If you're a Spock's Beard fan, these CDs are like a dream come true. Before I get into the review, let me tell you a little bit about the band. For the uninitiated, Spock's Beard is the premiere progressive rock band out there right now. The band consists of Neal Morse (lead vocals, keyboards, guitar), Alan Morse (guitar, cello, backing vocals), Nick D'Virgilio (drums, backing vocals), Dave Meros (bass, bass synth, backing vocals), and Ryo Okumoto (Hammond organ, mellotron).
From the Vault contains demos, outtakes and alternate versions of some of the band's best material--plus a few cool cover tunes that you won't find on any other US pressings. Some of these songs were previously released as bonus tracks on the Japanese pressings of the band's CDs. Two Separate Gorillas is a compilation of 'bootleg' (mainly acoustic) performances from Neal & Nick's acoustic tour of Germany and Holland, sent to the band at Neal's request.
From the Vault starts with a cover of Billy Cobham's fusion classic, "Stratus." This version is a bit slower than the original, but features cool keyboard and guitar solos. "Into Fire" is apparently the Beard's attempt at metal, with Okumoto on lead vocals, sounding scarily like Ronnie James Dio. Ryo, let me give you a little advice--stick with the keyboards & let Neal sing, OK? Up next is a live medley of Hendrix's "Fire" and "Waste Away," one of the tracks from the band's second album, Beware of Darkness. D'Virgilio's drumming on the track is spectacular. One of the coolest tracks on the CD is the demo for "The Light." Normally, demos just give you an insight into the creative songwriting process, but in this case, I think it's actually better than the version they released.
The Morse brothers serve up some gorgeous acoustic guitar on the live excerpt from "The Doorway." The released version of "The Doorway" is clearly superior to the studio demo that appears here. However, the demo lets you see the differences between what the band had in mind and what producer Kevin Gilbert did with it for the album. It's hard to say which studio version of "Waste Away" is better--the alternate version included here or the one that was released originally. The alternate is much heavier, with more emphasis on the guitar. Either way, it's a great song. Rounding out the CD are demos of "Walking on the Wind" and "Go the Way You Go."
As cool as From the Vault is, it doesn't come close to the degree of coolness found on Two Separate Gorillas (which is actually From the Vaults - Volume Two). This one isn't really a Spock's Beard release. In this case, it chronicles the pub tour of Nick and Neal in Europe. As Neal so aptly put it, "We can just change, you know, just do whatever we want, whenever we want to. We don't have to worry about setlists or any of that shit." The result is a relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable collection of tunes. Half of the songs are Beard tunes, the rest are all covers--ranging from Peter Gabriel to The Beatles to The Temptations to The Who and various points in between. There's a box on the CD cover that says 'flawed live recordings' and no, these recordings are not perfect. Don't let that keep you from checking out this great collection though. The real Beard fans out there will absolutely love it. Most of the tracks are soundboard recordings, but there are a few that sent in by people who recorded the shows from the audience.
The Beard songs on Two Separate Gorillas all come from the band's first four albums. Hearing these songs in this type of setting says a lot about not only the material itself, but also the talents of Morse and D'Virgilio. Both men take their turn on lead vocals, and they're both clearly enjoying themselves. One of the first highlights is the cover of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." Nick takes the lead vocal on this one and does a great job on it. The medley of "The Water/Go the Way You Go" is particularly interesting to hear in this stripped down setting as they camp it up for the crowd.
"Waste Away" features both Nick & Neal on guitar. The vocals are a little rough, but it's an inspired performance of one of their best tunes. Nick takes the lead on "We Can Work it Out," and after some friendly needling from Neal, they serve up a Guiness-inspired cover of this classic Beatles tune. On "The Doorway," the bearded ones serve up an impressive version of one my personal favorites by the band. Even in an acoustic setting like this, the song is a killer. Sure, there are mistakes here and there, but the musicianship here is nothing short of incredible. Even Neal comments on how he's blown away by Nick's guitar work (Nick's the drummer in the band, for those who don't know). The first CD comes to a close with Nick's take on U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)."
Disc two begins with the German novelty song "Mein Kleiner Grüner Kaktus"--that's My Little Green Cactus for the non-German speaking readers out there. "Strange World" gets a bit crazier than usual here, but it's still quite enjoyable. "June" is clearly an audience recording, but it gives the listener the feeling of 'being there' with the crowd singing the choruses/harmonies. The songs with the members of Dream Theater are, as Neal puts it in the liner notes, "horribly distorted" in places, but the performances are definitely worth hearing. Just don't crank up the volume when you listen to them.
The cover of Genesis' "Carpet Crawlers" is entertaining, to say the least. Neal burps during the second verse, prompting him to say "Peter Gabriel's rolling over in his grave but he's not dead yet!" Obviously, something like this could never be released through regular commercial means, this is definitely something for the fans. If you're a Genesis fan, you owe it to yourself to hear this. Neal steps into the spotlight for a touching, piano-based "Can't Get it Wrong" and then they wrap up the second disc with a medley of excerpts from Day for Night's epic, "The Healing Colors of Sound." Although they have a few problems remembering the words, they give it a gallant effort. All in all, these CDs are both essential for any Spock's Beard fan.
FROM THE VAULTS:
TWO SEPARATE GORILLAS:
|© 2001 Steve Marshall|