Dream Theater (March 2006)

Date of Performance: March 19, 2006
Venue: Congress Theater, Chicago, IL, US

There is always that point in a concert where I start to tire and look forward to the farewell. I always stay in my seat or continue to stand in that plot of space. I do this out of a paranoia and neurosis that I might miss something. I felt that someday all these wasted minutes would pay off.

I've seen Dream Theater many times, almost every tour, sometimes up to three times in a single season. When they came out with the album Octavarium, I was moderately impressed with the first seven tracks.* The eighth one (the title track), however, really wowed me. I was thoroughly disappointed when they didn't play it on any of the subsequent engagements that I attended.

Like Star Wars: Episode Four, this leg of the tour brought new hope. I was wishing on a wing and a prayer that I'd get to hear this song live. After "The Root of All Evil," the band abruptly somersaulted and then shifted into reverse. Starting back at the beginning, they proceeded to go through their entire discography including When Dream And Day Unite. As expected, the material was entertaining. I was familiar with almost all the songs. You could say I've heard them so many times I've got them memorized. After an hour or so, I had my fill. Regardless, I remained and stood my ground just in case.

Without a doubt, it was worth the wait as they were gearing up to whet my appetite. To be sincere and truthful, this was the most enjoyment I've gotten from any of their music, whether from an album or in person. Keep in mind; I saw the rare reunion of Nightmare Cinema, the entire interpretation of both Scenes From A Memory and Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, and even cover songs performed with Queensr?che. I can't stress this enough. I've seen some jaw-dropping solos by Petrucci, Portnoy, Rudess, and Myung in this and past events. I've consistently seen operatic and aerobic singing from Labrie. Plus, I have every official release. Yet, I'd put the poignant moments from Octavarium, the title track and song, on the very top. The performance, the lights, the sound system, and the song itself contribute to many of my reasons.

Rudess momentarily pushed his keyboards aside and began this song with an awesome solo. For it, he used a peculiar instrument called the Continuum where he uses a touchpad instead of keys. This was long and absorbing. I heard one person say they could hear this for hours. As much as I enjoyed this part, I accredit my preference of this piece to one specific characteristic. They played the coolest cartoon I've ever seen along with it. The caricatures were as unique as the ones from Arena's Pepper's Ghost. Not to mention, the storyline was extraordinarily funny and engaging. It reminded me of "Operation: Mindcrime," only better if you can believe it. This was as good as anything I've seen from a Spike & Mike movie and the music that went along with it was impeccable.

Some of the highlights consisted of Rudess turning from a keyboard wizard into Santa Claus and the Octavarium labyrinth morphing to and from a Pac-Man maze. They were being chased down by a spider that would make Peter Jackson's Shelob cringe. They powered up and fought it off with their musical enchantment. When they escaped this puzzling glass prison of sound, the crowd was really with them. Adrenaline was pumping through thousands of arteries in response to their massive melodic blitzkrieg. If there is one reason to see these guys live and if I can justify seeing them again on this very same tour or at least within the same year, this is it. After it concluded, it's crossed my mind to pack my bags and rendezvous with them again in the near future.

If they would have ended without an encore, it would have been understandable. To go further would be like sneaking into a flop of a movie after you've already seen a winner. There's just no point. Why rob yourself (or the theaters) of that extraordinary moment? In spite of this, the cheers and jeers were so loud and enthusiastic; it left them with no alternative. You could say it elicited a bittersweet feeling. I didn't want to spoil the experience, but like "Daryl" from Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood stories, I was greedy and wanted more. When the roadies kept their distance and the lights remained off, it quickly became obvious they were taking us into the bonus round.

My sources tell me they originally planned to play "The Spirit Carries On," but for some reason or another they decided to forgo it. My guess would be that the drum solo (with Charlie Benante of Anthrax) went further than planned and they already exceeded the deadline. Aside from its succinctness and the fact it would be hard to beat what came prior, the encore was majestic. They took off the gloves and went straight to the album that fans repeat most. For those who aren't in the know, that would be Images And Words. From it, they played "Wait For Sleep." Towards the end of it, LaBrie left the stage while the other four members completed the track with a killer instrumental finish.

At this point, one could argue they were so far ahead, why even risk it. After a convincing stretch of silence and total darkness, rather than cashing out, they returned one last time to the table. Without hesitation, they laid down "Learning To Live." For this sequence, LaBrie literally marches back like he is leading an infantry into battle. He's a lion and he's on the loose. Even if the coordinators wanted to close the place down, it would be impractical to contain him and put a stop to the show. As if he was fresh and ready for another run, his lungs produced the cleanest, tallest, and most expansive high notes of the night. Then just like that, they quickly wrapped it all up.

Darkness falls once more and they escape in the shadows. The gas tank flashes an urgent warning as it's running on fumes. They could get no better mileage and with this, the lights come on and bring a decisive end to the show. They return to the stage as their shy alto-egos for handshakes and greetings. At the time, I was still trying to process what I had just witnessed.

One fan must have thought he was at a major sporting event. Early in the show, he held up a sign that made use of Visa's "priceless" gimmick. Throughout the concert, it continued to be raised up. In addition to this gesture, many hands were in the air at all times. They consisted of fingers, fists, number one gestures, devil signs, and those simply counting. Some flicked lighters and others merely glowed by the light of their cell phones. Rare, but ironic, when these fans sang the words, they were honestly on pitch. This behavior and display goes to show their music is appreciated by fellow musicians. Speaking of one tall fan in particular, he actually invited me to stand in front of him. You rarely see this kind of etiquette at a rock show. That's a testament to the typical Dream Theater fan and this is a better example of the people who support their base than the typical heavy metal hoodlum.

