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Musical Maunderings in Sunni's Salon

May 2006

Between being up to my elbows in chocolate, with a variety of bands queued up for random play as I attend to making truffles, and being outdoors, I've not had much time for really listening to music. When I have done so this past month, one band has dominated my attention—Dream Theater. I was first introduced to their music over ten years ago, receiving a tape compilation of live music from a friend that included Ytse Jam and a cover of Rush's Tears that's better than the original, and two things that completely hooked me: discs of Images and Words and Awake—the latter as a Japanese import with the mini-disc containing Eve. For months, nothing but Dream Theater and Rush filled my CD player, yet with every replay of every disc I found something new, or launched some new train of thought in response to some lyrics. Both Dream Theater discs were instrumental (forgive the pun) in my personal growth at a crucial juncture.

Like Rush—an acknowledged influence on the band—Dream Theater is a progressive rock band, with complex music and deep lyrics in songs that often sprawl beyond 6-minute territory. Also like Rush, DT has a cadre of devoted fans that essentially guarantees solid sales for their releases. Unlike Rush, front man James LaBrie's voice, while similarly amazing in its range, is not nearly as distinctive as Geddy Lee's, lacking the nasal character that I think rendered Rush unlistenable for many individuals. Dream Theater's sound seems consistently clean, heavy, and busy, all of which lead me to enjoy their music very much.

I find I prefer their studio releases, despite the band's amazing live performances; I think that's largely due to better vocal quality and familiar song order. If I've the time, I simply queue up my favorites in chronological order: Images and Words, Awake, and Falling Into Infinity, and fall into the virtuosity of instruments and voice. Each one seems a somewhat cohesive set of explorations; and I've lost count of the cross-references or other interweavings I think I've spotted on each. Because of that it's hard to single out individual songs ... but if pressed, I'd give a nod to Pull Me Under, Take the Time, Surrounded, and Learning to Live from Images and Words; from Awake, Caught in a Web, The Silent Man, The Mirror, Lifting Shadows Off a Dream, and the ethereal instrumental Eve; and from Falling Into Infinity, I like You Not Me, Hollow Years, and Take Away My Pain. I'd listen to their release of covers, Change of Seasons, more often if it had the aforementioned Tears cover, but it doesn't, and I have sadly lost the tape my friend made for me. Their instrumentals, including the aforementioned Ytse Jam from When Dream and Day Unite, and Hell's Kitchen from Awake, are generally very good, but when I listen to Dream Theater it's the blend of amazing music and thoughtful lyrics I'm after.

Ironically, one of the things I like best about Dream Theater is the exploration of religious and spiritual themes. I haven't been religious in decades, but I am interested in spirituality, so I guess it isn't a surprise that I find much to think on each time I listen. That's also why I don't listen often; Dream Theater's music never fails to command my attention (which explains in part why this issue of the Salon is a little late). Perhaps that's also why it was so surprising and amusing to read some of the misheard lyrics in the DT FAQ.

If you like cerebral music and amazing shredding, Dream Theater may be the best band you've never heard of. There are lots of reasons why this band, despite numerous personnel changes over the years, celebrated their 20th anniversary last winter; and I doubt you'll be totally disappointed if you decide to explore their discography—which includes an official bootleg of their treatment of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. And a studio release last year, Octavarium with a symphony backing them ... I've got some catching up to do!

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