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Barely stunning, but surely memorable - 90%

KMartAce, October 23rd, 2006

Over Dream Theater’s sparkling career the band has dealt with many changes. Changes in fan base; a prime example being the shift from mainstream audience to almost underground metal following between 1992’s Images and Words and 1994’s Awake. They have dealt with changes in lyrical style; early songs such as “Under A Glass Moon” serving as a near opposite to recent writings of drummer Mike Portnoy’s “AA Saga.” However, the biggest shift the band has undergone to date is undoubtedly the style of writing within Dream Theater music itself. Gone are the polished unison solos of early tracks such as “Afterlife” and in their place extended guitar and keyboard solos – virtuosic elements within each band member crying to burst out. To couple with this change in individual tendency is the tendency of the band as a whole - Dream Theater riffs becoming almost stereotypical in their construction and repetition.

Enter 2004, the year in which many fans had had enough. Having just released 7th studio record Train of Thought, many fans felt almost disgusted at the radical change in direction Dream Theater had taken. Stripped from their notable genre of Progressive Metal was the “Progressive” label, Train of Thought providing purely heavy and sometimes insane instrumental work. Despite this radical change in musical direction, one variable remained constant: the intensity and awe of live Dream Theater concerts. Ironically, 2004 coupled Dream Theater’s weakest studio release with their most notable concert venue to date - The Nippon Budokan Hall. As is tradition with the famous arena, a live concert DVD was shot and recorded entitled “Live at Budokan,” this time Dream Theater being the advertising band. Overall, the two-disc package is a solid watch for any fan of heavy music and is surely among one of the best buys a metal fan could hope for.

In terms of production value, Budokan is second to none. Even those who question the concert’s inconsistent setlist will fess up that the mixing of sound and camera work is phenomenal. The 5.1 Surround Sound is flawless, so much so it almost pushes every single song past the quality and high of its original counterpart. The only sound flaw I can attempt to shed light upon is that guitarist John Petrucci and keyboarist Jordan Rudess are sometimes too low in the mix during leads, and don’t stand out enough. Besides that jack-ass observasion only a true nitpicker can make, Budokan’s sound can only be described as jaw-dropping. Picture-wise, the camera work is very consistent – focusing on James LaBrie almost all the time during short vocal passages and on each insturmentalist during upbeat or solo sections. Visually, everything is as clear as one could want and the lighting of the concert serves to benefit the setlist’s darker songs very well. In short, Live at Budokan is almost certainly the best looking and sounding DVD I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Disc One begins with the riffage-fest that is “As I Am” and serves to set the trend of heavier songs being played throughout the evening. Following “As I Am” is the second chapter of Dream Theater’s AA Saga, “This Dying Soul.” Surprisingly, this is one of the few songs (Along with “Endless Sacrifice and New Millenium”) that I felt was not improved in a live setting. Suffice to say, the first two tracks are never-the-less as heavy as anything Dream Theater has ever written and stress the band’s metal side. “Beyond This Life” is up next and I have to say, singer James LaBrie sounds a little off-tune. However, in terms of individual musicianship the song gives Dream Theater full justice – proof shown during the middle of the song where the boys break into an eight minute solo-fest. While this extended passage is interesting, I must admit it is slightly boring if not completely useless.

Now, as much as a listener hates hearing a concert’s climax just several songs in, this here is the case with Budokan. Just three songs gone by, just four songs in, Dream Theater mellows out the frantic mood with Falling into Infinity’s “Hollow Years.” How does one describe this track? How can one put something so brilliant into words? Well, quite simply, “Hollow Years” done live is Jamie Fox emerging into his prominent role of Ray Charles in “Ray.” In laymen’s terms, “Hollow Years” shatters everything it stood for on its studio recording, James LaBrie’s voice complementing the melodies perfectly; John Petrucci’s extended guitar solo transforming the original version from a poppy collaboration into a spine-chiller, and the chorus’s motivational words contradicting the dark mood of Nippon Budokan Hall. Truly, you don’t have a pulse if “Hollow Years” doesn’t hit you hard and leave you begging for more.

From this point the concert endures some major high points and some major low points. On the low side, several tracks come across as boring and overdone. Prime examples of these negative descriptions are “Endless Sacrifice” and “New Millennium.” The former is a downright shred-fest with a horrid chorus and noticeable changes to its instrumental section, while the latter is uninteresting and drawn out. On the other side of those specific negatives, and without mention of several other solid songs (“War Inside My Head, The Test That Stumped Them All, Trial of Tears, A Keyboard Solo, Only A Matter of Time, Goodnight Kiss, Solitary Shell and Disappear”), Budokan again showcases some memorable numbers that absolutely baffle the listener.

