Dream Theater + Spock’s Beard – Madrid – April – 2000

It has finally happened. Spock’s Beard have arrived to Spain to delight those (few) followers of the band that met in La Riviera. Unfortunately 99% of the audience went only to see Dream Theater without being interested in the backing band. Morse realized this circumstance and offered a tremendous, direct and spectacular show.

The negative side of Spock’s Beard show was that, in spite of the fact that the concert was announced for 21.00h, they almost began one hour earlier. At that time the room only 10% full and only some lucky ones could enjoy the notes of “Day for night” and “Gibberish”, the first songs of the night. Already “Gibberish”, with the vocal games and a spectacular drum solo to four hands between D’Virgilio and Morse made clear that they were not just another band.

The weight of Spock’s Beard performance relied basically in the figure of the impressive Neal Morse that sang, played the guitar, keyboards, drums, etc., of Nick D’Virgilio to drums and voices, and of a hyperactive Ryo Okumoto at the hammond, without forgetting the bass player and guitarist that they brought for the occasion. They offered us an unforgettable recital, full with technical demonstrations that, on the contrary to that of the Theater, impacted more in the global level of group than in the exhibition of individual musicians.

Gradually the room filled up and Dream Theater fans, ignorant of the work of Beard, started to realize the impressive quality of Morse and company. At that point, Nick D’Virgilio had already showed his technique in an impressive drum solo, and we had already attended musical demonstrations from the part of three keyboard players! (Morse, Okumoto and the guitar player), and we had already felt happy thanks to Morse and Okumoto, two showmen that kept the audience enthralled with their sympathy.

After an energetic “The doorway” and an inspired instrumental led by keyboards (all) and guitar, “June” was the beautiful and melancholic moment of the night in which the heavies with T-shirts of Blind Guardian got really bored. But, hey!, who is that guy with a mask of Gene Simmons(Kiss) that comes to play drums?. People cheer up a little more and the delirium possesses the masses when the masked drummer takes off the mask and we discover the godlike Mike Portnoy. Unfortunately that was the biggest ovation until that moment of the whole show. To show their quality, Spock’s Beard then unleashed a whole version of “The Light” in which they convinced the audience with an exhibition of prog rock and entertainment. The different parts of the suite went on and the degree of interactivity between the band and the audience increased. Even a technical problem when the acoustic guitar of Morse did not sound in the riff of “Mr. Valasco´s mystic voodoo love dance” was the source of a nice professional detail: Ryo changed his support work into a small improvised solo during which Morse presented him to the audience. In the same way, a while later Okumoto played a hammond solo that pulled up a deafening ovation of the audience, as he pushed the hammond he twisted himself, jumped, etc. in kind of a samurai version of Keith Emerson. It is amazing that we saw him asleep a couple of hours before while we interviewed Neal. The end of the concert was the delirium, with Morse knowing that he had gotten hundreds of new fans and with people wondering who the hell were those five musicians of the backing group.

Definitively Spock’s Beard do not deserve the role of a backing group, neither of Dream Theateror of anyone else. Spock’s Beard has its own personality, an impressive quality level, a lot of sympathy and simplicity (Petrucci and company should learn). If we speak about sensations, Spock’s Beard 1 – Dream Theater 0. Be careful with the Beard, they are like the long distance runner that seems to be very, very far away from the leaders of the race, but that at the end passes everyone to win the race

Everybody knew how Dream Theater’s performance was going to be as for its content, being the tour of a conceptual album. First they interpreted the full version of their last work “Metropolis II: Scenes from a Memory”, followed by a encore in which we heard a little bit of everything. Our deception came because of the playing itself.

