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Transatlantic's Whirlwind Tour Touches Down in Philadelphia

It takes a certain intangible quality for a band to play only six songs during a three-hour concert and keep its audience engaged for the entire performance. That is exactly what Transatlantic demonstrated during the final North American stop on its 2010 "Whirld Tour" at the Theater of the Living Arts in Philadelphia, on April 24.

The progressive rock supergroup reunited in 2009 to record its third album, The Whirlwind, and the current tour to support it is as ambitious as the studio album itself. The record's title track is also its only song, a 78-minute epic that the band – keyboardist and primary vocalist Neal Morse, Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, Flower Kings guitarist Roine Stolt and Marillion bassist Pete Trewavas – opened the show with, playing the song in its entirety.

And while the band may have had an exhausted look even before the first note was played (this was the sixth concert in eight days), if you closed your eyes and just listened, there was absolutely no evidence that the length of the opening number and the three 30-plus minute cuts that followed was taking any toll on the band. The performance appeared fluid and effortless, with all members showing a clear enthusiasm for the music they were playing.

As Trewavas revealed, much of that can be credited to the preparations members took prior to the opening show of the tour one week earlier.

"It feels more like a proper tour to me," compared to the band's previous limited runs in 2000 on the East Coast of the United States and 2001 in Europe, Trewavas said in an interview with The Breakdown Room hours before the Philadelphia concert. "We all seem to be more prepared for it. We had a bit more time to rehearse.

"I started rehearsing three months ago because I knew Mike [Portnoy] wanted to do a three-hour show, which, frankly, I thought was insane," he added. "But I figured I should at least get up to speed with everything."

Morse, also present during the interview, concurred. "I practiced much more than I ever have for anything," adding that this tour is "the most demanding gig I have ever done in my life."

In addition to the epic tracks played during the show – "The Whirlwind," "All of the Above," "Duel with the Devil" and "Stranger in Your Soul" – were two of Transatlantic's shorter songs: "We All Need Some Light" from the band's debut, SMPT:e, and the title track to the group's sophomore effort, Bridge Across Forever.

On the former, fans got a treat when Morse relinquished his lead vocals on that track to Stolt (who also is the lead vocalist for the Flower Kings). While Stolt's tone gave the song a different feel, it in no way robbed any of the emotion of the song.

The change in vocalist was Portnoy's idea, according to Morse.

"Roine sang it on a bonus cut [on the limited edition release of SMPT:e] and we thought it would be cool to mix it up," the keyboardist said. "People have heard me sing that a lot [and] I am really enjoying the break."

A special acknowledgement needs to be made for touring member Daniel Gildenlöw of Sweden's Pain of Salvation. Although he never took center stage to play alongside the band, with the exception of when members were swapping instruments during "Stranger in Your Soul," his role was just as vital and varied, as he contributed backing vocals, rhythm guitars and keyboards throughout all of Transatlantic's material.

Overall, while the show may have been as exhausting for the audience as it is for the band (the concert was, with some exceptions in the venue's balcony, a standing affair that included a 30-minute intermission in addition to the three hours Transatlantic was on stage), the musical journey was well worth it.

The emotional highs and lows contained within the music and the near flawless execution of the songs easily held the attention of the near-capacity crowd and made the marathon performance something special to be a part of.

April 24, 2010
Theater of the Living Arts
Philadelphia, Pa.

- Gregory Twachtman

Copyright 2010, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.