mandolin, vocals; Nathan Brenton / electric cello; Nathan Girard / keyboards, backing & lead vocals; Rick Altizer / guitar, keyboards, percussion, backing & lead vocals; Randy George / bass, keyboards & backing vocals; Mark Leniger / percussion, saxophone, backing vocals; and Mike Portnoy / drums & backing vocals) is a complex but emotionally satisfying meal for the ears and the soul.

The band works hard but has a lot of fun onstage as they infuse the energy of a live concert experience into the intricately-crafted musical textures of Morse's music. From the hard prog-metal edge of "Leviathan" to the orchestral themes that run throughout Testimony 2 (augmented by live electric violin and cello), the band handles hair-pin melodic turns, tempo changes, and complex runs that would make many a musician's heart melt with fear – and they nail it. The vocal parts are handled perfectly, with vocal chameleon Rick Altizer being the perfect counterpoint to Morse, and at least half of the people onstage sharing the occasional complex vocal harmony parts on songs like "Time Changer." Of course, Portnoy is stunning on drums and overflowing with stage-presence and positive personality-vibes, Randy George anchors the music with sure-footed bass playing, and the rest of the band members deliver prog-perfect musicianship.

Morse, though at all times a showman, is always emotionally connected to what's going on in the performance - and more than once or twice, the emotions get fairly intense. For this reviewer, the emotional high points of the performance are "Jayda" (I really don't know how Morse is able to get through that song) and "Jesus' Blood," the bluesy adaptation of the old hymn, "Yes, I Know." To preserve your macho image, you'd better have a glass of water ready, blame allergies... whatever. Morse apparently shares the thoughts of the hymn-writer, Katherine Hankey, who wrote these words in 1866: "Tell me the old, old story, tell me the old, old story, Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love." Neal and his band of brothers have certainly done that.

Thanks to a variety of cameras, including at least a couple right on stage within an arms-reach of the players, the performance is covered in detail. The picture quality ranges from broadcast quality to high-end amateur, and split-screen technology is often used – splitting the screen in two, three, or four views – to give us access to every angle and to get in real close and personal.

Of course, there are extra treats. Disc 1 is the first part of the three hour-plus concert – a diverse set featuring a new 30 minute opus called "Seeds of Gold" plus footage of the Neal Morse / Spock's Beard reunion at the High Voltage festival. The second disc features all of Testimony 2 performed live, an extensive documentary tour-diary, photos and other surprises.

And this isn't even mentioning the audio CDs. Yeah – you're gonna get fed.

Bert Saraco