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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Dream Theater

Score: 20th Anniversary World Tour Live with The Octavarium Orchestra

Review by Julie Knispel

Dream Theater closed their 2006 20th Anniversary tour with a sold out show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Joined onstage by a specially assembled orchestra, the band performed two sets. The first was a band-only set, and included tracks dating back to pre-Dream Theater days, when the group was formed at Berkley School of Music in Boston under the name Majesty. The second set, performed with orchestra, showcased the band’s more progressive side, with the orchestra playing with the band, rather than over top or along side.

The sound quality on Score is excellent: there have been countless complaints in the past that bassist John Myung is barely audible in both the studio and live settings. Here his bass lines are deep and thick, adding a fullness the songs deserve. James La Brie, on vocals, also must be singled out here, as his voice is stronger than on any previous live release. While there have been rumblings that possibly extensive post-production has enhanced his vocals on this release, eyewitnesses at the show confirm his performance to be as close to perfect as one could expect at a rock concert. The mix remains excellent throughout the second half of the performance; where the addition of a full orchestra might create conditions leading to a muddy, over-full mix, here they integrate well, adding to the sound without dominating or becoming lost in the mix.

If there is to be any complaint about Score, it would be restricted to the packaging. The 3 CD set is packaged in a tri-fold cardboard slipcase, each disc loosely held in a die-cut pocket. The discs can easily slip around inside, developing slight scratches over time; above and beyond this, the cardboard itself is fairly thin and easily damaged. Finally, one might assume that a special release such as this would garner additional packaging attention, perhaps with a booklet filled with photos from the show and extensive liner notes. Sadly, photography is limited to a single stage shot, with portions missing due to the die-cut pockets, basic liner notes, and no booklet. Surely this release was deserving of such accoutrements, and their absence is more an indictment of the record label than of Dream Theater. Ultimately, one is purchasing Score not for the packaging, but for the music held within. On that score sheet, Dream Theater comes out undeniably on top, and Score is possibly the most balanced live album in the band’s discography, and contains a veritable cornucopia of musical delights.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
The Root of All Evil
This song, and the album, opens with the end of the band’s intro tape, the sound of 6,000 elated audience members threatening to overpower the house PA. “The Root Of All Evil” is the third song in the band’s “AA Saga,” written by drummer Mike Portnoy as a way of exorcising the demons that drove him to become clean and sober. A powerful track lyrically, “The Root Of All Evil” features heavy use of distorted keyboards and boosted bass levels, and is possibly Dream Theater’s closest balance of prog and metal to date.
I Walk Beside You
2005’s Octavarium included a mix of styles, from intensely metallic to the intricately symphonic. Resting between these disparate styles were tracks such as this one, a short pop song with melodic hooks and a decidedly U2-like vibe. It is a nice enough piece, and performed well, but is the slightest song in the nearly 3-hour performance.
Another Won
The earliest track performed at this show, this piece hails from the band’s Majesty days, long before the current Dream Theater line-up gelled. In spite of the fact that this piece was written by a group of teenagers, the song fits nicely alongside the rest of the performance, with intricate stop/starts and a heavy metallic feel that nevertheless shows serious progressive influences.
Afterlife
This track follows on nicely from “Another Won,” and hails from the band’s 1989 debut album. Dream Theater has never been afraid to embrace and honor their past, and “Afterlife” is ample evidence that the band has maintained threads of stylistic continuity throughout their career.
Under a Glass Moon
This is a fan favorite from Dream Theater’s 1991 breakthrough album Images and Words. This performance is “tarted up” with some rapid-fire counterpoint and syncopation throughout the many extended instrumental parts, showing how the group has continued to improve their individual instrumental skills. Founders John Petrucci (guitar) and John Myung (bass) show how closely connected their playing is, while Myung and Portnoy also pull off some nearly-telepathic rhythm change-ups.
Innocence Faded
