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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

Dream Theater

Live in Chicago, July 19, 2003

Review by Gary Hill

As someone who has seen Dream Theater live quite a few times, let me say that this show has me a little perplexed. First, I was never one to fall into the bandwagon of their detractors who said that they were all about playing millions of notes with no passion or musical theme. Truly, the band has always shown the capacity for virtuosity, but not for the sake of itself, but rather as a part of the total musical experience. This show seemed at times different. It is the first time that I have seen the band border on the edges of noodly. Indeed, I did from time to time find myself rather lost, and even a bit bored, as they wandered into seemingly pointless jamming that felt more like an exercise than entertainment. The sound was also a bit of a puzzle. While Queensryche, presumably using the same sound system, came across clear and uncluttered, Dream Theater's sound from my seat in the balcony teetered between muddy and distorted. Lead singer James LaBrie, while fully showing that he has lost neither any of his range or his ability to infuse a song with emotion, seemed to not be enunciating as well as in the past. I found it hard to understand the words much of the time.

It also seemed that keyboardist Jordan Rudess, while certainly an incredible player, at times chose voices for his keys that bordered on tacky and down right obnoxious. Those moments were few, but worth pointing out. It is also worth pointing out that he did provide some of the highlights of the show with his new and improved keyboard parts to many of the old DT classics. Ironically, the two highlights of the show for this reviewer were both cover songs. The first was an incredible take on Led Zeppelin's "Since I've Been Loving You." The band truly smoked this one, and LaBrie dominated the stage, pulling off a great Robert Plant swagger, and dare I say, even surpassed that singer's vocal performance on the cut. The other was when, joined by Queensryche for the encore, DT launched into Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." This was another fine performance.

As to the overall show, I don't want to believe that this group is losing their edge, so I will chalk it up to an off night. Indeed they didn't seem to be having as much fun as I remember them showing on other tours, so perhaps they were worn out from too many dates in a row. I'll give them another chance next time around.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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