Captured at the famed Elysee Montmarte in Paris during a sold-out performance in February of 2000, Vanden Plas’ Spirit of Live is a powerful, energetic live album!
Live albums, for me, are usually hit and miss. Either the mix is bad, I don’t like the song choices, the vocals are way below par or, sometimes, all of the above. The first thing that jumped out at me with this disc is that the mix is huge! Thumping kick drums, thick guitars, omnipresent keyboards and a solid bottom end allayed any fears I had about the sonic quality of Spirit of Live. Test 1: passed.
The songs here paint an accurate picture of what Vanden Plas is. In case you don’t know, Vanden Plas is a melodic prog metal band from Germany along the lines of a more European styled Dream Theater minus the tendency toward 30-minute songs. Everything about this band just screams maturity! The song arrangements, the dramatic melodies, the emotional and spiritual lyrical themes, even the way they use their progressive qualities all flow effortlessly and seamlessly together into an all-around great aural experience! Probably the best band of their kind to emerge from Germany, ever! The songs here are drawn from their three studio albums, plus two new instrumentals. From the band’s ’95 debut Colour Temple, we’re treated to “Soul Survives” and a newly re-arranged version of “How Many Tears” complete with a crowd sing-along of the songs chorus led by vocalist Andy Kuntz, en Francais! Tres cool, if I may say so! From The God Thing, the album many Vanden Plas fans consider their best, we get “You Fly” and “Rainmaker.” The latter features a guest appearance by newly christened Elegy axe-man Patrick Rondat. And lastly from their last studio disc Far Off Grace we get show opener “I Can See,” “Into the Sun,” “Iodic Rain” and the albums title track. All in all a good cross section of the band’s strong points. Test 2: passed.
Now the main problem I have had with live albums in the past: the vocals. Usually, a live album is recorded near the end of a tour. This is great for the band, because by the end of a tour, they are usually about as tight and precise as they can possibly be. That is certainly evident on Spirit of Live. Each member of the band gives a stellar performance. Guitarist Stephan Lill is on fire! He balances fury and finesse like few guitarists can. Just listen to his instrumental spotlight “Spirit of Life” for confirmation of that statement. Keyboardist Gunter Werno pulled away from his many guest fill-ins long enough to prove why he is in such high demand as a session and tour player. His own solo piece, “Journey to Paris,” starts off with a blazing synth lead before an almost tear-jerking piano melody makes you want to close your eyes and just listen. Bassist Torsten Reichert and drummer Andreas Lill are both at the top of their game this night. What about the vocals? Well, Andy Kuntz has done what I thought to be almost impossible! He actually sounds just as good on this live album as he does on the band’s studio offerings! Each song is delivered true to form with apparent ease. He holds all his notes in the right places, his feel and range are good, and he shows virtually no signs of fatigue. It’s also cool to hear him speak to the audience in English and French, stirring them into a frenzy! The live background vocals are also on the mark, even if a little low in the mix. Test 3: passed with flying, vivid colors!
Vanden Plas has delivered a live album not only for their fans, but one that could easily serve as an introduction to their powerful music. Bravo!