By Adam Waldman
BEST SMALL VENUE PERFORMANCE:
The Neal Morse Band at Highline Ballroom
Another year of top live performances, another appearance by Mike Portnoy (one of the best drummers in rock history). Is Portnoy’s drumming so good that his bands consistently end up being one of the best live performances of the year? Yes, but that is only part of the equation. Because Portnoy is a rare talent, he is able to surround himself with musicians that, quite frankly, are at another level than most. Seeing him with The Winery Dogs in consecutive years with Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan, it was hard to envision seeing him with other musicians on that level. However, after experiencing The Neal Morse Band in an intimate setting in NYC, I stand corrected.
The Neal Morse Band in concert is a theatrical experience that will not soon be forgotten. Though Portnoy was brilliant (as always), his presence in this band is not necessarily what grabs your attention. The musicianship of this band is unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced in a live setting. Perfect may seem to be a bit hyperbolic when describing a live rock performance, but The Neal Morse Band was flawless (at least from my vantage point). Sometimes, when a band is so technically sound, there can be a somewhat sterile feeling, but that is absolutely not the case with this band. And though they are all virtuosos in their own right, Morse himself must be seen live to believe. Words just cannot do him justice.
In fact, The Neal Morse Band’s stellar performance made it challenging to experience other live shows without comparing them to one of the most memorable shows that I’ve ever attended.
CLICK HERE to read the full review of the show.
BEST LARGE VENUE PERFORMANCE:
Styx on the “United We Rock” Tour at Bethel Woods
Taking a journey back in time on a stormy summer night, Styx once again reminded me why they have been one of my favorite bands over the past four decades. Although I didn’t know many people in attendance, seeing Styx at Bethel Woods (the site of the original Woodstock concert) felt like a reunion of friends. Familiar strangers sharing the collective soundtrack of our respective youths if you will.
Though I’ve seen Styx a number of times in concert, this was the first time seeing them without Dennis DeYoung. Any doubts that I had about seeing this incarnation of the band were removed within 30 seconds of the first song. Not only is Lawrence Gowan a worthy replacement, it can be argued that he actually brings another level of energy and intensity to the band. Although he was just a few months shy of his 61st birthday at the time of the show, Gowan serves a virtual fountain of youth for Styx in concert.
Nostalgia is inevitably going to be a part of any Styx concert for a generation of fans, but what was truly impressive was the reaction that the band got to the songs off of their first new studio album in 14 years. If you’re a Styx fan that hasn’t seen the band in a live setting recently, I strongly suggest doing so the next time that they come to town.
CLICK HERE to read the full review of the United We Rock Tour.