Progressive Rock/Metal

Dream Theater – Live Scenes from New York

Dream Theater live albums are an unfortunately hit-or-miss affair. For the most part, in picking up a DT live recording, one can expect incendiary instrumental work, lots of energy, an a great sense of fun. Unfortunately, previous official DT live releases – Live at the Marquee and especially Once in a LIVEtime – have been more or less ruined by sloppy, almost unlistenable singing.

James LaBrie’s vocals are a touchy subject already, and on the live albums he tends to seem tired, letting his voice get away from him and screeching through lots of songs without actually enunciating anything. This is a real shame, since the instrumental part of the band is so damn entertaining and full of energy in a live setting.

Thankfully, LaBrie keeps it reined in pretty well on this rather excellent triple live album. Dream Theater’s tour in support of Scenes From a Memory was a pretty impressive affair; the show I saw was excellent, aside from a few gratuitous solo spots.

The band planned a special three-hour set for one of the last shows on the tour, in New York (three hour sets have since become standard for them, it seems), and recorded it for the ages. This album, with its ill-fated original cover featuring a New York skyline on fire, is the result, and it’s a strong one throughout.

The rendition of Scenes From a Memory in its entirety is energetic and true to the album, marred only by the über-cheesy narration (much worse here than on the album) and a wanky solo spot.

But it’s the rest of the live album that’s the treat: the 2000 version of the band playing all kinds of older pieces. In many of their concerts, Dream Theater has a penchant of playing medleys of their older stuff, playing just a few verses or a solo from a song before breezing into a different one. I found this to be rather obnoxious teasing, but in this show they, for the most part, played the old songs in their entirety; the only medley is “Caught in a New Millennium”. Highlights for me are “The Mirror”, which is a total beast, although in one part of it Rudess insists on reminding me of how irritating I find much of his playing (he spews out some totally over-the-top garbage which sounds completely extraneous and inappropriate on top of Petrucci’s heavy, mid-tempo riffing); and the entire third disc.

Ah, yes, the third disc. It would be a favorite of mine, probably, based solely on its song selection: three of the centerpiece tracks from Awake, my favorite track from Images and Words, and the title suite from A Change of Seasons. This last is the real highlight: while the album version of the song is nice in its own way, longtime fans found it to be soporific, cheesy, and boring in comparison to its live counterpart, which the band had been playing for years. Now we finally get an official look at what the song might have sounded like in its original, more aggressive form. And it certainly does burn. In fact, it’s my favorite part of the entire 3CD set – powerful and arrogant, with a hard guitar tone from Petrucci that really makes everything just a bit more brutal. Definitely whets my appetite for hearing some of the older versions, which do away with one of the slightly cheesy middle sections.

Live Scenes From New York is an easy recommendation to Dream Theater fans old and new. The new fans have Scenes From a Memory in its entirely, and the old ones have disc 3, which is worth the price of admission alone. So… look over LaBrie’s vocal falterings, skip the solo spots, and for God’s sake skip “Another Day” lest you become a Kenny G fan. Forget all that stuff, cause this album is the best thing Dream Theater came out with after Awake.

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