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Dweezil Zappa (Zappa Plays Zappa) @ The Tower Theater, Fresno CA 05/03/17

The first Frank Zappa song I ever head was “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow.” I was attending college at the time and broadening my musical horizons. This introduction to the Zappa Universe was thanks to a certain infamous file sharing program. The first time I heard this bizarre, hysterical and musically acrobatic “song,” I think I stared at my computer screen and blinked, not knowing what the hell just happened. I dove into this music thanks to the likes of Steve Vai, Warren Cuccurullo and Dream Theater. And any song that begins with “Dreamed I was an Eskimo” had to be crazy special and deviously clever. It was, and it was merely a preview of the eccentric brilliance that was out there in the Zappa catalogue. Several purchases later and a couple chance encounters with Mike Keneally and Steve Vai (a Martin Guitar Clinic and NAMM appearance), I found myself itching to somehow experience Zappa’s music in a live setting. Behold, Zappa Plays Zappa is born, brainchild of Dweezil Zappa.

This leg of the tour was in part a celebration of the Freak Out! album and entitled “50 Years of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants – The Cease and Desist Tour.” The name of the tour is a response to the trademark dispute that has occurred between Dweezil Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust (Ahmet Zappa/Executor). The trust ordered that Dweezil cease using the “Zappa Plays Zappa” moniker and to cease using images of his father, Frank Zappa, on all merchandizing. The details of this dispute can be found elsewhere and it’s a very sad read. Frank Zappa passed away in 1993 and left a mountain of a musical legacy behind. He was regarded as a genius, an avant-garde innovator that was never afraid to break the rules. He was also one hell of a guitar player. Dweezil Zappa has carried on this legacy by presenting the music of Frank Zappa at his live shows. It is only fitting that Dweezil, an accomplished guitarist in his own right, honor that heritage and with stellar musicians, many of whom were part of incarnations of Frank’s touring bands. For this touring cycle, the group would present selections including songs from Freak Out!, the debut album by The Mothers of Invention, Frank Zappa’s first rock combo.

The Freak Out! tracks are the wackiest, and yet some of the most brilliant music pieces you’ll ever experience. It didn’t sound like anything that was around at the time and still doesn’t sound like anything that’s out now. It’s freaky, complex, intricate, fun, jazzy, zany, it grooves, it boogies, it rocks, it sways, and it’s just one giant amalgamation of bizarre sound and eccentric brilliance. The vocals dart from spoken word narration, to lounge singing, to doo-wop, to soulful crooning, and on and on and on. It’s madness. But there’s something amazingly entertaining and musical about it. Only a certain breed of power musicians can pull off this crazy, impossible to play music with heart AND expert precision. The current line-up is no exception. They’re like musical super heroes. The Zappa musicians have always been untouchable players and unusual characters: Odd, weird, funky, freaky, cool, but above all…freaking geniuses. And at the core of this line up is a mellow and low-key guitarist in jeans and a black V-neck, armed with a gentle smile and a Gibson SG. There’s a calmness and serenity to Dweezil when he’s onstage, it’s spellbinding watching him, seeing him lay down his parts with nurturing care, then seeing how he glances over at his bandmates with equal parts pride and a quiet joy.

Zappa Plays Zappa is no stranger to Fresno. Fortunately for us, the group has performed in this area once or twice previously. Kudos to the group and booking agents for not forsaking our little neck of the woods. From the moment the group came onstage we knew we were in for an unmatched experience, variety and virtuosity. From the netherworldly bounce of “Transylvania Boogie,” to the vocal hilarity and madness of “It Can’t Happen Here,” the soulful “How Could I Be Such a Fool?” to the creepy waltz of “Who Are the Brain Police?,” it was an insanely wild roller coaster ride. During a pause, many in the audience began shouting song titles. Someone shouted “Watermelon!” Dweezil with a playful smirk said something like “Requests? You’ know what we’re gonna do? We’re gonna stick to the fucking setlist, that’s what we’re gonna do,” and the group powered on. David Luther on lead vocals, guitar, keys, and bary sax, was an eerily perfect match for this group. That deep voice is a striking resemblance to Ike Willis, Napoleon Murphy Brock and Frank Zappa’s vocal style. “It Can’t Happen Here” is a great example of that zany vocal delivery. “What Will This Evening Bring Me This Morning?” saw vocalists Cian Coey and Scheila Gonzalez harmonize and sing the hell out of that song. It was an exercise in power soul. The set had transitioned from Freak Out! era tracks to 200 Motels. And then the band reduced itself to a power trio, with Dweezil, Ryan Brown and Kurt Morgan ripping into a bitchin’ version of “Apostrophe,” the title track of the same album. You could feel and hear the great Jim Gordon and Jack Bruce in their playing. Bassist, Kurt Morgan, was awesome to watch. His facial expressions, nonverbals, mannerisms, his movements onstage. The way he curled his lips and bobbed his head when he locked into a tight, thunderous groove. And damn, no one, I mean NO ONE can rock cargo shorts and orange socks like that man. Throughout the concert, Kurt was playing insane bass parts, singing backgrounds, AND having an incredibly euphoric time while doing it. You could see the musical joy on that man’s face. And the way he played that bass during “Apostrophe,” I’m amazed those strings didn’t fuse onto the fretboard with all the kinetic energy and heat going on. About drumming power-house Ryan Brown, wow, everyone in this group has a legacy of big shoes to fill. The drummers in all the Zappa groups have always had the distinction of being an “it” guy, drummer’s drummers. One has to continue a legacy built upon and including Jimmy Carl Black, Ansley Dunbar, Vinnie Colaiuta, Terry Bozzio, Ed Mann, Chester Thompson, Chad Wackerman and Joe Travers. Bottom line, the drummer had better be a bad ass drummer. Ryan was able to easily channel the spirits of all the Zappa alums that came before him, and laid down a kicking groove while keeping all the intricacies and nuances needed to pull off those complex parts. And then there’s the striking Scheila Gonzalez, who can’t be a real person.She has to be some kind of musical virtuoso android fem-bot sent from the future. She’s an accomplished, award winning multi-instrumentalist, able to play flute, sax, keys, and sing like her life depended on it. She possesses a powerful voice, husky and throaty, and it gels well with Cian Coey’s raspy yet soulful diva vocals. Main keyboard player and violinist Chris Norton brought it all together, gluing the group together and anchoring it with complex leads and great background singing as well. KILLER line-up. At one point during the set, Dweezil made reference to these songs, the bizarre qualities of the music and how it all must have freaked out parents in the 60s. Dweezil expressed “This isn’t music from the past, it’s music from the future. We just haven’t caught up with it yet.” The group continued to faithfully execute pieces like “Inca Roads,” “Zomby Woof,” “Doreen/You Are What You Is,” “Keep It Greasy,” “Packard Goose,” and of course the lovely and tender closer to Joe’s Garage (and my biggest reason for attending this concert), “Watermelon in Easter Hay.” It gently murmurs its way into the world, delicate and dreamy, with a guitar tone that borders between space rock and surf rock (think of Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk”). I have this deeply sentimental connection to that song. When I think of that melody, I think of my young kids, and snapshots of the joy and color of their growing up comes to mind, I’m not sure why. The song is regarded by many, including Dweezil, as Frank Zappa’s greatest guitar solo. There are several videos showing a composed yet emotional Dweezil Zappa, performing that song with great care and reverence as tears roll down his face. I think this Fresno gig had him just as nostalgic. Side note: Duran Duran performed a version of this song during a 1994 New York City concert, with Warren Cuccurullo on guitar (a Zappa alumnus, kind of young, kind of wow). The show continued with encores and the final closer, “Muffin Man.” This was an insanely great concert, performed by master musicians. It deepened my appreciation for Zappa’s brand of weird but devastatingly awesome music. I’m so fortunate I was able to see these guys close to home. If you have even the slightest inclination to go see this group, please do, you won’t regret it. Just watch out where the huskies go.


Dream Theater @ The Fox, Oakland CA 05/07/16

I hadn’t been this close to the stage since the Touring Into Infinity Shows back in 1998. To say that I was geeking out would be an understatement. We had seats at stage right, between Petrucci’s and Labrie’s positions. We sat down in disbelief, we were in the 5th row and I seriously considered pinching myself. A fan made his way ahead of us and said a cheeky “man, these seats suck!” We cracked up, mock agreeing with the statement. We looked up, behind, and all around. We couldn’t help but marvel at the lovely, ornate facades inside the Fox. It was a majestic house and probably the nicest venue my friend and I had ever encountered. It shined. This venue was rich with history and culture. It stood out like a little jewel in the odd mix of buildings in downtown Oakland. It was a cool venue and very appropriate for the band’s ‘production.’ This album, The Astonishing, was akin to a play, the way the story unfolded and the manner in which the music was formatted. The music dripped with classical references and operatic vocals. It was heavy with piano, strings and acoustic guitar. The group even utilized the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra for parts of the album and bagpipes are featured in “The X-Aspect.” Vocalist James Labrie performed multiple roles and sang in character, changing his tone and delivery accordingly. For the live show, the group employed slender, cascading video screens that brought the story to life in CG form while the band performed. The light show was elaborate and helped to give the visual story on screen more drama and spatial effects. Add a venue appropriate for a Broadway production and you have THEE rock opera. The group is called Dream Theater, after all. If I had to criticize anything it was the confusing audience configuration.

