Spock's Beard — The Beard Is out There (AKA Official Live Bootleg)
(Inside Out Music IOMCD031, 1996/1998, CD)
by Paul Hightower, Published 1997-05-01
The Los Angeles ProgFests have proven their worth to the attendees and now they seem to be yielding rewards for the performers as well. While there was no ProgFest last year, 1996 turned out to be the year of the ProgFest live album with releases from Änglagård and Solaris. Now joining the ranks is The Official Live Bootleg from Spock's Beard. This disc captures Neal Morse and crew on stage at the Variety Arts Center, as they plow through their debut release, The Light, rounding out the collection with "Thoughts" from their sophomore effort Beware of Darkness.
For many in the audience, Spock's Beard's ProgFest performance was first contact with this new American band and, though Neal Morse was facing a somewhat hostile audience, he seems totally determined on this disc to win them over. Judging by the band's current popularity (including a repeat invitation to play ProgFest — an honor only previously accorded to Änglagård), for the most part he appears to have succeeded. No doubt this is aided by Morse's attention to detail which pays off on stage as it does on the CD; overall production values are high, with a good live ambiance added to a stellar board mix. And, regardless of how one might feel about the music of Spock's Beard, one can't help but feel that Morse is putting out 150% for the audience. The song "Thoughts" works especially well, giving the entire band a chance to show off their chops and ability to handle Gentle Giant-esque vocal interplay.
But, as much as I want to like Spock's Beard, I still have a nagging problem with them. Don't get me wrong, these are no slouches. The Official Live Bootleg proves that the group is more than capable of mastering long, complex arrangements full of twists in meter and dynamics. In fact, on this disc they make it look easy — perhaps a little too easy. I ultimately get the feeling that these guys could make a living playing just about anything they wanted and the performance (and their recordings, in my opinion) consequently lacks a bit of sincerity. Can a prog band be too professional for its own good? It's a question I think worth debating and The Official Live Bootleg provides a perfect case study.
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From the press release:
To Wake a Dream in Moving Water takes from Echo Us' past and spins it into a whole new direction, one closer to traditional acoustic Celtic music than ever before.
To Wake a Dream in Moving Water was composed and recorded during the first few months of 2017. Although Celtic influenced and comprised of a number of re-workings of Irish folk tunes and Breton aires, the album is still in large part new and original Echo Us music that fits right in the Echo Us ‘canon’. “Wake” is a natural progression from “A Priori Memoriae”, which was released to critical acclaim in Europe in 2014.
To Wake a Dream in Moving Water is Echo Us’ ‘Celtic’ album that was planned for a long time but never executed because of the work on the trilogy that came before it. The album title is a typical ‘Echo Us’ play on words which one can find their own meaning.
“It is also both evocative of the Oregon rain, which I am told is not too unlike the rain in Ireland.”(Matthews)
To Wake a Dream in Moving Water is also a comment on conception- which was unintentional when the lyric was written. Matthews surprised himself a few months after writing it, realizing that the song was actually about the nitty gritty, biological workings of what happens when a child is conceived. The folk song it derives from musically describes a courting ritual, one that even today we can all relate to in our own way.
“Come With Me Over the Mountain" in acapella was the musical inspiration for the song, and came into my consciousness after the lyrics were written a few months prior. “ (Matthews)
As with all Echo Us recordings, a number of seeming coincidences resulted in connections being drawn where prior there were none. Another experience of similar capacity was found in oboe samples from A Priori Memoriae that echoed the traditional “May Morning Dew’, also reworked for guitar on the new album.