If I had one award to give out, I'd probably give it to Jordan Rudess. He embraced the old songs and made them his own, even in the cases where he wasn't a co-writer. The way he has polished them up, they could have easily been sold as brand new. While he is usually introverted, this night he was Mr. Personality and maybe even a Mogwai. Just be sure not to feed him after midnight. Adding to his ambiance, he had a dark stripe down the middle of his bearded chin and at times he grinned the toothy smile of a Gremlin. He was the center of attention and the life of the party. The part of the show when the cameras focused in on his fingers during the Continuum solo was ultra-impressive. If you disqualify Portnoy for cheating off a friend (Don't forget about Benante!), this was probably the best solo of the night. As for Rudess, when he wasn't dazzling the crowd with odd instruments, he was playing with speed or coasting on the coattails of a melody. There was one point in the show where he was able to use his equipment to convincingly mimic a flute. Thanks to the free market and the availability of an experienced wizard, the keyboards are provided by a bona fide franchise player. He's the right fit at the right time and he adds just as much if not more than any of these other instrumental giants. When putting together an all-star team, the General Manager may ask to "show me the maestro." The educated response by any credible agent is to give them Rod Tidwell or Jordan Rudess.

Then there is James LaBrie, who hit every obstinate note as if it were easy. He states there are three shows in the tour that get him hyped. That would be New York, LA, and Chicago. Based off his performance, you could tell he was pumped up. His voice was as slick as ice, too. It's as if it were smoothed out by a Zamboni. He was as expansive as John Arch at times, but as calm and controlled as Andy Kuntz. He also demonstrated the kind of passion normally pulled off by Daniel Gildenl?w. This was one of the best vocal performances I've seen from LaBrie or any other vocalist for that matter. I heard it mentioned that his voice took a turn for the worse a few years back when he contracted an illness. It's obvious this ailment has been obliterated once and for all.

For all practical purposes, this band is a supergroup. Each member consists of a first round draft pick. I don't care what others say, but in my opinion, John Petrucci is "one-of-the-best" guitarists in the world. Second to maybe Roine Stolt, he's the ideal combination between technique and melody. "Peruvian Sky" was one spot in particular that gave him a chance to exhibit his abilities. For those who haven't seen him, he is a mix between Eric Johnson and Steve Morse. He also works in his own original and riveting novelties. While the others had their moments under the spotlight, he engaged us throughout the concert's entire duration.

When it comes to Mike Portnoy, he is so prolific and across-the-board; it should really go without saying. He is always on. The only element he is missing could quite possibly be an off switch. This day was no different.

Last, but not least, let's not forget about John Myung. With people like John Jowitt, Jonas Reingold, Pete Trewavas, and Tony Levin in the field, it's easy to be forgotten, especially when you have such skilled players drowning you out in your own band. My point is that he is a grossly underrated bassist. He must have the fastest left hand in the business. Never have I seen the bass played with such cogitation. Unfortunately, you can't always hear what it is that he is doing due to the others. That's why I thoroughly enjoyed his occasional, but brief solos in various sections from "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" and "Octavarium."

In the studio they're great, but you have to see them live. They put on a performance that is hard to equal. While they went through a spell where all they did was rudimentary commercial content and rehash, it seems at the moment, they're back in their heyday. In this event we got breathless ballads, rocked out sequences, and screaming solos. They hit their fans with a true multi-faceted attack. This makes me giddy for the next release as well as any tour to follow.

Between being independent artists, who were colossal giants in a tiny pond, and partially selling out to their corporate constituents, they have now brought the best of both worlds together. This is the kind of production and light show you'd expect from a band as big and resourceful as Pink Floyd. On the other hand, it has the exuberance of the lesser known innovators from Sweden.

They're only really in competition with others in the elite. To find a concert as good, I'd have to choose from my experience with Spock's Beard, Porcupine Tree, or The Flower Kings. Then again, many of the best shows I've seen have come solely from Dream Theater. So, in some ways, when trying to pick a favorite, they are in contention with themselves. Like Olympians, they're required to beat their own results in order to break the record. Regardless of how their other performances fared, each show qualifies as a potential nominee.

After absorbing what I saw, I'm still debating if this is the best I've seen from them. I've seen so many good performances from this band; it makes it hard to choose my personal favorite. It's nowhere near the bottom and it's certainly surpasses the median. As you can imagine, this one is right up there in the standings and the Octavarium bits most likely give it the edge. Scanning the scenes from my own memory, this one will be hard to discredit, disregard, or discount. This will be etched upon my brain for a very long time to come. It has definitely earned itself a permanent page in the file. I'm sure this will leave me with many fond memories to flip through when I choose to peruse the scrapbook of my mind. Looking back and counting all the concerts I've attended, it's ironic that this one from the Octavarium tour happens to be my eighth one.

* I've finally grasped the many brilliant facets of "The Root of All Evil" as well as the other songs on this truly "uncommon" album.

Added: September 6th 2006
Reviewer: Joshua "Prawg Dawg" Turner
Artist website: www.dreamtheater.net
Hits: 2439
Language: english

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