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Music DVD Review: Dream Theater – Score – 20th Anniversary World Tour Live With The Octavarium Orchestra (2006)

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When I first heard the subtitle for this DVD, 20th Anniversary World Tour, it sounded absurd. Could my favorite "new" band really be going on 20 years old now? It seems like it was just yesterday when I first heard "Pull Me Under" on the radio, courtesy of Baltimore's 98-Rock, and was completely blown away. Then again, it was 14 years ago.

The song's parent album, Images And Words, is one of those rare gems that only comes along a few times each decade and completely alters your musical perspective. Dream Theater was everything I had been waiting for in a band – the progressive grandeur of Yes, the power and intensity of Metallica, the melodic charm of Boston, and the instrumental virtuosity of Rush. They were my band, and progressive metal was my new religion.

The core members of Dream Theater — John Petrucci, John Myung, and Mike Portnoy —  first came together while attending Boston's Berklee College of Music in 1985. After recruiting Petrucci's old high school bandmate, Kevin Moore, to play keyboards, and then adding Chris Collins on lead vocals, they formed the band Majesty and released a self-produced demo tape in 1986. Fellow New Yorker Charlie Dominici eventually replaced Collins on lead vocals and the band was soon forced to change their name after discovering that another Majesty had already beaten them to it.

In 1988 they signed their first record deal and set out to record their debut album as Dream Theater, titled When Dream And Day Unite. After only a few live shows promoting the new album, Dominici was abruptly fired from the band, and the search for another new lead vocalist would begin again.

In 1991, after auditioning more than 200 people, the band finally found a new lead singer in Canada's James LaBrie. That same year they scored a new record deal with ATCO Records and finished up their landmark sophomore album, Images And Words, which would finally put them on the map.

I have seen Dream Theater on nearly every tour, playing all types of venues. As good as these guys are in the studio, they are even better live. The insane level of complexity to some of their songs does not even phase these guys when performing live. I doubt you will be seeing too many Dream Theater tribute bands any time soon.

The Images And Words tour will always be my most memorable since it was the first time I saw them play live. It was a small, outdoor concert pavilion and only a few hundred people were in attendance, but the show was magical. They reached their peak on the Scenes From A Memory tour and have not looked back since.

Score is Dream Theater's fifth concert video and is, in my opinion, their most satisfying one overall. Sure, I have my complaints, mainly with the setlist, but this is definitely one extraordinary DVD. The production quality is on par with the Live At Budokan DVD, which means it looks and sounds amazing.

The performance was recorded on April 1, 2006 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Being that this was billed as their "20th Anniversary Tour," I was disappointed that the setlist focuses so much on their newer material — which I am less a fan of — and ignored many of their career highlights. I do give these guys credit for not continually repeating themselves like many other bands do, and having enough confidence in their new material to make it the focus of each tour.

The concert is divided into two main sets – the first one featuring just the band and lasting about an hour, and the second one featuring an orchestra and going on for an additional one hour and forty minutes. That's what happens when you have album-length songs to play.

It begins with the plush red stage curtain being pulled back to reveal two large screens which flash images of the band's various album covers. The pulsating keyboard riff and drum fills that begin "The Root Of All Evil," all perfectly timed with the stage lighting and strobes, makes for a killer show opening.

Right away you could feel the electric vibe emanating from the hometown crowd, which immediately energizes the band and leads to one of their most dynamic performances ever. This is in stark contrast to the rather subdued atmosphere of the Budokan show.

Check out John Petrucci's new look. He must be hanging out with Zakk Wylde a little too much because, along with his new long and scraggly goatee and slicked back hair, he has packed on about 20 new pounds of solid muscle. Quite a contrast from that gay-looking DiMarzio ad he did for Guitar World magazine recently. He looks like Bronson Pinchot. Have you seen that thing?

They continue on with another song from the new Octavarium album, the radio-friendly "I Walk Beside You." After that is when things really get interesting. "Another One" takes you all the way back to the Majesty demos. It reminded me of the melodic Images/Awake-era stuff. Great song.

Continuing up the musical timeline, they dust off  "Afterlife," from 1989's When Dream And Day Unite, and bring it to a dazzling climax built around an incredible Petrucci guitar solo. One of many.

