Flying Colors

Shepherds Bush Empire, London

14 December 2019

It starts with Dave LaRue's bass playing the opening riff of Blue Ocean, so deep and resonant that I feel it in my chest, and I'm holding my breath because I know that in a few seconds I'm going to hear the most beautiful sound in the world. And then Steve plays the first two notes, and it's even more beautiful than I remembered.

Steve Morse's guitar tone.

I thought I would never hear it again.

And we're only a few seconds into the concert and it's already the best concert I've ever seen. Two notes have been enough to reduce me to tears.

The hall's sound is not perfectly balanced, to be honest. Most of the time it's fine, but there are moments of too much distortion, and it's sometimes it's hard to pick instruments and vocals out with perfect clarity. But then Steve plays a solo, and it cuts through everything and sounds perfect. Blue Ocean segues straight into A Place in Your World, and, listen. Just listen to the guitar intro. Just listen.

It's the most perfect thing I've ever heard.

I'm not sure if the Flying Colors sound has always been so heavily guitar dominated, or it's just the way I'm listening tonight. Because obviously there's a lot more to them than the guitar. Neal Morse and Casey McPherson share the lead vocals, and their voices blend incredibly well. Mike Portnoy sings too, perhaps less than Neal and Casey, but the three-part harmonies are perfect. Neal introduces Love Letter with "Sometimes we write pop songs", and I'm not sure whether he's boasting or apologising, but it's true, sometimes they write pop songs, with vocal harmonies straight out of the 1960s. And they mix them with monstrously heavy songs like More, all aggression and distortion, and with long jazzy pieces like Cosmic Symphony, and uplifting soaring melodic rock like Kayla or You Are Not Alone. And it's what makes this band so great. They'll just play any style, and carry it all off with total ease because they are five of the best musicians in the world today.

I think the biggest cheer of the night is when Casey, playing acoustic guitar, sings the opening phrases of Peaceful Harbor. And it's just stunning, his voice rises and rises—not in pitch, in emotional intensity—throughout the song, and I don't think anybody else could have done it. I remember when the band was first announced years ago, a rock super-group with an incredible combined pedigree, plus Casey McPherson, and everyone was like, "Casey who?" generally followed by, "Why?". Well, this is why. This performance is astonishing. One of the things this band does so well is big soaring melodies that just build and build in intensity, and a big part of that is down to Casey McPherson's vocal style. And then the rest of the band comes in, and Steve echoes the vocal line on his guitar, and plays a solo that's so

Just so perfect.

And then the beautiful, chiming, baroque intro to Kayla, and only Steve Morse could do that. When you hear a musical phrase that's so beautiful it makes you weep with its perfection of tone and harmonic choices, that's Steve Morse. There's nobody else like him.

Although Portnoy is doing most of the audience interaction, Casey tells the remarkable story behind You Are Not Alone—about rescuing people from flooded houses near his home in Texas—and a song that was already the best thing on the new album takes on a new dimension and is probably the highlight of the night.

Through the raging water
And the rain of suffering
We're in this mess together
You are not alone

And the song rises and rises and Steve punches you in the heart with a solo that's so, so melodically perfect for the song, and that wailing riff under the vocal that you want to repeat and repeat and never stop.

Sometimes music is so perfect, it makes me cry all over again when I'm writing about it.

They've played pretty much every song I would have thought was "essential", and it feels like they've played so much that they're probably not going to play their best song, Infinite Fire. I mean, it's 15 minutes long and Portnoy has already said they have a curfew.

So then they play Infinite Fire, Steve's opening melody just so beautiful, and then Portnoy wants us to clap to it, which is insane because he's drumming in like 13/8 time and Dave LaRue is playing in 27/8 or something equally impossible and so we all clap anyway and I'm not sure how it works but who cares because it's a perfect song, it shows off every member of the band, all three singers in harmony, amazing drumming, shifting dynamics to open up space for bass, keyboard and guitar solos, it's just a perfectly constructed progressive rock song. It's the last song, and it's a fitting ending. Though I'm already pretty sure what the encore song will be...

...and I'm wrong. It's Cosmic Symphony. Another long song, another chance for every band member to take a solo spot, and a song that dies away from all the sound and fury to leave Casey sitting on a monitor at the front and crooning to us while Steve and Neal play the slow, jazzy passage behind the vocal. Then Casey remarkably jumps off the stage and finishes the song walking through the crowd. And I thought I was already completely wrung out of emotion after the last two perfect hours, but this just tops everything.

And so the song I thought they would finish with, The Storm, which is kind of an anthem I guess, so the whole crowd sings it. By Flying Colors standards it's a really straightforward melodic rock song, but maybe that's why it works so well here.

It feels like it should be the end. Maybe it should have been. But they have one more, Mask Machine, played at a billion miles an hour to leave the hall with the maximum possible buzz.

Their tours are rarer than a really rare thing and it's quite possible I will never see them again. So I am so grateful for this opportunity. Best concert I have ever seen. I just cannot express. This review is probably rubbish. It was all too perfect for words.