229 The Venue, London
Thursday, 1st February 2024
Some nights make you glad to be alive. An evening with the scintillating Spock’s Beard on the final night of their UK tour in London was, without any shadow of a doubt, one of them. Exhilarating musicianship, the perfect selection of material from across seven albums spanning 20 years and a joyful, at times theatrical presence, all combine to forge a compelling experience that brilliantly showcases the sublime genius of progressive rock at its absolute best.
As the lights go down and the band launch into Tides of Time from The Oblivion Particle, the exhilaration, the vitality, the sheer energy and excitement of the music quickly becomes apparent. Not only is this testament to the excellence of the sound quality and the beautifully balanced mix which delivers every note with crystal clarity, but also speaks volumes to the consummate dynamism which so clearly exists between the musicians.
That musical ‘tightness’, the innate trust between them lies at the very heart of a performance delivering songs that comprise a bewitching complexity of time signatures and transitions whilst simultaneously enabling turns of spellbinding instrumental virtuosity. Nowhere are both aspects more supremely displayed than in the mesmerising The Good Don’t Last and the enthralling, anthemic Harm’s Way, both from The Kindness of Strangers.
Across the evening, Alan Morse is astonishing. Here is a man physically living every note he plays and whose musical exuberance and boundless passion is riveting. He is a joy to watch. When he’s not playfully riffing off Ted Leonard’s crunching guitar work or casually playing cat-and-mouse with Ryo Okumoto’s keyboard grooves, he unleashes the most soul-aching guitar solos, the extended versions of which on Submerged (from Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep) and She is Everything (from Octane) make you want to close your eyes and cry.
Ryo Okumoto is a majestic force of nature. The supreme showman gesticulates, gurns and demonstrably whips up an already impassioned audience to increasing levels of participation. Yes, there are times when he physically exaggerates his playing but make no mistake about it, the levels of skill it takes to enable this kind of disciplined dexterity is phenomenal. His solo in particular begins as dramatic theatre but as he becomes absorbed by the flow of what he is doing, the ‘act’ drops away to leave a supremely attuned keyboardist who is at the very top of his game.
All the while, lurking in the shadows, Dave Meros is unobtrusively imposing and calmly authoritative, supplying the decisive driving force that allows the others to excel. One So Wise (from latest album Noise Floor) rests entirely on his thrumming, undulating bass lines which both dictate and determine the tone and atmosphere of the song. Saga’s Mike Thorne on drums is the perfect partner in this engine room, incisive and commanding without ever being dominating. His touch is perfect and even though I am not a fan of drum solos, the deftness and nuance he brought into the spotlight was exquisite.
Ted Leonard is an unassuming presence, uniting and directing the flow, the tone as well as the mood of the music. His guitar playing brings character, provides depth and nurtures a sense of space and place within the context of each song. This is particularly true of Hiding Out, Waiting for Me (again from Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep) and On a Perfect Day (from the eponymous Spock’s Beard album). He keeps the between song chatter to a bare minimum and, to use a horrible cliché, lets his playing and vocal work do the talking. Nothing more is needed.
The fabulous and rousing Go the Way You Go (from debut album The Light) brings an exhilarating set to an end with a glorious swagger and instrumental flourish where the entire band eagerly sparkle with a satisfied assurance of a job well done. The encore is nothing less than The Light itself. Majestic, thunderous, triumphant, it is the perfect celebration of everything that the evening has been all about – exceptional music played with passion, conviction and whole-hearted dedication.
Leonard promises Spock’s Beard won’t leave it so long in the future before returning. Given the way people were looking at each other at the end with big, happy, smiling expressions of wonder and satisfaction, let us hope it is a promise they keep.
[Photos by Jamie Robertson]
Tides of Time
The Good Don’t Last
On a Perfect Day
She is Everything
One So Wise
Waiting for Me
Go the Way You Go
Alan Morse – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Dave Meros – Bass, Backing Vocals
Ryo Okumoto – Keyboards, Keytar, Backing Vocals
Ted Leonard – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Mike Thorne – Drums, Backing Vocals