CD/DVD Review: Saga - Spin It Again! – Live in Munich
earMUSIC/Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A-

Saga - Spin It Again Live!
Germany's love for Saga still runs as deep as it ever has. Glorious in design and execution, 2012's 20/20, the most recent album from the Canadian prog-rock puzzle makers, somehow managed to claw its way into the top 10 in a country that snatched up tens of thousands of copies of Saga's debut LP when hardly anybody outside of Canada knew who they were.

Charting that high, no matter where, is no mean feat these days for a group like Saga, who experienced its greatest success in the late 1970s and early '80s, but Germany has always respected and admired Saga's sonic artistry.

It should come as no surprise then that on the final night of their 2013 sold out European tour in support of 20/20 Saga would end up in Munich, treating an adoring crowd to a thrilling two hours of old favorites and strong newer material. Out on Blu-ray or as a two-CD release, Spin It Again! – Live in Munich documents, in vivid and immersive audio and video, a night of passion that reunited Saga with its most ardent paramour, as the band whirls through its back catalog with a rush of adrenaline.

Munich welcomed back the classic Saga lineup with open arms, taking great delight in lead vocalist Michael Sadler, having reunited with Saga for 20/20 after a five-year hiatus, delivering good-humored stage banter in both English and fluent German. In full throat, the audience sang the chorus to the soaring Saga classic "Wind Him Up" word for word, as Sadler took a break to soak up what was surely a transcendent moment for him and the band.

The time Sadler spent apart from Saga did him and the band some good. 20/20 was an inspiring piece of musical engineering, still as melodic and as daring as ever, but also darker and heavier in spots than past Saga efforts with some of Ian Crichton's cycling through some of his angriest and most compelling guitar riffage. In some ways, it was a throwback to years past, when Saga's resounding guitars and epic synthesizers crashed up against arty, literate storytelling full of the kind of terrific tension, unusual drama and skewed insight into the human condition found in Rod Serling stories.

Drinking in Saga's euphoric, carnivalesque performance, Munich seemed to take as much interest in newer pieces as it did in Saga's past, the audience and performer connecting intimately and with unabashed joy. "Six Feet Under" and "Spin It Again" are especially captivating, swept away on surging melodic flourishes and veering off down magical little detours that seem like doorways to places of mystery and strange beauty. There is cleverly disguised menace in the smiling countenance of "The Perfectionist," a stylish song about the murderous Ellery Snead, and the tantalizing "Anywhere You Want to Go" and "Mouse in a Maze" are powerfully addictive, while "The Flyer" is presented as a breathtaking trapeze act.

As vibrant and intoxicating as the first disc in the CD set is, the second one is more diverse, with the affecting piano exercises "Time's Up" and "Scratching the Surface" sounding naked and alone, but also thoughtful and warmly nostalgic. And then there's the buoyant "Humble Stance," which almost sounds like a bounding beer hall polka all gussied up with Saga's chrome-plated progressive bombast, and a storming version of "On the Loose" that tingles with excitement.

Long ago, Saga discovered the missing link between the crunching hard rock and progressive tendencies of countrymen Rush and the altered consciousness and shape-shifting, classically influenced arrangements of Yes. Given all that, it follows that Saga's musicianship should be incredibly entertaining to behold in concert, and it is, as Germany well knows.

Germans get that the dynamic interplay of guitarist Ian Crichton's flights of fancy – his complex riffs, mushrooming plumes and those searing, exacting and yet unpredictable leads of his that go only where he knows the way – with the spiraling of Jim Gilmour and Jim Crichton is not only absolutely dazzling, but also has a synergy that, to borrow a phrase from Rush, crackles with life. Germans get that Sadler's wonderfully expressive and strong, cloudless vocals make him one of the most underrated singers on the planet. And maybe the people of Munich, in particular, get Saga in a way others don't. Should the rest of the world gives Spin It Again! - Live in Munich, the perfect companion piece to 20/20, a chance, they'll get it, too. and

- Peter Lindblad


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