The first of these baffling performances that come to mind is “Instrumedley,” a number that covers memorable moments of Dream Theater instrumental sections. If there was ever a doubt about the individual talents of each member, they will all be laid to rest here. Every single member endures 12 minutes of the hardest Dream Theater passages ever created, and pull it off to a tee. Towards the end of the second set, Dream Theater pulls out previously unreleased “Stream of Consciousness” and fan-favorite “Pull Me Under.” “Stream of Consciousness” was the one song off of Train of Thought that was unanimously accepted by fans of all eras, and its performance is only surpassed in a live setting. “Pull Me Under” is played two songs later at the conclusion of the 2nd set, and serves to energize the listener once more.

The encore of the concert is “In The Name of God,” which quite frankly is a love-or-hate type affair. John Petrucci uses his Piezo pickup to showcase an eerie introduction - reminiscent of early Metallica ballads - before the entire band breaks into an absolute rocker of a riff. From here things take an absolute U-Turn as the song becomes an epic cry, the listener memorized by solid backup singing from John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy. Two major problems with the performance here are James LaBrie’s blatantly tired vocals and the out-of-place instrumental section in the middle of the song. Although the instrumental section is one of the most impressive things the band has ever done from a virtuosic element, it disobeys ever songwriting technique ever implied. Following a godly unison solo from Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci, the band revisits its early riff before inviting the crowd to join them in the singing of an epic outro. As is typical Dream Theater fashion, John Petrucci adds yet another previously unreleased solo to the conclusion of the song which chills your spine and makes every miss-cue throughout the number forgivable. Incredible!

Disc Two is comprised of several interesting features, the most prominent of which is a documentary entitled “Riding the Train of Thought” which follows the band around on their Japanese tour. One element I’ve always respected about Dream Theater is that fact that each and every member comes across as human, something wonderfully showcased in this documentary. The viewer also gets three specials: John Petrucci’s Guitar World, Jordan Rudess’s Keyboard World, and a Mike Portnoy Drum Solo. However, most fun to watch here is the multi-angle version of “Instrumedley” which, if you read my above opinion, you know is something mind-boggling to behold. The one complaint here is that there is nothing on bassist John Myung, which would serve to make an interesting bonus feature. Never-the-less, Disc Two is a worthy collection of bonus material that will keep you occupied for efficient time.

In conclusion, Live at Budokan shows a band whose live ability is so proficient they are able to obliterate nearly every representation of song compared to its original version. While the tone of the concert does jump around too much, while James LaBrie is still showing obvious signs of vocal inconsistency, Dream Theater again proves they are a force to be reckoned with. Don’t get me wrong, Budokan is certainly not for everyone. However, if heavy music and unreal musicianship be your piece-of-the-pie, you’ll be committing a crime to yourself if this package is not added to your library in short time.

Notable Tracks – Hollow Years, Stream of Consciousness, In the Name of God

An amazing live DVD, almost flawless - 94%

gazzoid, December 23rd, 2005

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Well, I watched this DVD with an open mind, not being a Dream Theater fan for many years though at the same time not having anything against them. I’d heard Train of Thought and quite frankly thought it was brilliant, but I was introduced to them fully and introduced to most of their albums by a friend, and that also included this gem, a live DVD of Dream Theater’s gig on their Train of Thought tour at the legendary Budokan arena in Tokyo. When I saw the package it wasn’t overly impressive and a booklet was nowhere to be seen. But seriously, that doesn’t matter when you have two dvd’s that are full of such great music?

I was able to enjoy a whole recorded Dream Theater, featuring 18 tracks (One of them a keyboard solo, one an medly of instrumental sections from past songs). They kicked off with hit “As I am” and other album song “This Dying Soul” Seeing them play these songs live is breathtaking. As they ripped through other album tracks like “Endless Sacrifice” and the classic “Beyond this Life” during the early stage of the DVD! James LaBrie can certainly sing live despite a few awkward patched here and there. But his vocals are possibly even better than on the studio when the ballads are sung. Especially “Hollow Years” These songs are all great and even better to witness live than on a the studio releases even. Watching everyone Rudess, Portnoy, Petrucci and Muyng live is amazing.