While Train of Thought was Dream Theater’s “classic metal album,” 1994’s Awake showed the band in much heavier musical realms than previous releases. Verses featuring synth strings and clean guitars balance the slightly heavier choruses, while keyboardist Jordan Rudess adds hooky fanfares and staccato keyboard bursts that remain true to the studio take (originally performed by former member Kevin Moore) while adding his own tonal take on things.
Raise the Knife
This is the second “unreleased” song played at this show. “Raise the Knife” was one of several pieces demoed and recorded for the band’s 1997 album Falling Into Infinity; record company pressure forced its removal from a proposed 2-CD release. The lyrics are angry and cynical, raging against a lack of support and stressful inter-band difficulties that threatened Dream Theater’s continued existence. Worthy of release since the original studio recording, it has languished and remained widely unavailable (save for a 1999 fan club release) until being added to the 20th Anniversary tour setlist.
The Spirit Carries On
The first set ends with this piece from the band’s 1999 concept album Scenes From A Memory. The song opens with an instrumental interlude with musical similarities to Pink Floyd, one of the band’s heaviest influences. Sadly, Theresa Thomason did not join the band at this show, and her vocals are sorely missed on this otherwise solid performance, one which closes the first half of this epic concert on an appropriate note.
Disc 2
Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
The Octavarium Orchestra joins the band onstage for the first time on this rendition of the 42-minute title track to Dream Theater’s 2002 release. It’s a study in contrasts, featuring a fully orchestrated prelude, heavy power metal movements, and quieter ballad sections. Unfortunately, this opus is tracked as a single song, making it impossible to jump to various sections easily (the original studio version was cut into 8 discrete tracks).
Vacant
Standing out from the metallic tracks that filled Train of Thought, the piano and cello accompaniment from the original is replaced by lush orchestration. La Brie’s vocals are at their most emotional, but the achingly somber mood of the studio version is lost in the more omnipresent strings and woodwinds. “Vacant” is a track that does not benefit from the additional tonal colors afforded by orchestration.
The Answer Lies Within
Dream Theater maintains a quiet and solemn mood with a second consecutive ballad. “The Answer Lies Within” is the first of three straight songs from Dream Theater’s 2005 release on the setlist, and weathers the addition of orchestra far better than the previous track.
Sacrificed Sons
A lengthy backing tape of news clips and sound effects opens “Sacrificed Sons,” a song dealing with the steep personal costs terrorism creates. It is difficult to imagine how emotional this piece was to the audience, many of whom reside in the New York metropolitan area and certainly were affected by the attacks on the World Trade Center. Above and beyond this, the song serves as a sort of indictment against any extreme action undertaken in the name of some higher power, and as such follows in the footsteps of “In The Name Of God” from Dream Theater’s previous studio effort. Petrucci’s guitar soars and cries, locking in with the string section, while Rudess alternates between piano and synth, adding texture to the performance. 
Disc 3
Octavarium
The performance proper closes with an extended rendition of the title track to Dream Theater’s most recent studio album. “Octavarium” opens with an extended synthesizer introduction, introducing a new weapon in Rudess’ instrumental arsenal called the Continuum. This new instrument allows him to perform long bends and slides on a synthesizer in a similar manner to his lap steel guitar, which also features heavily in the prelude. The song as a whole is reminiscent of a number of classic prog songs, inviting comparisons to Pink Floyd (the intro), Genesis (the “Full Circle” movement) and Yes (the grandiose “Razor’s Edge” conclusion). “Octavarium” benefits most from the added colors the orchestra brings to the table, and is Dream Theater at their symphonic progressive best. 
Metropolis
Closing out the concert and CD is “,” a track that opened side two (for the one or two readers out there who remember vinyl and cassettes) of 1991’s Images and Words. This song shows Dream Theater at their early peak, and offers ample evidence of what would follow over the years, with a mix of metallic intensity and symphonic grandeur, intricate musical complexity, and incredibly memorable melody. John Myung’s bass solo has long been a highlight of this track, and he does not disappoint here. This is a solid performance of a fan favorite, and ends the proceedings on a high note.
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