Dream Theater - Joe Satriani tour impressions
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kelly

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Last night, I saw King's X, Dream Theater and Joe Satriani in Dallas, Texas at the NextStage venue in Grand Prarie. My impressions follow.

the audience
I admit it. I like reviewing the audience more than the concerts. Some of you may not know this but this kind of crowd tends to really draw at the musicians. These guys aren't the same crowd as your white trash headbangers at Ozzy's shows nor are they the metalheads that show up at Maiden or Priest tours. These guys tend to have short hair, sometimes in glasses, somewhat serious looking and shy. You can spot the occasional head bobbing and girlfriend in the audience who's really rockin' out, but in general these guys just stare at the musicians--affixed, amazed and critical. You can tell some of them are trying to see "how he did that" while others are just watching it like a fireworks show. No mosh pit. Not much yelling. This is probably the closest rock has to a classical audience and for me this made the concert a bit more enjoyable.

the venue
Maybe you've heard me bitch about this already but Dallas has some really aweful venues. Yeah, I know, it's amplified guitar rock, what can you do. But really, we must do it worse than anyone. We have one of the suckiest outdoor amphitheaters--Starplex which somehow got renamed to Smirnoff Amphitheater, then we have the old standby arena, Reunion which sounds awful and echoey, the Bronco Bowl whose name sounds like a stadium but it's actually literally a little stage crammed into the back of a bowling alley (and this place draws major acts!). Aside from that we have a smattering of what could only be called "concrete rooms" in the bar district of Deep Ellum and this is awful environment where I saw Joe Satriani last time.

Recently Dallas has added two new concert venues--the huge well architected and highly publicized American Airlines center where the Dallas Stars (hockey team) play and where Eagles tickets sold for astronomical prices and NextStage. NextStage is where this concert was and I feel it's worth talking about. It's a theater like room with evenly spaced comfortable seats that seemed to be actually designed with accoustics in mind. It was easy to get to. It was easy to park in. It had decent restrooms and refreshments that were priced about like they are at movie theaters (which isn't nearly as bad as other concert venues). So overall, it's a good thing... but here's the kicker: every single person was friendly to me. When they scanned my tickets, when they sold me a drink, showed me my seat. They even smiled and said thank you. Maybe you folks in other cities get this treatment all the time but let me tell you, if you see an act at Reunion Arena or Smirnoff, you are treated as dirt. Cattle get better treatment. So, this was just so unusual that it was spooky. And yes, I even liked the way it sounded. I hear the owners of NextStage filed for bankruptcy protection. I hope this theater survives (and thrives) whatever happens. I hope I get to see more concerts here and less at bowling alleys.

King's X
Honestly I was hoping local band Transcendence would be opening the show but while those guys do some great music they do a piss poor job with relations and didnt' manage to get in. Ah well.

King's X is a trio lead by a black bassist whose style can't help but remind you of Lenny Kravitz and Living Colour. This guy has major talent and doesn't have any problem pulling it off live. The guitarist and drummer are awesome too. And they really gel'd on stage. But what can I say, as talented and skilled as these guys are, I was bored to tears. Their songwriting has just never interested me at all.

They played about five songs total including their biggest song "Over My Head" (prog bands don't really have "hits") which was the highlight of their show and included the lead singer's impressive operatic range.

I don't really dig King's X but it was a good performance. If you like the band, I don't imagine you'll be disappointed.

Dream Theater
I have a special place in my heart for an old band called Deep Purple. Awesome songwriters and musicians, excellent showmen and the absolute best at live performance. I felt they carried a torch that they passed in turn to Iron Maiden and that Iron Maiden has passed this torch to Dream Theater. This is only stated to show the level I consider this band to be. I know they're not at the height of popularity but I think other people who like this style of music would agree with the reverence I have for this band.

I've seen Dream Theater four times now. The last time I saw them was in support of their concept album (in my view, the best concept album of all time) "Scenes From a Memory." Scenes From a Memory was just an incredible album but left you thinking "there's no way they can do this live--this is a studio album." They can and they did. They did stuff I never thought I'd hear a musician do. Even if you absolutely hated this kind of music, I think you'd be impressed. So I saw them that time and thought to myself, "this is their peak album--it's all downhill from here." (Quite the pessimist aren't I?)

