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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

Dream Theater

Live in Chicago, March 2006

Review by Josh Turner

I've seen Dream Theater live on many occasions. They consistently maintain a high level of quality and innovation. I've seen them perform songs and medleys that clock in just shy of an hour. I've seen them switch instruments and bring their so-called Nightmare Cinema to life. I've seen them act out roles and I've seen them play with heart. I've seen them focused with concentration and acuity, really congealing their technical ability. I've even seen them joke around and engage with their audience. They've also done covers that are as good as or better than the originals they're imitating. In a recent tour, they did a sick rendition of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" with Queensryche. Whenever it looks as if they've reached the top, they embrace their tools, enhance, and build up. Whatever they've done, I've most likely been there to see it. I've heard every album a countless number of times; the amount is incalculable. I'd hate to be an auditor assigned to tracking down all my sit-down and listening sessions. After so many songs and concerts, I would have thought they've run the gamut and exhausted their bag of tricks. Nevertheless, this event had a whole new kind of energy. Rather than a single surprise, they just kept them flowing the whole night.
The venue was tucked into the northern side of Chicago. While it was right off the highway, parking was a serious problem. The closest I was able to get was nearly a mile away. As a result, I had to sprint in order to make it at a reasonable time. As late as I arrived, they were still playing their first song when I passed through the threshold of the front door.

For their opener, they took us to straight their latest and greatest. This brought us to the malevolent and sometimes violent madness of Octavarium's "Root of All Evil." Immediately, it became apparent their newfound success had paid off. They had three large screens showing footage and animation to coincide with their viciously viscous playing. The music, light, and movies were flawlessly synchronized with their on-stage antics. This added a hallucinogenic tone and articulated an impressively psychedelic demeanor. The sound system they setup was ideal for progressive metal. Every instrument could be clearly heard and it achieved an intense, yet acceptably bearable loudness. This was good as my earplugs had inexplicably gone AWOL at some point in my travels.


Greg Olma
   
Greg Olma
Upon the completion of the song, they showed us a collage of pictures and dates as we quickly flashed backwards through their career. The next song, "Another Won," was truly nostalgic as it was a precursor to their days as Dream Theater. It was a selection from their regal past at a time when they were once called Majesty. We then entered When Dream and Day Unite, Images and Words, and Awake. One by one, they pegged each one like ducks in a row giving us, "Afterlife," "Take the Time," and "Innocence Faded," respectively. Early on, "Take the Time" was a genuine highlight. The crowd clapped hungrily in its outro. While it seemed they were pummeling us with choice cuts, the main entrees were yet to be served.

Unlike their limited offerings on the Gigantour, every album and every style for the most part was addressed here. Personally, I became a fan around the time of Falling into Infinity. Aside from the tour they did in support of that album, the songs on that release rarely if ever get played. Oddly enough, it's actually one of my favorite releases from them. At this event, popularity didn't matter as everything was given equal attention. They worked their way up to this album with a technically sound and extended version of "Peruvian Skies." It was served with several sides and a heaping spoonful of embellishment. Rather than doing any covers on this day, they worked in Pink Floyd passages and movements from Metallica into this song. As a result, it was the longest version of it that I've ever heard and all the extra add-ons were received by their fans as the most welcome windfall of riches.


Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
They kept with the same season. For the next selection, they chose an outtake from the associated era called "Raise the Knife." What they cooked up could hardly be considered leftovers. It's been awhile since I heard this song and to be honest, I could hardly remember it, because its circulation has been severely limited. While it didn't make the official album, it's just as attractive as anything else they've done. They concurred and distributed it to those in the fan club in a disc called "Cleaning out the Closet." This song is no Charlie Murphy, but I'd call it Buck Nasty. At several instances, Mike twirled the sticks and banged his head. He even spit. It had vivacity, vim, grit, gusto, and spirit. It had get-up-and-go and like an attention deficit guinea pig, it impatiently moved between its compartments.

We continued to climb the years. "Home" was instantly recognizable. When one fan became conscious that this was coming up on the agenda, he said aloud, "here comes the best riff ever." I don't know if I share his opinion, but I won't argue the point. While my personal favorites may be found elsewhere, this song has many tremendous moments.


Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
The drum solo that ensued marked the middle of the event, but it was like a fireworks finale. You just couldn't get enough of it. There were many stunning surges and unfathomable eruptions. When Mike brought his friend on stage, everyone was curious and confused what was taking place. He then goes on to introduce Charlie Benante of Anthrax. First they went for speed and it seemed Charlie had the edge. Then they went for melody and it was all Mike. Afterwards, they got nuts and played a medley of well-known beats from Twisted Sister's "Where Not Going to Take It" to Van Halen's "Hot for the Teacher." They even fit in a few obscure selections, one actually coming from Slayer. This whole sequence was awesome. Curtains hid the others, but on cue, they backed them. Then, the rest returned to fill it all in with many familiar licks. After it went on for quite awhile, they eventually put a cork in it.

Shortly thereafter, they announced a 15-minute intermission. Most of us were in need of a break anyhow. During that previous number, my breathing was terribly hindered from holding it for so long in amazement. For those who don't know the secret, this is your chance to get a considerably closer as many people head for the hallways. In a matter of seconds, I was standing shoulder to shoulder with people who were first in the door. When you take the capacity of the venue into consideration, it's somewhat funny. From what I heard, the lines went back three blocks before they opened the doors. Here I was right up front without waiting. For those who follow my inside humor on the Chappelle Show, I'd say it's as hilarious as Nick Cannon.


Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
While I made my move in a diplomatic way, two rowdy fans waited for the music to start and then pushed their way through. If you're reading this review, don't do this again. It showed little class and no tact. Fortunately, they were the only hooligans in the immediate vicinity. The ones being pushed objected, but were quick to return their attention to the music. Earlier somebody commented about the strict level of security and how the audience was relatively harmless. I guess they were right about "almost" everybody in attendance.

When the band returned to the stage, they plunged themselves deep into Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. They started with the instrumental, "Overture." Instead of playing it themselves, it came from a recording. As it wound down, they donned their instruments and went immediately into "About to Crash." It was getting late and I wondered if they would perform the whole epic. However, they went next into "War Inside My Head." Without delay, they kept with the theme and swiftly somersaulted into "The Test That Stumped Them All." If there was ever a pair of songs that went together like peanut butter and jelly, these are the applicants to that analogy.


Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
With this, they had almost achieved full coverage. They were back where they started and teased the people with "Endless Sacrifice" from Train of Thought. They really milked the pause in the middle, hung there, and then hit us with another series of riffs.

After seeing them in concert twice last year, I was yet to see the title track from Octavarium performed by them in public. That's the one song I was desperately itching to hear. The intense urge to experience this song was bordering on a very bad bout of Poison Ivy. Still, there was no sign of it until one of the screens raised and exposed the proverbial metal mobile. Sorry to say, when they chose the piece, "I Walk Beside You," I guess you could say I was kind of peeved (and I actually like that song).

As it finished, I looked to my watch. With a quick calculation I figured the exact amount needed for the long song was remaining. From the first couple of notes, I knew it had arrived as predicted it sounded great live. Like Pip, I had Great Expectations and to the very least, I was relieved. To say they surpassed my faith, hope, and anticipation would be an enormous understatement. What came next contained some of the best moments I've ever seen from them in concert and that's no small statement.


Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
 
Greg Olma
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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