Testimony is a complex, powerful rock opera of violin, viola, saxophone and pedal steel guitar, intermingled with fiery Fender guitar rock, Latin-tinged acoustic guitar, classical flute, tight vocal harmonies over no-holds bar drumming. I try in words to capture just the first 45 minutes of Neal Morse's Testimony live concert. This is heartfelt, passionate rock - with every genre from progressive to pop intermingled in this amazing 2003 live performance - the testimony of Morse's journey into the light.
It has been 5 years since I bought this DVD. This is a concert to behold and each time I go back and listen my spirit is lifted - there is something deeply attractive about this rock opera - it's a combination of the powerful music motifs and the emotionally rendered personal message of spiritual revelation sung by the multi-talented, composer, singer, keyboardist guitarist - Neal Morse.
Actual running time is 255 minutes of a riveting performance of eight musicians. Most of them, other than Morse and Portnoy, I had never heard before - but that just indicates how many multi-talented unknown professional musicians are out there. Eric Brenton was particularly impressive and takes a pivotal role as lead guitarist, violinist, flautist, pedal steel guitarist and then throw in some mandolin as well!
All the musicians seem engrossed with the music and the fun element is palpable - these guys enjoyed themselves.
It is infectious watching, so much so that we have a break out of dancing during the hoe-down with an incredible Morse acoustic chicken-picking guitar battle with Breton on violin. Yes, I forgot, in "Sing it high" there is even a blue-grass section like a Dixie Dregs workout except Morse also intertwines country tight vocal harmonies as well. Yes, the Christian message is strong, and Neal's life story comes across very clearly with his unaffected, annunciated vocal style that is influenced more by the Beatles, Beach Boy approach than anything from this century. For some the lyrics will attract and I realise from previous reviews that also repels some. An observation is that Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), the monster drummer that sets the stage alight and drives much of the musical excitement in this concert, is obviously attracted enough to the music to play with his usual enthusiasm and intensity - irrespective of the message.
Some of this strangely reminds me of the musical `Les Miserables'(a rock version perhaps) in that there is a story over repeating musical motifs that echo through this entire concert. Indeed there are three Overtures that begin the five parts. The wonderful variety means that when the story and quieter interludes just begin to lengthen you are jolted into the next part with intense instrumental pieces - this is never impromptu jamming but tightly structured. The breaks and accapella vocal harmonies that cut through frenzied playing is spine tingling - and when they move into "The storm before the calm" with the repeat prog motif from Overture No.1 you feel like cheering yourself. It is during this central prog motif that Portnoy is finally unleashed to play some of his most memorable ensemble playing. Even Neal is visibly excited as he bends over his keyboard to allow an unobstructed view of Portnoy's tom-tom theatrics that propels this repeating prog motif to a crescendo. Wow!
Stylistically there are echoes of Kansas, Dregs, Pink Floyd, Yes, Beatles and Beach boys! A real musical blend but with an unmistakable melodic Morse stamp. The concert begins and closes with Morse singing alone just with acoustic guitar and then finally piano - his connection with the audience direct and engaging. This is a powerful and moving concert.
Some DVD comments - unfortunately this is only available in stereo. I'd love to have heard this in DTS! Fortunately this is still a rich, well recorded concert; drums and percussion subtleties all coming through so you can still differentiate between the multi-keyboard, strings and guitars and splash cymbal. Camera work is above average and the overhead camera on the drums is something I wish we saw more often. There are no intrusive artistic fades instead an appropriate mix of wide shots of the entire stage cutting to close ups of musicians as they play key breaks or to visually highlight aspects of the performance.
PS: And then there is disc two - where they come back on stage for a three track lengthy heavier 54 minute encore with Transatlantic tracks "We all need some light", "The light" and "Stranger in your soul". 5 stars for great value, 5 stars as a musical statement and for excitement. The lack of 5.1 or DTS sound unfortunately prevents a 5 out of 5. It is still in my top 5 favourite concert DVDs.