The followup (and current) album is called "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" and it's truly incredible. No one talks about it--I have never heard a song from it on the radio or even on internet radio. I've never read a review. It makes me feel like the genre is dead because if ever there was an album worthy of recognition, it's this one.

So finally, the tour. World Turbulence 2002. You know, most bands tour and they almost have this look on their faces when they play the new songs that reads, "Hey, we know you guys only want to hear the classic stuff but we have bills to pay so here's our new ****--please buy it." That's certainly the impression I got from seeing Queensryche last time. Dream Theater is different. Dream Theater's faces read, "Check this out. This is stuff we didn't even know how to do before." While they maintain their excellent stage presence and showmanship you can't help but read behind each musician a sense of little kid glee--you know, when a kid does something cool and just can't wait to show you.

Unfortunately (?) the setlist is different every night it seems so me going through it song by song won't do you any good. There is this much for sure, though: If you want to hear their "hits", don't go. Go see Rush or The Who instead. But at the same time, if you're a real fan of the band, expect that with every passing Dream Theater show, you're hearing some songs that you'll never hear them play again if they tour for a hundred years. As someone who wants to see every tour, I especially dig this.

Being an opening act was somewhat weird--the previous three times they were the headliner and had a bit more time on stage. This time there was no encore and the show seemed to just end abruptly after they'd played one of the songs from the new album. No "Pull Me Under" to be found here, no "Another Day" or even "Home."

One of the highlights I will mention is the jam session from Scenes From a Memory that they replicated. I think it's called "Dance of Eternity" but it's (as mentioned) one of those things you just don't think they can do live, but they can. It's just amazing to watch.

Seeing Dream Theater live is almost like seeing two seperate bands. There's the band with James LaBrie singing--and if I hadn't mentioned it, his voice was awesome--the guy truly gets better every time; and then there's the band without James LaBrie. I know some of you may consider instrumentals boring or without direction, without lead but that's just not the case with Dream Theater. They could easily be a complete band without a singer. So expect that LaBrie is going to walk off the stage from time to time, but don't worry, it's all good. Trust me.

The first time I saw Dream Theater live, they were excellent. Among the very best performances I have seen. That they have gotten better each subsequent time is unparalelled. I cannot honestly say that about any other band I've seen.

Joe Satriani
Before Moebius and Vin Diesel there was this other guy that pulled off that whole smug bald buff guy thing. Known best for teaching Kirk Hammet of Metallica and Steve Vai of his own projects and of David Lee Roth's band how to play, Satch made a name for himself with the album Surfing With The Alien and became THE rock guitar music in the background of every rock stations guitar store sales. So, oddly, more people know Satch from commercials than they do anything else... even though, surely, a prog rock instrumental guitarist is not commercial? Very odd.

Joe is the ultimate show off. He has that "guitar god" presence that is so often imitated but rarely with this kind of authority. He walks out on stage with his sunglasses, tank top, colorful baggy pants and tennis shoes, a shiny guitar and a big grin. Joe must really love his job.

His set consisted of all the songs you'd expect him to play--basically the highlights of every album and every fan pleaser. Cool No. 9, Dreaming 11, Flying In a Blue Dream, The Extremist, Mindstorm, etc. My complaint is the same one I'd have issued last time I saw him--why none of the vocal tracks? I know a lot of the audience are guitarists and came to be impressed but for me watching an hour and a half of guitar playing gets a bit monotonous. Couldn't he have at least taken a break in the middle of the set and played "I Believe?" And like a bad ex-girlfriend, there wasn't even a "Goin' Down" this time.

Satriani never missed a beat--never messed up, even with the stuff you really expected to see him mess up. I wish I could say the same for his backup band. The drummer and bass player couldn't seem to agree at what speed to play and fell out of synch several times. The rythm guitarist seemed to have an easier time when he was on stage but he didn't strike me as having a particularly rough job. But Joe strived through it all. Sometimes it was like a trainwreck was going on behind him and he just played on oblivious to what else was happening. He even seemed genuinely appreciative of his bandmates, introducing all three of them on three seperate occasions.

