September 17, 2009

Dream Theater at The Palace In Albany NY

Dream Theater at The Palace In Albany NY
 August 4, 2009

Mike Portnoy’s successful ProgNation Tour continued for the second round this year and they stopped over in Albany last night to remind us what progressive rock is all about.
Playing with the progressive rock heavyweights Dream Theater were Zappa Plays Zappa, Scale the Summit and Big Elf-All of them very different bands than the headliners. Mike hand picks the bands based on their musical diversity and various talents relating to the world of progressive rock music. Three out of four bands succeeded in blowing away the audience on this hot and humid summer’s evening.
They kicked off with a quartet from Houston called Scale The Summit, an all instrumental progressive rocking outfit with superior technical skills, particularly their drummer Pat Skeffington. Chris Letchford, their guitar player put on a nice display of a tapping technique that was used quite frequently, much like the way Tony Levin plays his stick bass. I was surprised that nearly every song was played in this fashion although Travis LeVrier played some fine guitar licks as well, minus the frequent tapping style so it balanced out quite well. The bass player Jordan Eberhardt was right in step and on the same level as the drummer. The bass came over very clear and heavy in the mix and actually complimented Skeffington’s non-stop rhythmic pounding nicely. It was a short gig but everyone was appreciative.
After a short break up next was Big Elf. Portnoy loves this band and I am having some difficulty understanding why, as they appeared visually dated and their sound was nothing more than a Pink Floyd rip off, actually one of many bands they seemed to employ note for note in their presentation. By today’s standards and through the eyes of anyone that never listened to music from the 70’s this would have been a good experience.  In my case this did not apply, unfortunately. Damon Fox (keys/vocals) looked like Alice Cooper with a beard, top hat and all and Ace Mark (guitar) played very basic power chords  for the most part while letting you know everyone of his influences all too well. There was nothing to hide and they waved their imitator flag proudly. This is one band that will not go anywhere in my estimation. Once they finished their set we had another break to get ready to take the night into the musical stratosphere with Dweezil Zappa and his band.
Dweezil decided to bring his dad Frank’s music to the masses through live performances and good lord is it ever working. I wanted to catch this show last year because I knew it would be outrageously good, it went above and beyond those expectations.
Dweezil has put together a band that his father would be very proud of. I have no idea if it could match up to Frank’s band live in its heyday because I never had the pleasure of seeing them perform. Based on all the studio material I have heard over the years however,   I can say with clarity and respect to Frank Zappa that his son Dweezil is representing the legacy of the music with tremendous accuracy. He is a gifted musician and every one of the members in his band is as well. I had a feeling this set would be twice as long as the previous acts and fortunately for us in attendance it was.
When Dweezil launched into “Apostrophe” I knew we were going witness something very special.  This band plays some very complex music with passion and technical dexterity. Dweezil looks like he is having a good time playing and glows with pride through each song. Some of the other well known tracks from the Zappa catalog like “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama” and “Montana” went over in a big way with the crowd and were played with excellence by Dweezil and his band.
It’s as if the spirit of Frank takes him over for the entire set. It is a very cool thing to witness and I would go see him again in a heartbeat.
That was truly an incredible set of music that Dweezil and his band put out last night and it primed us for the main attraction Dream Theater.
We were debating prior to the concert what song DT would open with, “A Nightmare To Remember” or “A Rite of Passage”, as it turned out they were played back to back. A large white cloth covered the band so all you could see was the band’s shadows then in dramatic fashion the cloth dropped to reveal the rockers as they launched into “A Nigthmare To Remember”. Of course everyone was standing and never took their seats for the remainder of the night; no other band was afforded that kind of focus.
James LaBrie sounds better than ever. In comparison to the last two years his voice sounds just about as good prior to his freak accident that damaged his vocal chords in 2000. Dream Theater as a band continues to evolve with their live presentation and visuals throughout the concert. Their new album Black Clouds and Silver Linings gives the fans what they want, epic songs like “The Count of Tuscany” which clocks in at 19:16 on the studio version and nearly a half hour live. John Petrucci, John Myung, and Jordan Rudess continue to amaze and remain in sync as virtuosos and a unit beyond compare. Rudess now has a video screen behind that shows his wizard cartoons as he plays. It seems every year another wrinkle is added to their show that make your eyes wander all over the stage trying to take it all in at once. It is getting to be more of challenge but oh so delightful just the same.
We enjoyed a very cool version of “Hollow Years” albeit an extended take that was amazing followed by “Erotomania” then “Voices” and a rousing crowd pleasing “Prophets of War”, then the dramatic marathon “Count of Tuscany”. Perhaps the encore was the most eye-opening of the evening as they sent everyone in attendance to prog-metal nirvana with an extreme version of “Metropolis”. I actually got lost in the song a few times wondering if we had moved on to yet another song but alas is was DT at their very best improvising and creating a new version of the original right before our eyes.
I hope ProgNation becomes a yearly tradition and we can go see Dream Theater and their new friends. You never know what surprises they may have for us next time around in Albany.
Dream Theater Set List:

A Nightmare to Remember

A Rite of Passage

Hollow Years (Extended Version)



Prophets of War

The Count of Tuscany

Encore: Metropolis

Keith “MuzikMan” Hannaleck
August 5, 2009
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