Dream Theater bootlegs

I bought some CDs today and got a few more in the mail, and that brings the total in my collection up to 900. I think the goal is to get to 1000, but I don’t know if that’s doable by the end of the year or not. I’m buying CDs at a much more rapid rate these days, but I’m sure things will slow down as I get toward the end of the year. There’s also the issue that I am out of room for the damn things.

Five of the CDs that arrived in the mail today were from a company making these offical bootlegs of Dream Theater stuff. I guess a couple of the guys in the band got together with some small record company or something and somehow got permission from the record company to do small runs of each of the titles. I do not entirely know who is really responsible on the business end, and I felt a little scared sending a credit card to this unknown business, but they came through, and the products are pretty incredible, with real CDs and color booklets and lots of liner notes and everything. They have six titles, and I bought three of them. One is a collection of old demo tapes before the band was Dream Theater; one is a 2-CD live show from ’98 (when I saw them in Seattle); and one is the making of the album of Scenes From a Memory.

I listened to the demos, and they really brought back some strange memories for me. I never heard these tracks before – they came from when the drummer, bassist, and guitarrist first got together at Berklee school of music and started laying down stuff into their portastudio. And that reminds me a lot of when I used to hang out with Derik and Jamie and they got a portastudio and started recording all of this crazy shit, prog-rock stuff that they put together after listening to the first Dream Theater album a thousand times, plus way too much Rush, Marillion, Yes, Steve Vai, and so on. In fact, these demos include a version of the Rush instrumental “YYZ”, which reminds me of the thousands of times I sat next to Derik’s drum kit as he tore through the song. I have many fond memories of listening to Derik, Jamie, and both of them together work through all sorts of songs and arrangements, some written by other artists and some brand new, but all getting better and better with each jam and each mix. Unfortunately, I don’t have the pleasure of sitting down to a finished product by these two, as they eventually went their own ways without ever making a CD or tape.

The other CD I am listening to now is the making of SFAM, and it’s a very strange one. I first heard this album the weekend it came out (I think), which was when I drove to Cincinnati for my uncle John’s funeral. The whole trip out, my stay at a strange little hotel near some college campus (and, coincidentally, a stone’s throw from where me and Ray drove in 1993 to see Unleashed and Cannibal Corpse) is another long story I may have told elsewhere. And then I spent a few hours in Bloomington on Halloween. Then on the 13-hour trip back to New York, I was going nuts from boredom, and stopped in some little Pennsylvania town where they had a strip mall. The place was absolutely vacant, and reminded me of the days when me and Karena used to go to the mall in her hometown of Longview, Washington; there were about a dozen stores and a Target and Red Lobster all congealed together, maybe with a two-screen movie theater, and the inside of the place pretty much housed like three or four old people waiting to die, and nothing else. So I went into this mall and went to a Sam Goody or Musicland or whatever they are (I think they are all owned by the same company) and found a Jerky Boys tape that I knew would entertain me for about 20 minutes of the remaining 8 hours, and then I saw A NEW DREAM THEATER ALBUM! I got it and rushed the car to listen to it and see if it was as cool as the last one.

It turned out it was much cooler. Someone in Metal Curse (and I forget who, but it wasn’t Ray. King Foley? Jack Botus? Not sure.) said there are only two concept albums out there, Rush’s 2112 and Queensryche’s Operation:Mindcrime, and everything else sucks shit. He is partially correct, but wrong on two counts: first, 2112 wasn’t a concept album, it had a full-side song that was conceptual, but the B-side contained 5 regular-sized songs; second, this then-new Dream Theater album was a concept album better than either of those put together! I could not believe the total perfection, power, precision, and depth this 80-some minutes of music could lay down. The story, which is complicated to tell, is about the 1928 murder of a woman that haunts a modern-day man’s dreams. He goes to a hypnotherapist who helps him peel back the layers of the onion and find out about the conspiracy behind the woman’s death. Instead of being one song, there are a dozen tracks, some of them clocking in at over ten minutes each, some of them serving more as short introductions and bits for the story. Prior to this album, DT spent a couple of discs stripping back their sound, playing pieces that might get the occasional spin on an AOR station or that could make a good video, with the guys in stupid leather costumes probably, that might get played on some European metal show. It’s almost as if they said “fuck this!” to all of that and decided to completely Zappa out and pour as much black ink onto the music staff as possible to build these incredibly fast and complex rhythms. But it’s not all just a shredfest either; they make it all emotional and build strong songs where it’s needed for the story.

Anyway, I listened to the tape a half-dozen times straight through, then bought the CD, bounced it to an MD, and listened to the whole concept album at least once a day for probably six months straight. I still pop it in every once in a while and I’ve got every note memorized. It’s on a DVD and a live album of theirs, so I hear it there too. And now, it’s truly strange to hear this CD of them writing the songs in the studio, changing around riffs, fucking up and then swapping things around. Jordan Rudess replaced their previous keyboard player on the album; the old guy, Derek Sherinian, was more of a hard rock guy, and wanted to be some big rock star, so they fired him. Rudess is more of a classically trained guy, and you can tell the other guys feed off of his ability in the studio to put down good lines and structure. These guys worked together in the side project Liquid Tension Experiment, which is an equally project that involves the guitar, drums, and keys of Dream Theater with the bass and Chapman stick of Peter Gabriel and King Crimson’s Tony Levin.

Anyway, it is hilarious to listen to this studio work – sometimes they slow down a line, go back over it, then speed it up until it works again. I have every microsecond of this album so memorized, when I hear it performed differently, it’s very noticeable. Some of the stuff is interesting, though. There are occasional guitar licks and even some saxophone lines that were recorded but dropped from the final mix. And then there are just strange placeholders, like when vocalist James LaBrie doesn’t hold a long note in a scratch track and and does an almost yodeling song, or when the writing track for “The Dance of Eternity” breaks into an impromptu (but very kick-ass) version of “Foxy Lady” by Hendrix. It’s all very good stuff.

I thought my eBay auction was over, but it’s on PST, so I still have almost three hours. It’s up to $61, but I hope someone snipes out the thing and pushes it up to a hundred or something. Okay, time to go play the Simpsons game.