This was a seated gig, including the pit area (again, like a play). And as the gig progressed, it was hard to figure out what kind of behavior was appropriate at this kind of show. Can I hoot and holler like a standard DT gig? Can I be all raised fisted and devil horned? Can we stand up…at least during the aggressive and heavy parts?? It was hard to figure out how to support our group. It wasn’t until “Hymn of a Thousand Voices” that we were prompted to stand. Throughout the set, James and John would periodically approach the edge of the stage and they encouraged a response from the crowd, but what kind of response? We went crazy (as much as we could) while seated, but it was weird and limiting in frustrating way. Although I hadn’t been too exposed to the new material, it was still an excellent concert. It was vastly different from the previous tours and there was the complete absence of older material, but it was still a compelling and entertaining show. As a fan, stamina and patience are definitely needed if you’re still not familiar with all 2 hours of new material. A portion of fans have decried this tour because of the exclusive focus on the new. I’m still not sure how people missed the memo, but it was always my understanding that this tour would feature the new material only, in its entirety. Fans living under a rock and expecting “Pull Me Under” would be sorely disappointed. This reminds of the Tales From Topographic Oceans Tour that Yes put on in 73/74. I for one enjoyed the focus of this tour, but truthfully I’m spoiled in that I’ve attended over a dozen shows on previous tours – I can see how the DT concert newbie would be frustrated at the current set. Performance-wise, each band member was in excellent form, but what’s new? Hands-down, the performer of the night had to be vocalist, James Labrie. James was on his game. Labrie isn’t just another metal singer. He’s a melodic singer with classical voice training, incredible lung capacity and a diverse tonal palette. Vocally, the new album is like a marathon. It’s two hours of demanding vocal acrobatics. Labrie is all over the place on that album, crooning and sighing on delicate ballads and gradually brining up the energy and on the anthems and heavy rockers, all while changing his delivery and approach to stay in keeping with the individual characters of the story, including a woman (Faythe) and a young boy (Xander). It’s like he pulled out everything in his bag of tricks. And Labrie executed the parts live, pacing himself and heading back for sips of hot water and honey throughout the show. One of Labrie’s recurring criticisms, especially pre 2012, has been his grating tone when singing/shrieking in the upper registers. However, the last couple albums including The Astonishing have seen vocals lines that appear to be written to better accommodate Labrie’s midrange – upper midrange register, what I consider the creamy spectrum of his tone, smooth and rich sounding. Backing vocals were piped in during some of the songs to flesh out the harmonies. Petrucci has a microphone set up so he can contributing backing vox, but I’m not sure how much of him we’re actually hearing.

The light show and video screens augmented the music in an awesome way. It wasn’t exactly like there was a movie playing in the background while the band performed. But it was just enough to pull the listener in and help to visually deliver the story that is The Astonishing, a geeky mash-up of all dystopian sci-fi stories imagineable (just think Star Wars, Hunger Games, The Hand Maiden’s Tale…and 2112, all thrown into a blender), but fun nonetheless. My favorite moment of the show was the triumphant “Our New World,” a grooving anthem that will MAKE you join in on choruses. It’s one of DT’s most concise songs ever, flying over in just under 4 minutes and featuring some of John Petrucci’s finest soloing, and in a 7 beat…at least I think it’s a 7 beat. All in all, it was a different but very good concert. Now that the group would listen to me, but I’d make changes regarding the seating configuration. While I can see why the seated arrangement up front was used, I think it takes away from the crowd energy and just confuses a hell of a lot of people. And now imagine if they added an encore. I think a fitting closer would be “A Change of Seasons.” The group would probably pass out by show’s end…

Sebastian Bach (The Voice of Skid Row) @ Strummer’s, Fresno CA 04/25/15

This was no Micky Mouse, half-assed gig for the black hole that is the Central Valley (sorry fellow valley peeps, I think I’m referring mainly to Porterville). THIS was a true rock show. The energy coming from Baz was relentless. The man was head banging so ferociously, I thought he was going to give himself whiplash or a concussion or something. He came to Fresno to kick our asses and melt our faces off. The steam and sweat was proof of that. Strummers was mostly full and the heat increased as the set continued. The audience was LOUD and rowdy at times. Baz stopped the second song due to a scuffle in the crowd. He gave the signal to kill the song and immediately confronted the two brawlers stage left. Baz called them out, shouting “if you came here to fight then GET THE FUCK OUT!!! GET THE FUCK OUT!!! And the crowd joined in on the chant, while Bobby Jarzombek pounded out a BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM on the floor tom, in time with “GET THE FUCK OUT!” Despite the fight and a couple other would be scuffles, the show was a positive, fun and exciting event. Baz was very personable with crowd. He was talkative, funny, and as candid as a musical celebrity can get. After the first couple numbers, Baz spoke to the crowd and reminisced about the last time he was in Fresno. He said “I can’t remember the last time I was in Fresno..why??? Because we were so fucked up!” Baz went on to say the last time he stopped in Fresno was a Skid Row support slot for Aerosmith. He asked “Who was at that Aerosmith show?” Half the crowd raised their hands. “That means there’s some old motherfuckers in here!”

The ceiling is low at Strummer’s. Early in the set, Baz twirled the mic a’la Roger Daltry, and it hit the overheard girders in the process. Baz winced for second, then regained the mic as well as his composure very quickly. The set was brief, but I have to give the man credit for showcasing quite a bit of Skid Row material. And only a couple songs were featured from the new solo album. I’m happy that Sebastian Bach hasn’t denied his history and let ego drive the set, filling it with mostly solo material. The audience footage found on youtube is not an accurate representation of the live show, those fan videos simply don’t do the group justice. No matter what kind of camera phone you have, you will always record shitty audio, I don’t see why people bother with holding up their phones, trying to film complete songs. From the footage I’ve seen, the vocals and instrumentation can sound weak at times with no definition. People have complained about pitchy, out of breath vocals. While Baz does take moments to catch his breath, the vocal performance was pretty damn good at the Fresno gig, and I only had 2 beers. He executed the highs and took me back to the original studio recordings, hair raising parts and all. I was bugging out, seeing him do those vocal runs and hitting the high parts. Audience response was very strong and Baz was feeding off of it. Quite a few Skid Row tracks were performed including “Slave to the Grind,” “Big Guns,” “The Threat,” “Youth Gone Wild,” “18 and Life,” “I Remember You,” “Monkey Business” and my favorite track, “In a Darkened Room.” The group teased us with a few bars of “Peace of Me” before stopping abruptly and easing into “18 and Life.” “Monkey Business” featured an ass-kicking partial cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” with Bobby laying down his drum parts just like Neil Peart, including the ‘cream your pants’ rapid drum fills during the breakdown. That part really got us going.

About the backing band, Kevin Chown is the current bassist for Baz’s solo group. He’s got an impressive resume including Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats, Tarja and guitar wizard Tony Macalpine. The dude’s in his 40s but looked like some 18 year old kid onstage. He laid down the bass grooves well but nothing to write home about. Devin Bronson on guitar is just as accomplished if not more so, having played on recordings or tours with Demi Lovato, Kelly Osbourne, David Cook, Theory of a Dead Man, and P!nk, amongst others. Strangely enough, Bronson was the only guitarist onstage, covering lead and rhythm duties, which made some passages sound a bit minimalist and bare at times. Where the heck was Johnny Chromatic? Even with such accomplished, seasoned side men, the backing band was very underwhelming, save for Bobby Jarzombek’s thunderous drum work (ok, so I’m biased about drummers). Bobby’s resume is more bitchin’ than Bronson’s or Chown’s! Bobby has played with Iced Earth, Fates Warning and freakin’ Rob Halford. He also turned down the Dream Theater audition back in 2010. Jarzambek’s playing is technical and precise without sound busy our douchey. He’s also more heavy handed, putting a lot of power behind his strokes, including his pedal work on the kick drums. The band played well as a unit, but I expected some fireworks. In hindsight, maybe fireworks would have detracted from the front man’s delivery.The songs went over very well, and the single guitarist was enough but it would have been nice to hear the songs fleshed out with a second guitarist. Great, affordable show, and extremely happy to have seen another one of the metal greats.

