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

ONCE IN A LIVETIME

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.31 | 385 ratings

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Frankingsteins
3 stars Dream Theater's first official live album 'Live at the Marquee,' released in 1993, presented New York's pioneers of progressive metal at the start of their consistently successful career, but five years and a number of albums, EPs and record label changes later, 'Once in a Livetime' presented a more contemporary overview of the band, catching them right before they moved into seriously ambitious territory with 1999's epic concept album 'Metropolis part 2: Scenes from a Memory.'

Perhaps at a cost to the overall quality, Once in a Livetime catches Dream Theater on the start of an upward climb: primarily promoting a studio album that was only moderately well received, and following turbulent relations with Time Warner records and a relatively new keyboard player to introduce to the fans.

Derek Sherinian had already demonstrated his skills on Dream Theater's epic suite 'A Change of Seasons,' viewed by many as a gift to the band's fans, but was required to be more restrained on the follow-up studio album 'Falling into Infinity.' Despite including some impressive lengthy and intricate songs, the band were essentially told to release something with more mass appeal than their ambitious prog-rock-influenced albums of the past and the result was a good, but fairly mediocre collection of mostly forgettable radio friendly rock songs.

Once in a Livetime has no such enforced boundaries, and the band don't devote an enormous amount of time to publicising their most recent release. As such, this double live album benefits from a more comprehensive view of the band's 90s work, with focus shifting from slow, melodic ballads to heavy thrash influences and extended jams and solos, all performed for the pleasure of the audience at Le Bataclan, Paris.

Once in a Livetime - CD 1:

1. A Change of Seasons I: The Crimson Sunrise 2. A Change of Seasons II: Innocence 3. Puppies on Acid 4. Just Let Me Breathe 5. Voices 6. Take the Time 7. Derek Sherinian Piano Solo 8. Lines in the Sand 9. Scarred 10. A Change of Seasons IV: The Darkest of Winters 11. Ytse Jam 12. Mike Portnoy Drum Solo

To generalise (a little inaccurately), the first hour of the concert makes for a 'heavier' disc to contrast with the largely softer second side, as the band try to get the fans moving and rocking along before having some nice relaxation. There's no sense of a warm-up here: the CD fades in with the ethereal opening of 'A Change of Seasons,' the band's brilliant 25-minute piece which is split into its respective movements and used to bookend and divide the show, something that works quite well.

After this prog overload come the heavy, recent songs 'Puppies on Acid' and 'Just Let Me Breathe,' both seeing the band performing at full-pelt and demonstrating their hard edge, before slowing down for 'Voices' and beginning a more reflective and experimental stage of the show that spans the rest of the album.

This 'descent' (as some may call it) is a little indulgent, and could certainly serve to put off newcomers, but the fantastic long progressive songs 'Lines in the Sand' and 'Take the Time,' as well as the crushingly heavy 'Scarred,' each from a different studio album, serve as a reminder of Dream Theater's originality and deserved success, even if the alternating vocals and rawer take on 'Take the Time' make it a little uncomfortable to listen to.

The CD player's eject button allows casual fans to spare themselves the dull 'Ytse Jam,' the only track here from the band's largely unimpressive debut album, and, more importantly, Mike Portnoy's tedious drum solo that follows and just doesn't stop. It's nice that the band include something for drummers, and no one else (well, maybe people who don't play drums but still enjoy drum solos. no, that's a bit far-fetched isn't it?), but at 8 minutes it really could have been replaced with one of the band's classic songs that didn't make it onto this collection. The earlier piano solo doesn't suffer for this, being more melodic and musical for a start and also acting as a nice intro to 'Lines in the Sand.' Fading to silence after a drum solo is a little anticlimactic and annoying.

