Sound: There's a reason why John Petrucci was one of the elite guitarists chosen to take part in a G3 Tour with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. If you listen to Score, the latest concert CD release from Dream Theater, you'll never again have a doubt in your mind as to why. Petrucci and Dream Theater's 20th anniversary concert at Radio City Music Hall is one that feels very much like a symphonic production -- with or without the Octavarium Orchestra that takes the stage with the band in the second set.
With two decades of work under their belts, the musicians in Dream Theater play a small sampling of it in Score and even add in lesser-known tunes like Raise The Knife during the concert. Probably the most incredible aspect of the three-hour show is the band's precise synchronicity. In a song like the 41-minute long Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, they never miss a beat, even with the addition of a 30-piece orchestra.
The biggest feat that Dream Theater faces is to make their blend of highly skilled music accessible to a general public. Amazingly, vocalist James LaBrie, guitarist Petrucci, bassist John Myung, keyboardist Jordan Rudess, and drummer Mike Portnoy do it rather well considering that your average listener could get antsy. Plenty of musicians feel the need to show off their talent by making songs revolve around solos that don't connect at all to the melody, but Dream Theater's songs actually are cohesive and memorable after the first listen. The best example is the opening track, The Root Of All Evil, which takes it time in first introducing the running skills of Petrucci, or for that matter, keyboardist Rudess. Instead, the song starts off with a driving groove that is more like a wall of sound when you get all of the musicians playing the same melody.
One drawback for those unfamiliar with Dream Theater is the length of the CD, but you shouldn't be intimidated too quickly. The longer songs do tend to have several segments that could be considered separate tunes on their own. An example would be Metropolis, which begins with a Pink Floyd-like a la Marooned. Rudess actually plays the intro in Metropolis, taking a break from his keyboards to play a steel guitar. Following the last note of Rudess' intro, the song takes it's first of many changes in a more acoustic-based, stripped-down ballad. It's these continuous changes that make the song feel like an epic song and not necessarily like a tune that's just way, way too long. // 10
Lyrics: The lyrics to the songs performed on Score are all from albums that Dream Theater has made over the last two decades. The band has found a niche for itself in terms of songwriting, with their lyrics often involving introspection and melodramatic imagery. But when you're listening to a Dream Theater song, the average love song is definitely not what immediately comes to mind.
In The Spirit Carries On, the band explores plenty of questions in life right off the bat. LaBrie sings, Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go when we die? What lies beyond? He goes on to explain his theory of life and death, which is transcendental enough that it actually fits pretty well with the music. There is nothing too earthly about the talent that Dream Theater has, so why not let the virtuosos reflect on a few of life's mysteries?
With Afterlife the theme stays perhaps too close to that of The Spirit Carries On. LaBrie sings, In the Afterlife; Will dark be bright? Will cold be warm? Will the day have no night? The lyrics do lay it on pretty deeply for the average listener, so some people might find themselves a bit annoyed. When it comes down to it, however, Dream Theater's music will likely be what most people remember, not the lyrics. // 8
Overall Impression: Dream Theater's Score can be an overwhelming listen if you take it all in at one time, so be sure to pace yourself. In smaller doses, it's a lot more accessible to the ear and allows you to appreciate the melodies rather than just the obvious solos. There are a few songs like Octavarium and Metropolis that are more like chamber pieces with the full orchestra behind them, but it's fascinating to hear how the rock and classical worlds meld together pretty smoothly.
If you're not real familiar with Dream Theater, be warned: the entire concert is almost three hours long and may be more than you might expect. But the compositions take several different turns and actually seem to be more like five or six songs in the end, which keeps thing continuously interesting. While the band does allow plenty of time for solos, it's refreshing to hear a band that is able to write melodies that are strong enough to survive on it's own. // 9