Never is the incredible musicianship more apparent then on the stunning “Instrumedley” which is one of the real highlights. It was stunning! An epic track that as the title describes is a medley of all the instrumental sections that Dream Theater have done, including some Liquid Tension Experiment as well! A true demonstration of why these guys are for me, the greatest musical ensemble in rock and metal history! Each one a master at their own craft and unlike some groups including great individual musicians, it all works so well.

The gig goes on and on in fantastic fashion. They rip through more classics such as “New Millennium” “trial of Tears” etc. We even have time for a two-part keyboard solo from the masterful Jordan Rudess. After watching this guy play I decided to take up keyboards. His first section is pretty mandatory, doing scales on the keyboard, it’s hardly tuneful but it has a certain space age edge to it that makes it work. His second section is what really works for me, an oriental style tune that is beautiful, purely beautiful. A real treat!

The classics keep coming as the strain starts to show on LaBrie’s vocals. He gets a rest for the epic instrumental off Train of Thought “Stream of Consciousness” that once again [proves their musical wizardry. The crowd really enjoyed this one and they got one heck of a cheer at the end. James LaBrie returned to an applause as they closed with what else but their biggest ever commercial hit, the insanely catchy “Pull Me Under” His singing sounds a bit strained at times here, but you still find yourself singing along to “This world is spinning around me, This world is spinning without me” and so forth. They leave…

But of course like most bands they return for the encore. They only play one of course, because that is the truly epic 14 minute masterpiece off Train of Thought”In the Name of God” It sound great here like on the album, despite a few dodgy notes from La Brie, he still sounds good and can obviously sing live, but he has a tendancy of hitting a few notes funnily and strangely enough singing the harsher vocals in a way that you’d have no idea what he was saying if you weren’t aware of the lyrics already. But it’s still a great track to close, and at the end you have a great feeling of satisfaction. And who wouldn’t after witnessing a 3hour show from these masters?

The second disk is full of some nice extras including an entertaining drum solo. A short run through of their career, a tour documentary and both a bit about the keyboards and guitars. Ok, neither Petrucci nor Rudess explain in the most ott entertaining way ever, but they tell it how it is, and it’s quite interesting. Nice little bonus DVD worth watching especially for the drum solo.

Negatives – La Brie’s rare tendencies to sound a bit off or be impossible to understand. The package isn’t too amazing either…

Positives – Great live show in general, Truly amazing examples of musicianship, most of the classics, some nice treats, excellent picture and sound quality. A good little bonus DVD

If you’re a Dream Theater fan, this is an essential thing to own. If you hate ‘em, avoid at all costs. If neutral, I’d still encourage you to buy, buy, buy!

Living the Live Theater show - 95%

Passoul, November 30th, 2005

I own the entire discography of Dream Theater at the exception of some booklets and special release and this DVD is one my favorite life album ever. It is in my opinion the finest work of images and of music on stage of Dream Theater. The images of this DVD is like if it was real! I mean you can even try to touch to the gigantic drum of Mike Portnoy or trying to see how Petrucci plays his solos with the perfection even outside of studio. At first, we could think that it is a movie about this band, but it is a live DVD of a 3 hours perfomance on stage. For the music, the choice of the tracks are good and are spread around all of their discography even if it is a show for Train of Thought which was their last release at this time.

First, it starts with As I Am and it really catch you there where you want it. Powerful music representation with energy in the music. It is one of the best track to begin a show. The little problem is that Labrie sound on this track is not perfect and that he has some problem starting the show. But this doesn't stop him of putting energy on stage. Then it switch to This Dying Soul, heavy sound with good instruments passages. Still again, something is wrong with Labrie's singing just like it wasn't fix yet with the volume of the music going on.

But everything is fix when it follows on Beyond This Life. Impressive Labrie voice that is heard on Scenes from a Memory is there and is even magic with the music. The very impressive part of this song is when they do the jamming thing. It is just awesome! Petrucci plays a very strong jamming solo with a sound that chills me to the bone everytime I hear it! It is powerful and clear, beginning slowly like any good progressive sound and this pushing faster and faster along with the bass rolling a good riff and the drum of Mike always crushing down the beat with so much energy. After the Petrucci part, Portnoy and Rudess (on keyboard) do an awesome fighting of drums vs the keyboard. One of my favorite part is the one with the cow bells it is really impressive to see and hear how they keep the thing together!

