Progressive Nation Act IV: Dream Theater

I like progressive rock, especially the British/European varieties. Those seem informed more by European folk, music of the Middle Ages, and classical, yet with plenty of power and bombast leavened by subtlety. The American variants have never moved me as much. So while I really dig acts like Yes, King Crimson, Gabriel-era Genesis and lesser known ones like Caravan, Gracious! and Grobschnitt, acts on this side of the Atlantic like Kansas never did anything for me. (One major, major exception to this is the mighty Todd Rundgren, but then Todd and his work have always transcended genres; he’s as much a singer/songwriter or power popper as he is a progster.)

So I brought that baggage to the Dream Theater concert. By the time they took the stage, I had been musically satiated anyway — thanks to Bigelf and Zappa Plays Zappa — so there really wasn’t any way I could leave the Progressive Nation concert disappointed. But Dream Theater left me cold. Expert playing, of course; John Petricucci is one of the best in his style, and Joe Satriani is a fan. But the band’s technical prowess didn’t do much for me in the way of entertainment.

With precious few exceptions, Dream Theater seemed to this audience member — to take themselves very seriously. They showed that it’s possible to be both full of energy and ponderous. In fact, they proved it again and again over the course of about 100 minutes. Save for a few melodic interludes where they showed a tiny bit of Pink Floyd influence, it was all about the metal, about the chunka-chunka-bang-chunka-bang-stop-repeat-but-differently.

The keyboard player had a cool setup that rotated 360°, and he spun it around a good bit during the performance. A cartoon version of him was often projected onscreen, and afforded the only thing that even approached humor during the show; these guys are serious. The keyboard player’s music stand/notebook PC stand was wrought in the band’s logo, which certainly must have cost some money. But in the end there was, for me, too much “branding.” All of the animations projected above the band seemed to feature that logo (known as the Majesty symbol), and the net effect was more like a commercial for the band than a show.

It was heartening to see a shaggy, slightly overweight, middle-aged man singing rock and roll onstage. But it wasn’t so great actually hearing him. His mock-operatic style really wasn’t engaging, and Dream Theater is not a group that figures vocal harmonies into its work (not onstage, anyway). And though I tried mightily, I couldn’t get the image of Jefferson Starship‘s Mickey Thomas out of my head every time I looked at singer James LaBrie.

Summary: glad I saw them once; wouldn’t see them again; won’t voluntarily listen to their music again.