Sunday, November 14, 2004


Why waste money on psychotherapy when you can listen to the B Minor Mass?

The DVD du jour is Dream Theater's "Live At Budokan". Tell the truth, I don't know what to think about these guys. Their chops are all unbelievably good; I've written about Mike Portnoy elsewhere in these pages, and I'm mightily impressed with him - he's a true successor to Bonzo if there is one. I'd never really had a chance to look at John Petrucci's guitar style before, and likewise I'm blown away by his chops. The guy has unbelievable speed and fluidity. John Myung is a powerful 6-string bassist who also plays Chapman Stick, and Jordan Rudess will make you forget about Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson. I have to admit to being cool on James LaBrie as a vocalist, as he's basically a rather uninteresting cross between Ian Gillian and David Lee Roth. One of the things that bugs me mightily about this DVD is that there's too much of what I call dark metal - basically stuff that tries to out-Sabbath Black Sabbath with guttural vocals (I dislike the faux-Satanic sound immensely) with thudding rhythms. The songs then launch into double time instrumentals with astounding chops that say absolutely nothing. There are very few hooks in these songs (I kind of like "Endless Sacrifice" and "Trial of Tears" though). The audience is obviously wild about them (lots of salarymen in suits attending the show in addition to the metalheads) but other than the chops, I just don't get more than a bit of it.

Sonically, this is one of the better concert DVDs I've heard, and the picture is crisp and enjoyable (from my admittedly prejudiced standpoint as a musician, the directors of this disc actually included plenty of closeups of the band showing off their chops). The extras disc has a pretty cool documentary about the tour (with some hilarious commentary from Portnoy) as well as individual segments on Petrucci, Portnoy and Rudess.

Surely this DVD will impress musicians, but it's interesting to think of Roy Buchanan's career when watching this. Buchanan of course was the guitarist's guitarist, but had absolutely no sense of commerciality when it came to his music. He had some impressive set pieces that blew people away at every live show (which even came off on well on the first album, e.g. "Sweet Dreams" and "The Messiah Will Come Again"). Other than that, Buchanan's reputation was confined to those who appreciated his incredible chops, and not to the public at large. Dream Theater is of course a somewhat different situation in that they have more than a few headbanging metal fans in their fan base who like them for the goofy aspects of their music (and will likely keep the commercial sales much better than Buchanan's were), but the analogous problem of no truly memorable songs makes this an iffy proposition. It isn't Zeppelin, by any stretch of the imagination. I'll certainly keep this DVD, and I'll probably take another pass through it this week to see if my feelings shift any, but chops alone don't make an act.

Next DVD cued up for review is Spock's Beard's live set "Don't Try This At Home". I've taken a brief look at it already, and I've got a much better vibe about the music ("Snow" is in regular rotation in the CD changer; while this stuff is earlier, around the time of "V", it still has a much more melodic aspect than Dream Theater's set list. I should at least note that Dream Theater does indeed have a great sense of dynamics, as does Spock's Beard; it's not apparent on a cursory listen or viewing of "Budokan" but a dedicated listening session will reveal it). Main thing I've noted about the "Don't Try This" video at this point is that it's dark (whether this is a function of the stage lighting, videography or the DVD mastering I don't know) and the sound is merely OK. Good bonus material, with an entire disc dedicated to the recording of the "V" album, plus an audio CD as well. I'll take a closer look in a day or two.

My local Borders has "Meet The Flower Kings", and my local indy record shop has "Focus Live In America" (with the new lineup led by Thijs Van Leer) on DVD, both of which are possibilities for upcoming review. I've been a bit iffy on the Flower Kings (although I do like Roine Stolt's guitar chops; check out Transatlantic's "Live In Europe" DVD for Stolt, Portnoy and Neal Morse playing together). Watching the Jan Akkerman DVD is giving me an itch to see what Focus is doing without him. I'm still toying with the idea of getting the 20th Century Schizoid Band DVD (which unfortunately isn't available from Burning Shed at the moment, leaving only Japanese Region versions out there. There are more than a few multi-region/format DVD players for sale at reasonable prices on eBay, and there's at least two other non-Region {01} DVDs out there I'd consider buying).


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