London, Islington, Assembly Hall - 13th October 2014
Just in case you didn’t know by now, Flying Colors is the American ‘supergroup’ comprising of Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse, Steve Morse, Casey McPherson and Dave LaRue. They’re quite often referred to as a ‘prog supergroup’, largely down to the involvement of Portnoy and Neal Morse, but when they released their debut album back in 2012, they surprised us all with a cracking album that wasn’t too prog at all, but was in fact a classy mixture of melodic rock with some strong pop elements. An outstanding show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire also showed that they were a seriously good live act. Back then, we didn’t know for sure whether Flying Colors was a ‘project’ or a going concern, but here we are two years later at the excellent Islington Assembly Hall witnessing the British show of their brief European tour promoting the second album ‘Second Nature’.
That album has just been released, and although the first one kept the prog to a minimum, it has to be said they’ve stepped up the prog a little more on this second one, as the complex and lengthy set opener ‘Open Up Your Eyes’ proves. It’s certainly a spectacular way to start the show, and the set tonight contains a lot of the new album, although tracks like the excellent ‘Bombs Away’ and ‘Mask Machine’ retain the classy rock/pop style that characterised the first album, proving that this new one isn’t all about the prog, and the same can be said for the more lengthy ‘Cosmic Symphony’, despite its title! ‘A Place In Your World’, sung my Neal Morse, is an impressive mixture of prog and AOR, and ‘The Fury Of My Love’ is a powerful ballad.
The band also cherry pick the very best moments from the excellent debut album, all of which get a rapturous reception and a cheer of recognition, with the likes of ‘Kayla’, ‘Shoulda Coulda Woulda’, ‘Forever In A Daze’ and ‘The Storm’ serving as a reminder of the songwriting quality this band possesses in abundance. The highlight for me though was Casey McPherson’s solo performance of former band Alpha Rev’s ‘Colder Months’ morphing into one of the new album’s finest moments, ‘Peaceful Harbour’, with the whole band lending some powerful and soulful vocals to this totally uplifting number. In fact the crowd response to that track said it all. The encore sees Flying Colors rip though the debut album’s most prog moment in the shape of the outstanding ‘Infinite Fire’. Last time, with only the one album out, Flying Colors bulked the set out with tracks from the various members’ previous bands such as Dream Theatre, Spock’s Beard and Dixie Dregs. This time, with the second album in the bag, they could afford the luxury of making this an entire set of Flying Colors material, aside from McPherson’s Alpha Rev track, and the show was all the better for it.
Whatever your viewpoint on Mike Portnoy’s flamboyant style, it has to be said that aside from his undoubted extraordinary drumming talent, he is a performer that you simply cannot take your eyes away from, and tonight he pulled out all the stops, and even bizarrely brandished a ‘comedy cucumber’ throughout the evening. All the band members are of course virtuoso musicians and all gave outstanding performances, but I must say that in Casey McPherson, the least famous member in his own right, they have a frontman with a truly outstanding voice that gives this material that all important sheen. Tonight’s gig was packed to the rafters, not bad considering this was one very wet and windy Monday night, and those that were here witnessed a slick, classy and enthralling performance.
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