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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Images, Words, and Really Complicated Drum Parts

My 5ive favorite Dream Theater shows.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dream Theater celebrated twenty years at Radio City Music Hall.
Photo from the live DVD  Score copyright 2007 Atco Records. 

I've been a fan of the progressive metal band Dream Theater since 1992, when I read a Guitar World review of their second album Images and Words. I remember heading out into Manhattan on a cold wet day In December, wanting to give myself the “gift of a new band to listen to” before Christmas. I came back with the album on cassette. I loved it, playing the first side to exhaustion. One morning I put the cassette in on side 2 and heard "Metropolis Part 1: the Miracle and the Sleeper" (hey I didn't title it) for the first time. I was stunned, puzzled, impressed and utterly hooked.

Dream Theater combine the power and speed of a thrash band with the complexity of old school 1970s style progressive rock. Difficult time signatures, operatic vocals and interlaced guitar, bass, and keyboard parts are the order of the day for this band, which has had an astonishing 32-year run. And with tonight's show at the Beacon Theater, I will have seen "DT" live fifteen times: more than any other rock band in the concert chronology that is my life. With that in mind here is a look back at five memorable Dream Theater shows, the five best that I've seen.

March 4, 1993, Images and Words Tour, The Limelight
This was the first Dream Theater concert I had ever attended. They were the only band on the hill, playing two sets under the stained glass of the old club (a converted church) on Sixth Avenue. It wasn't like other rock concerts. The songs to be played were announced  beforehand, with the songs listed in a handy Dreambill like a copy of Playbill magazine. I think I still have mine someplace. . The sets included almost all of Images and the first-ever  live performance of 'A Change of Seasons', the epic track that was deemed “too epic” for that record. It came out on an EP a year later.) 

World Tourbulence, Beacon Theater, March 28 2002
At this point, I had seen DT a few times. Six Degrees was a watershed album featuring an epic 45-minute title track in eight parts, which was the second part of this epic show. This was the first show where I saw the band cover an entire album as a third set. The album in question: Metallica’s seminal “Master of Puppets” which the band played soup-to-nuts as the third leg of a marathon three set show lasting nearly four hours. Damn.

Escape From the Studio Tour, Arena de Verdun, Montreal, Quebec, July 5, 2003
Dream Theater co-headlining with Queensrÿche on an epic bill of four bands. (One of the openers were Fates Warning, another band I had first explored in that fateful December 2002 record store trip! The opener was I Mother Earth on their last ever tour. Queensrÿche are another American prog-metal band that I was a big fan of since high school.) The show was on a sweltering day in Montreal at a minor league hockey rink with no air conditioning. It was memorable because I drank three liter bottles of water during it. It was the first live performance (that I remember seeing) of ’The Great Debate’ (an epic 14-minute track about...stem cell research!) Both bands traded singers for their encores, with Dream Theater’s James LaBrie and Queensrÿche's Geoff Tate finally joining forces and voices on The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

Train of Thought tour, The Theater at Madison SquRe Garden, April 3, 2004
The heaviest Dream Theater album, Train of Thought still divides fans. However, there is no argument that this four hour show was epic, containing a complete performance of ’A Change of Seasons’ and a powerhouse Mike Portnoy drum solo where he invited guests from the audience up to his double wide kit showing them how to play. Two huge encores and out, utterly exhausted. 

Octavarium Tour/20th Anniversary show, Radio City Music Hall April 1, 2006
Like the above Limelight show, this performance from the Octavarium tour was recorded and later released as the Score album. The band were celebrating  twenty years of Dream Theater with a hometown show at the city's best venue for rock concerts. It also featured two sets. First up, a chronological survey of the band's(eight albums up to that point. Second: a performance of the entirety of the Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence  suite with a full symphony orchestra supporting the band. They closed with the full length of the title track of Octavarium, at 24 minutes.

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