Now four songs into the set, LaBrie finally addresses the audience with an annoyingly over-enunciated, Rob Halford-like front man voice. It's okay, you can just be yourself James. I insist. Eventually he sends the crowd into a frenzy with "Lets continue that journey with Images And Words" as the band launches into "Under A Glass Moon".

Labrie's vocals have never sounded better and he really shines on "Under A Glass Moon." He carried every note, even the impossibly high ones, with apparent ease. Rudess couldn't help himself from throwing in one of his little ragtime piano riffs, which will always annoy me. Too bad they didn't get any of the former band members to appear as special guests. It would have been great to see Kevin Moore again on this classic.

The Awake album was only represented by "Innocence Faded." Although it is not one of the album's best songs, they breathe new life into it this night. I was hoping to hear more of my favorites such as "Scarred," "6:00," or "Caught In A Web" but, hell, they only played for three hours.

One of the absolute highlights and surprises from the first set is the performance of the previously unreleased "Raise The Knife," which was recorded during the Falling Into Infinity sessions.

Unlike most fans/critics, I like Falling Into Infinity; certainly more than everything after Scenes From A Memory. It's amazing that this awesome song didn't make the cut, but at nearly 12 minutes, they would have needed another double album. The first set ends magnificently with one of the best versions of "The Spirit Carries On" that you may ever hear.

Although I'm sure the band probably took a short intermission after the first set, the DVD jumps directly to the orchestra who has taken the stage for the second set. They launch right into the intro to the evening's magnum opus, "Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence," which you get in its entirety — all eight parts, all forty-something minutes.

I was never the biggest fan of this album. It would have made an excellent single-CD with the right editing, but this orchestra-backed performance is mind-blowing. The opening "Overture" section is a little long-winded since they extend it a few extra minutes, but the song really takes off once the full band joins in. Petrucci even straps on a new double-neck guitar for "Solitary Shell," which allows him to play the rhythm parts on 12-string.

They slow things down next with a few orchestra-appropriate ballads beginning with Train Of Thought's "Vacant," which has always bored me to tears, followed by "The Answer Lies Within," the Octavarium ballad that is propelled by the beautiful orchestration and Labrie's superb vocals.

Up next is my favorite song from Octavarium, "Sacrificed Sons." Here we have a song performed in New York City, by a New York band, that is essentially about 9/11, and LaBrie hasn't a single introductory word to say about this powerful song he wrote? I guess he wanted to let the lyrics and disturbing video images speak for themselves.

Petrucci and Myung face off with each other several times, trying to out-riff one another, and the climactic ending to the song was most powerful. Clapton is God? I say Petrucci is God after this one – well, Thor at least.

Closing out the set is Dream Theater's latest opus, the 27-minute tribute to progressive rock and title track to their latest album, "Octavarium." The song borrows from several prog pioneers, most notably during Jordan Rudess' long keyboard intro, which pays tribute, to put it kindly, to Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond."

I was surprised to see Rudess play the lap steel portion of the song, which he performed brilliantly. I have never been a fan of his keyboard style. I think both Moore and Sherinian were much better fits for Dream Theater, but he was a friggin' wonder to behold on this song.

Rudess has ditched the single keyboard approach, in favor of the keyboard barricade look, à la Emerson and Wakeman. I like my keyboard wizards surrounded by a mountain of keyboards, playing a different one with each hand, dammit. His incredible performance on the Haken Continuum Fingerboard is fascinating to watch. It was the first time I had ever seen one of these instruments.

When the band returns for an encore there is a ton of excitement and anticipation in the air. The crowd cheers wildly in the darkened hall, as only traces of light register from the orchestra. Finally, Portnoy opens with a hi-hat pattern and the string section executes the opening chords to "Metropolis." When Petrucci fires off the first chugging guitar chords of the song, the strobe lights synch perfectly to his riff.

The performance is, of course, killer, but as they stood together taking their bow after the show, I was left thinking, "Where was 'Take The Time,' 'Pull Me Under,' and 'Learning To Live?'" Maybe an old medley like Rush did on their 35th Anniversary Tour and what they sort of did with "Instrumedley" at the Budokan would have been appropriate here.

Dream Theater has certainly scored again with the production quality of this DVD. The widescreen picture is simply stunning, capturing the performance with vivid detail, color, and depth. The camera production is first-rate, presenting every possible angle you could ask for while making you forget you are only watching a video.