Once in a Livetime - CD 2:

1. Trial of Tears 2. Hollow Years 3. Take Away My Pain 4. Caught in a Web 5. Lie 6. Peruvian Skies 7. John Petrucci Guitar Solo 8. Pull Me Under 9. Metropolis part 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper 10. Learning to Live 11. A Change of Seasons VII: The Crimson Sunset

I listen to the second disc more often than the first, perhaps because the pleasant sound of many of the songs makes it more inviting. Dream Theater have produced many great heavy and thrashy songs, most notably on 1996's 'Awake' album (from which most of the tracks on this live release hail), but they've always been most in their element when creating something softer and more reflective. The first three songs could almost be classed as ballads, particularly the soft, saxophone-aided offering 'Take Away My Pain' lamenting the death of vocalist James LaBrie's father, and they represent the best three tracks from the Falling into Infinity album. 'Hollow Years' was that album's single, and its commercial nature is evident but doesn't affect the song, and 'Trial of Tears' is the band's most atmospheric offering yet, a precursor in style to their highly successful album the following year.

Another reason for my preference of the second disc is the band's relaxed attitude to their material. Okay, disc one had a drum solo. but it was a drum solo! That doesn't count. There was a brief jam session towards the end of 'Take the Time,' but that didn't amount to much either. Here, John Petrucci's guitar solo forms a perfect, if overlong build-up to 'Pull Me Under' and the final part of the album, while band members pay instrumental tribute to recognisable favourites: 'Peruvian Skies,' a fairly good but repetitive long song, is turned into a great crowd piece when Petrucci and Sherinian seamlessly incorporate the riffs of Pink Floyd's 'Have a Cigar' and Metallica's 'Enter Sandman,' so perfectly timed that the listener would have to know the original sources to notice anything awry. Similarly, the album opens with a variation of the famous alien ditty from 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' and Petrucci incorporates what sounds rather like a theme from the arcade classic 'PacMan' into his solo.

The central part of the album returns to the heaviness of disc one with 'Caught in a Web,' 'Lie' and 'Peruvian Skies,' all good examples of this side of the band but oddly not as memorable on the live album as in the studio, but this is thankfully saved by the excellent climax, forming an extended medley of songs from the band's most successful (and in my opinion, greatest) album, 1992's 'Images and Words.' The band seems to be aware of this general consensus, closing with the classic songs 'Pull Me Under,' 'Metropolis part 1' and 'Learning to Live.' These songs work brilliantly together, all possessing the ingredients that make Dream Theater so revered, but suffer a little from the unpolished live sound that doesn't suit them as well as the harder tracks.

Once in a Livetime is far from being a perfect live album, but its release provides a great opportunity to hear the band in-between their mid-90s 'song collection' style albums and the more ambitious and lofty work they would undertake immediately after. The lack of classic songs from these follow-up albums doesn't present a problem, as Dream Theater's publicisers have fallen into the habit of releasing a live album every couple of years from this point on. The sound quality also sounds in need of improvement, as the atmospheric keyboards are sometimes rendered mute by the guitars and drums. LaBrie's vocals are also something of an issue, sounding strained at times which may be due to the band's boast on the sleeve notes that their 'Touring into Infinity' tour comprised 116 shows in 20 countries.

The solos are annoying and dull, but should please musicians, who I believe form a large proportion of Dream Theater's loyal fan base. The set list is fairly faultless, bearing in mind the studio releases the band would be aiming to promote, and the use of 'A Change of Seasons' is a bold and clever move. It's also nice to have the songs grouped roughly together in terms of style, as each respective atmosphere and mood created is allowed to run its course, something the band often have trouble with in their studio albums. Another annoying oddity is the use of fade-outs on the second side, presumably omitting pauses in the concert as the band recuperate. There's very little in the way of crowd banter, surfacing only in some instrumental sections and a final farewell from all concerned, which may be due to editing or LaBrie's own choices.

As with A Change of Seasons, Once in a Livetime is an album for the fans. The second disc could be enjoyed casually for around half an hour before its appeal constricted, and the solos and jams throughout try even the patience of established Dream Theater disciples.

A fortunate occurrence in the compulsive release of Dream Theater live albums is the almost entirely different set-lists recorded from each tour. Thus, 2001's 'Live Scenes from New York' album/DVD and 2004's 'Live at Budokan' can be bought without the repetition of 'greatest hits,' a reason to give this seamlessly flowing collection five stars, while those who own Once in a Livetime can also avoid buying the mediocre Falling into Infinity, already owning all of the good songs in this more upbeat and energetic live performance.

Frankingsteins | 3/5 |

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