IF YOU GO
Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and composer Neal Morse will perform a rare solo show at Sellersville Theater on Feb. 22. The intimate show is in support of Morse’s latest solo album, “Life & Times” (Metal Blade, 2018), which will be released on Feb. 16.
Morse is perhaps best known as a rocker, though he has released other solo albums in the singer-songwriter vein. He founded Spock’s Beard – perhaps the most successful American prog rock band – in 1992. In 2002 they released the double concept album “Snow,” which was their biggest artistic challenge. It was Morse’s final studio album with the band.
At this time Morse also left the “supergroup” Transatlantic, which he had joined in 1999, so he could focus on a solo career. Morse became a born again Christian and he wanted to write and perform faith-based music, which he believed was more appropriate in the singer-songwriter genre. Subsequently he formed the Neal Morse Band and joined another “supergroup” – Flying Colors – both with his former bandmate from Transatlantic, drummer Mike Portnoy.
“I’ve always done both [singer-songwriter and band music], really, throughout my life,” said Morse in a telephone interview from his home in Nashville. “Before I wrote and recorded the first Spock’s Beard album [“The Light,” Metal Blade, 1994] I spent years trying to get a record deal as a singer-songwriter. I wrote thousands of songs, probably. And I tried to break into publishing.”
Morse explained that many of the songs from “Life & Times” were written last year during the Neal Morse Band’s tour for “The Similitude of a Dream” (Metal Blade, 2016), another ambitious 2-album set.
“Being a songwriter is a real foundational thing for me,” explained the prolific writer. “So what happened is last year I was on tour with the Neal Morse Band doing this very theatrical concept album – I was doing costume changes – and we were playing the entire album and doing the exact same show every night. Which was great.
“I had a lot of time during the day and I wrote quite a few songs while on the tour. And I was writing songs that were a little bit different, in a way, for me. I was enjoying writing about exactly what I was seeing and what I was hearing, and what I was feeling. So it wasn’t like a ton of imagery. As a writer it would be like the difference between Kurt Vonnegut or (Ernest) Hemingway. Hemingway is very factual… so I was enjoying writing like that. Like in the song ‘Manchester’ or ‘Selfie in the Square’ I’m actually writing about what I’m seeing in a kind of simple way.”
Material from “Life & Times” will certainly feature prominently in the show. But unlike Morse’s band experiences, where the set is largely the same night after night, Morse plans to take advantage of the added flexibility and do things he doesn’t typically have the opportunity to do on stage.
“It’s gonna be kind of a cross section of things from my career,” said Morse. “I’ll be doing some songs from Transatlantic. Part of the fun of this tour for me is I’m gonna change it up every night. Since it’s just me I don’t have to be tied to a set list. I can take requests, I can interact with the (audience) in a different kind of way. I’m looking forward to sharing with people what’s going on, what’s the story behind the songs and that kind of thing. I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say, too.”
He added: “A lot of the theaters and festivals and gigs that I play – they aren’t so interactive. I think that part of the nature of the ‘Life & Times’ album is this intimate sharing of what’s really going on in our lives.”
Morse said he spent some time just prior to our interview figuring out new arrangements for some of the music in his catalog that he never performed solo.
“I’m wondering – ‘how can I approach that song in a different way?’ and ‘how could I maybe put a loop underneath that?’
“It’s been really interesting. I’m doing some things that will be surprising. I don’t think it’s going to be exactly what people are expecting. And I think that’s gonna be fun.”
The concert at Sellersville will see Morse perform on guitar, keyboards “and I’m also doing some looping and things. I’ll be playing a little bit of percussion too,” said Morse.
He also added that some of the shows will feature surprise special guests.
And to the prog heads, Morse said: “Bring your wives. This is a concert your wife will like.”