April 21, 2010
The idea of music being created over great distances, in piecemeal fashion by artists living in four separate locations around the globe, might seem inherently antithetical to the spirit of in-the-moment chemistry that defines most groups. But Transatlantica contemporary progressive rock super group featuring members of Spock's Beard (well, ex- member), Marillion, The Flower Kings and Dream Theaterreleased two strong albums in the early part of the decade, filled with lengthy epics rooted in (but expanding upon) classic groups like Yes, Genesis and Gentle Giant (not to mention their own work in other groups) and the occasional radio-friendly ballad. That the group didn't actually play the music together in one room until they rehearsed for its first tour, in support of SMPT.e
(Radiant/Metal Blade, 2000), only makes the cohesive nature and spirited energy of that album and its follow-up, Bridge Across Forever
(Radiant/Metal Blade, 2001), nothing short of a remarkable achievement.
When the group reformed after a seven-year hiatus to record The Whirlwind
(Radiant/Metal Blade, 2009), the decision to do it together in the same location, over a marathon two weeks of writing and recording, resulted in a nearly 80-minute continuous suite that would have been impossible to accomplish any other way. Past material was more clearly based on an individual pen, with additional group assistance coming later. It's still easy to hear the more directly anthemic impact of keyboardist/singer/guitarist Neal Morse's post-Spock's Beard work in some parts and Flower Kings guitarist Roine Stolt's more symphonic contributions in others, but The Whirlwind
feels more collective, where the whole truly exceeds the sum of its parts. Anticipation of experiencing that whole was clearly in the air when the doors opened at Montreal's Metropolis, 90 minutes before Transatlantic's April 21, 2010 performance. This was, after all, to be "An Evening With Transatlantic," and reports of its, well, epic showsrunning in the range of three hours were already starting to filter in on progressive rock boards around the internet.
Most groups would be content to perform such a demanding piece as The Whirlwind
in its entirety, add a couple of encores and call it a night. But for the members of Transatlanticin addition to Morse and Stolt, also featuring Dream Theater drummer/singer Mike Portnoy and Marillion bassist/vocalist Pete Trewevasthe unmistakable enjoyment of each others' company onstage was palpable from the moment they went on at 8:30PM and remained until the final notes some three-and-a-half hours later. With three full albums of material, there was plenty to choose from, and while the group couldn't perform it all, they managed to hit all the high points.
This is only the group's third tour in its on-again/off-again ten-year existence, so clearly a Transatlantic tour is as eagerly anticipated by its audience as it is its members. In addition to performing The Whirlwind
, the group came back, after a 15-minute break, to deliver a second set almost as long as the first, including SMPT.e
's complex "All of the Above," the power ballad "We All We Need Some Light" and Bridge
's "Duel With the Devil" as a smoking closer, before returning for 40- minute encore featuring Bridge
's ethereal title tracka soft, atmospheric duet by Morse and Stoltand another half-hour mega-suite, "Stranger in Your Soul." Comparing the setsix pieces, with only two under 30 minutesto Leonard Cohen's 2009 tour where, in the same amount of time, the iconic singer/songwriter performed 26 songs, places what Transatlantic is about in sharp perspective.
Not that Transatlantic should ever be compared to Leonard Cohen, though the kind of stamina demonstrated by both in their respective tours has been of, again, epic proportions. The Whirlwind
consists of 12 sections, but numerous themes were reiterated in different contexts and came together in various permutations and combinations. The Montreal audience was clearly primed for the show, already well familiar with the album, as well as the rest of the group's discography. The crowdranging from young Dream Theater metalheads to aging progressive rockers who had hair back in the days of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis (when its theatrical lead singer didn't)jumped instantly to its feet each time the group returned to one of the suite's defining, anthemic momentscheering, screaming, arms pumped, Hook 'em Horns
aplenty. It was hard to tell who had more energythe audience, which remained energized and enthusiastic throughout the entire evening, or a group that came onstage like gangbusters and never ran out of steam. It was impossible not to be carried away by the collective enthusiasm, and was easy to understand why a group like this wants to take its music on the road.