There are plenty of great close-ups of each musician working their magic on their instruments, but I would have enjoyed a few more of the longer shots of the entire stage to balance things out. Split screen shots are also used on a few occasions to great effect.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio track is very sharp and spacious and provides an excellent mix of band and orchestra. A slightly weak bass mix is my only minor complaint. I found the drum and bass mix on the Budokan DVD slightly better overall, but this is still one of the better sounding DD 5.1 tracks you are likely to hear this year. The potent PCM stereo track has no such problems and is easily one of the best I have heard in a while.

The Bonus Material is also impressive. "The Score So Far…" is a fascinating 56-minute documentary which takes you back to the birth of the band and progresses up through their entire career, as described by current and former members of the band.

Charlie Dominici and Derek Sherinian took part in the interviews, but it was a shame that Kevin Moore wasn't involved. Most of the interviews took place at the Berklee College of Music, as Petrucci, Portnoy, and Myung reminisced about the good old days.

One of the best segments is when Petrucci describes how he had to tell his parents he was dropping out, so that he could focus more on the band. "To convince my parents that I wanted to go to music college was one step, but to convince them I wanted to drop out of music college was a nightmare." I can only imagine.

The rest of the bonus material includes three other live performances: "Another Day" (Tokyo, 1993), "The Great Debate" (Bucharest, 2002), and "Honor Thy Father" (Chicago, 2005). The audio quality is vastly inferior to the main show, but these were still excellent additions.

"Octavarium Animation" is the hilarious animated feature that was shown on the video screens during a portion of the "Octavarium" performance. Unfortunately, there is no booklet included with the DVD package.

Unlike the Budokan DVD, I find myself wanting to watch Score over and over again. Although the setlist isn't the most satisfying, the combined energy of the band, orchestra, and audience makes this one of the best Dream Theater shows I have ever seen and one no fan should miss.

Set List
1. The Root Of All Evil
2. I Walk Beside You
3. Another Won
4. Afterlife
5. Under A Glass Moon
6. Innocence Faded
7. Raise The Knife
8. The Spirit Carries On
9. Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence
10. Vacant
11. The Answer Lies Within
12. Sacrificed Sons
13. Octavarium
14. Metropolis

Performance 9/10
Production 9/10

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About Paul Roy

  • http://www.leemorant.com Lee

    Nice review, it’s an 18 string not a 12 string though!

  • Tony

    The most technically proficient band to grace the planet earth, of course the new dvd was amazing.

  • Nicholas

    “Dream Theater was everything I had been waiting for in a band – the progressive grandeur of Yes, the power and intensity of Metallica, the melodic charm of Boston, and the instrumental virtuosity of Rush.”

    Give yourself a hand, that is poetry.

  • greenblob

    ok..
    call me stupid.. call me naive.. but i had never listened to Dream Theater before..
    im a big fan (and player) of tech metal like Cynic, Death, Athiest..
    bought this dvd.. and damn…
    what a show.. not the kind of vocals im used to, but damn that guy can sing.. as for the rest of the band.. wow…
    i agree, the PCM 2 chan mix is great.. much better than many many others i have heard on main stream dvd releases..
    awesome review man.. it pretty much sums up the dvd.. guessing i’ll be a late comer to join the dream theater bandwagon. will have to buy “images and words” in the coming days..
    sorry.. a long post… but i’m just damn impressed by this..
    blob..

  • Paul Roy

    Welcome to the club greenblob. Dream Theater has always enjoyed good crossover appeal, which is why they can more than hold their own with the likes of Megadeth and Fear Factory on a mostly thrash metal tour like Gigantour, while at the same time not being entirely out of place opening for Yes.

  • http://blogcritics.org/mt/tb/52701 Nicolas Salas

    Hi….. Jordan Rudess has the best style from dream theater……. derek sherinian its the worst thing that ever hapened to dream theater

  • mascha

    yup, derek sherinian its the worst

  • Tumpal

    I have no problem whatsoever concerning this album, the set list is simply acceptable. And thats what Dream Theater is all about: Simply the best band one the surface of the world up to the stratosphere.

  • davo

    Kevin moore is better than rudess, he does wonders in Images and words. Although rudess is awesome, they should get all the guys back together for a jam sesh. Any ideas as to why they fired Dominici in the early stages?