Transatlantic – Live at Morsefest 2022: The Absolute Whirlwind (Album Review)

Review of the new Transatlantic 5CD + 2 Blu-ray Artbook – ‘Live at Morsefest 2022: The Absolute Whirlwind’

Reviewed by Bob Keeley

There is something special about Morsefest. I finally got to attend in 2023 after years of buying all the videos and live recordings from each previous festival. While the Morsefest performances of Neal Morse’s catalog are maybe not the best ones I have in my collection, I still order them the minute they become available because there is a spirit in them and an emotional charge that is unique. Morsefest, is a two-evening concert, usually giving complete performances of two albums from Morse’s catalog along with some other songs. In fact, with the exception of 2023, Morse had gone out of his way to not play songs that had been played at Morsefest before. While they can be hard to find, each Morsefest recording brings something unique to the table and makes for enjoyable listening and viewing experiences.

What also makes these weekends special is that Morse adds other musicians to augment his band: background singers, strings, brass, and another percussionist. It really is great to hear the expanded band. But the best thing is the camaraderie of sitting in the venue, a church near Morse’s home in northern Tennessee in the US, and meeting other fans who traveled from around the world to experience the event. Because you’re with the same people for two days, it quickly becomes a community. It seems like the musicians love it too.

For many fans, 2022, with Transatlantic, was the holy grail of Morsefests. This super group, Morse, Roine Stolt, Mike Portnoy and Pete Trawavas, performing two of their albums in full with added musicians was like a prog fans’ dream come true and after 8 previous Morsefests, schedules finally aligned to allow Transatlantic to perform at the festival. So, what about the recordings? Did they capture that elusive “something” that makes Morsefests so special? There is nothing like being there, but these recordings do a great job of letting us experience what it may have been like.

The discs for night one are for The Whirlwind and it is brilliant. This nearly 80-minute-long piece is one of the highlights of the band’s career and, while it had been quite a few years since they had performed the whole thing (they had played a 30-minute version on the last two tours, including the one they had completed just before Morsefest) the recording crackles with energy and life. It is pretty spectacular. One fun moment is when Morse gets so caught up in the moment that Portnoy has to remind him that he is supposed to be singing. He quickly jumps in but the band is so good that, without Portnoy mentioning it, we never would have known.

The band was well-rehearsed for night two’s rendition of The Absolute Universe, coming just off their US tour and nailed this nearly 100-minute rendition, a merging of the three released studio versions. Being able to perform so much music over two nights is pretty amazing and they did it with skill and precision.

The strings support the band exceptionally well and the additional voices fill out the sound nicely. Listen for the way the strings and voices support the primary riff in “Lay Down Your Life” from The Whirlwind and the way the “Overture” from the Absolute Universe gets enhanced. Auxiliary member of Transatlantic, Ted Leonard (Spock’s Beard, Pattern Seeking Animals), gets the chance to sing lead a bit on both nights in addition to supporting on guitar and keys.

One of the questions fans talk about at Morsefest is “what other songs will they do?” Fans know that the bulk of the show will be the advertised albums but the bands usually add additional songs to fill out the evenings. Night one had the biggest surprises with the band’s first ever live performance of Procul Harum’s “In Held (Twas) in I.” The rest of the nearly an hour-long first set featured two tracks from Kaleidoscope, an album that was not represented at all on their 2022 tour, “Into the Blue” and “Shine.” Morse gave a bit of the back story to the writing of “Shine” and talked about visiting the home of Paul Hanlon, a person who had attended many Morsefests and was dying. Morse was so inspired by Hanlon’s attitude that he wrote “Shine” soon after. It gives the song special poignancy. They end the set with “We All Need Some Light,” a fitting way to follow “Shine.”

Because night two’s centerpiece, The Absolute Universe, is a longer piece there was less room for other songs. The band “merely” gives a 35-minute encore with “Bridge Across Forever,” the title track from their second album, and a medley of songs from their first two albums, the same medley they’d been playing on their recent tour. There is so much good material in those albums that it is hard to pick out highlights but the energy when the band kicks into the “Stranger in Your Soul” portion of that medley is remarkable.

This five CD, 2 Blu-ray set, nearly four and a half hours of music, is accompanied by an artbook (which I have not yet seen as of this writing, but reports are that it is pretty great.) The members of Transatlantic have been clear that the future of the band is in question. All four members have busy recording and touring schedules and finding a slot in the calendar when all four schedules allow them to work together is challenging. This deluxe set is a worthy cap to Transatlantic’s career and well worth checking out.

Night 1 Tracklisting:
1. Into The Blue
2. In Held (‘Twas) In I
3. Shine
4. We All Need Some Light
5. Overture/Whirlwind
6. The Wind Blew Them All Away
7. On The Prowl
8. A Man Can Feel
9. Out Of The Night
10. Rose Colored Glasses
11. Evermore
12. Set Us Free
13. Lay Down Your Life
14. Pieces of Heaven
15. Is It Really Happening?
16. Dancing With Eternal Glory/Whirlwind (Reprise)

Night 2 Tracklisting:
1. Overture
2. Reaching For The Sky
3. Higher Than The Morning
4. The Darkness In The Light
5. Take Now My Soul
6. Bully
7. Rainbow Sky
8. Looking For The Light
9. The World We Used To Know
10. The Sun Comes Up Today
11. Love Made A Way (Prelude)
12. Owl Howl
13. Solitude
14. Belong
15. Lonesome Rebel
16. Can You Feel It
17. Looking For The Light (Reprise)
18. The Greatest Story Never Ends
19. Love Made A Way
20. Bridge Across Forever
21. The Final Medley

Support The Prog Report

If you like what we do please support us on Ko-fi


Subscribe to our email list: