A scent of the marathon progressive rock concerts of yester year was in the air as Dream Theater invaded The Theater at Madison Square Garden for a packed show in front of their hometown fans, featuring 3 1/2 hours of music.
A concert review by SoT Publisher Pete Pardo.
The stage was set for a historic night on April 3, 2004, as local boys Dream Theater returned to NYC for the last show of the current leg of their US tour. Once again billed as "An Evening with Dream Theater" with no opening act, the crowd of perhaps 5,000+ were in excited anticipation when a local DJ from Q104 FM announced at 7:55PM that Dream Theater were set to take the stage for over 3 hours of music. These days, if a band plays for 2 hours we consider ourselves lucky-I mean, the days of bands like Yes, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, or The Allman Brothers, playing 3 or 4 hour shows has long since passed, right? Well, not on this night, as Dream Theater took the stage a few minutes past 8PM and with the exception of a brief 15-minute intermission, did not end until 11:45PM, a full 3 1/2 hours later, leaving the crowd simply exhausted.
A neat opening video montage of the bands history started the show, and the crowd was treated to footage and music from the mid-80's up to 2003. It was nostalgic to see clips from the days with original singer Charlie Dominici, as well as video's with Kevin Moore and Drek Sherinian. You could kind of tell which era of the band is closest to the hearts of the fans, as they roared their approval at the site of Images and Words, Awake, A Change of Seasons, Scenes From a Memory, and the graphic for 2004, which is when the band appeared onstage and launched into the opening doomy riffs of "As I Am" from the latest CD Train of Thought. Judging by the multitude of younger fans in the crowd at this show, Dream Theater seems to have reached a new demographic with the last two albums, as the heavier material has obviously struck a chord with teenage metal fans. In fact, the band played all of the seven cuts from the new CD, none perhaps more full of impact than the instrumental "Stream of Consciousness" and the blistering "Endless Sacrifice." Both songs had the crowd screaming for more, and I think it's safe to say that these two songs will find a spot in the Dream Theater live set list for years to come. Joining the band on stage was cellist Eugene Friesen, who added his elegant yet energetic style to the gorgeous "Vacant", the somber "Disappear" from the Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence album, and 'Stream of Consciousness." On the latter, it was wild to hear his manic and distorted cello lines mixing with John Petrucci's foreful guitar work and Jordan Rudess' symphonic keyboards. More than once here I was reminded of the powerful Metallica instrumentals "Orion" or "To Live is to Die" in terms of sheer intensity. An eerie trick was blasting some red lights up at LaBrie, especially on "Honor Thy Father" during the more agressive vocal parts, giving him a larger than life and menacing appearance, which added a bit of theatrics to his delivery.
Other highlights...well, there were many. Fans of Scenes From a Memory were treated to "Beyond this Life" one of the more rousing sections from that album, although personally I would have liked to also hear "Home" from that same release. A splendid rendition of "A Change of Seasons" probably got one of the largest ovations of the night, and for many this song epitomizes what Dream Theater is all about. Surprising for many was the inclusion of two tracks from the much-maligned album Falling into Infinity, the epic "Trial of Tears" and the emotional "Hollow Years", the latter coming off exceptionally well, thanks to some poignant vocals from James LaBrie and perhaps Petrucci's most intense & melodic guitar solo of the evening. Also covered was "The Great Debate", which seemed to take a bit of life from the crowd, as this song is one of the least interesting pieces from the Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence album, and quite long at nearly 15 minutes in length. Musically it tends to drag a bit, but the lyrics about stem cell debates were portrayed well on the backdrop screen images. Sadly, only "Caught in a Web" was played from the fine Awake album, but it was flawless to say the least.
There were a few interesting solo spots thrown in as well, including an amazing "one-man-symphony" from Rudess, who ran the gamut from classical pianist, to Chick Corea-influenced jazz showman, to manic prog-rocker wildman on his rotating synth. Petrucci joined with Portnoy for an interesting guitar /percussion solo, which seemed to be a tribute to Frank Zappa, and they even flashed up some images of his on the big screen. Portnoy spent some time displaying his talents in a solo spot, as well as pulling two fans from the crowd to join him onstage to sit in on a fun drum duel, which really got the crowd pumped up.
For encores, the band of course played the obligatory "Pull Me Under", and ended with the final cut from Train of Thought called "In the Name of God", culminating a wild and exhausting mammoth set. At times its hard to comprehend the musical virtuosity that resides within this band, and their ability to deliver a 3 hour plus set of new and classic tunes is just amazing. John Myung is a joy to watch, as his fingers are constantly flying all over the fretboard, yet by no means does his bass playing come across as showy, and he holds down the groove perfectly. Rudess is a master player, and while I prefer his more symphonic and vintage style to his "fuzzed out" manic tones, the guy can shred with the best of them and lay down some wonderful orchestrations. Portnoy and Petrucci-nothing more needs to be said there, these guys are among the best at their craft, and LaBrie still sounds great although he has a little problem hitting some of the higher registers on songs from the first few albums. The sick musical interplay between Petrucci and Rudess at times is simply jaw-dropping!Kudos to the well-behaved crowd at this show, which was a mixture of older fans (like myself!) and newer ones, and thanks for the fine venue for great sound and atmposphere, which greatly helped make this evening all the more special.