Stamina. That may be the best one-word description of Dream Theater's new live CD/DVD package. Score is the live souvenir of the band's twentieth anniversary tour and was recorded at Radio City Music Hall, near and dear to the band's Long Island roots. Stamina – the band obviously has it to play this kind of 2½-hour set. The fans present at the recording of Score obviously had it that night. Listeners of the CDs and viewers of the DVDs will require it as well.
Let's get one thing straight out the outset: triple-live albums and double-live DVDs are intended only for a band's most hardcore audience. You don't commit the cash or the time to listening to a 3-CD concert package unless you committed to the band – although, at the risk of sounding like I'm shilling for the record companies, the price I have seen on the set has been pretty reasonable for so much music. The question then becomes: will the hardcore embrace Score?
Score is never anything less than enjoyable. This band has been playing its ass off for two decades and they did so again on this special night in New York City. John Petrucci has played solos longer than the one on “After Life” but it is hard for me to think of one I enjoyed more. His playing throughout is seizure-inducing – and I mean that as a compliment. The recording is high quality, the performances are good, and the band sprinkles some rarities into the set list. These are all good things and they make the package a good value.
A band like Dream Theater could not possibly exist, let alone flourish, for 20 years without being a crack live band. Prog metal fans are not the most forgiving type on the planet. Live prowess is essential for credibility with such a demanding fan base. It also stands to reason if a band excels at the art of live, they probably did not wait until twenty years in to release their first live album. This is true of DT. So, what separates Score from the epic sprawl of DT's last live package, Live at Budokan? A 30-piece orchestra.
How does this gimmick work? About as well as it did for Metallica on their S&M set. This is not to suggest Metallica and Dream Theater are the same band – they’re not. But the gimmick is similar. Score finds the band trying to make room in their already dense compositions for an entire string section. Most of DT’s songs were written without an orchestral/string arrangement and it shows – or rather, you can hear it. The idea of pairing metal bands and strings is not original and there is nothing particularly magical about the way Dream Theater executes that idea.
Allow me a couple more nitpicks. James LaBrie’s voice can still be gratingly hair metal as can his onstage presence. Fans of the band either like his vocals or have learned to tune him out as a break between moments of instrumental virtuosity. Folks in the first camp have no idea what I am talking about. I am in the second camp and sometimes it is hard to ignore.
To the instrumental moments… less Jordan Rudess and more Mike Portnoy is the way to put a smile on my face. Someone tougher than me should threaten Rudess with a good, hard cockpunch if he ever does that stupid circus music interlude (“Under a Glass Moon”) in another song. It is cheesy. It is not cute. It is not funny. He really must stop or he must be stopped! Portnoy, on the other hand, never gets boring. I have never heard a better drummer and would love it if one of his drum solos would appear as part of a proper DT live show and album.
Although Score is aimed squarely at the faithful and the faithful likely will not mind, it was a mistake not to include "Pull Me Under" in the set list for this show. Sure, longtime fans have heard the song a billion times and are probably good and tired of it. It is understandable. However, on a night aimed at celebrating a twenty-year career (and counting) it seems somehow appropriate to revisit the song that helped launch it. An unforgivable omission? No, but it was an unfortunate oversight.
Despite the nitpicks, Score is worthwhile for hardcore fans. Is it better than Budokan? Probably not, but it doesn’t have to be.
For those who might be interested, Chris Beaumont's review gives a little more attention to the DVD presentation of the show.