Save to the Grind
Hell Inside My Head
The Threat
Big Guns
Piece of Me/18 & Life
American Metalhead
Tunnel Vision
In a Darkened Room
Monkey Business

I Remember You
All My Friends Are Dead
Youth Gone Wild






Dream Theater @ The Warfield, San Francisco CA 04/17/14

F#CKYAMOTHERF%CKER!!!  Yes, that about sums up that whole gig. This show was THE show for me, not just another Dream Theater show, but a grande once in a livetime event not to be missed, pun intended. I was loving the new record, the self titled album. This album made me excited to be a DT fan again, made me excited to listen to the new songs, digest and pick them apart, but more immediately – they were touching, uplifting anthems that I joyously sang along to (in addition to playing air drums and air guitar). Songs like “The Looking Glass,” “The Bigger Picture,” “The Enemy Inside” and “Along for the Ride” were constantly on my brain, even after listening to the tracks in my car or on the MP3 player. I haven’t been this excited about a Dream Theater release since Train of Thought back in 2004. The new songs were technical masterworks of course, but they also had so much heart. The songs were compelling and they had this great staying power. The mix was astounding. There was no annoying compression often associated with “heavy” music. The music was atmospheric and there was a sense of space. It reminded me so much of the atmospherics present on the AWAKE album, much of that is owed to Kevin Moore I think. The sound on the new record was wide open, natural, and very refreshing. Mike Mangini’s toms were practically singing. They literally jumped out of the speakers with clarity, punch and tone. John Petrucci’s guitar playing was brilliant as ever, but there was a new kind of discipline and restraint to his playing…it was supportive and very song-driven, and best of all, it was emotional playing. Jordan Rudess’ keyboard parts weren’t so in your face and obnoxious, sorry JR fans. They also had a class and refinement to them that was more in keeping with early DT…atmospheric and very artistic. And regarding John Myung’s bass playing…well, you could actually hear John Myung!!! JM’s bass parts are almost always buried under the other instruments. On the new album you could hear JM in all his glory. The man is a SICK bass player, a great riff writer and master musician. Lastly, the greatest kudos have to go to vocalist James LaBrie, who sounded golden on this album. Previously plagued with vocal cord issues, LaBrie finally had his power and range restored post 2004. The best example of his vocal ability is documented on the 2005 DVD, Score. The guys were in the zone with this new album. I was itching to see this band in concert again. The last tour was ok but lacked that uber level of awesomeness. This time, not only was I digging the new album (REALLY digging it), but I decided to fork over some extra cash for the Platinum VIP experience – a coveted opportunity for fans to actually meet the group, take a photo and have some beloved items autographed. And for the first time in 8 or so years, the group would once again utilize the “Evening With..” format which meant two sets with an intermission. That amounted to close to 3 hours of ass kicking, face melting live DT. If that wasn’t bitchin’ enough, this particular tour marked not one, but two special occasions for the group. 2014 would see the 20 year and 15 year anniversaries of the immortal AWAKE and Scenes From a Memory albums, respectively. AWAKE was a masterwork and deeply personal to me – it made me pick up the phone and order my first drum kit. SFAM was just as monumental. That particular album was a triumphant return to form after the poorly received Falling Into Infinity album. SFAM was also the first DT record with Jordan Rudess handling the keyboard duties and many would argue that it revitalized DT’s career. And as John Petrucci hinted in an interview with Liquid Metal DJ Jose Mangin, the anniversaries meant some special performances for the current tour. I was giddy and eagerly anticipated this tour. This will be a lengthy write up, so let’s begin with my arrival at the venue and VIP experience.

Cutting it Close/VIP – This was the first time ever that I bought into the supposed “VIP experience.” I rather ignorantly mocked those who paid large sums of money to briefly encounter their musical heroes up close and personal. Yes, it was jealousy. This time there was plenty of justification for the cost and I had some extra cash leftover from the holidays. The price tag was $250 and the ticket itself was a $50 GA ticket, built into the price. My actual GA ticket arrived first via standard mail. I was a little nervous, as there were no instructions included about the pre-show VIP process. I emailed CrowdSurge and they promptly responded, assuring me that an email with specific instructions would be sent a week or so before show date. That email did arrive, and it directed platinum VIPers to arrive early, no later than 5:15pm for check in. They were very specific and insistent that late comers would not be allowed inside. Yikes. I had to make the drive from Central California and decided to get a room in Gilroy, a sleepy and picturesque little farming town about an hour south of San Francisco. I didn’t want to stay in the city, I just have bad luck whenever I stick around in San Fran (the venue was in a less than desireable area), plus the rooms were cheaper south of San Fran and San Jose. Unfortunately I arrived in Gilroy later than I had wanted. I was getting nervous and hoped the remainder of the drive would be a breeze. I checked into my room then continued on to San Fran. And wouldn’t you know it, the one hour drive turned into a painfully slow two hour drive, and I rolled into the parking lot behind the venue at 5:13pm! Parking in this area is expensive and I quickly handed over the $25. I scurried to the front of the venue on Market Street and quickly found the VIP line, a collection of about 80 or so fans waiting to be let inside.

Check in begins 10 minutes later and we slowly enter the grand Warfield, a noble theater with a rich history. While the exterior of the venue is rather unassuming, the interior had a touch of class about it. It was very charming and had a historical air to it – I looked up and marveled at the high ceilings, regal drapery and gold embellishments. It’s a 2300 seater originally built in the 1920s. Legendary promoter Bill Graham converted the venue into a proper concert hall in the 70s and it’s been a world renowned institution for live music ever since. We enter the lobby area and we are afforded first dibs at the merch table.  We wait and chat with one another and marvel at all the framed concert posters of all the artists that have graced the Warfield’s stage. They were the premium posters with custom artwork, vibrant and rich with color and individually numbered. Artists like Deftones, The Killers, Faith No More, Prince, Rancid, Jane’s Addiction, Pearl Jam, George Clinton and countless others covered the lobby walls. The Warfield staff were on it. They were courteous, professional, and very thorough. The VIP staff were also on their game, quite busy and dutifully facilitating things along. I have to say thanks to the talkative staffer that shared her chocolate chip cookies with me, yum 🙂  All I had to eat that afternoon was a snickers, so the cookies were a welcomed treat. As we waited I found out that the couple behind me were from Fresno. A Visalia native myself, I said hello and we swapped some concert stories. The guys directly in front of me were also friendly and talkative, we anxiously awaited meeting the group and we wondered how the meet and greet would go down. The staff were very interactive. One of the main staffers asked everyone about their very first concert experience. Sure enough, we had a Backstreet Boys concert goer in the VIP line lol. Fun game to keep us occupied. We waited a long while. Fittingly enough, 6 o Clock rolled around and the meet & greet began. DT emerged from a set of doors at the end of the lobby. They were greeted to spirited cheers and hollers. The line proceeded down to a curtained area with the band on the other side. One by one, fans were quickly ushered in for a picture. It was a very controlled process. A staffer was the lone photographer, no personal cell phones or cameras could be used. A week later we would be able to access our photo online. I quickly swooped in between keyboard player Jordan Rudess and drummer Mike Mangini. Jordan said something along the lines of “Get in here, man, don’t be shy.” I briefly said hello to the group and for the sake of efficiency, quickly made my way in and out of the picture opportunity. I said thank you and some quick goodbyes to the band members.

The next phase of the meet and greet involved returning to the end of the line, this time with items to be autographed by the group. There was a 2 item limit, much to the disappointment of some guys that brought multiple items like CDs, DVDs and drum heads. I selected my hard ticket as well as the complimentary poster for signatures. I made my way back to the band members who were seated at a table. The fans were to lay their items down on bassist John Myung’s side, and the items would work their way down to each band member in assembly-line fashion. At this point I was able to get in a few words with each of the band members. John Myung was extremely quiet, briefly making eye contact with me and saying hello. I was polite, conscientious, and tried not to act like a little bitch. Vocalist James LaBrie had to be the most outgoing of the group members as he continued to jabber with the guy who went before me. As he signed my items, I quickly told him about my first concert experience which took place in San Francisco at the Maritime Hall in 1998. I said “James, I was in the front row and you grabbed my hand so hard it was red…but it was AWESOME. I LOVED IT. So thank you!” James looked at me and seemed puzzled. “Really? I did that? Were you holding a drink??” We all had a laugh and I said “Umm I don’t think I was old enough to drink then…” Then Mike Mangini had a grin from ear to ear and said “Are you nowww???”  We laughed some more and I said that was sweet and thank you. It wasn’t very much, but I was happy and it was positive. As I walked away I thanked John Petrucci and wished him an excellent performance. He looked me in the eye and said “Thank you, sir, thank you very much.” It was brief, but cool nonetheless.

The Show/Set 1– We were instructed to hang around the lobby near the merch table and concessions area. We were told that we would be let into the hall first, then the rest of the house would come through the main entrance at 7pm. I used the downtime before doors opened to stow away my goodies at the Coat Check downstairs. What a life saver for 2 bucks. Didn’t have to worry about protecting my items like a prized football during the show. I also bought a beer and a hotdog, quite yummy actually! It came time for the VIP peeps to be allowed inside the hall. We politely walked in and I immediately went for the pit area. I came to the realization that I didn’t want to stand directly underneath a speaker truss for three hours. I remembered this would be a long show so I chose an elevated spot right up against a barrier. I got to meet this cool guy named Ken and his teenage son Josh. We immediately struck up conversation about music, gigs, NAMM, the death of the “deal” at Guitar Center, other artists we’ve met, etc. As we talked amongst ourselves, the hall quickly filled up. I was amazed how packed the venue was. We were shoulder to shoulder, and the ushers had a time diligently and politely redirecting fans to the allowed zones, i.e. off the steps and out of the isles. By the time the show actually started, I would have believed it if I was told the show was oversold! There were that many people in attendance and we were packed like sardines in the GA area. During the show, clusters of fans continued to approach the pit area, only to give up and return to their original positions or they were denied by the ushers.

