Long dormant, the ensemble known as Liquid Tension Experiment recently reunited for a series of live shows celebrating their 10th Anniversary, making their New York stop for two shows the night of June 23rd at BB King Blues Club in Times Square. Well, Mike Portnoy, Jordan Rudess, John Petrucci, and Tony Levin sure hadn't lost a step, ripping through a near 2 hour set of precision instrumental fusion, prog, and progressive metal. Sea of Tranquility's Pete Pardo and Ken Pierce were on hand for the festivities.
Pete Pardo-Having never had the opportunity to catch LTE live their first time around, I was thrilled to be able to finally catch this instrumental fusion juggernaut in the friendly confines of BB Kings. Sure, I've seen Dream Theater countless times, and Tony Levin plays with so many acts that I've had the pleasure of witnessing his bass mastery on many an occasion, but together, this would be the first time. BB Kings was sold out for both the 8PM and 11PM shows, and the venue was jam packed, with barely room to move, and surprisingly no photo pit available for media folks.
The band came out promptly at 8, ripping into "Acid Rain", one of their most memorable songs, which showcases their individual chops, especially from Rudess and Petrucci. If you can imagine an instrumental Dream Theater, but with more of an emphasis on a sort of melodic Dixie Dregs styled fusion slant, this is sort of what you get with LTE. Lots of solos (shred lovers were very happy on this evening) and soaring melodies littered the set, the band showing their impeccable technique on tunes like "Biaxident", "Osmosis", "Paradigm Shift", and "Another Dimension". It seemed that the crowd was divided just about in half, those that wanted the all-out shred of the tunes just mentioned, and the prog rock fans who get more excited about the more melodic, fusiony numbers like "Kindred Spirits", "Freedom of Speech", "State of Grace", and the huge epic "When the Water Breaks". Thankfully the band kept both camps happy with a good dose of both. At times, these guys rocked so hard they approached progressive metal territory, but there was plenty of majestic prog/fusion to be had as well.
The band chose to launch into two lengthy improv jams during the set, which for me were the low points of the show and tended to drag things down a tad. Though these lads are amazing players, at improvisations, King Crimson they ain't, despite the presence of Tony Levin. Each improv fell into the 10-15 minute range, and even though they thew in some interesting ideas and tidbits, it wasn't enough to make either piece worthwhile or compelling. I'm sure most in attendance felt that both improv's were a little too long, and would have rather heard some more tracks from the band's two CD's, or even a cover tune or two. The little segment of "Rhapsody in Blue" thrown into the second improv was a nice touch however.
All in all though it was a very enjoyable evening, Portnoy doing a fine job as the sort of 'master of ceremonies' and of course playing some killer drums, Levin the classy talent he always has been (and showing he can keep up with these guys), and Rudess & Petrucci once again showing why they are considered the virtuosos they are. Let's hope we get some new music from these guys at some point in the near future.
Ken Pierce-What do you get if you remove James LaBrie's vocals from the Dream Theater equation and then swap an already magnificent bass player with an even more awe-inspiring legend? Well, the answer is very simply stated as Liquid Tension Experiment. The powerhouse Progressive Metal project came to fruition back in 1997 and was founded by Dream Theater's drummer Mike Portnoy and when his original choices for the group's guitarist were unavailable he opened the spot to his band mate John Petrucci. Jordan Rudess of the Dixie Dregs came on as keyboardist and Tony Levin of the legendary King Crimson handled bass and Chapman stick. Two albums would be recorded by the project and each would be met with considerable approval. This came from not only Dream Theater fans, but those who enjoyed King Crimson, the Dixie Dregs and any other number of the Prog-Metal/Rock mainstays of the time. The music was close to but not exactly like that of Dream Theater and of course all of it would remain instrumental. With the talents that all of these guys possessed there was really no need for a vocal to be introduced at all. Fast forwarding through time up to the present day finds us celebrating the bands 10th Anniversary Reunion and not only would select shows be performed around the country, but the band had also just headlined the prestigious NEAR Fest only two days prior to this performance. I found it interesting when I realized that the Fish show we attended the week before had found him headlining one of the festival nights and here we are bearing witness to the other main act on that bill after it had all happened. Another interesting fact about the Liquid Tension Experiment is that Jordan Rudess had become a fulltime member of Dream Theater and he has been in the role since 1998 or so which made seeing these guys doing material outside of the DT scope really something to be fascinated by. News of the bands reunion appearance at the legendary B.B. King Blues Club would find the performance selling out in a couple of days. The response was so great that the band decided to add a later evening performance to avoid any disappointment in their fans. I made sure to get in place for the early show and since I had never really followed them I was very excited to be a part of the goings on tonight. Here is how is happened.
