LIVE from Your Speakers: Dream Theater, SCORE

Thursday, September 24, 2020
Dream Theater SCORE Cover

Fans of progressive rock had arguably their best era (certainly commercially, if not musically) in the 1970s, when the giants of the genre stalked the earth and made some of their finest records. By the end of the ‘80s, though, the moment was well over – most of the biggest acts of the prog heyday had broken up, or were maintaining a lower profile – and by the early ‘90s, the tide had completely ebbed, with a rawer, less classically attuned brand of rock (think, of course, Nirvana and their ilk) achieving the commercial apex that bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer had reached 15 or 20 years prior.


Prog hadn’t disappeared, though; it was being cultivated by younger bands, ones who appreciated not only odd time signatures, thorny arrangements and sometimes quizzical lyrics, but also the rattle and power of metal – more Maiden than Van der Graaf Generator. Dream Theater was one of those bands, mixing aggression and precision, even making some commercial noise in 1992, with the minor hit “Pull Me Under,” from their gold-certified second album, IMAGES AND WORDS.


By 2006, Dream Theater had been around for 20 years, and they made a stop at New York’s Radio City Music Hall to celebrate. As befitting such an occasion, the show and resulting album, SCORE, touch on all periods of the band’s career, from their earliest compositions to the then-current record, 2005’s OCTAVARIUM. It also featured a full orchestra for the second half of the show, a canny and ultimately satisfying move that makes for some wonderful moments.


The rarity “Another Won” is an early highlight – about as raw as one can imagine Dream Theater sounding, while still being, you know, Dream Theater. Contrast that with OCTAVARIUM’s “I Walk Beside You,” the closest thing to commercial hard rock the band were capable of at that point, with singer James LeBrie reaching for the heavens, and guitarist/composer John Petrucci showing him the pathway there. The intricacies of “Raise the Knife” and “The Spirit Carries On” are also faithfully recreated on the stage, to the crowd’s delight.


The presence of the “Octavarium Orchestra,” conducted by Jamshied Sharifi, predictably broadens and deepens the sound of the band; not so easy to predict is the effect the combination has on the listener, especially the first time through the album. At 42 minutes and eight movements, “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” is both the initial piece of the collaboration and the best display of that collaboration’s advantages. Listen to the opening “Overture” to hear the added detail keyboardist Jordan Rudness’ composition receives with an arrangement for so many instruments. Hear, also, how the strings buttress “About to Crash” and envelop LaBrie in “Goodnight Kiss,” and fairly blow back one’s hair on “Solitary Shell.”  Later in the gig, as the band and orchestra navigate the dynamics of “Octavarium,” one can’t help but hear how perfectly suited to the band’s strengths these players and arrangements are.


Whether you’re new to Dream Theater or just want a terrific summary of their first two decades, load up SCORE and prepare to be wowed.


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