Then, after Beyond This Life, there is Hollow Years with some add-ons with Petrucci playing a little solo of his own and a more classical style of sound of guitar at the opening of it. Following that, there is War Inside My Head/The Test That Stumped Them All. Those tracks are well played on scene and there is a strong energy going out of it. It goes on with Endless Sacrifice, a ToT track, well play just like if they were on studio. The Instrumendly is an impressive tracks where Portnoy, Myung, Petrucci and Rudess are playing parts of instrumental songs all together in a happy-mixing. Everytime the listener is there trying to find what tracks they are playing and then it switch to another one. The main tracks of this song which the other parts are mix together is flowing music is The Dance of Eternity. Two of my favorite parts of this unique track are the Metropolis solos and the YTSE JAM part!
Then there is the Trial of Tears, a long track that some could find more boring, but it is one of the few time that they play it live and for the true fans of DT, it is a good song. Then there is New Millennium, with the weird bass of Myung playing very difficult part and making a lot of tapping on this 12 strings type of bass. Then there is a good standing of Jordan Rudess making a solo of his own with strange sound and a classical part of piano as he likes to do. It is a good standing. It is followed with the track named Only a Matter of Time coming out of the first studio album of DT. People wanted to see how Labrie would do on this song that was not originaly sing by him. He does good, but lack some speed and he is always trying to catch his breath. The intrumental ending of this track that was add for the show is a very good review of the entire track at a fast speed.

Then it is the depressing track named Disappear. It is one of the missed track of this album. The music mixing is not awesome, but it is a though songs to play live. Sometime you don't even hear what Labrie is singing or the drum is too heavy to hear the keyboards very well as it should be. Maybe it will be better next time, and they must pratice it further to play it with the entire energy it should have! Then they make their come back with Pull Me Under which is there classic, always well played and impressive energy with the crowd which is one of the few times on the DVD. The final track is In The Name of God which is the final track of ToT too. Still a good DT sound just like if they were playing only with perfection the lines.

Along with the show itself, the DVD comes with donus material like a Japanese Documentary that was turned before the actual show where you can see each members explaining how they came to play in Budokan. It is one of the best documentary I have seen on DT.

So actually, if you want to buy a good DVD of Dream Theater or that you are a fan of prog-metal, you should actualy buy Live at Budokan. It is an unique and one of the best music DVD I have seen of my life along with some classic like "Rock in Rio" from Iron Maiden! 95% for this live DVD!


f4c30fd34th, October 9th, 2004

Holy shit. This DVD is close to perfection. The selection of songs is perfect- it has the best songs from ToT (seeing as how that's what album the tour was for), and excludes the not so good ones; and the other songs are very well chosen, spanning all of DT's discography. It started with As I Am and This Dying SOul, and then Beyond This Life. The Zappa tribute jam in Beyond This Life features some godly soloage from JP, and an awesome duel between MP and JR; after BYL is Hollow Years, a wonderful FII ballad. The Test That Stumped Them All is played at a shockingly faster pace than the album version (which as already pretty fast). The Instrumedley WILL make you crap your pants. 14 minutes of various sections of DT's various instrumentals, including parts of 2 LTE songs (Paradigm Shift and Universal Mind) bound seamlessly together by The Dance Of Eternity. Some of the transitions bwteen songs are so perfect that it seems like they were meant to be that way. The intro to Trial Of Tears is extended into an amazing ambient section, and the rest of the song is of course awesome, particularly JP's solo. New Millenium is there with JM playing his Chapman Stick- which of course is quite Myung-core. JR has a nice solo section to himself, which starts with some fast (and awesome) wankery, and then a well written piano composition. Next up is Only A Matter Of Time- a classic WDADU song, which sounds awesome with James on vocals. Next up is Goodnight Kiss- holy crap, the feeling of the last solo is incredible live. Solitary Shell provides a brief rest with it's lightheartedness, but that is quickly replaced by more technical perfection with Stream Of Consciousness. Following that is Disappear, and the classic Pull Me Under. For the encore is In The Name Of God, which is way more powerful than the album version, very awe-inspiring.
The video quality is amazing, and looks close to high definition (well, at least on my HD TV). The camera angles are very well done, and provide an atmosphere of a film.There are some very impressive angles, one of my favorite is when the camera shows a view from the side of JM, looking across to JP, while the focus of the camera switches from JM to JP and back to JM. The sound is delivered in some very good Dolby Digital.
The crowd in this show is amazing. Apparently, in Japanese culture, a concetr is a very formal event, such as going to an symphony or opera. Many of the audience members are wearing suits. They are a great audience- they stand sitll when they need to, move around when they should, clap at the right times, and most importantly, stay quiet except at the end of a song, or the end of an awesome solo.
The second DVD contains lots of extra features such as documentaries, a drum solo and a multiangle version of instrumedley- good stuff.