As far as the crowd goes, there was a great diversity to the audience. There were plenty of younger peeps with more recent tour shirts as well as the veteran fans with their Waking up the World 94-95 tour shirts. I had a shirt just like that, but I wore the damn thing out 😦 It was also cool to see the love for other groups, several fans sported tour shirts by Opeth, Mastodon, Queensryche, Van Halen, AC/DC, Metallica, and of course, RUSH. Finally, 8pm rolled around the the intro video began. The crowd was LOUD, very energetic and participatory. We witnessed a very well made film/animation that showcased the evolution of the band by presenting iconic album artwork from each release. Each visual then morphed to visual elements of every DT album in their catalog, culminating with the new album. Each “era” brought spirited cheers from the crowd. The pretaped “False Awakening Suite” begins, ultimately leading the crushing opener, “The Enemy Inside.” It’s a high energy, brutal opener, and it was fittingly followed by “Shattered Fortress” off of Black Clouds & Silver Linings (and part V of Mike Portnoy’s 12 Steps Suite). I’m not the biggest fan of “Shattered Fortress,” however what makes it unique is that it is thematic continuation of “This Dying Soul” and “The Glass Prison,” metallic classics off the Train of Thought and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence albums. These first two selections had the crowd rabid, screaming for more. The entire pit area was captive and enthralled. Heart rates were racing, fists were raised toward the ceiling, and devil horns littered the GA area. “On the Backs of Angels” continued this theme, then the upbeat RUSHesque anthem “The Looking Glass” began, greeted with cheers of approval. That track is killer. It has a lot in common with RUSH songs on Permanent Waves – uptempo, uplifting and filled with melodic, emotional phrasing. Think of the mood and vibe on RUSH’s “Free Will” and “Entre Nous,” the same elements are found in DT’s “The Looking Glass,” only amped up, DT style. That intro is awesome: superb riffing from John Petrucci and eye popping drumming from Mangini. The rolls on those high toms leapt out at you. James was in fine form, nailing the demanding sections and delicately soaring on the chorus, then gradually building up. Fans sang along including myself. The chorus begins and James sings with a delicate delivery…”You are caught up in the graaaavityyyy…” James was a powerhouse during this show. The man has done an excellent job taking care of himself and preserving his voice. He jogs several miles a day, goes to bed early and doesn’t drink alcohol, or so I’ve read. The band performed the songs flawlessly and with passion and power. The mix was unbelievably clear and even, it’s as if this venue was made for this kind of music. I didn’t research the tour like I usually do and had no idea what would be played. I was shocked to witness “Enigma Machine” performed in its entirely and perfectly! The song was adorned by a brief but brutal drum solo by Mangini, showcasing his sticking speed, cross body rolls and melodic patterns on the overhead E-drums. I along with the rest of the audience wwere floored by his ability. “Trial of Tears” off of Falling into Infinity was next and it was played in a complete, unabridged fashion. It was very cool seeing Mangini pull this song off with his own personal embellishments and nuances. I love this track because it has a lot in common with the newer material, and it showcases the brilliant lyric writing of bassist John Myung. All lyrics written by Myung are golden. As for the vocals, James substituted some of the lyrics during the chorus, omitting the New York reference by singing “It’s raining, raining..on the streets of San Franciscooo, it’s raining…” prompting cheers from the crowd. Next was the the magical power ballad “Along for the Ride” which has become a favorite of mine, and I think it effectively replaced “The Spirt Carries On” as the new emotional show-stopper. And once again, James’ singing is wonderful on this track. You couldn’t help but sing along, especially the chorus sections. The closer for set one was “Breaking All Illusions” off of A Dramatic Turn of Events. It’s a powerful closer and it was used in the same fashion during the previous tour. And so set one came to a riveting close and we were thirsty for more. Kudos to the band for having the first set consist of mainly newer material, post 2009. It was very, very well received and the crowd loved it. I avoided spoilers for this tour and had no idea what would be played during set two. The band took a 15 minute break and we were treated to a hilarious collection of youtube videos and tributes, all related to DT, including the awesome action figure animations, various covers, dubbed interviews, Plastica’s cover of Erotomania using toy instruments as well as the hilarious “Triangle Guy” parody.

The Show/Set 2 – The last portion of the very entertaining intermission video was wrapping up. The stage was dark and band took their places once again. And then the dark magic happened…JP immediately ripps into the sinister, bone crushing riff to “The Mirror” \m/\m/ The guys pummeled us with a superb version of the song, complete and faithful to the studio original, with Mangini laying down those signature drum parts with ease. JP provided the low, growling like vocals during the pre-verses: TEMMMP-TAAY-SHUNN. I was never fond of the way Mike Portnoy delivered those vocals. JP’s delivery was closer to the studio original. Jordan’s patches were also very much in keeping to Kevin Moore’s original parts. I was freaking out, hearing and seeing this song the way it’s meant to be played. Fists were pumping, heads were banging, and much of the crowd sang those words as if it was second nature. James’ singing was great. He had that acidic quality to the vocal delivery and soared above the dark instrumentation during the choruses and bridge. The bludgeoning didn’t stop there. As the group laid down the outro to “The Mirror,” just like what’s found on record, without missing a beat the band tore into “Lie” and the crowd roared. We were practically transported back to the Waking Up the World Tour. On record, “The Mirror” and “Lie” can be thought of as the same track with several movements and recurring themes. The one-two combo hasn’t been played regularly since the mid-90s. It’s a ferocious combo, heavy but with a groove that was undeniable. I dare you not to headbang or groove to those songs. We shouted out the chorus section, “DON’T..TELLLL…MEEE…YOU WAAAANTED MEEE…DON’T TELLL MEEEE, YOU THOUGHT OF MEEEE. I WOOOOON’T…I SWEAAAARRR I WOOOOON’T!!!” I kid you not, it was just like those 1998 gigs I attended, the same exhileration, the same intensity and power, and the feeling of being connected with the music, performers and audience – I felt shivers travel up and down me. Finally the song returned to the the outro groove to “The Mirror,” followed by another insane JP guitar solo then ultimately ending in that fierce, staccato unison part on the snare, bass and guitar. After the final beat, the whole venue practically screamed in approval, a deafening surge of cheers, whistles and death metal screams could be heard. A guy behind me yelled “F*CK YA MOTHERF*CKER!!!” Damn straight. My jaw dropped to the floor. It was loud and you could see that James was loving it. We all calmed down and regained our composure. James shared that the band was celebrating the 20 year anniversary of the AWAKE album, and jokingly expressed that some of us weren’t even born when the album was originally released. He said something along the lines of “I never thought I’d be saying that…20 years….What the fuck happened?” James also teased that the group was also celebrating the 15th anniversary of the release of their opus Scenes From a Memory, which prompted a deafening roar from the crowd. James teased “ya we won’t be playing anything from that album…just kidding, we’ll get to that a bit later.” With that, James then introduced the next number, which shocked me and left me elated: “Lifting Shadows Off a Dream.” In 14 DT gigs I’ve never witnessed that song performed. It’s a melodic number with great interplay between John Myung and John Petrucci, AND…it also has lyrics by John Myung. Golden. We continued on our journey through AWAKE’s second half, or Side B if you will. Lifting Shadows features this awesome arpeggio with delay from John Petrucci. John Myung plays these high melodic lines on the bass that augment and embellish JP’s arpeggio. On top of that, Rudess played that great symphonic part on the keys, dark, brooding, but atmospheric and romantic sounding in some strange way. Mangini played the drum parts true to form. That bell, splash, stack progression gets me every time.  And he added those subtle Mangini-isms that left me grinning, it sounded good, and the guys were nailing these songs and this incarnation of the band rarely if ever played these songs live. After a triumphant sing along and finish, “Lifting Shadows” then eased into that familiar triplet pattern on the ride cymbal: “Scarred.” I was thinking “Holy crap…are they going to play the whole second half of AWAKE?” This was the fourth AWAKE track to be performed, and it also happened to be my favorite song off the album. “Scarred” was a monstrous epic, over 10 minutes in length, and featured compelling, thoughtful lyrics by John Petrucci and wicked vocals by James. This song was James’ crowning achievement on AWAKE. He used his shrill voice, his husky growl, as well as his pure high range. And when he went into that high range it was utterly flawless and left you thinking, “Damn, THAT is awesome singing.” I sang along to every word. The whole track was performed, unabridged and with the proper outro. Seriously, how are these guys pulling off these songs so well. And then the bombshell occurred: “Space-Dye Vest.” Boys and girls, “Space-Dye Vest” has never been performed before on ANY tour, not even the Waking Up the World Tour. It’s a hauntingly gorgeous piano ballad filled with recorded samples, stark orchestration,  and ambient atmospherics. It’s so Kevin Moore. And that is the reason it has never been performed. “Space-Dye Vest” is practically a Kevin Moore song, he wrote the lyrics and music. But now with Mike Portnoy out of Dream Theater, the rest of the band decided to throw us a curve ball by finally performing it live…and it was brilliant. The audience was so quiet during the delicate sections as Jordan laid down his parts. They must have been awe-struck and in disbelief. At song’s end the group received a rapturous applause. And an equally surprising song choice occurred, the 20 minute epic “Illumination Theory” was performed and very well received. Matter of fact, I enjoyed it more in a live setting. This was the final number for set 2 and the band waved goodbye as we tried to recover.

