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Dream Theater - Once In A Livetime CD (album) cover

ONCE IN A LIVETIME

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.24 | 283 ratings

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Wicket
Prog Reviewer
5 stars One of the most electrifying and intriguing live shows DT ever recorded, and one of my favorites.

Getting this out of the way first, yes, the sound quality is not the best (hello, it's a live show for crying out loud!), and this was recorded after LaBrie's infamous food poisoning, pretty much ruining his wonderful falsetto and making diehard fans cringing the moment they realize he can't hit those high notes in "Take The Time" anymore. Still, for one of the few metal bands that master the jam tendencies and always find a way to make a boring show special, this will definitely pique your curiosity if you are thinking about buying this live record.

The show begins in dynamic fashion with the first two movements of their (at the time) recent epic "A Change Of Seasons". Already, the presence of Derek Sherinian differs from the playing style of former keyboardist Kevin Moore. While Moore was more of the symphonic type, Sherinian favored (and still does) that "wah-wah" sound that he used during his fills and is also the same sound that graces many (if not all) of his solo records.

Another interesting feature of DT's live performances is the way they interlock songs together so the sound like one fluid track. Indeed, not all of them are picture perfect, but the meshing of the first two ACOS movements to "Puppies In Acid" (the intro to "The Mirror") and their attempted radio hit "Just Let Me Breathe" is one of my favorites. That 3 chord riff in Puppies/Mirror just instigates a massive headbanging, along with the keys providing ample support and theatrics in the background. Yes, the segue to "Just let Me Breathe" is a bit abrupt, but I have no qualms, as the atmosphere at this point in Paris was probably electric and jumping. Yes, it's not the most famous of DT tracks (and Falling Into Infinity will forever be known as "the album made just to appease the record label because they wanted us to play music that sounds like s*** on the radio), but add in Petrucci's heavy riffing and I'm sold. Yes, I'm also a metalhead through and through.

"Voices" is another track that provides an insight on DT's jam tendencies. After a heavy chord, the music seems to fade into silence. With woodblock and percussion in the background and Myung noodling on the bass as always, along with Petrucci playing an atmospheric version of the Star Wars theme, the mood suddenly changes, and the track begins with Myung again on the bass. Seeing as the track is a part of the "A Mind Beside Itself" suite, it's a great way to make it a stand-alone track. It starts in in typical DT fashion, coupled with Petrucci's heavy, bone-crushing riffs and Portnoy's double bass before it all fades out to Sherinian and LaBrie's haunting "every Sunday morning" line that gives chills down [my] spine. It turns into a beautiful (dare I use that word, as a guy, I can't stand that word) track, and a wonderful version of it as well.

As stated previously, "Take The Time" in performances around this time (1998) aren't exactly the best simply because LaBrie can't hit those high notes anymore. It was interesting to hear Portnoy and Petrucci sing the first few lines before handing it off to LaBrie. The atmosphere building around this song is very impressive, and while some versions of good song such as these don't have as good a sound quality as, say, the studio version, there's more excitement and energy in live versions (not to mention the "Free Bird" excerpt at the end of this particular one, followed by the 10-second "Moby Dick" ditty) then the studio ones, which is why with certain DT tracks I prefer live versions rather than their studio counterparts.

Derek gets a minute and two to shine on a solo spot, reminiscent of some of his work with Platypus he would later work with when DT cut him from the lineup. The solo leads into "Lines In The Sand", even though he's still jamming a few minutes into the actual track. The intro starts very strongly (containing Sherinian's, er, "trade-mark" 'keyboard squeal', the only person I've heard it from, as Sherinian is the most "synth-y" of DT keyboardists to date). Again, it's another fantastic version of of one of their longer songs, and one of my favorites from "Falling Into Infinity".

Then comes the massive sequence "Scarred / A Change Of Seasons IV: The Darkest Of Winters / YTSE Jam / Mike Portnoy Drum Solo + YTSE Jam Reprise". Petrucci begins with a wonderful solo before Portnoy's subtle 3 sixteenth-note cymbal taps kick in. Once again the energy around this great track is fierce and electric, despite LaBrie trashing a few notes here and there, but it's good enough to listen through the whole track. The ensemble manages to keep the energy going through to "The Darkest Of Winters", which is one of my favorite parts of the "Change Of Seasons" suite. It's always interesting to hear the 3 solo spots near the end to see what the band comes up with (such as Myung's ditty in this particular version, or the Simpsons theme on the "Live Scenes From New York" show). This segues into "YTSE Jam", which really needs no introduction; it's just another great instrumental jam and one of the better tracks from "When Dream And Day Unite". That, coupled with a drum solo from Portnoy (which you can never go wrong with him) makes this a very nice sequence and one worth listening to over and over again.

