Friday, October 20, 2006

Three Months Later.......

The MediaRants Review: Dream Theater - Score

Available from amazon as a 2-disc DVD or as a 3-disc CD.

Once in a very long while, a disc will come along that makes you want to toss out everything else you own because it's just THAT much better than anything else you've seen or heard before it. This is one of them.

If you read my stuff (and it has certainly been a slow year for content), you know I discovered Dream Theater in early 2005. I have spent much of the last year immersing myself in their back catalog (and loving it). Earlier this year, the band announced their 20th anniversary tour on their website, a tour which would culminate with a special 20th Anniversary Celebration Concert at New York's Radio City Music Hall. This show would be recorded for a future CD and DVD release.

Well, here it is.

Allow me start by saying the sound on the DVD is positively THUNDEROUS. Normal DVD's (on my system) are played at 25% of maximum. The PCM 5.1 mix is loud played at 10%. I have played it at 25% and it sounds like I am in the hall. The drums and bass come pouring through the subwoofer and the guitars and keys can be heard clear as a bell.

But you're not hear to talk about technology.

The show opens with an 8-song, 72-minute set covering DT's entire career. Two songs from the most recent release, Octavarium, kick things off. "The Root Of All Evil" opens with an excellent drum fill followed by a great big guitar riff, and right away you can tell everyone's come to play, as both drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci unleash primal yells as the lights come up. Vocalist James Labrie delivers the angry lyric in confident, powerful fashion and we're off. "I Walk Beside You", one of my favourite DT tracks which I interpret as Christian-themed, follows and is a nice upbeat change of pace.

Then we get into the wayback machine.

"Another Won", from the band's Majesty days in 1985, "Under A Glass Moon", from 1998's breakthrough "Images and Words", "Afterlife", from their 1989 debut "When Dream and Day Unite", "Innocence Faded" from 1994's "Awake" and "Raise the Knife", a previously unreleased cut from the "Images and Words" sessions. The first set closes with a great take on "The Spirit Carries On" from 1999's awesome "Scenes From a Memory".

BUT WAIT, it gets even better.....

The screen goes dark for a couple of minutes and we hear the sounds of an ORCHESTRA!!!! There are few things I enjoy more than contemporary rock joined with an orchestra.

We go rolling right into the opening overture from 2002's "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence", played entirely by the orchestra (and expanded by a couple of minutes to really show them off). I thought that would be it, but no, they do the ENTIRE 45 minutes of Six Degrees. This is a collection of 8 songs centered around the theme of mental illness and it comes off absolutely GREAT live. You can tell hear that the band is having the times of their lives, with big smiles from Portnoy and LaBrie and strong interplay between Myung and Petrucci.

After the blowaway Six Degrees, the band slows things down with "Vacant", from 2003's "Train of Thought" and "The Answer Lies Within", the third cut from "Octavarium". This sets up the stretch run to the finish.

"Sacrificed Sons", a scathing post-9/11 song from "Octavarium" follows and it opens with the powerful images from that dark day in history. The band serves it up heavy too, with LaBrie's vocals sounding almost accusatory. Then we hit my favourite moment....

When "Octavarium" was released in 2005, I immediately locked into the 24-minute title track. Dubbed as an homage to all of their influences, DT came up with a piece that was almost a time capsule for their first 20 years. You can hear musical callbacks to Rush, Pink Floyd, Yes, ELP and many other prog masters. The lyrics include focus on mental illness (a recurring theme through much of DT's songs) and a section where they tie in all kinds of pop-culture and prog references into a mishmash vocal. I knew this would become a signature piece on their live shows, and I was not disappointed.

From the opening 5-minute solo by keyboardist Jordan Rudess (played mostly on a Continuum Fingerboard, which can pretty accurately emulate the sound of multiple guitars with just one finger), through the lyrical sections to the big instrumental break (which even includes a snippet of "Jingle Bells"), the song builds and builds to the final 2 minutes, which sent a chill down my spine all the way to my toes. Petrucci hits a huge note at the end of his solo and sits out on that note for a full minute while the orchestra reprises the main thematic line. It is a roaring musical moment that brought a tear to my eye. The song closes out to thunderous applause.

The show concludes with a very well-done (and well-received) "Metropolis" from "Images and Words".

The second disc includes a great documentary recapping the history of the band, which was started with Portnoy, Petrucci and Myung, who all met at Berklee Music School. LaBrie was added for "Images" and Rudess joined for "Scenes". It's interesting to hear how big spikes in the band's popularity followed LaBrie's and Rudess' arrivals. There are some other live cuts and the "Octavarium Animation" that played on the screens during the performance of the song.

In case you haven't got it yet, I LOVE this DVD. Live concerts are, to me, one of the main reasons to buy DVDs. You can get the sonic and visual experience without the huge cash outlay for tickets and pain-in-the-assery of dealing with a big crowd. I have read some other reviews that take issue with the set list (no big hits like "Pull Me Under" or "Anna Lee", too much emphasis on "Octavarium"), but I see this concert as a reward to long-time DT fans whoi have taken the time to get familiar with their entire library and who have been to many live shows and want to hear stuff they haven't heard before. I thought the song choices were exceptional, and the decision to include "Raise The Knife", which didn't even make it to a disc, has me wondering what else DT is hiding in their vaults, because "Knife" is a great song.

This DVD gets my highest recommendation.