DREAM THEATER — Live Scenes From New York (review)

DREAM THEATER — Live Scenes From New York album cover Live album · 2001 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Warthur
Before you even listen to the music, Live Scenes From New York stands out in the Dream Theater discography for two reasons. The first is that it had the miserably bad luck to be released on 9/11, with album art that showed the New York skyline (including the Twin Towers) aflame. That part wasn't in the band's control.

What was under the band's control was the truly epic length of the show captured here - an August 2000 performance on the Scenes From a Memory tour, taking in the entirety of that album, plus of course Metropolis part 1, plus a clutch of shorter songs, plus the A Mind Beside Itself, Learning To Live, and A Change of Seasons epics to round things off. Once In a Livetime was already a pretty long live album, but spread over 3 CDs this is over three hours of Dream Theater music.

It was a legendarily gruelling show to perform - it's infamously the show that Mike Portnoy collapsed backstage after, and you can absolutely understand why. One might consider that the band would have been well-advised to trim back their show lengths after this - scary incidents like Mike's collapse aside, the risk of this sort of thing is that it becomes as much of an endurance test to listen to as it is to peform. Whilst many in showbiz follow the adage of "leave 'em wanting more", Dream Theater have showed a long-standing commitment to excess, and epic live releases like this are the product of that.

In this case, though, they pull it off, largely on the strength of the material. Scenes From a Memory is a very strong release in its own right, and despite being even longer here (due to the additional improvisations and solos), it absolutely breezes past. The three epics that take up the third disc are among Dream Theater's best works too, and in between you get a great clutch of songs, both more obvious picks (you had to expect Metropolis Pt. 1 in the running order, after all) and some slightly deeper dives, including some borrowings from Liquid Tension Experiment.

Of course, just because you have an embarrassment of riches to hand doesn't mean it automatically works out for the best, but the band are by and large on top of their form here. James LaBrie might be the weak link - not that he's necessarily bad, he's clearly recovered somewhat from the vocal cord-ravagingly horrible bout of food poisoning which damaged his voice so badly and which he was still showing the after-effects of on Once In a Livetime, but there are still moments when he seems to be struggling slightly. Still, help is at hand in the form of Theresa Thomason, perhaps the unsung hero of Scenes From a Memory, whose soaring vocals at crucial point is a big help.

And it's possible to overstate the issues with LaBrie's vocals - he's doing a grand job here, with emotional performances which to my ears compete well with the studio originals. It's just that with his instrument still a little on the mend, he can't push it to the technical limit to the extent that his bandmates do. At least there's plenty of long instrumental breaks to allow James to pace himself - and what mighty performances they are, combining the technical ability which most people know Dream Theater for with a level of emotional resonance and dramatic force which people don't often give them credit for.

As a result, Live Scenes From New York is pretty much your one-stop shop for the absolute cream of Dream Theater's 1990s material, and as a result is an absolute landmark of prog metal.
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