I was also a little underwhelmed by the quality of the gear. Something was going wrong in the bass and from time to time things just sounded "overloaded" where the bass would get really thick and boomy. I'm not a technicians so I don't know what the deal was. Hopefully that was a Dallas exclusive and the setup will be better if any of you guys get to see him.

Overall
This was a cool concert. If you guys dig Dream Theater or Joe Satriani at all, I think you'd find this tour worth your time. Hopefully picking a good venue wasn't just a Dallas thing. It's usually my biggest complaint about concerts and it was really nice to not have that complaint this time.

(Ok, so who actually read the entire post? Anyone?)
 
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kerelybonto

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Thanks for posting that, kelly. I'm trying to get to the Baltimore show next month. ...

kerelybonto
 
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Braver

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I let Dream Theater slip when they came over here last Feb. since I feared their follow up to SFAM was going to be no good (and IMO it wasn't, I think over 70% of the album is quite horrible). they'll come around again. I did see some mpegs of them (from the Live Scenes From New York DVD Iguess, DLed them), and especially Erotomania was absolutely stunning, with everyone having a smal improv spot. totally cool. I bet Myung could pull minutes of lead solos from his bass if he wanted to. Rudess tends to knock me of my feet as well, playing those solos you hear on CD, and that sound waaay complex, with just one hand
that guy is stunning (unless he tries to be an orchestra tho, Overture from 6DOIT is mindnumbingly boring).

I hope to see Satch one day too. as with DT I saw some of his live perfomances on mpegs I downloaded...sheer perfection. no fancy bull, just a bald guy with sunglasses and a grin from ear to ear


(read the entire post BTW
)
 
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john_jcb

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Kelly,

Have any of your reviews ever been published? I find them well crafted and informative. Thanks.
 
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ArChaos

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Hi Kelly
Great review... really in-depth. I'm almost certain that's not new to you, but just in case - if you like Dream Theatre you'll surely enjoy the Liquid Tension Experiment albums (I & II) - These are two "side projecs" of Mike Portnoy - featuring himself, John Petrucci & Jordan Rudess(eventually) from Dream Theatre plus Tony Levin on bass - all instrumental great music, very close to D.T's style. By the way, you mentioned Deep Purple and Iron Maiden as showing the "level" you consider D.T. to be... well, with all due respect to D.P & I.M beeing "clasics" and "history" or even "living history", I still like Dream Theatre better and consider them not at least less tallented musicians than D.P & I.M .
 
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kelly

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kerelyboto
Very cool. I wish I could see them an additional time on this tour since the set list is different at a lot of stops by I won't be doing much travelling. Let us know if you catch the tour.

Braver
I think SFAM is really an all-time great album so I think we're in agreement there. I had a feeling my view on SDOIT was a minority one but I really dig some of the tracks--I like "The Great Debate" a lot (which they didn't play) and more than liking individual songs I just think the overall playing ability of all of the members gets pushed a little further out with each album. Always finding things in even songs I don't care for that much that impress me.

John
Thanks.
I used to write video game reviews and did some technical writing, game design and various web content. No one pays me for reviews these days--to be honest I'd be happy just to get some free audio equipment or music CD loaners. This buying and selling stuff is straining my budget.

ArChaos
I've heard a little Liquid Tension Experiment and I keep meaning to pick up a CD but haven't yet. To be honest, though, the bass player in Dream Theater is my favorite member. I'd agree that the musicians in Dream Theater have better technical ability than the guys in Iron Maiden and Deep Purple (I dunno tho--Steve Morse is pretty impressive) but the comment was meant more as a compliment in that, those two bands have (to me, beyond any other bands) really perfected the art of the live progressive hard rock concert. That is--they're actually BETTER live than in the studio while pulling off really complex music. I think too if you asked Dream Theater who their biggest influences were they'd say Iron Maiden and Deep Purple. The members of Iron Maiden have always sited Deep Purple as one of their major influences. To me, it's a legacy.
 
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