Saturday, December 23, 2006

Dream Theater

Dream Theater
Score: XOX: 20th Anniversary World Tour Live with the Octavarium Orchestra (Rhino)

Reviewed by Lucas Aykroyd

In 2005, SPIN pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman published an essay called “That 70’s Cruise,” describing his experiences at sea with Styx, REO Speedwagon and Journey. He claimed that the baby boomer core audience for this bill reflected a generation gap: “The people on this cruise don't believe modern bands know how to play, and they’re willing to spend $2,500 to see groups who can.”

Well, if those folks were more open-minded, they could have saved some cash by joining the 6,000-plus at Radio City Music Hall in New York for Dream Theater’s double-decade celebration in April. Admittedly, with this three-CD live recording, the Berklee-trained prog-metal quintet caters more to those who bought Yes’s Tales From Topographic Oceans than Steve Perry fans with Bic lighters. The set list, which stretches back to the band’s 1989 studio debut, heaps virtuosity upon virtuosity.

Disc One features renditions of six shorter songs (averaging 7:16) from five different albums, plus two other previously unreleased epics from the 1980s and 90s. Prominent in the mix are James LaBrie’s soaring vocals (he shuns the rasp he affected on 1994’s Awake), lead guitarist John Petrucci’s electrifying tone, and Jordan Rudess’ rippling keyboards. “Under A Glass Moon” spotlights those elements impeccably, without underplaying drummer Mike Portnoy’s Neil Peart-like flair.

The second and third discs introduce a 30-piece backing orchestra, and while that doesn’t work for every band (why did Metallica think “Enter Sandman” would sound awesome with the San Francisco Symphony?), it’s bang-on for Dream Theater. The overture to “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence,” for instance, comes across more powerfully than in the 1999 original, and the 40-minute composition goes beyond a mere chops-fest filled with time signature changes. Moments of genuine emotional beauty and judicious highlighting of crowd applause set this career-defining package apart.

Lucas Aykroyd has written for such magazines as Rock Sound, Metal Hammer, Powerplay Rock and Metal Magazine, and Classic Rock. He is the author of 1984: The Ultimate Van Halen Trivia Book.

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