06 July 2010

Some brief thoughts about the upcoming Dream Theater/Iron Maiden concert


I’ll be seeing Dream Theater and Iron Maiden in just a few days…1 July, at what used to be called the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel NJ. I’ve got lawn seats, which runs counter to my general loathing of general admission seating in my ever so advanced dotage. Seriously…you try having a sclerotic right S.I. joint and early onset osteoarthritis and then decide to stand for several hours in what will likely be 90+ degree heat for a metal show. I have a feeling I’ll be wheeled out of there because my one leg is gonna stiffen so much it’ll resemble a 2x4 stuck in a pair of jeans.

But I digress. This is my blog after all, and I am allowed the occasional digression.

Here’s what’s interesting about the whole situation: I have been a fan of Dream Theater, to one degree or another, since the release of Images and Words in 1992. Somewhere I even have a copy of the review I wrote of that album for my college’s newspaper, and while I don’t currently have a scanner, if I find it I’ll scan it and append it to this post at some future date. That’s not the point right now; the point is that as of this month, I’ve been listening to this band for 18 years, and this will be the first time I will be seeing them in concert. If I were to be honest, it’s likely because they are opening for Iron Maiden that I am seeing them this time. And I am not sure how to feel about that.

All bands change; all bands evolve. I’ll admit that I was not a huge fan of Images and Words, as I found some of the ballady stuff too cloying, and the production gave the songs a 90’s metal sheen that was not in keeping with the more progressive sounds I was looking for, and found in some of the songs. Their 1994 follow-up, Awake, was much more in keeping with my tastes at that time, and it still gets a decent amount of play here. Falling Into Infinity took, well, almost an infinity to come out, and it was at the time way less than satisfying (I’ve since re-evaluated my position, and while I like it more than I did, it’s still not great).

A weird thing happened then. Dream Theater got a new keyboardist, their third one, a guy named Jordan Rudess, who went to Julliard and played with Annie Haslam and the Dixie Dregs, among others. They released a 78 minute long concept album that blew everyone’s socks off, and which left me again somewhat less than impressed. Oh, there were some killer songs on there, but a lot just…I missed whatever it was that the band was doing that others fell in love with. This would end up being the theme from here on out; each successive album would come out, and I’d buy it hoping to capture in a bottle whatever it was I was looking for, and each time finding things to enjoy, and often just as much that didn’t do a thing for me. Six Degrees, Train of Thought, Octavarium, Systematic Chaos, Black Holes and Silver Linings…I’ve bought them all, listened to them all, and while there are moments that I nod my head and smile, it’s not a constant. And maybe never was, as we can see.

I’ve seen the band live on DVD, of course…being the fan I am, I’ve bought Live in Tokyo and Five Year
s in a LIVEtime and Live Scenes From New York and (pantgaspforair) Live at Budokan and Score and Chaos in Motion and…you get the message. I’ve seen how they are live, and I’ve heard enough of their live material to know they can bring it in concert. Yet I’ve had no desire the last couple years, as they’ve toured more heavily, to see them in concert. I’ve had chances…I could have seen the 2004 summer tour where they opened for Yes, but couldn’t get out of work (that didn’t stop my boss from telling me the Monday after the show how he saw Yes in concert with ‘that band Dream Theater that you like’ opening for them). I had a ticket made available for me for the Radio City show that they shot Score at, but no way to get into the city for it. And then, the past few years, just no longing, no burning need to see them.

Some of this, I am sure, is because the past few albums I have returned to less and less. While I am listening to Black Holes and Silver Linings as I type this, I can say this is maybe the fifth or sixth time I have listened to anything from this release that isn’t the cover songs since it came out on 23 June last year. There’s next to nothing on this album that drives me to want to listen to it, and I am not one of those people who believes that you have to listen to something twenty or thirty or a hundred times to ‘grasp the subtle nuances of what the band has to offer.’ This is Dream Theater; there ain’t a blasted thing subtle about them. Even Systematic Chaos gave me 40-odd minutes of music I liked, even though I still bristle at how much 25 minutes of that was taken from the manhwa Priest sans any crediting or attribution.

