Spock's Beard is a modern progressive rock band hailing from California, where modern in this case primarily means "wasn't around in the 70's". It's an important distinction, as both Yes and King Crimson have released albums in this millennium, and Spock's Beard generally sounds more like Yes from the 1970's than Yes does today. Historically, they have sounded very much like a 1970s prog rock band transported to the 1990s, but lead singer, lyricist, songwriter, and keyboardist Neal Morse left the band in 2002 after finishing the album Snow. It remains to be seen how Spock's Beard's sound will change after the departure of such a crucial and influential member.
Spock's Beard comprises the following musicians:
- Nick D'Virgilio - drums, percussion, lead vocals, guitar, bass, programming
- Alan Morse - guitars, cello, vocals
- Dave Meros - bass, french horn, vocals
- Ryo Okumoto - keyboards, Hammond Organ, Mellotron
When Neal Morse was in the band, he did keyboards and lead vocals primarily, but contributed a lot of other bits as well, such as guitar parts. It should be noted that each member of the band ends up doing a little bit of everything when they perform live; when I saw Spock's Beard open for Dream Theater
, every member of the band, even Nick as I recall, had a keyboard near them that they used at one time or another.
Spock's Beard seems to have coalesced around 1991 or 1992 as a collaboration between Neal Morse and his brother Alan Morse. They met drummer Nick D'Virgilio at a musicians' jam session night and asked him to join their band. Dave Meros, an old friend of the Morses, was recruited to play bass. Ryo Okumoto auditioned for the band and impressed them so much with his skillful playing of material he was mostly unfamiliar with that they hired him on the spot. Later, before their first album, they decided to pare down the band and cut Ryo, but realized once the album was released that Neal simply couldn't handle the complex keyboard duties all by himself, and Ryo was back in. As for how the name came about, the name "Spock's Beard" is indeed a reference to the episode of Star Trek entitled Mirror, Mirror, in which members of the Enterprise are switched with their evil counterparts from a parallel universe. The remote Spock wears a goatee, thus distinguishing him from the local Spock. As to how the name was chosen for the band, Neal Morse offers this anecdote:
Al and I were having this really weird night out one night, just one of those bizarro David Lynch type evenings. Al said "wow, it's like we're in a parallel universe. It's like Spock has a beard. Wouldn't that be a funny name for a band, Spock's Beard." That was about 89 or 90. Then when we were choosing names, around 92, Al made this list, like 2 pages of names. We all voted on them. He snuck Spock's Beard in as a joke, and it won. Then we were all like, are we going to commit to being known as Spock's Beard for all eternity, hopefully? Especially our first album, The Light, is kind of like music from a parallel universe. It's pretty out there, so that was part of it, too.
Indeed, The Light
, Spock's Beard's debut album released in 1995
, was a significant departure from the music of the time
, and a return to a style that had been music non grata
for quite a while. Many of the bands that had defined progressive rock in the early to mid 70s had all but abandoned that style by the late 80s. Clocking in at just under an hour long with 4 tracks total and one, the title track "The Light", at 23 minutes long, Spock's Beard's debut album certainly had all the hallmarks of progressive rock, from complex musical themes and long instrumental interludes to Hammond Organ
s and Mellotron
1996 saw the Beard release their second album, Beware of Darkness. In an odd decision, the Beard not only covered the song Beware of Darkness by George Harrison, but named their album after it. Neal Morse is a weird guy like that. Beware of Darkness also saw Neal expand his songwriting a bit, as it contains more tracks and only one, "Time Has Come" is really a classic prog "epic" that one expects. "Waste Away" also showed that Neal could write a simple catchy pop song as well as obscure prog tracks.
Recording at a surprisingly fast pace, Spock's Beard released another album, The Kindness of Strangers in 1997, this time expanding the poppiness that was hinted at on Beware of Darkness. Most notably, the ballad "June" became one of Spock's Beard's signature songs.
The band slowed their frenetic release schedule a bit the next time around and Spock's Beard's fourth release, Day For Night, came out on March 23, 1999. While it contains an ambitious suite of songs entitled "The Healing Colors of Sound", and several decent songs, this is generally considered a subpar Beard release in light of their previous brilliance and Day For Night's better-received followup, V.
V (the Roman numeral, so it's pronounced "five", not "vee") was released August 22, 2000 and seemed to come through where Day For Night didn't really seem up to par. Its epic track, The Great Nothing, proved catchy and memorable and the supporting songs on the album rounded it out well. However, on their next album, Spock's Beard would choose to tackle the one staple of progressive rock that they had previously not attempted: the concept album.
Spock's Beard released Snow, their sixth album, on August 27, 2002. A double album with over 120 minutes of music total, Snow tells the story of a suspicious albino with magical healing powers who travels to the city, falls from grace, and finds redemption through God. Numerous comparisons were drawn, from superficial connections to the movie "Powder" to stronger thematic links to Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which was undoubtedly a strong influence. The Christian imagery is pretty potent in Snow as well, due in no small part to Neal Morse's conversion to Christianity. However, it looks like Snow was much more than just an example of Neal Morse incorporating his Christian beliefs into his music. Soon after principal recording was finished on the album, Neal Morse left the band. According to Neal, God told him, "here's what I want you to do, finish this album (SNOW), QUIT THE BAND and await further instructions."
Needless to say, Neal's departure from the band has shaken things up considerably. Further reinforcing the parallels with Genesis, drummer Nick D'Virgilio stepped up to take the role of lead singer, just as Phil Collins adopted that role in Genesis after Peter Gabriel left following the release of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The band has chosen to soldier on, recently releasing their seventh album, Feel Euphoria. It's been evident in the past that Neal Morse has a strong affinity for the 70's style prog rock, and there's speculation as to whether the rest of the band has as strong a committment to that style as Neal does. Time will tell.
Spock's Beard FAQL. http://www.farah.cl/SB/sbfaql.html
The Official Spock's Beard Site. http://www.spocksbeard.com/