Dream Theater – Distant Memories Live In London: Album Review

Dream Theater are in anniversary mode again as arguably their best album (plus assorted titbits) gets a full airing in London for the record.

Release date: 27th November

Label: Inside Out Music

Format: CD / DL / vinyl / DVD/Bluray

Determined to cover all bases, the Live DT release rollercoaster rumbles on. Almost as regular an occurrence as a Rush live album used to be (and like Yes are still doing…). Each tour seems to be followed by the release of a commemorative live album as a timely souvenir. Whether or not what the world needs now is another live Dream Theater album, Distant Memories provides a couple of hours of distraction and a chance to admire (once more) their Prog Metal dexterity or whinge at the indulgence. Or indeed reignite the Mike (Portnoy) vs Mike (Mangini) debate.

Recorded at one of the last UK concerts before lockdown, this is the show from the Hammersmith Apollo in February 2020. It’s a record of the band’s world tour in support of their latest critically acclaimed studio album Distance Over Time whilst celebrating the 20-year anniversary of their iconic concept album Metropolis Part 2 – Scenes From A Memory.

Dream Theater has never been slow or shy in showing their willingness to undertake the ‘anniversary’ tours (as well as indulging in the full and highly divisible The Astonishing album and show). Perhaps a hangover from the days when they were driven by Mike Portnoy. It was just the sort of thing he’d be into. They’ve celebrated the anniversaries of Images & Words and also significant landmarks on the Scenes From A Memory and Awake albums in the recent past.

The first half is a mere aperitif for the main course where the full Scenes… is played out with a new production. Not having seen the live show (sadly no Manchester gig which is most unusual) or the film that accompanies the package we’ll stick to the song clips and the audio.

The Distance Over Time album is heavily featured naturally. For all the acclaim the album received for being more in line with what fans might want (or in reaction to the pummelling taken by The Astonishing) it doesn’t really hold a candle to the main feature. Amidst the ridiculous flurry of notes and time signatures, Barstool Warrior flags up a sweeter mainstream appeal. Showing off their chops in time-honoured fashion, they run through the new songs with some gusto.

A Nightmare To Remember and an excellent (show opener from past tours)In The Presence Of Enemies are reminders of the excitement of the Portnoy days. The thrilling interplay as all four instrumentalists lock in while seeming to almost do their own thing.

Scenes From A Memory (unless you insist on attaching the Metropolis Pt 2 tag) is regarded as their musical peak not only in concept but execution. Delivering the opus with a relish and conviction, like they ‘know’ they’re delivering their best work. Watch the Fatal Tragedy film as Jordan Rudess dips and twirls his keyboard round and the camera catches an audience sitting in rapt attention

What many see as the highlight of Scenes, The Spirit Carries On (“get your phones out – let’s light this place up”) is again the arm-swaying, flag-waving finale where Petrucci peels off ‘that’ solo. We’re back to the new album for an encore of At Wit’s End as no more than a reminder of the fact that despite just delivering the pick of their legacy, they are still doing new music and working on remaining as vital and relevant in a crowded marketplace.

It would be interesting for those who like to do this sort of thing, to compare the Live Scenes From New York rendition from 2001 with the ‘new ‘ version. That’s a job for a rainy day. Perhaps a better title would be Distant Memories (of gigs) as we should lap up the chance to at least listen to some live music. The spirit carries on…

Listen to Fatal Tragedy here:

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