The encore section came and we were again aurally assaulted with tracks from Scenes From a Memory. Talk about being spoiled. Not only did we get a generous helping from the new album and AWAKE, but we were also treated to four tracks from the immortal Metropolis Part II: Scenes From a Memory album. The tracks flew by with the same intensity and damn near perfect delivery like the previous songs tonight. If I had any complaints it was about Mangini’s snare sound. It’s a warm sound, mid range and not too cutting. The studio versions of the SFAM songs have the benefit of higher pitched, great sounding maple and steel snares. For some reason I didn’t notice the difference during the AWAKE portion of the concert, maybe it was me??? Anyways, minor complaint. Mad props to the band for bravely performing three lengthy instrumentals, rather than showcase more obvious selections from the new record or from Scenes From a Memory. Double mad props for performing “Illumination Theory.” I didn’t see that coming. I figured the group would omit that song in favor of a couple more brand new tracks or reach back to some older selections. In a surprising and even braver move, DT performed no songs from Images & Words, arguably their best loved and highest selling album. This was a very adventurous and un-obvious set, if that’s even a word.

The guys frickin NAILED it this night. While all my live DT experiences have been good, I hadn’t been this impressed and floored since the Train of Thought gigs in 2004. Each of the guys were performing with a great amount of dexterity and precision, however they made it look like fun and they were enjoying themselves. The audience had to be the contributing factor to the band’s spirit onstage. This audience was very much alive and into it, and I was having a Hell of a time witnessing the pit area from my vantage point. It was electric in the venue, and I couldn’t help but look around and behind me, then upward toward the balcony. This gig was intense and the crowd was loving it, there was plenty of audience participation and spirit. It was a compelling and exciting scene, witnessing the raised fists, devil horns, fist pumping, head banging, hooting and hollering. Wow, now THIS is what a DT crowd should look like. You could see the admiration, love and support for this group. And there’s something uniquely special about continuing to see a group that I practically grew up with. I was barely old enough to drive when I first saw this group so many years ago. And now here I am years later, family man with wonderful wife and kids, career, and I’m still able to support a group of performers with the same amount of passion and enthusiasm as I did when I was kid. Loyalty. Rabid loyalty. That what makes this fan base so unique and undying. This group may not be a mainstream pop group, Hell, they’re not even a mainstream metal band, but their fanbase and popularity continues to grow with each release and tour, and it’s astonishing witnessing that growth first-hand.

The Enemy Inside
Shattered Fortress
On the Backs of Angels
The Looking Glass
Trial of Tears
Enigma Machine
Along for the Ride
Breaking All Illusions

The Mirror
Lifting Shadows Off a Dream
Space-Dye Vest
Illumination Theory

Overture 1928
Strange Deja Vu
The Dance of Eternity
Finally Free

The following pictures were taken using my LG Optimus smart phone. Damn i’m loving the camera on this thing. No alterations or effects used.

CAM00405CAM00407CAM00413CAM00426CAM00433CAM00421CAM00418CAM00423CAM00437CAM00417CAM00430CAM00439Dream Theater & Dayday


Spock’s Beard @ The House of Blues, Hollywood CA 08/21/00

This had to be THE live show where I felt very much in the minority. While 99% of the crowd was having a good ol’ proggy time witnessing the legendary Spock’s Beard, me and my girlie had an extremely difficult time enjoying the show. The group was insanely talented, wicked talented! They were having a great time onstage and with plenty of enthusiasm and friendly chatter from Neal Morse. His voice was flawless and his work on the keys and guitar was just as impeccable.  Nick D’Virgilio is an excellent drummer, but damn that man could sing too. His backing vox was out of this world, up there with Neal’s voice.

The songs were epic showcases of “classic” prog rock, colorful, sweeping and lush…and maybe that was the problem for me. At the time I hadn’t explored progressive groups outside of the progmetal subgenre. I preferred the crunch, the heavy riffs, the double bass drumming, etc. Classic Genesis and Yes hadn’t yet made it to my playlist. What I was spinning at the time was music by Queensryche, Conception, Metallica’s Justice album, Fates Warning’s APSOG, etc. So in retrospect, I couldn’t fully appreciate the sweeping arrangements, Beatlesque influences, and non-metal flavorings etc. Everyone else in the club appeared to be having a GREAT time. Any opener that can achieve that feat is awesome in my book.

Neal Morse wore a DT2000 tour jersey during the show, referencing it on a couple occasions to great crowd approval. The Beard rocked the house, giving the DT fans a generous helping of proggy goodness. This was the last night of The Beard’s tour with DT. As such, while SB performed, the guys in DT pulled various pranks during their set. In response, the guys in SB all came out onstage during DT’s performance of “The Spirit Carries On” to sing on the final chorus. Songs performed tonight included “Day For Night,” “The Healing Colors of Sound,” and “June.” I think “Thoughts Pt. 2” and “The Doorway” may have been performed but I can’t be certain. Gross out moment of the night came when the guy a few yards over couldn’t hold his liquor and ended up puking all over the floor, much to the waitress’s disgust and frustration. At least he took care of it and cleaned it up himself. Never seen anyone hurl at a HOB show, hope the dude remembered the show.

Dream Theater @ The House of Blues, Hollywood CA 05/18/98

Like I had written in the San Francisco write up, fellow forumer dbfield and I made the trek to Hollywood for our second Touring Into Infinity gig just two days after the Maritime Hall show. We were more or less recovered from that gig and pumped about seeing Dream Theater a second time this tour. We arrived early (very early) and miffed some of the club personnel in the process. We ventured into the club before the official opening time and we were politely asked to leave. After a lengthy wait, the early birds were allowed inside and we grabbed ourselves front row spots against the barrier, between what would be the positions for James Labrie (voc) and John Petrucci (gtr).

The club gradually filled up. For those who don’t know, the House of Blues is a chain of intimate yet stylish clubs with capacities of 1000 or so. There’s a southern delta vibe to the place and the decor and color scheme are very fitting. It’s a warm color scheme, lots of orange, yellow and red. We bullshitted with the security personnel for a bit, they were nice enough and didn’t have a problem chatting with the fans. These guys were friggin huuuuge. Each one of them was easily 6’2” and above and they must have weighed in at 250+ a piece. Dbfield asked “so do guys have to work out, keep in shape for the job?” The big Samoan looking bouncer said “well I do a lot of lifts…” and he does this motion as if he’s eating, err, shoveling food in his mouth lol.

We chatted a bit with a guy that was also at the San Francisco show, he was the guy that looked like Petrucci. We asked his thoughts about the San Franciscan crowd. He said “ohh the San Francisco crowd was terrible!” Referring to the rough nature of the crowd. We chatted with a few other people and enjoyed the camaraderie. Openers Full on the Mouth took the stage and were met with polite applause. After a song, someone from the crowd gave a spirited (or mocking, depending on your perspective) “FUCK YAAAAA!” Their singer grinned and said “we got a ‘fuck ya’!” After their set, the house lights went dark again and AIC’s “Rooster” played on the PA system. Just like the Maritime Hall gig, a giant sing-along ensued with everyone emphasizing the “no we ain’t gonna diiiiiiiiiiiie” portion.

The show begins and Derek Shirinian is easing into the distorted keyboard intro to “Lines in the Sand.” It was very cool that the band was using a different opener compared to the Maritime Hall show. Derek did his thing and the rest of the group took their places in time for the crushing downbeat. The show got off to a great start and the momentum kept building and building. “Burning My Soul” was next and the metallic onslaught continued. Next was a crowd favorite, “Take the Time,” which included lead vocals by drummer Mike Portnoy on the first verse, much to our surprise. James picked up the vocals right at the “…I think it’s time for a “CHAAAAAAAAAAAAANGE” part, whew what’s that guy’s lung capacity? The ending of “Take the Time” showcased a lengthy jam that included some great teasers including Skynyrd’s Free Bird, Deep Purple’s Child in Time, Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher, and Zeppelin’s Moby Dick. It was at that point that the somewhat subdued crowed went freakin’ bananas.