That ends the first disc; which I will couple with this quick interlude; instead of waiting to review this disc fully at the end of this review, I will be quick to note that yes, LaBrie didn't exactly soar through this show without any problems. Yes, there were a few butchered notes and yes, he kinda thrashed through a few high notes, but the sound quality and the energy itself was enough to keep me entertained and the diversity of the setlist was another positive for me. Another thing people tend to complain about is the dissection of "A Change Of Seasons" throughout the entire setlist. I find it interesting because in the most challenging of instrumental sections that, through the band's jam tendencies, they are able to dissect bits and pieces of songs and reattach them from different songs and sections. From a listener's point of view, it seems trivial at best, but as a musician myself having attempted similar jams like this, I can say very easily that it is not the easiest thing in the world to play one song and then seamlessly groove into another beat or jam, so I always give major props to these guys for pulling stuff like that off.

Disc 2 begins with the somewhat-disappointing "Trial Of Tears". I hadn't really been the biggest fan of the track, but there just seems to be something lacking, which becomes evident in the next few tracks. This, along with "Hollow Years" and "Take Away My Pain" are the sappiest, least interesting tracks out of the entire album and, I'll admit it, back to back like this, it can easily put me to sleep. Then again, it does balance out the entire first disc which is loud, heavy and smash-you-face-in-a-brutal-car-accident kind of way. Yet, these songs are also off of, in my opinion, their most commercial album, and their worst one to date (behind WDADU, of course)

So, I'll say nothing more about them....

This live show is where one of my favorite recordings of "Caught In A Web" resides, flowing into "Lie", another good track, as well. Again, the flowing of one track to another without flaw, without falter continues to amaze me each and every time this band performs. That heaviness and omniscient sound from "Awake" is still there, except Sherinian continues to resort to that synth-y sound, whereas previous keyboardist Kevin Moore specialized in that dark, brooding, horror-sound. You could say that Sherinian butchers all the old songs, and that might be a good reason why he was dumped after only one album (on one of their worst yet).

One of my all-time favorite sequences in DT shows has to me the "Peruvian Skies > John Petrucci Guitar Solo > Pull Me Under" sequence. "Peruvian Skies" is one of the more likeable tunes off of "Falling Into Infinity". The first chorus leads to a "Have A Cigar" tease off of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" (quite possibly their best record ever made), and a good tease at that, before the band segues back into the main riff. The energy from the crowd in the middle of the song is tremendous. If you can't start headbanging at this point, you're not a true DT fan. The seriousness from the studio albums is never reflected in the live shows. In fact, the band's attitude is more humorous is anything. You can tell at the end of the song how Petrucci changes his riffs from the Skies riff to Metallica's "Enter Sandman"'s famous chords. That of course leads to a guitar solo by the very man which, as all his solos are, "EPIC". It starts out serious enough, as the main goal is to shred every Frenchmen's face off in the entire city of Paris. Then he pokes fun at traditional songs, teasing the "Flight Of The Bumblebee" and even teasing Liquid Tension Experiment's "Paradigm Shift", with Portnoy backing him up (since both are in LTE). An epic solo like that can only be followed up with "Pull Me Under", which would've been a great way to end the show had the audience not ask for an encore.

Yet the final sequence of "Metropolis > Learning To Live > A Change Of Seasons: The Crimson Sunset" was the best way to end the show. The band managed to drag the audience through their FII songs (to promote the stupid thing) and finish the show with some (excerpts) of their best songs from "Images & Words", all culminating with the final movement of the "Change Of Seasons" suite and an electrifying mood from the crowd.

Positives: The variety of the setlist, the teases and solo in between and the excitement from the crowd really makes this a top-notch (and underrated) performance.

Negatives: LaBrie (occasionally) thrashes about on some of the higher-pitched notes, not to mention Sherinian is in this show (which is almost always a cause for concern; I've met few people that thought Sherinian was a good fit for DT at all)

Overall Verdict: I find this to be one of my favorite DT shows simply because it is out of the ordinary with the setlist, teasers and solo in between. Yes, I do have this behind "Budokan" and "Live Scenes In New York" respectively. If you love Dream Theater's more humorous and adventurous side, this is a must-have recording. If the (roughly) 7 notes LaBrie butchers in this entire show prevent you from listening to 2 seconds of this entire show, that's ok, too; you're just not a true DT fan. Yes, Budokan has the infamou "Instrumedley" and LSINY has the entire "Scenes From A Memory" album, along with the "A Mind Beside Itself" and "A Change Of Seasons" suite (along with LTE's "Acid Rain"), this is the next best live show. Get all three of these shows if you do not already have them. Now. Do it now. Go get them. Now.

I'm not kidding. Get these live shows. Now. Or you will never experience true happiness.

Wicket | 5/5 |

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