Carousing through a local record store, I came across Dream Theater’s new CD, Once In a LiveTime. I had heard about the release of a live CD from Dream Theater, but didn’t keep an ear/eye open for the release date (my neglect). So, instead of picking up just one CD (which I had originally intended to do), I walked out of the store with three.
Yes, Once In A LiveTime is a live CD (and a double one at that), which was recorded at Le Bataclan in Paris, France on June 25, 1998. Be prepared to sit two-plus hours for this, folks, because this is a lengthy one.
Up at the plate again as producer is Kevin Shirley, the man responsible for producing Dream Theater’s last studio effort, Falling Into Infinity. I can hear the groans already. It’s no secret that a large majority of Dream Theater’s fan base doesn’t take kindly to Mr. Shirley, but that certainly didn’t deter the band from using him again. I don’t have the technical know-how as some other DT fans do, so I just depend upon my ears — and the ears are liking what they hear.
Live CDs can sound too ratty, and in other cases, too overproduced (causing them to sound more like a studio album than a live album), but I think this one turned out fairly well sound-wise.
Not yet able to see this band live myself, I was even more curious to hear if the music held up in concert like it does in the studio. There wasn’t much of a doubt in my mind because with a brilliant band like this, I was positive they’d be killer live. Much to my satisfaction, I was correct in my assumptions. Most of the songs on this album sound equal to, if not better than, the studio cuts.
LiveTime gets off to a beautiful start with A CHANGE OF SEASONS I (THE CRIMSON SUNRISE) and A CHANGE OF SEASONS II (Innocence), before launching into PUPPIES ON ACID. This is a marvelous way to start off a show, and I was really impressed by it. Next up at the plate is JUST LET ME BREATHE. This is a good song, but was never a personal favorite of mine. However, it held up well, and it seemed to pump up the energy of both the audience and the band. VOICES is next, and all I can say about this is that it is spine-tingling. The precision of each instrument is mind-boggling and James LaBrie’s voice is nothing short of amazing.
TAKE THE TIME is next, which seems to knock the breath out of LaBrie a bit. His voice isn’t quite as strong on this one, but it ends with a really cool jam before going into Derek Sherinian’s keyboard solo — which is mainly the introduction to the next song, LINES IN THE SAND. The aforementioned is one of their strongest songs from Falling Into Infinity and it’s a masterpiece live. There’s so much going on in this song that you have to keep listening to it to absorb everything. SCARRED is up next, sounding just as eerie and dismal, not to mention angry, as the recorded version and is truly remarkable.
A bit of instrumentation is next with A CHANGE OF SEASONS IV (THE DARKEST OF WINTERS), YTSE JAM, and Mike Portnoy’s drum solo. I’m all for solos, and Portnoy, unquestioningly, knows how to pound the hell out of those skins (and the audience even gets in on the action during it), but it was a tad too long for my taste.
CD #2 begins with A TRIAL OF TEARS, which is just exquisite. At first, I didn’t particularly care for this song, but the more I hear it, the more I like it. What’s more, it sounds even better live than the studio-recorded version. HOLLOW YEARS is next, and this is so beautifully done — it’s nothing short of gorgeous. It’s beautifully sung and beautifully played. What’s more, it’s a prime showcase of LaBrie’s breath-taken talents as a vocalist. It’s amazing how a brow-beating, progressive rock band such as this can create beautiful melodies, too. That, alone, is what makes Dream Theater such a unique and special band.
Continuing on the beauty vein, TAKE AWAY MY PAIN is played next. Once again, LaBrie’s voice is perfect, and it’s just as riveting as the aforementioned. However, there’s some instrumentation missing in this version that makes it a tad different than the studio cut. On the studio version, there’s a fuller sound, and on this live version, it’s more bare-bones and acoustic. Nonetheless, it’s brilliant, and the saxophone solo (played by a Mr. Jay Beckenstein of Spyro Gyra) adds an enchanting touch to the song.
Things pick up, more than a bit, with CAUGHT IN A WEB, which RIPS!! This song is wicked, wailing, and rocking. This is one of their best songs — period. LIE comes next on the list, falling a bit short of the original version. The song drags quite a bit — the speed should be a bit faster on this one to be more effective. The best part of this song is John Petrucci’s shredding, which never ceases to amaze me.
PERUVIAN SKIES is next up at bat, and this one is a real show-stopper. This song has everything — it starts out eerily aesthetic and trippy, and then explodes in brow-beating, mind-churning rage. Without a doubt, they should keep this one in their set list.
It is now time for John Petrucci to chomp the bit at this point of the disc with a “little” guitar solo. Huh — hardly. This solo is a whopping eight minutes. I groaned when I saw that but, surprisingly, those eight minutes just flew the hell on by. Before I knew it, it was over and I sat stumped, going — WOW! Petrucci is a real show-off, make no mistake about that. I’ll tell you this, though. The man sure the hell knows his craft. What the hell he does with that instrument we call a guitar I’ll never know, because I cannot BELIEVE the sounds he produces. After Petrucci is done with his thing, the band launches into PULL ME UNDER, which is pumped and full of energy.
Last up is a melody consisting of METROPOLIS, LEARNING TO LIVE, and A CHANGE OF SEASONS VII (THE CRIMSON SUNSET). METROPOLIS is one of my favorite songs from Images and Words, and it doesn’t disappoint live. LEARNING TO LIVE is also superb, and ACOS VII allowed the band to end with a bang.
I’ve come to the conclusion, after listening to this CD, that Dream Theater is one band I have to see live. Their sound is incredible and you catch a lot more of the intricate instrumentation in these live songs. It truly shows how talented this band really is. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: James LaBrie has one of the best voices around. He hits a few weak spots on this disc with some vocal fatigue, but he gets his second wind and belts it out twice as well as he did before. John Petrucci is one of those true talents, in all senses of the word. Throughout this recording, he was shinning like a beacon of light. You could so clearly hear his intricate, creative juices flowing and imagine him blowing the roof off of the building. This man gets sounds out of his guitar that I didn’t even realize were possible. His sound and style are so distinct and mind-blowing that he stands apart from the rest. He can shred, scream (yeah, that’s right. I can hear his guitar almost SCREAMING at times), and wail (and I mean, WAIL). Then again, he can also step back and create some bewitching beauty as well. Miss Kevin Moore all you wish, but Derek Sherinian plays some mean `boards’. He seems to have filled some very big shoes rather nicely. Mike Portnoy is the heartbeat of this band — pounding, dribbling, smashing, and hitting his way throughout the set with the utmost finesse. John Myung, unfortunately, isn’t really heard over everything else that is going on. He’s there, part of that strong heartbeat, but he blends in more than shines through.
In conclusion, if you’re a fan of Dream Theater, Once in a LiveTime is a MUST. If you’re not a fan, then maybe this disc is just the right stepping stone that will turn you into one.
© Written by Diane Trautweiler on November 11, 1998.