Once In A Livetime

Dream Theater

EastWest Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


The argument I've heard about many bands I've seen in concert is that they're so much better live than they are on disc. This has indeed been true for some of the bands I've had the privilege to see over the years, but not necessarily true for all of them.

In the case of Dream Theater, I would argue that the live album does not do them justice. In the case of their latest release Once In A Livetime, the album proves without a doubt that this band is one of the most technical and talented bands out there today, but something is lost in the translation that can only be understood by seeing James LaBrie and crew perform live. (I know; I saw them for the first time this past August.)

This two-disc set, recorded in Paris just a few months ago, is a definite "for the fans" release. While this is usually a comment I reserve as a slam against a disappointing album, in fact, the album is structured for those who have literally hung on to every note the band has played. Taking four movements from their heavily requested my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 magnum opus "A Change Of Seasons," LaBrie, guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, keyboarist Derek Sherinian and drummer Mike Portnoy tear through material that just could be the pulse and nerve center of progressive rock today.

Not familiar with Dream Theater? Once In A Livetime might please you, but it's sure to overwhelm you. The newcomer to the Dream Theater experience (which I still count myself as a member of) won't appreciate songs like "Pull Me Under," "Peruvian Skies" and "Ytse Jam" as being incredible works that capture the ears and the soul of the listener. (Often, the band also shows their sense of humor, working in riffs from Metallica, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Rimsky-Korsakov into their music.) They might not understand how there can be 13-minute songs on this album while other tracks like "Puppies On Acid" dribble out of the gun at around one minute.

For the long-time fan, this set will simply be over two hours of nirvana. From tracks like "Scarred" and "Trial Of Tears" to the tastefully controlled solos by Sherinian, Portnoy and Petrucci, Once In A Livetime is the early Christmas present that Dream Theater fans have been waiting for.

All this being said, the set doesn't always seem friendly to the newcomer as it would to the long-time fan, and this could scare off potential new fans to the band's message. However, if you give this set a chance to grow on you and to mature to your ears like a bottle of fine wine, the result will be that more pleasureable.

Once In A Livetime still lacks in that Dream Theater is a band who must be experienced in concert. On disc, you don't get to see Myung work his way through a piece on the Chapman Stick, nor do you see his and Petrucci's fingers fly on certain passages. You don't get to see the technical precision with which Portnoy attacks his drum kit. And honestly, all of this is more than worth the price of admission and a half-flat beer.

Once In A Livetime is still a very worthwhile disc to experience, though casual fans or newcomers should seriously consider learning more about the group and their music before diving into this one headfirst.

Rating: B-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EastWest Records, and is used for informational purposes only.