December 20, 2021: It’s not every day that we have some of the most talented musicians in the world coming down to Mumbai for a performance. So when IIT Bombay decided to rope in the Neal Morse Band featuring Mike Portnoy to headline Livewire 2013, it was without a doubt one of the best things to happen in this year for the city, musically. One of the biggest college gigs in the continent, Livewire has earlier had massive headliners in Porcupine Tree, Katatonia, Karnivool, Simple Plan and Ensiferum. The band came down to the city a day earlier, and considering Christmas was just days away, the band was rushing back to the USA the following day.
The afternoon began with the guys from the Neil Morse Band answering a plethora of questions regarding what seemed to be everything under the sun at the Press Conference held at the institute campus. At the outset itself, the room became so tense the second Portnoy entered, and why not; he is a founding member of the possibly the world’s greatest progressive metal band Dream Theater, and is without a doubt among the greatest drummers on the planet.
The Neal Morse band is a Christian progressive rock band, and as such most of the music centres around themes like loneliness, salvation, redemption and the like. Questions on the themes in their music seemed to take centre stage, as did the super band’s ability to gel with each other, considering it is a super bands of sorts, but more on their musical abilities later.
The conference was about discovering the journey that Portnoy and Morse have shared over the last 15 years making music that is not only thematically compartmentalized, but also something that would not see a branch of music such as progressive rock being employed in it. Morse spoke extensively on the importance Christianity has always held in his life, and also how it was the inspiration behind all of the music. The conference also saw a myriad range of questions discussing everything from their own experiences in India to Portnoy’s drum kits, including the Siamese monster, which he rarely plays on now. Speaking about their first tryst with Indian music, Portnoy spoke about watching Pt. Ravi Shankar and George Harrison playing when he was 7. The whole conference affair was one that was light-hearted yet providing deep insights into the band, as well as the members themselves. Photographs with the legends was how this session ended.
Fast forward to the evening. The Livewire band event saw The F’16 from Chennai sweeping every award in the competition, including Best Vocalist, Bassist, Guitarist, Keyboardist, drummer, and obviously then, Best Band. Since Zero was unable to open for The Neal Morse Band, the Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate filled in for them. The band was at it happiest and technical best playing some of the best known songs, including God’s Own Country, Philia and Mile Sur Mera Tumhara. Dharmajan as usual was a monster on the guitar, spitting out riff after riff, sweep after sweep as simply as breathing. They were perhaps the greatest openers for the Neal Morse Band, considering the fact that their music was so well-versed as was similar in terms of technicality.
Chants of “Portnoy, Portnoy” filled the air as the band got ready to take stage, and from the second they did, the crowd erupted into god-alone-knows how many different cheers and chants and applause. That the audience were lapping in the sight of Mike Portnoy on a drum kit would be a gross understatement. The set consisted solely of material that Neal Morse had been working on through his career, and this didn’t seem to deter the audiences from screaming Portnoy’s name louder at every chance that they could. A multi-instrumentalist for the band, front man Morse amazed with his voice, his keyboard skills, his prowess at the guitar and pointedly, his stage-presence on a whole.
The fact that The Neal Morse Band is a progressive rock band, with Christian themes predominant in every song seemed to do little to not impress even the proverbially anti-Christian/ant-religious/ anti-establishment rock/metal music lover, and in those two hours that the band did serve out music, it was pretty evident that good music transcended all forms of division and united altogether. It’s not every day you will see the horns raised at a concert of this sort, but that was the brilliance of this particular gig; it got people lost in the moment, it made them sway in the aural bliss, magnified greatly by the lights, the pyrotechnics and the sea of humanity all around. Each song seemed to meld so seamlessly, with all of the instrumentality being as precise as the best clockwork in the world. “Guitar solos that seemed to split the venue in half”, “drums so technical that you wondered what sense of timing and technique was being employed”, “keyboard and synth that provided a world of atmosphere”, “bass that hit the deepest tones of musicality”, and “vocal symphonies to melt at”, these would be the precise phrases to describe their set in the shortest way possible. Add to that the chunks of interaction within the band and with the crowd itself, and it’s easy to see why, until many years have gone by, many will say this was one of the most memorable gigs this city has seen.
Photos from the conference/ concert:
Photos- Dhananjay Mane and Mood I Official