Dream Theater has created some of the most technically unique music of the past 20 years. Its recent tour, which recently made a stop at the Tower Theater on 69th Street, is in celebration of the band’s 20th anniversary. The show had no openers but two sets of pure Dream Theater. One set was a chronologically accurate timeline of their music, followed by a set of material from their recent album, Octavarium.
Dream Theater, despite their immense popularity in rock and metal circles worldwide, has never received significant airplay on mainstream radio, due to the complex nature of the music. The music is said by many critics to be rather relatively uninspired, as the true brilliance of this band lies in their ability to make you think rather than feel. That’s not to say that the music will not evoke any sort of feeling, as any person with the faintest interest in mind-blowing technical ability will be left awestruck by any Dream Theater music, live or otherwise.
Another particular grudge many carry – particularly fans of “heavier” metal – regarding the band is their “lameness.” This is a hard point to argue, as singer James LaBrie sounds like he should be singing for a band more akin to something 1980s hair metal than searing progressive metal brilliance. The even cheesier lyrics aren’t masked by any sense of testosterone, a crucial element to anything considered remotely metal.
The first set, containing classic Dream Theater masterpieces from each of their earlier releases, began with a fast-paced track from their very early days as Majesty. For the remainder of the set, the audience was hit again and again with amazingly self-indulgent works of extreme musical prowess. From guitarist John Petrucci’s blistering, non-conventional solos to drummer Mike Portnoy’s mix-meter mayhem, the expertise demonstrated in these jaw-dropping classics including “Take the Time” and “Caught in a Web” left the audience spellbound.
After a brief intermission, the second set began. This set was much less invigorating, as the band focused more on the melodic sensibility portrayed on their latest release, Octavarium. Frankly, this was a disappointing set. Paling in comparison to the previous set’s sheer technical magnificence, this was the attempt of a band fueled by math and intelligence trying to operate on feeling and emotion. However, they nearly redeemed themselves with their encore, which was the closing track on their seminal 1992 release “Images and Words,” which is considered by many to be Dream Theater’s crowning achievement.
Dream Theater is not a band everyone will like. Fans of much more brutal metal may scorn the band’s apparent “lameness” while fans of catchy, simpler music may not have the patience for such self-indulgent music. Anyone seeking a musical skill level far above practically all rock music, however, will surely fall in love with a band like Dream Theater. Their live show truly emphasizes their collective ability to play together and add even more astonishment to the already historic level achieved on their studio recordings, exhibiting some of the finest technical skill ever recorded by any artist, of any genre.
Julian Root can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.