I've been to B.B. King's on more occasions than I can count and as result have seen sold out capacity crowd shows and ones that you felt you should go out into the street and start pulling people inside with you but tonight to say that the place was crowded would be an understatement. By my recollection, the Pagan Fest USA show was packed but there was ample room to be comfortable and this crowd reminded me of the first return go round for the Black Metal giants Emperor. There was hardly a space to work your way through to the bar that night and as I made my way to a secure spot I was feeling the same packed in like a sardine feeling. Yeah, its not much fun to be in this big a crowd but in the end the band sees a jammed room and gives you just a little bit more and the guys sure seemed to be doing that when they hit the stage. Musically they are all virtuosos and they were playing with an intensity that proves them to be masters of their craft. Since Portnoy is the main dude behind the projects formation he pretty much acted the role of emcee as well this evening and would address the audience between the tunes and crack the joke every now and again. It's an interesting crowd when it's a Progressive Metal or Rock one, as they only respond as if on queue while a more Metal based crowd will yell over everything. They opened up with "Acid Rain" and this is apparently a really popular number from the group because I watched all of the smiles light up the room when they began to play it. I found it interesting to be probably one of the few in the room tonight who really didn't have much in the way of background about the songs, but in the end it allowed all of this stuff to be fresh and even more exciting for me.
From the moment the band began playing you realized just what made them so special in the first place. There were some slight similarities to how things were done in Dream Theater, but the difference is in the way this band crafts their melodies and improvisational jams. From the look of it, Jordan Rudess was sight reading the entire performance on his LCD display on the keyboard and that amazed me since the notes were being done so fluidly and without error. Portnoy was sitting atop a rather large kit, and probably one of the biggest to be on the B.B. King's stage to date. It's no where near the size of his DT kit though and I think if he had brought that one that the venue would have needed to knock out the back wall to accommodate him. My favorite tunes of the night were "Osmosis", "Paradigm Shift" and "When The Water Breaks". We got an amazing keyboard solo from Rudess but there would be no real drum solo or guitar one from Portnoy and Petrucci. Their level of play during the songs really didn't require them to do so if you asked me. Since this was a Progressive show, we did also find the set list featuring two long improvisational jams and with me not really being the super heavy Prog-head I felt that these could have been shortened up just a tad. I know I was in the minority here but I was sure that there were other songs in the bands repertoire that the audience had waited ten years to hear as opposed to all of the dizzying display of technique.
I did have to admit that I was digging the happenings that were going on though and it was cool to try and figure out just how the hell Tony Levin was playing the Chapman stick. He did pick up the bass at a couple of points in the show, but he pretty much focused his play on the other instrument for the larger portion of the gig. There wasn't an intermission or too much time being wasted tonight and this was because once they were done they would be taking a little over an hour break and then coming back out to do it again. I had to give them credit because this isn't like some lame band that can do four sets of their crap a night but instead this is high powered musicianship that most of us would require an oxygen tank after delivering if we were in the same shoes as these guys. With the second show ahead there would also be no band hanging with the fans and while that might have left some disappointed I knew in my heart that these same folks would wait around for the whole night to finish and see if they could meet them after it was all done. As we left the club all spent from the goings on we had just witnessed I mused about how great it would have been if some of this stuff was recorded on video or audio for posterity and knowing Mike Portnoy I am certain that it had been. This was an incredible show to be in attendance for and the line of people that was extended down all of 42nd Street for the second show were surely in for a treat. Many saw me walking out and inquired about the show and set and instead of ruining the fun I just smiled and said, have a good time.
Freedom of Speech
State of Grace
Improv/jam> Rhapsody in Blue
When the Water Breaks