The set slowed down for the newer ballads, “Anna Lee” and “Speak To Me.” Keep in mind this was 1998 and file sharing and internet downloads were in its infancy. “Speak To Me” was an outtake from the Falling Into Infinity sessions and was heard only by a few die-hard fans that had either heard the track via the net, or had a copy of the Japanese edition of Falling Into Infinity with two bonus tracks not found on the American edition. Even though Speak To Me was quite unknown, while James introduced the song a number of fans knew what was coming and shouted out for “Speak to Meeeeee!” That track is great, very U2-like, and it’s a shame it was left off the official release. Again, a small drum kit was set up toward the front of the stage, right up against the front rows. I looked up and there was Mike Portnoy, drumming along only a few feet away from me. I was ecstatic. Portnoy looked over at me and grinned. No words can describe that moment.

After the lovely breather of the Falling Into Infinity ballads, the metal continued with “A Crack in the Mirror/Puppies on Acid,” which is basically the first portion of “The Mirror” off the Awake CD, with a keyboard intro and jam. This track gelled into the rocking “Just Let Me Breathe” followed by the crunching groove of “Lie.” The crowd got into it, belting out the “Doooon’t tellll meeeee, you thought of meeeee” part. I looked over at one of the bouncers, black guy with a stoic look. His arms were crossed and he too was moving along to the groove while he surveyed the crowd, There were points during the song that James would walk from one end of the stage to the other, the base of his mic stand nearly whacking the security personnel in their heads. One bouncer came close to getting his skull thumped, ducking just in time as Labrie marched across the stage. “Peruvian Skies” and John Petrucci’s guitar solo followed, earning deafening applause from the crowd. Petrucci’s wizadry on the instrument blew us away.

“Pull Me Under” was next and featured a surprise guest. Ray Alder from Fates Warning came onstage and helped James with the choruses. This was too cool, seeing the front man of one of pioneering prog metal bands join Dream Theater for a song. Much to my delight, “Scarred” off of Awake came next. I was going nuts. This was my favorite track at the time and it wasn’t performed at the Maritime Hall gig. It was beyond cool to hear it performed at this show. The group then tore into “ACOS pt. IV” which led to the immortal “Ytse Jam” which got the crowd pumped. This was the perfect segue into Portnoy’s drum solo. After some solo work on the kit, Portnoy came down to the front of the stage and a crew member handed him a tom and an extra pair of sticks. Just as he did at the Maritime Hall gig, Portnoy invited a fan onstage to solo along with him. A second fan was called up and both did very well. Seeing these guys have the time of their lives, drumming along with their favorite drummer was surreal. The coolest part of the solo was near the end. While the fan pounded out a jungle rhythm on the tom-tom, someone in the audience held out a glass bottle (I’m assuming it was a bottle, although I couldn’t see it). This kid played a last round of 16th notes on the tom and transitioned to the bottle. You could hear the thumpthumpthumpthump of the tom, then the clinkclinkclinkclink of the bottle before it shattered. The entire crowd let out this gasp: “WHHOOOOAAAAA!” After some laughter and applause, Portnoy got on the mic and thanked the two fans for helping out on the drum solo. Mike then said “and thanks to the security guards for being good sports,” referring to the bouncer that almost lost an eye due to the shattering glass.

The show continued with the closer of the main set, “New Millennium,” not my favorite track off Falling Into Infinity, but we witnessed the great John Myung play the Chapman Stick on it. The band then proceeded with the encore section. To my surprise, the band launched into a Deep Purple song, “Perfect Strangers.” However the twist of the night was another special guest vocalist. James introduced Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and the crowd went crazy. Bruce added his voice to the song, singing the majority of it while James supported. At the end of the track, the band tore into “The Trooper.” You could tell this was not rehearsed, as Bruce could be seen cracking up, he was practically doubled over in laughter, and he appeared genuinely surprised. Bruce said what the hell and sang the song with ferocity. The crowd lapped it up, sang along and gave a thunderous applause at song’s end. The band further surprised Dickinson by playing snippets of “Where Eagles Dare” and “Killers.” Dickinson was having a ball, and said something along the lines of “we would play bloody well all night if we could but they’re gonna pull the plug on us.” Bruce exited the stage and Dream Theater continued with the final encore section which was the same medley played at the Maritime Hall gig.

What a show. We were definitely a part of history. Later on we would read on the Ytse Jam Digest (before DT had an official webpage or online forum) that this House of Blues show was THE show to attend this tour. We drove back to Porterville that same night and Dbfield kept drumming on my dashboard. We were so pumped. Years later this show would be released as a live CD. Dream Theater has it’s own line of “official bootlegs,” and this show was preserved. I’ve got a copy and it’s amazing to hear that performance over and over, like some kind of echo in time. I relive this show and think of how I was first introduced to this group and how because of Mike Portnoy and Dream Theater, I picked up the phone and ordered my first drum kit. The rest as they say, is history.

Lines in the Sand
Burning My Soul
Take the Time/Free Bird/Child In Time/Hot For Teacher/Moby Dick
Anna Lee
Speak to Me
A Crack in the Mirror / Puppies on Acid
Just Let Me Breathe
Peruvian Skies
Pull Me Under
A Change of Seasons: IV The Darkest of Winters
The Ytse Jam
(with drum solo)
New Millennium
Perfect Strangers
The Trooper
Where Eagles Dare
Encore 2:
Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper
Learning to Live
A Change of Seasons: VII The Crimson Sunset


cover of the official bootleg release. you can spot my friend and I in a photo in the CD booklet!

Yes & Dream Theater @ Universal Amphitheater, Universal City CA 09/19/04

HOLY SHIT! Wow, if you had told me this was a co-headlining gig I would have believed you! DT received a deafening roar compared to the SD gig, and the applause and cheering in between songs was just as spirited. This was my 4th and final Dream Theater gig of the Train of Thought Tour (officially the Yes/DT Tour at this point) and second occasion seeing Yes.

The Venue
If you guys aren’t familiar with the Universal Amphitheater, it’s a 6,200 seater in Universal Studios Hollywood. A very long line had already formed by 6:00pm, the frustrated theme park patrons had to cut through us in order to get to the parking structures and City Walk. The fans started to get antsy, 6:20 rolled around and we still hadn’t moved! A big jolly gentleman puffing on a cigar asked “Did you see them at the Pantages?” I said “Hell yes I did” He said he loved both bands but was there to see DT mainly. He was convinced I was there mainly for DT, “Because you’re a young guy” he said. He then told me about how he’d seen Yes back in ’71, and how he’d seen Zeppelin and Hendrix. My eyes were popping out of my head at that point. Very nice guy. I told him about the SD show and how long it ran. He said “Shit, if the show’s that long I’m gonna have to call in sick tomorrow!”

It was cool to see all the DT shirts around, especially from different eras. There were even a few Opeth shirts, a Jethro Tull shirt and good God, dare I say it — a CAFE TACUBA shirt!!! This young light skinned guy was wearing a Cafe Tacuba t-shirt! I tripped out. For those of you who don’t know, Cafe Tacuba was/is one of the pioneering musical forces behind world music and rock en espanol in the ’80s and ’90s. Not heavy music at all, hell it’s not even that rocking. But it’s still moody, intricate, and fun as hell. I complimented the guy, and said I’d never thought I’d see it here. All I got in response was a timid grunt. Okaaaaay. But anyway, the line finally started moving much to our relief. We divided up into four lines as we got near the main entrance for the required pat-down by security. First-timers were mumbling to themselves about the strict security measures. I kept quiet and selected a shy boy. I got through with flying colors and made my way to my seat. I got some kick ass tickets off ebay again, Loge 21, 4th row! And for only $40.00 too

The house was half full as DT opened. The response they got from these early birds was impressive to say the least, especially from the pit/orchestra area. We all rose to our feet and stayed standing the whole hour. Same set as San Diego. The guys were spot on! There were some complaints of JP missing some of his ques in San Diego, but he nailed everything perfectly, as did the other guys. Kudos goes to James for hitting those nut-squeezing notes perfectly. You could tell that the guys really appreciated the crowd response, and they fed off of the energy, especially JP and James. The house was becoming filled to capacity by the end of Learning to Live.

During Trial of Tears, some dude bumped into me as he was making his way to his seat. Normally things like that don’t bug me, but he was extremely apologetic, almost as if he feared an ass kicking. I don’t look menacing at all… But anyway, at the end of the song he passed by me again and apologized. I told him it was no problem. He then said he was going to the bar and offered to buy me a drink. I told him not to go to the trouble. He asked “are you sure?” I thought for a couple seconds and said “what the hell” I asked for a shot of Sauza Tequila, blanco. The dude came back with 2! I thanked him and patted him on the shoulder. What a nice guy! These were double shots! And I hadn’t eaten. Needless to say I was feeling quite at ease during the set.

