Dream Theater – Live At Budokan Review

Dream Theater – Live At Budokan
Atlantic, 2004

Disc 1
1. As I Am
2. This Dying Soul
3. Beyond This Life
4. Hollow Years
5. War Inside My Head
6. The Test That Stumped Them All

Disc 2
1. Endless Sacrifice
2. Instrumedley
3. Trial of Tears
4. New Millennium
5. Keyboard Solo
6. Only A Matter Of Time

Disc 3
1. Goodnight Kiss
2. Solitary Shell
3. Stream of Consciousness
4. Disappear
5. Pull Me Under
6. In The Name of God

Counting the EP Live at the Marquee, half of A Change of Seasons, two discs of Once In a LIVEtime, and three discs of Live Scenes from New York, Dream Theater already has quite the live retrospective available for the fanatical listener. Add to this the DVD version of Live Scenes, a two-disc DVD version of this release, and an independent release of “official” bootlegs including the entirety of Metallica’s Master of Puppets played in Barcelona, Dream Theater could easily be accused of oversaturating the live material market. Even other great live prog bands such as Rush only average one live release every 3-4 albums. With eight albums and an EP of studio material and now approximately nine discs worth of live, it doesn’t take much to start scratching one’s head.

There is a special case with Dream Theater. Their fans are far from your average music fans, the majority being male and musicians themselves. While some are more into the metal side and others more into the progressive rock area, it’s still not a diverse crowd. As time passes, some fans get disgruntled with changes in the band’s direction and drift away; new fans are reeled in by the diehards in an attempt to infuse new blood into the fanbase. In general, it’s a group of people who understand music and appreciate ability and skill — and it’s folks like those who would have a three-disc live set released after every album if it were plausible.

Still, since the band’s last official live release, there have only been two studio releases: Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, which in itself was a double album, and last year’s Train of Thought. Dream Theater completed several legs of a few tours during that time, including touring with Queensryche and Yes, as well as doing their own three-hour sets without anyone else on the bill, and travelling worldwide. Having been releasing albums for over 15 years now, there’s plenty of material to be found, but the question remains: what makes this album any different or better than anything before it? Live Scenes, at least, featured the entire Metropolis II: Scenes From A Memory played in its entirety as well as “A Change of Seasons.” What does Live at Budokan have to offer other than a Japanese audience?

For starters, the majority of Budokan‘s setlist is centered around the new material of the last two albums; five of of the seven tracks on Train of Thought are present, as well has “Disappear” from disc one and half of the Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence opus which comprises disc two of that album. Of the remaining tracks, only the Falling Into Infinity song “New Millennium” (in full) and When Dream And Day Unite track “Only A Matter Of Time haven’t been previously included on an official live release. A nice little medley of instrumental parts of many songs entitled “Instrumedley” substitutes for any one particular instrumental stretch, of which there are many in the DT back catalog. But by far, it’s the new songs that are showcased, even though three of their older songs selected have already appeared on another live album (and in the case of “Pull Me Under,” this is its third appearance). Also of note is the absence of single contribution from their third album, Awake.

Setlist choices aside, the sound itself is beautiful as always coming from Dream Theater. After reports of rampant overdubbing on Once In a LIVEtime (backed up when bootlegs of the show circulated the internet, complete with vocalist James LaBrie’s voice cracking all over the place), the band cooled it off with their last live set and seem to be continuing this trend. Seeing them live several times over the last few years, LaBrie has beefed up his vocals and is much more regularly on-key. Mistakes are left on Budokan, but it takes a trained ear to find them, apart from the occasional flat vocal; it may be possible that something larger was changed, but the world may never know. The production is almost too slick at times, lending one to almost forget it’s a live album. Perhaps it’s the nature of the Japanese audience, but you simply never hear them unless the music is completely faded out or the band directly calls for their cheers. It’s almost surreal at times.

Still, one has to ask: what was the point of this live release? There’s more than enough material currently on the market for fans to snatch up and enjoy the live experience. Perhaps just a DVD version would have sufficed if the point was to give a well-rounded feel to an average Dream Theater show. Their previous DVD’s intent was to showcase all of the Scenes From a Memory disc in its rock-opera glory; this offering has no such flow or purpose aside from playing a lot of new material. Even the selections of older material don’t seem to have been chosen by any method other than paper from a hat. Everyone knows that Dream Theater sounds great live, so there’s never any worries as to the performance aspect. So what makes this more than just a nice souvenir? What makes it a need-to-own item, even for hardcore fans?