Transatlantic in the Midwest

by Michael Popke — If there’s any doubt that the supergroup is still alive and kicking, look no further than Transatlantic’s current “Whirled Tour.” The band — featuring Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, Marillion bassist Pete Trewavas, Flower Kings guitarist/vocalist Roine Stolt and former Spock’s Beard multi-instrumentalist/frontman Neal Morse ­— has reconvened after nearly a decade-long touring absence to play a very limited, six-date North American tour in support of a new album, The Whirlwind.

I caught the band on Tuesday night at Chicago’s packed Park West for show number three, and these guys sounded so tight, so in the moment and so comfortable with each other that it would be easy to think Transatlantic is their full-time group. I guess that’s what happens when four veteran musicians get together without their egos — five if you count ancillary multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Daniel Gildenlow, from Pain of Salvation, who performs with the band onstage but in the shadows. And just like a real rock group, they even celebrated Portnoy’s 43rd birthday on stage with a cake (but not in the face) and a rousing version of “Birthday” by the Beatles, which had one older guy in front of me jumping up and down on his seat like a teenager at a stop on the Vans Warped Tour.

Throughout the three-hour set, featuring all 78 minutes of The Whirlwind plus six songs from two previous albums (SMPTe and Bridge Across Forever), Transatlantic seldom wavered, possessing boundless energy that carried them through an array of epic prog, groovy jazz, potent fusion and melodies galore. The older material actually holds up better than the new stuff, which some fans say sounds a bit too much like the solo output from Morse (pictured, above). But absorbed collectively, it’s still an amazing body of work from what is essentially a side gig for all involved. The term may be cliché, but Transatlantic is, in even sense of the term, a “super group.”

I feel privileged to have been part of a special tour that, let’s face it,  may never happen again.

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