There were quite a few fans in my section (sec 21) standing. The Yes fans sat politely, and studied our boys intently…trying to figure them out. Stream Of Consciousness was up next and many in the crowd clapped along in time to the guitar intro…then DT proceeded to bludgeon us with their brand of prog-metal At song’s end the Yes crowd was left awe-struck or baffled…or both! The guys were treated to applause worthy of a hometown gig crowd.

The rest of the set went down just as well, with good audience participation during Spirit Carries on and Solitary Shell. The guys closed the seat and were treated as heroes with a standing ovation. The guys gave hi-fives to the fans in the pit area and made sure to wave to every section of the house. The guys were all smiles, ear to ear…except for JM who kinda gave a forced smirk. These guys loved this gig, and I think it would be cool if they played this venue on their own strength. Screw the Wiltern.

Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite started playing at 9:00pm sharp. The crowd went apeshit. I was looking forward to this gig, given that the Roger Dean set would be used for sure, as well as the possibility that Close to the Edge or Starship Trooper would be played. Yes played the same exact set as San Diego, but Starship Trooper was played as the encore. I feared the crowd would riot if they didn’t.

Yes were just as good in San Diego, but Steve was having more fun this time around, playing with crowd, striking poses and tearing it up on the fretboard. He even got some laughs from the crowd during “And You And I” of all songs, playing the intro on the 12-string while staring out at the crowd, looking from left to right and blinking repeatedly in this sort of comical way. I wish I could better describe it…it was classic and you just had to be there. The crowd was having a good ol’ time too, some of the women especially LOL. But I have to say the most embarrassing fans to watch in a crowd are RUSH fans. Damn those people need to stop drinking. There even a couple younger fans running throughout the amphitheater during “I’ve Seen All Good People,” as if they were performing some kind of ritualistic dance. It was freaky, very reminiscent of Woodstock.

After DT’s sonic assault I was worried that Yes would put me to sleep. And the tequila shots with no food in my belly wasn’t helping, although the crowd was keeping me entertained. Southside of the Sky tore off the roof, especially that keys/guitar duel at the end. Damn I was impressed.

“And You And I” was the moment everyone was waiting for. As soon as the intro started, the crowd let out this collective gasp. It was a great 10 minutes, and it was surreal seeing most of the crowd stand and do the Jon thing…hands outstretched, rising and falling with the music. Wow. The closer for the night was “Starship Trooper.” It sounded just as grande and sweeping as the studio original. Jon’s vocals were impeccable.

A GREAT show, helluva lot better than SD. Jon even thanked DT at set’s end, of course there was the obligatory “Fuck Dream Theater” comment I heard from behind me.



Yes & Dream Theater @ Viejas Casino and Resort, Alpine CA 09/16/04

Waited a loooong time for this. I don’t know if the hour with DT wore me out, but by the time Yes was halfway through their set, I was ready to drive back to Orange County!

This was my 3rd Dream Theater gig this tour (Train of Thought 2004) and my first ever Yes show. I purposely avoided the online spoiler setlist and review threads so I could listen without prejudice or preconceived expectations. Needless to say, I was WOWED. First, let’s start at the beginning:

I got off of work early and began the drive solo to Alpine, CA (San Diego County) at 3:00pm. I already had tix to the Universal show and picked up this SD ticket last minute. I ran into traffic on ALL the damn freeways: the 5-South, the 805-South and the 8-East which was annoying as hell. It should have taken me 90 min to get there, in reality it took 2 hours 15 minutes. Got to the venue 45 minutes before doors opened!

The Venue itself is actually a pristine little oasis in the middle of nowhere. To be fair, it’s actually part of the Viejas Casino complex which is located on the Viejas Indian Reservation. The Viejas Casino is on one side of Willows Road, while the Concert Park is on the other side. The Viejas Concert Park is actually nestled among a cluster of outlet stores. I got the chance to have a Subway sandwich 200 feet away from the stage and listened to DT’s soundcheck as I ate my dinner on the Subway Shop patio!!! I could see the stage and watched the guys fiddle around, then tear into a superb but shortened version of “In The Name Of God.” I kicked myelf for not bringing my camera. I could have gotten some sweet shots from my vantage point. There were a handful of other DT fans milling about, straining to see the guys soundcheck. At first we couldn’t tell which band was soundchecking. The Siamese Monster was visible, and Alan White’s kit was setup just behind the Monster, but no drummer was visible, at least it was difficult to spot the drummer. “So who’s warming up?” asked one of the DT fans. Then we heard a series of rapid fire quads with double bass fills…you know, the kind that will make you cream your pants. All doubt was now dispelled. “It’s Miiiiiiiiiike!” screamed one of the guys. Outlet shoppers going about their business also stopped to see what all the fuss was about. A very cool and intimate little setup. I finished my sandwich and entered the park.


I found my seat and made myself comfortable. Seating was designed for a crowd under 1,000. It was cool looking at all the different T-shirts. Pleasing to see quite a few DT shirts in there. I was representing, wearing my AWAKE Tour shirt. A security staff member approached me and asked about Dream Theater, she hadn’t heard of them (of course). I gave her a brief history of the band, compared them to some other groups she had heard of, namely Metallica, Rush, QR and the like. She explained that she’s gotten into a lot of good music thanks to opening bands. She told me that she was looking forward to DT’s performance, shook my hand and walked back to her post.

The park was 2/3 to 3/4 full as DT teared into their set. They got rabid applause from numerous sections of the crowd. The majority of the crowd stayed seated, but it was cool to see clusters of fans here and there, standing and cheering, hootin’ and hollerin’ as DT went through “About to Crash.” I was in a cluster of about a dozen fans and we stood and cheered throughout the whole performance. The obvious Yes fans sat patiently and curiosly. Some looked a tad bored, but that changed once DT gave them a kick in the ass by ripping into a surprise Yes cover, “Machine Messiah.” There were 2 Yes shirts a few rows in front of me. As soon as they recognized Machine Messiah they turned to each other and their jaws dropped in astonishment. They stood up and didn’t sit down again The crowd gave DT a standing ovation after “Stream of Consciousness.” I believe the crowd was won over by that point. We lapped it up, even during slower selections like “The Spirit Carries On” and “Solitary Shell.” Solo sections by JP and JR left the crowd mesmerized. I heard numerous comments like “Who the hell are these guys!?” DT concluded their set to generous applause and a standing ovation.


The Roger Dean set was not used tonight, and probably won’t be for the rest of the outdoor/casino shows. Yes came up and began with “Going for the One,” followed by “Sweet Dreams” and “I’ve seen All Good People.” Sound quality was great, but was lowered considerably during ISAGP. Several fans kept shouting at the band to “TURN IT UP!” The yelling was more annoying than the lowered sound volume.

There were a lot of older fans in the crowd, complete with eye glasses, receding hairlines and old concert shirts that were either too old or too small now, but that’s ok. Much to my surprise, there were quite a few spanish speakers in the audience. Hell, they were to the left of me, to the right of me, and some louder ones a couple rows back. Jon thanked everyone for coming, and even acknowledged the visitors from surrounding areas like LA and Mexico. A bunch of fists including mine shot up into the air in recognition. I’ve run into some latino Yes fans at the Guitar Center where I work. They voice their approval whenever I’ve got Yes playing over the kickass Bose “speaker on a stick” sound system. They have a deep appreciation for Steve Howe’s intricate acoustic work. Many of these shoppers are lovers of the Martin and Cordoba Acoustics and now I see why.

The rest of Yes’ set consisted of “America” which I was hoping they wouldn’t play. Never cared for it, that’s all. The set was typical of what they’ve been playing the rest of this leg, EXCEPT: “Close to the Edge” and “Starship Trooper” were left off to my disappointment. “Yours is No Disgrace,” “South Side of the Sky,” “Awaken” as well as “And You And I” did make the set thankfully. The acoustic set was very entertaining, particulary the reggae version of “Long Distance Runaround” and the Chicago Blues versions of “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” but why the hell would you close a show with “Every Little Thing” ??? All in all a great 3 hours. I’m very glad I finally caught Yes, one of those great progressive rock pioneers from Yesterday, no pun intended. Special thanks to the late Keith Ashley Kitchens who introduced me to Yes. I greatly appreciated those chats. You’re sorely missed, man.

Jon Anderson of YES during the YES/Dream Theater Tour

Dream Theater @ The Maritime Hall, San Francisco CA 05/16/98

My best friend and I traveled 3 hours from the hot, arrid wasteland of Central California (Fresno, Bakersfield area) to San Francisco. We got there hours early, no one was in front of the venue so we walked to a Jack n’ the Box for lunch, dodging transients and mental cases along the way. We came back and found a half dozen or so fans sitting on the front steps of the Maritime Hall. Nice bunch of people to talk to, and they became envious of the fact that my friend and I would travel to the 5/18/98 Los Angeles gig, which is now legendary due to the surprise appearances of Ray Alder of Fates Warning and Bruce Dickinson (yes, THEE Bruce Dickinson) of Iron Maiden.
During the wait Marlene Portnoy hobbled from the back of the venue to the front doors, holding a big baby. She asked us if this was the front. We said ya we think so. She thanked us and started hobbling back to where she came from, grunting and saying to the baby “oh you’re so heavy.” We didn’t harrass her or prod her with fanboy type questions, but it was still cool yet random experience.

