Artists: Nick D'Virgilio (NDV), Mike Keneally Band, Spock's Beard
Date of Show: Novemeber 10th, 2002
Event: Progwest 2002, Day Two, part two Reviewed by: Michael Alvarez
The performance got off to a dramatic start with D'Virgilio silhouetted by a spotlight, strumming the opening chords with an acoustic guitar. This was clearly his night, but he was also a generous host. Highlights included the complex vocal arrangement of "Suit Fugue" (which garnered a standing ovation), and Mike Keneally's manic reading of "The Ghetto Of Beautiful Things" in which he completely immersed himself into the part. Nick himself displayed a flair for drama with a wide variety of facial expressions and stage antics, which served to accentuate the absurd and poignant message of the work. This was clearly the culmination of a long-held ambition for Nick. It was a tribute to a fallen friend, and a fitting finale to a labor of love that began when he constructed a cohesive and incisive album from the unfinished recordings left by Kevin Gilbert. The audience's jubilant reaction undoubtedly made it all worthwhile. It was a once-in-a-lifetime performance that will surely become the stuff of legend.
But wait! That's not all! After the curtain closed, Nick poked his head out and told everybody to stick around, promising that it would be worth the wait. When the curtains opened again, the Mike Keneally band took the stage, with Nick on drums, Brian Beller on bass, and Rick Musallam on guitar. They opened their set with the NDV song "The River Is Wide" (Nick on guitar, Chris G on drums), and then proceeded to dazzle the crowd with selections from the Dancing and Nonterkompf CDs. The music was quirky, with wild shifts in direction, and the band executed it all with precision and intensity. Mike Keneally played with wild abandon, grinning and wagging his mane of thinning blonde hair as he effortlessly coaxed some amazing licks from his guitar. He resembled a hyperactive Cousin It from the Addams Family, only with amazing guitar chops. This is truly an amazing live band.
The evening was not over just yet, however. Nick's band, Spock's Beard came onstage to play a mini-set to close out the evening. This was perhaps a critical appearance because they had just recently announced the departure of front man/composer Neal Morse. Many were undoubtedly wondering if they could continue without such a key member in the lineup. It was imperative that they let the world know that the Beard was still alive.
Starting off with some material from keyboardist Ryo Okumoto's CD Coming Through, they went into an improv jam that showcased their great instrumental chops and their almost telepathic communication with one another. They followed this with the Spock's Beard classic "The Doorway" with Okumoto playing Neal Morse's piano part. There were a couple of flubs during this song, but for the most part it was a solid performance. The band showed great energy and enthusiasm, which made up for the somewhat "unfinished" sound of their arrangements. Now that they are a 4-piece group, they will have to find a new way to play their classic songs. Guitarist Alan Morse went a few extra miles with his stage antics and facial expressions.
Having seen him numerous times, I know for a fact that he enjoys performing, but one wonders if he was experiencing a little nervousness being onstage without his brother for the first time. Bassist Dave Meros chose to remain more in the background, acting more as an anchor to the controlled pandemonium onstage.
They finished their set with spirited renditions of "Devil's Got My Throat" and "Go The Way You Go" which featured Okumoto playing two keyboards simultaneously. They were a little ragged, and there were some technical problems that were dealt with in good humor, but their message was delivered: Spock's Beard's mighty heart beats still. They are currently in the studio recording a new album, and I am confident that they will iron out the kinks and come back with a vengeance.
The one thing that must be noted at the end of this particular day was the superhuman effort put forth by Nick D'Virgilio. The physical and emotional demands of staging something as elaborate as The Shaming Of The True would have been taxing enough. But to also perform with the Mike Keneally Band AND Spock's Beard right afterward was awe-inspiring. He never once let the energy or enthusiasm level wane. He has proven himself to be the consummate artist and professional. Nice guy too.
ProgWest 2002 was a very satisfying mixture of acts from all over. It showed the diversity of acts that fall under the progressive rock umbrella. From its humble roots in a college lecture hall, it has grown into a world-class festival; one that will hopefully keep progressive rock alive on the West Coast for years to come.
~Michael Alvarez for ProgNaut.com on March 31st, 2003
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