I wasn’t really planning to do a review of Score, the latest live DVD/CD set from Dream Theater, mostly because when I do one of these reviews they tend to be relatively lengthy and ultimately only benefit 1 or 2 people who would even read the entire review. But then I got called out by Rickey. So begins my review of Score. And, it’s long…
Before I get too deep into the review and start losing readers, I want to tell you that this is probably the best concert I have ever seen. evAr. Sure, it helps that I am a big Dream Theater fan, but the music is played to near perfection (see next paragraph) and the orchestra… is so awesome. After Metallica did their S & M album, I hoped that one day DT would do the same. And on the final show of their 20th anniversary tour, they did. And it worked. Extremely well. (Mark, you can stop reading now)
Question: Is a live concert CD or DVD really live if the band goes into the studio to overdub musical flubs in the live show? I think not. This is something that Mike Portnoy has mentioned his distaste for in the past, and therefore there are no such overdubs in this concert. You will hear the blatent Jordan Rudess piano flub in the intro to Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (About to Crash), John Petrucci‘s missteps in SDoIT’s Solitary Shell, etc. You hear exactly what you see played. And overall, it is magnificient.
The thing that stands out the most about this live show, as opposed to the 4 other live shows in the DT catalog, are the vocals (well, that and obviously a live orchestra). James LaBrie, who ruined his vocal cords while vomiting after getting a sever case of food poisoning in Cuba back in 1994, sounds fantastic throughout the entire show. Fans of DT who have seen him perform live in the past 10 years can attest to his amazing recovery. After every DT show that I have seen since 1998, the comment has been made by one of us (myself, Randy, or Rickey) that James’ vocals are better or worse than the last time we saw DT. In the last 2 years, we have mentioned how good he has gotten (in particular hitting an extremely high note in “Learning to Live” the last time they came to Phoenix, something that he hasn’t done in… a long time). But his voice is tits during this concert. It really makes a huge difference to hear good, clean, in pitch vocals in a live concert, and James was masterful at this show. Along with James’ vocals, I should mention that the normally on-or-sub-par background vocals provided by Petrucci and Portnoy were quite awesome here too. And once again, you can certainly hear flubs in both of their voices, but overall the vocals were top notch.
I have rambled on for quite a bit about performance, and have yet to actually talk about the concert, song selection, live orchestra, ect. Before I move on, just know that the performance is teh awesome. And I would put this performance up against any other live show, by any other band (assuming the non-use of studio overdubbing), ever.
The concert itself is… wow. The first set features the band playing through some of the 20 years of music that they have created up to Scenes from a Memory. Included in the set are DT classics, such as Innocence Faded and Under a Glass Moon. Mixed in are a couple of rare treats in Another Won – one of the first songs ever written by DT and previously unreleased, Afterlife – from their first CD release When Dream and Day Unite, and the popular Falling Into Infinity B-side, Raise the Knife. After finishing the set with the emotional The Spirit Carries On, the real magic begins (well, technically after a 15 minute intermission which is not captured on the DVD or CD).
The orchestra starts playing, sans band. They start with the Overture to Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence: a 6-minute intro that had previously been played via MIDI through Jordan’s rig as a precursor to when the band would take the stage to begin playing part 2 of SDOIT (About to Crash). This worked out well, with the exception of some tuning issues throughout the orchestra (once again, a real live recording). Jordan begins playing About to Crash, and from there the band comes in full swing with the orchestra for the remainder of the 42 minute opus. I really liked the orchestra taking over instrumental duties from John Petrucci’s guitar for the Goodnight Kiss section, and the outro of Goodnight Kiss into Solitary Shell is astounding with the full orchestra and Petrucci’s solo. The song ends like it should, with the drum fill via Portnoy, capped off with a solid gong crash. The second set is off to a resounding start, and it is only 1 song (albiet 40+ minutes) into the 1 hour and 40 minute set (which is more than most bands even play these days – and this is the second set).
My only concern with the orchesta being present was what Rudess would be doing – he usually handles the strings and other orchestra sounds in concert, so what would he be doing for this one? Well, he played some outstanding piano and lead voices, things that were previously left out in concert (due to him only having 2 hands). I was rather pleased by how the orchestra stood out, and yet Jordan still managed to stand out with the parts that he was playing. A fantastic mix.
Next up was a beatiful orchestra and vocal version of “Vacant” from Train of Thought, a haunting song in itself due to it’s lyrical content. To quote Randy: “I hate that song – every time I hear it, I want to cry.” Songs don’t really get much better than when they bring out emotion in the listener. Finally moving into Octavarium (the album), the band ventures forth into The Answer Lies Within, Sacrificed Sons, and the title track, Octavarium. It is in Octavarium that the full orchestra truly shines.
Octavarium begins with Jordan Rudess playing the Continuum and Lap Steel Guitar, just like the album version. The orchestra and band joins him for the rest of the intro, which sounds majestic – just like it should. Without detailing the entire 27 minute track, let me just say that the orchestral elements really shine throughout and LaBrie is awesome in this song. From the soothing vocals early on, to the Screamed “Trapped inside of this Octavarium”, he really kicks ass.
The song ends with a beautiful and emotional solo played by Petrucci with the orchestra (so awesome here – may be my favorite section of the entire concert) and band backing him, and the moment I had been waiting for – the French Horn ending. French Horns rock. This song just utterly kicked ass.
The mix of rock band and orchestra never sounded better, until the encore. Metropolis Part 1, the fan favorite which spawned the entire SFAM album (of which the actual title is Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory). If an avid Dream Theater fan were listening to or watching the concert, and was not aware of the track list, this song would have taken them by surprise (as it did the entire crowd at Radio City Music Hall that night). Normally, we are used to the audio intro coming on before the band starts playing. Instead, what we get here is Portnoy playing the hi-hat and the orchestra playing the intro to the song. Once the orchestra (complete with sleigh bells) begins playing, the crowd goes wild. Oh yeah. It is so sweet. Just as good, if not better than I imagined on April 2nd, when I first read the list of songs that were performed.
Sure, there were a bit of mixing issues in the song, where the orchestra became a bit too loud in the mix, but ultimately the song just works. In some ways, it may even be superior to the original recording. Yes, it is that good. I was happily amazed hearing the orchestra doing some of the difficult technical runs, normally played by Petrucci and Rudess, to near perfection. Did I mention that French Horns rock. I love the use of the horn in this song during the intro, verses, and choruses. And to top it all off, the final hit of the song with the full orchestra is brilliant.
Final Thoughts: Like I said earlier, this is probably the best concert I have ever seen – period. From LaBrie’s strong vocals, start to finish, to the superior chops of Rudess, Myung, and Petrucci, to Portnoy’s rock solid performance and smiling face throughout, to a live freaking orchestra, this concert has it all. The mix is solid throughout (with some minor issues here and there). You can even hear the bass stylings of John Myung clearly, something that is usually a DT fan complaint about live shows.
Now this is totally my opinion, but I truly believe that this live album is done so well that you can easily pick it up, listen to it, and at times forget that it is actually a live recording. It is that good. Yes Rickey – you who hateth that which is live recordings, should even get this. If not the CD, then definitely the DVD. It is a can’t miss for any DT fan, and anybody who likes concert DVDs/CDs. Sure, DT has a knack of kinda standing around while playing (lack of stage presence, if you will), but being technically superior to all other bands has it’s downside. It’s still awesome to see the close-ups of JP”s and JR’s solos (and MP and JM), so this doesn’t detract much from the experience.
And I’m spent. Yeah, I told you it would be long.
[tags]Dream Theater, Score, Music[/tags]