Dream Theater – The Count of Tuscany

August 16, 2009

Today’s MSMOTD

Dream Theater – The Count of Tuscany (buy “Black Clouds & Silver Linings”)

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Dream Theater.  DREAM THEATER!  I am so excited to finally write about what is probably my favourite band.   There’s no way I can cover everything or even adequately begin to present their music, so consider this just a brief intro!  These guys have been a central part of my musical life for over a decade, though they’ve been playing for 20 years now and have just released their 10th studio album.  They are at their core a progressive rock quintet, with each of the members being a world-class musician.  John Petrucci is widely considered one of the greatest living rock guitarists (regularly touring with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani), Portnoy on drums has a huge following (and is one of the friendliest guys in the biz), Jordan Rudess was a crazy child piano prodigy who went to Juilliard School of Music at age 9, and John “The Mysterious” Myung is an enigma who practices bass 6 hours a day and “cools down” after concerts (as opposed to “warming up” before).  All conduct workshops and release best-selling instructional videos.

This concentration of raw talent has led Dream Theater to produce an incredible variety of amazing music, drawing from sources such as Yes, Metallica, U2 and Pink Floyd, as well as more modern groups like Tool, Radiohead and Muse.  They’ve also inspired in turn literally hundreds of other bands and have created a large and devoted fanbase, all without any real radio or television support.  Their music soars, grinds, floats, pounds, swirls, surrounds…  One of the few bands who can evoke the breadth of emotion all in a single song – brightly uplifting one minute, then oppressively dark the next.  Their music is not for people who need songs to be in digestible 4-minute bites.  Their latest album – “Dark Clouds And Silver Linings” has 6 songs, 4 of which are over 12 minutes long.  The MSMOTD is actually the longest of the bunch, clocking in at over 19 minutes.  This extra time allows Dream Theater to fully explore their ideas/melodies and really expand their musical wings without worrying about fitting into the verse-chorus-bridge archetype (though many of their songs do follow that pattern).  Of course, all of this is meaningless if the music itself isn’t any good. Fortunately Dream Theater produces incredible music, using their skill to weave intricate, powerful and memorable melodies around interesting lyrics and the prerequisite solo sections.  Some accuse Dream Theater of musical wankery, and there’s certainly an element of that in some songs (I blame Jordan Rudess), but it’s rare and the songs I’ve chosen display, imo, their more focused songwriting skills.

Portnoy, Petrucci, Rudess, LaBrie and Myung.  Rudess has been the only addition since 1990.  I dig Portnoys Dethklok t-shirt.

Portnoy, Petrucci, Rudess, LaBrie and Myung. Rudess has been the only addition since 1990. I dig Portnoy's Dethklok t-shirt. They look a little scary, but really they're a bunch of softies! Except Myung. He will ruin you! He even tackled LaBrie on stage one time!

Hooo boy.  It was both easy and incredibly difficult to choose the MSMOTD for Dream Theater.  The Count of Tuscany is one of my favourite songs, definitely the best off their latest album (2009′s “Black Clouds And Silver Linings”), but at 19+ minutes long, it’s not their most accessible song.  However, I don’t care!  I hope you all take the time to listen to it in its entirety, because it’s an absolutely incredible piece of music.  It’s divided into 4 distinct sections, with an instrumental intro which immediately brightens up the room (I use it as my alarm clock).  The interplay between guitar melodies is simple breathtaking.  It’s perfect, and nearly drives me to tears whenever I hear it.  The next section is a good example of Dream Theater’s heavier side, with a more frantic melody and rhythm driving lyrics about Petrucci’s very real experience with an actual Count he met in Tuscany whilst on tour one year.  Apparently it was a rather unsettling experience.  LaBrie’s vocals are stellar here.  In fact, he’s been getting better and better with each album and is no longer the weak link some used to consider him.

The 3rd section comes about 10 minutes in, with the frantic story telling giving way to a gorgeous spacey interlude, with soaring guitar harmonics, peaceful chimes and a gentle melody.  Again, perfect and beautiful.   The final section, at ~14:30 begins with a strummed acoustic and gentle vocals, building to a symphonic crescendo to properly end off their newest epic masterpiece.  I love this song so much.  So much.  It encompasses all that I love about music.  Energy, peace, wonder, beauty, sadness, virtuosity, simplicity…  I really lack the words to properly describe my passion for this band.  I hope you can catch a glimpse for yourself through their music!

(Dream Theater’s Forsaken from their 2007 album “Systematic Chaos”.  Make sure you watch in HQ!)

There were so many songs I wanted to post here, but since I’m seeing Dream Theater in concert tonight (!!!!!), I’ll select from the songs on their expected set list.  Forsaken (see the video above) is one of their more accessible songs and has a killer guitar riff throughout.  One of the rare DT songs to get an official video too, so it’s a treat.  The first song I’ve posted below – Hollow Years – is a very mellow, melodic song for those who didn’t dig the epicness of The Count of Tuscany. It features Petrucci on acoustic, with a beautifully played solo midway through.  It’s actually from my least favourite Dream Theater album, 1997′s “Falling Into Infinity”, but it’s a good example of DT’s more hopeful, uplifting music (musically at least if not lyrically, haha).  It’s got a more folksy feel to it than most of their music.  Less sophisticated (no changing time signatures and the like) and easy to enjoy.

