Dream Theater have shown, with their latest live album, Breaking the Fourth Wall, that they are the kings of progressive metal. This album, recorded live at the Boston Opera House on March 25, 2014, brilliantly embraces all aspects of the band’s incredible career. I purchased the Blu-ray version of the show, mainly because I am completely enamored by their latest studio album, Dream Theater. Breaking the Fourth Wall goes further beyond their last album.
I am relatively new to Dream Theater, being introduced to the band by their latest album. I am still sifting through their back catalogue, and I am certainly enjoying it. It seems that many long-time Dream Theater fans disliked their latest album, and I’m not really sure why. Yeah, Mike Portnoy isn’t a part of the band anymore, but Mike Mangini is a more than capable drummer who brings his own heavier style to their music. For those that say the new album is missing soul or heart, just read the lyrics. It is probably the most personal and spiritual album that the band has ever made. Do I miss Portnoy? Yes and no. I have become a massive Mike Portnoy fan in the past year, and he has been making some incredible music outside of Dream Theater – music that probably wouldn’t have been made had he still been a member of DT.
Alright, enough of my defense of Dream Theater. Their music can stand as a defense.
Act 1 of the album begins with a rocking rendition of the grammy nominated “The Enemy Inside.” We then bounce back to music from Black Clouds and Silver Linings, Falling Into Infinity, A Dramatic Turn of Events, and Dream Theater. While it is all awesome, especially enjoyable are “The Looking Glass,” “Trial of Tears,” and “Enigma Machine” (instrumental). The first two songs have clear Rush influences, with “The Looking Glass” sounding like a Rush arena rock song such as “Spirit of the Radio,” and “Trial of Tears” beginning and ending like “Xanadu.” As usual, the musicianship is in top form, and the concert gets off to a rousing start.
Act 2 begins with several songs off of 1994’s Awake album. It was really nice to hear the band play the older music, and it was interesting to hear the differences in drumming styles throughout the concert. Mangini Dream Theater is definitely heavier (in a Bonham way) than Portnoy Dream Theater. It isn’t particularly noticeable until music from across their catalogue is played together at once. The Act ends with the emergence of the Berklee College of Music Orchestra and Choir to aid in “Illumination Theory.” Wow! I’m often skeptical of orchestras and rock bands, but this combination was perfect. The melding of the band with the choir and the orchestra creates a full and beautiful sound.
The Encore consists of portions of Scenes from a Memory, on which the orchestra and choir continue to aid. I found this choice of music for the encore interesting, considering the tour was for their latest album. At the end of the show, you are left wondering if you saw a tour for Dream Theater, or DT playing some of their favorite overlooked music from the years. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering how good the show sounded as a whole.
I think my favorite part of this show is Jordan Rudess. He clearly loves what he is doing, and he is a true wizard on the keyboards. At some points, I wish he had been playing a Steinway because it would have sounded so much better and much more epic. For me, what truly distinguishes a good band from a great one is their keyboardist. What do Genesis, Yes, ELP, Queen, Muse, and Dream Theater all have in common? A pianist who can play anything from Brahms to hard metal and do it with such virtuosity as to make the most elitist music connoisseurs stand in awe.
Particularly nice is the quality of James LaBrie’s vocals. He sounds good at this show. Either he was in fantastic form, or they did a bit of adjusting in the studio… or both. Either way, it makes for a great show to watch. Whether or not he actually hit those high notes live doesn’t really matter to me since I am watching the Blu-ray, and I paid to see a great show.
My disappointment with this live show comes not from the musicianship, but from the production and mixing. Overall, the mixing is pretty good, especially for the drums. The drums sound great with surround sound – so great that you almost feel like you are sitting in the middle of the drum set. The biggest annoyance is John Myung’s bass is far too low in the mix. On the album, Dream Theater, his bass is front and center, but here he often seems to blend into the background. The overall sound still has a heavy bass feel from the combination of Myung’s bass and Mangini’s bass drums. James LaBrie’s vocals are also too low in the mix, which can make it difficult to understand what he is saying sometimes. Annoyingly, the crowd is up too high in the mix at some points, especially early on in the show.
Further disappointment comes during the middle of the Awake set, in which the editor felt it necessary to play some weird, indiscernible background image over the footage of the musicians. It makes it so that you can’t clearly see the musicians, and it pulls you out of the music. It is needlessly distracting. Other than that, the rest of the show has beautiful HD footage, from many different camera angles. What I especially like is the footage doesn’t jump around every 1/2 second (like on ACDC’s Live at River Platte concert). They give enough time to each shot before moving on. Unfortunately, John Myung is not shown nearly enough in the footage, which I don’t understand at all. Everybody else is shown quite a bit, with John Petrucci shown a lot, but not enough of Myung.
I also wish the entire Dream Theater album had been played, especially “The Bigger Picture,” my favorite song from the album. For me, an inclusion of those songs would have pushed this show over the top.
My disappointments with Breaking the Fourth Wall are rather minor, and they should not keep anyone from purchasing this album. It is probably the best live music DVD/Blu-ray/cd released this year. The music consists of a wide array of pieces from across the Dream Theater collection, and the package itself includes a nice booklet detailing everyone involved in the production of the show and tour. Dream Theater continues to show why they are the leaders of progressive metal and have been for over 20 years.