The conceptual part can only be criticized from the point of view of the concert, as the CD is there to judge it as for concept, originality, etc… that is to say, the same satisfaction provided (or not) by the compositions of the studio release are the same you will get in concert. The problem is that an album like this needs two factors to succeed in a live concert: show, heat and/or both things together. The Theatre did not succeed in any. Regarding the show, even if Mike Portnoy is already a showman himself, he was only supported by two video screens in which some bucolic scenes were shown, as well as old pictures about the murder axis of the story and a nice lightshow. The club did not allow for more, even if DT would have been happy to shatter an airplane against the stage. But the most important thing is that the musical side was also a failure. The execution was impeccable, superb, but the music was dead. That was the surprise. The first time that we saw them in concert – two years ago in the “Infinity Tour” – Dream Theater bursts with energy, power and feeling: they sounded like themselves. Last April 18, everything was too controlled , surprisingly slow and we had the suspicion that the sequencers and the unavoidable claques had the blame. They gave the sensation that they were tired; that they have arrived at such a great technical level that they are bored. On the contrary of what James Labrie affirms, it seems that they are out of ideas or those they have make them tired. There was a couple of moments in which the show was a little more energetic, but they were thrifty As an example a brief duet between Rudess-Petrucci with lyrical airs, a Pink Floyd touch at the end of “Through her eyes” and the impeccable drum solo that concludes the album in the hands (and the feet) of Mr. Portnoy. By the way, although Jordan Rudess is an excellent keyboard player his solo (it seems that everyone has to play a solo in live concerts) had too much technology to be admired. Petrucci is an excellent guitarist that has one of the most precise techniques at the present, with an outstanding control. The same thing happens to Portnoy in his instrument, although he offers a very presumptuous image, with disproportionate drums in size, layout, height… He spits, sings, screams, strolls around the scenario -with and without a Kiss mask-… and he lacks charisma or sympathy. It is clearly seen that Petrucci and mainly Portnoy are the bosses. To listen to John Myung’s bass was a Herculean task and Rudess only appeared for the solos. James Labrie fortunately is learning how to control himself and his “heavy” shouts appear less and less frequently.

In summary, it is difficult to discern if “Scenes from a Memory” sounds or not with more power in direct that in the CD.

The encore was stronger and, certainly, more amusing, reminding from the more charismatic Dream Theater. With a more metallic sound – and Dream Theater’s error is that they want to sound less metal, more sophisticated-, based mainly on the time of “Images & words”. It was a mix for three quarters of an hour of Black Sabbath (“Heaven & Hell”), Kiss (“Love Gun”), and Dream Theater, the true ones, although still quite boring: “Peruvian Skies”, “Erotomania” -brilliant-, “Pull me under” – for the pleasure of the heavies -, “Under a glass Moon”, “Fortune in Lies”. We also heard a reminder of Liquid Tension Experiment -in which Portnoy put on Ace Frehley’s mask, several IUF (instrumental unidentified fragments). to finish the concert with “Take the time” in which we heard the expected shrieks of James Labrie, and the best thing: while Petrucci played at two thousand notes per second and we all waited for the final explosion, Mr. Neal Morse showed at the drums to support the theater. Certainly moving.

Nobody doubts of the professional attitude, maybe excessive, or the academic technique of the New York band. The five Theater knew that they were going to succeed ahead of the show. They gave what their fans wanted exactly and the lesson that a hundred of drums, guitar, bass and keyboards players were expecting. The only negative is maybe the indifference in front of the public, an indifference that, even in the moments more “emotive” seemed to be too forced. In the same way, they should realize that a concert is not a clinic and that a ear-shattering drums sound is not the key for a better show- there were moments in which if Myung and Rudess had left the stage to drink a beer nobody would have noticed.

Dream Theater are beginning to suffer from the question of: is this necessary at all? Nobody doubts their enormous potential and their capacity like instrumentalists. Looking to the future we still can have some hope but in their desire for investigation they are losing personality, they cling to influences that they do not need to show (we all have wanted to construct the wall) and certainly -having in mind the concert side- they appear to be bored. For the first time I make myself clear in a review because I want it to be known that I have always liked Dream Theater a lot. But I know the history of progressive reasonably well and I believe that its meaning is not the constant imitation, a plague of our days in which the band has fallen, as so many others.

To conclude, something very important that should be cut short, and never better said… how is it possible that in the most important concert hall in Madrid there is a bar with three enormous palm trees that hinder and difficult the vision of all those located in the upper floor?. This is not what the first-rate concert hall in Madrid is supposed to offer. To the valiant progVisionaire that cuts the palm trees, we would happily take a gift to his prison.