Rumours have it that the new Spock's Beard double live album, Gluttons for Punishment, got its name from an obscure Deep Purple bootleg recrorded in the 70's. I'm sure we'll find out soon if this is true, when the guys start giving interviews regarding their new work. Gluttons for Punishment is the first live disc of Spock's Beard in the post-Neal Morse period, and having been recorded on the band's Octane tour, it features mostly songs on their last two studio releases, obviously focusing on the Octane pieces, and rightfully so. This is a good package for those who have been doubtful about the future of Spock's Beard, and never got around to checking out Feel Euphoria and Octane due to the absence of original vocalist and songwriter Neal Morse. Let me assure you all that if you pick this collection of songs up, it will not only restore your faith in the band, but also you will have the chance to form a solid opinion on their newer material.
The first disc begins with the band successfully performing their A Flash Before My Eyes epic in its entirety, all seven parts of it. In some moments, their rendition surpasses the original versions of the tracks, thanks to Rob Aubrey's great mix and recording. The band is tight as a unit and touring drummer Jimmy Keegan is doing a fantastic job, as Nick D'Virgilio is centre-stage, confidently delivering the tunes. Each track has its own apex. The sweeping guitar, piano, and bass combination on "The Ballet of the Impact" offers a warm, slick songmanship with an effective vocal performance - a great piece to get things going. Alan Morse's guitar tone on the acoustic ballad "I Wouldn't Let It Go" is rich, enabling each note to have a more lasting effect. Ryo Okumoto's Mellotron is also on display, but I'm particularly impressed by the organ sound that he employs in the last minute of the track. "Surfing Down the Avalanche", together with "Climbing Up That Hill", is the hard-hitting, groovy rock number, containing ferocious bass (what a sound!), powerful drumming, flowing guitar melodies, and washes of Mellotron. The chorus on "Climbing Up That Hill" is infectious and filled with incredible drum fills. "She Is Everything" is the heart-breaking ballad, punctuated by a swirling guitar intro, nice synth sounds, and an inspired blues solo. Nick D'Virgilio's voice has a great pitch, and he is at its emotional best. The epic is wrapped up by "Of the Beauty of It All", kicking in after Okumoto's sweet synth intro, only to once again show how amazing his synth 'chorus' on this cut is. It is continously repeated, giving the song more than one highlight moment, as memorable guitar hooks and wild drumming also make themselves an important part of the tune.
The band, finally convinced they've had a good first impression on the audience, briefly interacts with them and dives into The Kindness of Strangers number "Harm's Way", introducing a more complex song structure accented by sweet Moog sounds, thick guitar chords, bluesy solos, jazz piano, and great rhythmic anchor. The first disc is closed by "NWC" and finds the band straying away from the song's original format, playing it almost twice as long (about 10 minutes) and enriching its substance through spooky electronic samples, thick bass bottom, and a brilliant interplay between guitars and keyboards. That's not all, however. We're taken back to earlier Genesis where Chester Thompson and Phil Collins would duel on drums - as Nick D'Virgilio and Jimmy Keegan sport a phenomal drum solo spanning perhaps three minutes, none of which are wasted. Yes, it's long, but it is so professionally framed into the song, you just don't want them to stop.
The second disc is longer, despite its smaller tracklisting. Nick D'Virgilio does an outstanding job on the ambitious V opener "At the End of the Day". The song is played true to its original version, except for its end, where Dave Meros plays a nice bass solo. The unison of the acoustic break and flamenco guitar, backed by symphonic keys is still one of the most beautiful things Spock's Beard have written. This one is followed by two Feel Euphoria numbers with a an instrumental sandwiched in between. The rocky, groovy, multiple vocal and percussion-friendly "The Bottom Line" leads into Ryo Okumoto's minimalistic solo spot. This one has a great intro, some electric piano that harmonizes with segments of acoustic guitar and its last note deftly bleeds into "Ghosts of Autumn", a personal favourite of mine from their not-so-good album Feel Euphoria. Once again Nick's voice is dramatic and emotional, but this is more the shining moment of keyboardist Ryo Okumoto and guitarist Alan Morse. Especially Morse's solo sends shivers down the spine, once again impressing me with the otherworldly tone of his instrument. "As Long As We Ride" exceeds its original length by three minutes and is the band's most fun-having track as Nick continously harmonizes with blues licks. The debut album's title track, a 19-minute monster, seals Gluttons for Punishment, perhaps rendering it their most focused live album, with everything the song has in store. Not a very big live album fan, I tend to listen to them several times only to shelf them, I think this one is quite different, and should please even the non-Morse Spock's Beard fans, if they can keep an open mind.