~ Written by Stephen Kostas
I have to admit, in the era of Metropolis Pt. 2 and Six Degree of Inner Turbulence, Dream Theater was my favorite band, and much of my quest for new music revolved around the question of “Do they sound like Dream Theater?” I’ve become somewhat of a lapsed fan in recent years. Each of their recent albums has had some standouts, and while I enjoyed Distance Over Time more than I’ve enjoyed anything else since Black Clouds and Silver Linings, it hasn’t penetrated my regular listening in the same way that past albums had.
Enter Distant Memories: Live in London, an incredible live spectacle on DVD in a year in which live music is all but dead. Not only that, but it features a good selection of recent Dream Theater tracks, plus Metropolis Pt. 2 performed in its entirety. The question is, are they still as good as I remember them being in their glory days?
Previously my favorite live Dream Theater album was Live at Budokan. The tracks performed represent my favorite era of Dream Theater’s music, and it has total “blow your mind” moments like the “Instrumedley.” Simply put, the band is better now than they were 16 years ago. Maybe they don’t have the same level of excitement that you got from Portnoy’s crowd participation drum solo, and it has less in the way of “surprise” arrangements, but as a band and as individual performers they’re at the top of their game. One major highlight is that Labrie sounds great – like seriously great. This is the best he’s sounded live, possibly ever.
For the most part, this album is a bit of “studio on stage” performance. The band sounds impeccable as they perform perfectly accurate renditions of incredibly complex pieces. But every now and then, the crowd gets involved, and it adds the sort of emotional heft you’d want out of a live performance. There are also moments, like Jordan Rudess busting out the keytar, that are great performance highlights. When you get Rudess out from behind the keyboard he always steals the show as he has a bit more personality in his energetic performance than Petrucci or Myung.
The disparate styles and personalities of the band have become more clear over the years. Labrie looks more and more the part of the middle aged heavy metal singer, while Petrucci and Myung come across like they could be playing these licks in his sleep. Ruddess and Mangini seem to just be having a lot of fun. Altogether it adds a layer of maturity and authenticity to the performance. With the possible exception of Labrie, who hams it up a bit from time to time, it feels like you’re watching the genuine personalities interact on stage as they put on an absolutely incredible performance.
The added visual elements are cool, but maybe a little bit over the top at points. In particular, the added visualizations for Metropolis Pt. 2 were excellent, and added a dimension to the storytelling that really enhanced the experience of watching a performance of an album that I’ve heard a million times. Of course, one problem is that Mangini’s massive drum set is directly in front of the screen, and blocked small portions. Perhaps having key moments simply be part of the DVD, rather than just being from the cameras recording the performance would have been a good idea?
Probably the highlight for me was the performance of “In the Presence of Enemies” which they segue directly into “Pale Blue Dot.” It really showcases the the energy and technical performance of the band, and mixes things up from the studio-like nature of most of the performance.
At one point, Labrie pauses to comment on how many of the people in attendance at the concert are new fans who weren’t even around when some of this music was originally released. It adds a cool dynamic for a band who’s been around long enough to have albums older than many of their fans, and that’s produced enough great music over their lifetime to still be winning new fans. Overall, it’s an absolutely fantastic all-around performance that should satisfy both those of us who were there in the olden days of yore, and the young-ins who might not even know that Dream Theater used to have a different drummer.
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