The second song I’ve posted below is another of my all-time favourites, from their second (and perhaps best) album, “Images and Words” (1992).  Learning To Live is widely considered one of their very best songs, and has my most-loved Dream Theater moment, so I have no choice but to post it!  It’s also rare in that it’s one of the few songs written by Myung!  The bulk of the song is actually instrumental, with LaBrie only singing for 3 minutes of ~12 at the beginning and a bit near the end.  The chorus and solos give me chills every time, but the greatest moment comes between 8:10 when the melody restarts and at 8:40 erupts into a brilliant melody straight out of an NES action game, haha.  The melody from 9:20 -> 10:00 is possibly my favourite of all their stuff, and the 2 minute outtro following is simply glorious.

I’ve also posted Honor Thy Father from 2003′s “Train of Thought”, their heaviest album.  The drum solo right at the beginning is worth the price of admission on its own.  Check it out to experience Dream Theater’s darker/heavier side.

(Dream Theater in 2000 performing Overture 1928 and Strange Deja Vu from their masterpiece concept album “Scenes from a Memory”.  Again, be sure to watch in HQ!  Dream Theater is one of the few bands who often sound even better live than in studio.)

I adore the joy, freedom and skill with which they wield their instruments.  They operate as extensions of their bodies and you can tell as you watch and listen that this music is a pure glimpse into their beings.  Dream Theater isn’t for everyone I guess, but hopefully some people will give them a chance and discover one of the most amazing bands around today.  If you like the other stuff I’ve posted on this site, please listen to Dream Theater!  I can’t wait to read your comments, but for now I’m off to see them perform live!  Sooooo excited!  I’ll definitely post a review of the concert tomorrow.  Enjoy!

- Mons.

(Update: The concert – Prog Nation 2009 – was great!  5 hours of prog rock/metal with Scale the Summit, Big Elf, Zappa plays Zappa and Dream Theater.  Hopefully my hearing returns to normal within a few days!)

More music from Dream Theater

Dream Theater – Hollow Years (buy this song)

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Dream Theater – Learning to Live (buy “Images and Words”)

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Dream Theater – Honor Thy Father (buy “Train of Thought”)

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Further info about today’s MSMOTD

Official Website: http://www.dreamtheater.net/

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream_Theater

Featured Review: Tommy Jensen’s review of “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” for RevelationZ Magazine.

Support Dream Theater (and me!) by buying their music through Amazon.com!  Unfortunately, most tracks are not available as individual mp3s, but you can get “Scenes from a Memory”, “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” and “Octavarium” via those links. Those, along with the ones linked by the songs above, are my favourite albums and all are definitely worth owning. Especially Images and Words, Scenes from a Memory and Train of Thought.

5 Responses to “Dream Theater – The Count of Tuscany”

  1. Mons,

    Great write up on Dream Theater. I have yet to get their newest album and after reading your review and more anxious then ever to do so.

    So I ended up getting a ticket to the Dream Theater concert on Sunday at 2 o’clock (thanks ever so much to you for letting me know that Saturday night that they were playing in Winnipeg!). To my surprise, I got front a front row ticket and got to stand right up to the front of the stage just 3 feet away from John Petrucci’s fingers shredding his guitar to bits. My left right ear was deaf for two days after (I was about 5 feet away from the speakers) but it was worth it!
    Well worth the money I payed and easily the best concert I’ve been to yet.

    By the way have you considered reviewing Ratatat yet? LP3 is their newest album.

    -Patrick

  2. Hey Patrick! Wow, you got front row seats on sunday afternoon? Was it just a single seat? That’s crazy, I’m so jealous. My seats were good, but they were up on the balcony. Good view, but not so close.

    Actually, the Dream Theater show I saw in 2003 (and the following 3 days of deafness) prompted me to buy some special musician earplugs that I wear at every show now, haha, so my hearing was alright after). But yeah, it was such a great show! Glad you were able to go, and that jam session on Sat. was a lot of fun.

    I’m listening to Ratatat on myspace now, good stuff! More laid back than I was expecting. They remind me of Royksopp (I did a post on them if you don’t know them). Very cool :D I’ll definitely have to feature them at some point. What’s your favourite song of theirs?

    - Mons.

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  4. Hey Mons,

    Yeah I ended up just getting a single seat. I couldn’t think of anyone else that I know that likes Dream Theater. I did get pretty lucky with that seat though. I probably should get those ear plugs too if I still want to be able to enjoy music for however long I live.

    I agree, the jam was great. Best one I’ve had in a while.

    Kinda hard to pick my favorite song from Ratatat but I’m either going to have to go with Gettysburg or Shempi.

    -Patrick

  5. [...] to dreamy piano-pop, folk rock, alternative and occasionally on to thrashy metal ala Tool, Opeth or Dream Theater.  Steve Wilson himself really dislikes the term “Progressive”, and though the band has [...]