So we meet some more interesting people in line, including some attractive asian women, a studious looking middle eastern man in an argyle sweater and his teenage son, a guy that looked like Roger Daltry, a guy that looked like Sebastian Bach, a guy that looked like John Petrucci, and a group of friends (one of which was blind) that kept us cracking up with their smart-ass sense of humor. We go inside and I’m in the 3rd row, John Petrucci’s side, stage right. “Rooster” played over the PA and a giant sing along ensued. The house lights go dark and the ACOS intro plays over the PA.

As the ACOS intro builds to the crescendo, the band quickly walks onstage in time for the crunching main riff and pounding drums. Within seconds I was somehow pushed to the first row. The crowd was ROUGH but energetic, and it was fun as hell. I kid you not, the place went apeshit. No words can describe seeing your favorite band in front of you, only a few yards away, playing the music that you love. I think my mouth dropped open as they ripped into the song, I stopped breathing. To my immediate right was guitarist John Petrucci, I could reach out and touch his pickguard (I did!). Beyond him was Mike Portnoy on drums, grinning and laying down all his parts. I thought to myself “holy shit, these guys are real, they aren’t machines! And they’re even better live!” Then James Labrie walks out, stands a few feet away from me and my eyes literally bug out. I sang along to every word as if by instinct, everyone towards the front waving and reaching for James. There was a crush, and the only way to alleviate it was to hug onto the guys to my left and right, arm in arm, but we didn’t care. Labrie sees me singing along, smiles and grabs my hand…really hard, I think my hand was red afterward. But it was so fucking cool. I could see the studious middle eastern man in the argyle sweater, standing with his arms crossed, big smile on his face and nodding to the band in approval. His son next to him was blissfully headbanging. Everyone was having an incredible time, head banging, fist pumping, or just standing there stunned and grinning ear to ear.

Inside the venue it was hot, humid, and LOUD. My ears rang for the following day and a half. As the show progressed, it became shockingly clear how human these musicians are: Dream Theater has this reputation for being precise and for being ridiculously talented, prodigy level. However on at least 2 or 3 occasions someone missed their cue, or Portnoy tried twirling a drumstick but dropped it, James Labrie amusingly said “Mike Portnoy is trying to stick a drumstick up my ass.” On other occasions I heard Portnoy say “fuck!” in frustration, probably for missing a beat here or there. The last screw up of the night involved James’ vocal effects during the snippet of Learning to Live. He began singing the intro, “there was no time for pain, no energy for anger,” but his vocals sounded nasally and whiny. He stepped away from mic, confused, and said “what the fuck was that???” while a crew member scurries onstage to correct the issue on Labrie’s stage monitor/rack setup. Tonight I realized these guys were indeed pros and truly gifted, but still human, and like true professionals they rolled with the punches and still put on a quality show. This was an unforgettable live experience, and the perfect way to deflower this music lover/musician.

Take the Time
Just Let Me Breath
Burning My Soul
Anna Lee
Speak To Me
Lines in the Sand
Caught In a Web
Peruvian Skies
Pull Me Under
Trial Of Tears
Metropolis/Learning to Live/ACOS VII

Wow moment of the night: there were several “WOW” moments, however the best one had to do with the two ballads, Anna Lee and Speak To Me. For those two songs a mini drumkit was setup closer to the stage, allowing fans an even closer vantage point to see the drummer extraordinaire. Additionally, during Caught In a Web, Portnoy’s drum solo allowed for some audience participation. Two different audience members, one from stage left, the other from stage right, were brought on stage and given a pair of drums sticks. They pounded along with Portnoy on a 12″ tom and it was beyond cool, watching these fans actually participate in the show.


A scan of the $18 ticket for this show (that’s right…$18)

Dream Theater & Crimson ProjeKct @ The Gibson Amphitheater, Universal Studios CA 07/02/12

The usual question I get is “who the heck are Dream Theater?” In short, Dream Theater are Progressive Metal gods and one of the largest cult acts on the planet. Think Metallica meets RUSH. Nowhere near as popular as those acts, but not underground either. The last 3 albums have been Billboard Top 10 releases and they finally earned a Grammy nod. Not too shabby for a bunch of guys that make untrendy, heavy, weird music.

A Dream Theater concert is a strange event. The crowd is a sea of musician geeks, metal-heads and computer/sci-fi nerds, or a combination thereof. ..unless you’re in Japan or South America, where there’s large numbers of female Dream Theater fans for some reason. About the musician geeks: Much of the crowd can be seen air drumming to songs with precision, beat for beat. There’s also a fair share of air guitarists, air bassists and air keyboard players in the crowd, also seen fingering along, having memorized every note of every song…and there’s probably a million notes played at a DT concert. A fan sees this band for the Metal, the Prog, and/or the individual players, each of whom has their own enclave of fans and followers.

What is Prog you might ask? It’s unorthodox music, complicated, and often times difficult to wrap your head around. The songs are long, the solos are numerous, and the talent seems super-human. This is an inspirational group for me, and without them I probably would never have picked up an instrument. It also explains my ongoing loyalty and support to them – twelve or so concerts and counting.

This band is also unique for giving value to the fans. It was common place for the group to perform 3 hour shows, with a policy of rotating song lists. A fan could go see them in LA and hear 16 songs or so, see them the next night in San Diego or Anaheim and hear a completely different set. And the next tour, the band would make a point to play an entirely different set of songs, ensuring even more variety.

What other band does that??? On top of that, the band members are actually accessible and stay connected to their fans, often times interacting on message boards, blogs, live chats and in person. As for the show, it was a great but standard Dream Theater experience. They’ve been doing this a long time and they function like a machine. I’ve also been seeing them live a very long time, since 1998. One of their concerts can make for a rockin’ but tiring experience. Many of the songs are 8-10 minutes in length and this particular show reached a point where the songs began to sound alike. Great show nonetheless, but I’m either getting too old for this or my unfamiliarity with the newer material kept me from fully appreciating it.

As for the venue, The Gibson at Universal Studios is a great 6000 seat indoor amphitheater. Every seat is a great vantage point, it’s comfortable and well maintained. Unfortunately for the band, I’d say 1000 or so seats went unsold. The far left and right wings were curtained off, eliminating clusters of seats at the edges of the venue – never seen this done before, anywhere. Additionally, much of the upper balcony was empty. I attended a 2007 Dream Theater show at the same venue and it appeared to be a sold out show. I’m speculating that the lower attendance was due to a combination of factors: 1-It was a Monday night. 2-Economics. There’s not much room in the budget for entertainment and discretionary income in general. 3-Concert tickets are frickin expensive. And 4-It’s Dream Theater, not Metallica or Rush!

The real highlight of the night was seeing the opener, Crimson ProjeKct. Who the heck is that? We didn’t know till a few hours before show time, thanks to Wikipedia. Crimson ProjeKct is basically King Crimson minus their leader and founder, Robert Fripp, plus a few unknown but ridiculously talented additions to the group. Classic rockers would know King Crimson from the 70s. They’r a pioneering group in the progressive rock genre.

For Crimson ProjeKct, the core players were present: Adrian Belew (noted guitar virtuoso, ex Talking Heads, ex Tom Tom Club), Pat Mostelloto (drum phenom and ex Mr. Mister and XTC drummer), and the great Tony Levin on bass. Tony Levin has played with everyone, including Buddy Rich, John Lennon, Paul Simon, Pink Floyd, Yes, Stevie Nicks and Peter Gabriel. He’s a super star in the bass community. They had 2 drummers, 2 bass players, and 2 guitar players. Sounds weird and cluttered but it worked! We were floored by their musical wizardry. They played King Crimson songs and while I’m not a fan, those quirky but rockin songs came alive on stage. An added surprise was witnessing Danny Carey, the drummer for TOOL, jump on stage and do a drum trio with the other band members. That was uber cool to see. The ProjeKct had a ton of fun on stage, and the Dream Theater audience had a glowing respect for the group and applauded like crazy. Part of the same family.

Dream Theater
1. Bridges in the Sky
2. 6:00
3. The Dark Eternal Night
4. This is the Life
5. The Root of All Evil
6. Lost Not Forgotten
7. A Fortune in Lies
8. Surrounded
9. On the Backs of Angels
10. War Inside My Head
11. The Test that Stumped Them All
12. The Spirit Carries On
13. Breaking All Illusions
14. Metropolis Pt. 1 (The Miracle and the Sleeper)

Crimson ProjeKct
1. B’Boom
3. Dinosaur
4. Elephant Talk
5. Red
6. Frame by Frame
7. Thela Hun Ginjeet
8. Indiscipline

Highlight: It’s always awesome to see musician superstars like the guys in Dream Theater along with the King Crimson alumni, Tony Levin especially. It was also pure awesomness to see the ProjeKct play the immortal “Red”.

A view from the orchestra section