Lest anyone think I am just not metal enough to dig Dream Theater…three of my favourite albums released in the last six months are from Ihsahn, Triptykon and Finntroll. I think Enslaved is far more progressive than Dream Theater is; prog metal doesn’t mean just adding keyboards to the mix. I think Thomas Gabriel Fischer has done more to progress metal, and Ihsahn is breaking down huge boundaries, especially on After, which sees his patented symphonics mixed with crushing black metal and skronking saxophone to create a wonderfully flavourful melange that sweetens the tongue as it repeatedly bashes you in the face. I am far from afraid of metal; I do seek out great metal music to balance the lush symphonic rock of Banco and Yes, powerful metal to be the dark, brutal yin to the light, pastoral yang of Jade Warrior and Gryphon. Yet I am going into this concert with Dream Theater’s presence being more of an added bit to the fact that I am getting a chance to see Iron Maiden, also for the first time. If not for them, there’s every chance that I’d still not have seen Dream Theater in concert.

Am I going to skip seeing Dream Theater? Nope.

Am I going to whinge about seeing them? Not a chance (though I bet some reading this will assume I am doing just that here).

Will I feel the same way I did years ago? Probably not.

Will I enjoy the set? With 95% certainty, most assuredly.

I’m tossing this out there as it is. I’m not offering up any deep insights, though perhaps there’s something in here that is actually insightful. I’m sure that among you reading out there, some of you have certainly gone through the same thing with other bands, and will be nodding your heads sagely, stroking your goatees while sipping a nice single barrel scotch. I’m equally sure there will be people out there who will be looking for me at the show to administer a beat down, verbal or otherwise (ok, not so much on the second bit...I hope), for daring to besmirch the name of Dream Theater. And it’s OK to feel that way, it really is. I’m defensive of the bands I love (I still can’t believe there were people who didn’t get The Enid at NEARfest). Just because I’ve fallen out of love with Dream Theater doesn’t mean the band and I still can’t see each other from time to time and reminisce about the good old days, after all…it just means we’ve both moved on.


Don said...

And here I thought I was the only one left cold by Scenes From A Memory. Two or three good songs, but so much filler...

My problem with not seeing Dream Theater is that it's been so long since they did a solo show. Since the SCORE show, it's been Progressive Nation 1 (no interest in sitting through Three and Between The Buried And Me), Progressive Nation 2 (no interest after Beardfish pulled out), and they've opened for Yes and now Maiden (was out of town for Yes, couldn't get Maiden tickets). I think I would've made more of an effort to see them if they'd do a proper tour.

Bill K. said...

Nope. I like a few tracks on there, but otherwise SFaM leaves me cold.

Like you, my interest in PN2 died with the dropping of Beardfish, and I still hate how much that band lost as a result. I think a lot of people would have fallen for them, especially with how vocal MP is about his love for the band.

C'est la vie...

Brian Z. said...

Good thoughts, and truth be told I'm not sure I disagree with them. If I'm being honest, yeah, I'm something of a Portnoy fanboy, but I prefer his work around the Neal Morse axis to his stuff in DT proper.

But that's right now. At various times in my life, both A Change of Seasons and Scenes from a Memory have been bona fide desert island discs for me. Despite the overacting of the extras, Live Scenes from New York is still one of my all-time favorite live DVDs. And both times I've seen LTE live were crazy awesome memories for me.

Still, the only time I've seen DT live was their two nights at the Beacon on their Six Degrees tour. This time around I wasn't even tempted. I'm a bit more upset about missing Maiden (who I've NEVER seen) than I am about missing DT.

(And sadly, while it's got a few good moments, I've been disappointed to discover BCaSL doesn't even jostle for position among my 2009 favorites. Izz, Phideaux, Hackett, Riverside, IQ... DT ain't anywhere close.)

Mike said...

Hey Bill, we've talked a lot on Gally Base, but this is the first time posting on your blog and glad to see it active.

I'm definitely not a Dream Theater fan by any means, even more so after having a close friend who was part of one of their backing band's tours for about a year. But all that aside, the main reason is the continual recycling of riffs from Rush, Queensryche, Metallica, Maiden themselves and the like. I suspect a very good drinking game could be created from it. Then again, I would give a pass to, say, Wobbler, for doing exactly the same thing, so I can't pretend to be too fair. :)

But hey you get to see Maiden anyway and they still know how to serve it up.

Sean T said...

Bill, your thoughts on DT echo mine, expect I think you have been a lot more patient. They only play a 45 minute set opening for Iron Maiden, so love it or hate it- it will be brief.

Partha said...

You've missed out by not catching them live prior to now. I say that having made it to a dozen odd shows, while still being relatively disappointed by the last 10-12 years of the band's output. The material played live transcends what it sounds like on a CD. Hope you enjoy the show...from both bands.