Saturday, 7 September 2013

15th August 2013 - Dream Theater 'Dream Theater' Album playback: Angel Studios, London

Is there anything worse than trying to write something under duress, pressure, obligation or blunt force trauma to the head? Some of the above are responsible for this post, as "someone" has been nibbling away at me for the last few weeks like a belligerent rabbit at a particularly offensive carrot.

"When's the review coming out?"
"What do you mean you're not doing one?"
"You reviewed the sodding Pet Shop Boys?"

So, fine, here we go, but don't blame me if I write this in the style of a petulant teenager hacking his way through an essay on Henry VIII.

It's early August, as it is at least once a year, and I get a text from my some time co-host of the Dead Nobodies podcast.

"Do you like Dream Theater?" A question, like most posed by Bob, to which I'm not entirely sure of the required answer, so I decide to go with the truth.

"Not specially, if I'm honest. Have tried a couple of times to get into them."

"So, not enough to be a plus 1 at a new album playback at Angel Studios on Thursday?"

A previously unawoken love for the lords of overblown Prog-Metal apparently overcomes me.

"Wow, I would actually love to go to that!"  - (and drink the free beer and eat the free Pringles and maybe bump into a celeb or two.)

It's for this reason that on a Thursday evening I find myself heading down past the Islington Screen on the Green...

...and meet Bob in The Bull, a typical swanky Islington beererie in which I make my mark as a giant girl by going straight for a pint of Hoegaarden. "You don't hang about, do you?", says Bob, sarcastically. Or maybe that's just his voice.

Doors are at 5:45, and we have to be in by 6 due to a strict lockdown, so I down my MAN BREW, and we head across to Angel Studios, an actual proper place where real artists record albums which normal people buy -fairly exciting in itself, and the pictures up the stairs speak to its history: Annie Lennox, Porcupine Tree, Cockneys vs Zombies... Actually I am guessing at what the pictures are because, before we are allowed up the stairs all bags are confiscated and placed in the cloakroom - along with all mobile phones. I'm fairly sure it's some kind of infringement of basic human rights to deprive the modern man of his smartphone, but sadly I lack the quickness of thought or bare-faced obvious lying skills to claim not to have one.

This presents rather an issue for writing down any impressions of the album itself (which one might uncharitably suggest is intentional), so bear that in mind as you make your way through the rest of this. What it does mean, though, is neither of us can Tweet, or check each other in (or out), or brag to anyone not in the room about how awesome our lives are, so instead we grab a free beer from the table in the side room, a handful of Pringles, and sit down for a good old chinwag about what to do with the podcast, amongst other top secret plans for world domination. Then we go and get another beer. And another. And maybe a couple more

At some point, which feels like about 10pm, a record company lackey comes out and apologises that the band have been a bit delayed, so to just help ourselves to some free beer and snacks. Way ahead of you, mate. What band? Time ticks by and beers keep coming, and eventually, when I'm just about to lose vision in my left eye, in slope James La Brie, John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater, who say hi and wave to us all before heading over to a little side area to pose for some photos with the hardcore fans.

It's quite amusing actually (not really giving two flying hoots at the best of times, let alone sat amongst the growing bottle bank under my chair) - watching people nervously queuing up, getting things ready to sign , watching the band plaster on the best smiles they can muster for each new person who wants their photo taken... by the official photographer only, natch. Photos available for download tomorrow. Oh, there's Bob, making friends with Jordan by namedropping our mutual friend Mr. J Godfrey, Esquire.

One of these people is not in a rock band.

"Was it everything you ever dreamed it would be?", I say to him as he sits back down.

"And more...", he probably says.

When the queue disperses, out they come to answer some pithy and completely unexpected questions from Prog Magazine editor Jerry Ewing, such as 'How did you approach this album going into it with new drummer Mike Mangini?', and 'Why was it time to do a self-titled album?' - to which the band trot out the usual 'We wanted to say, this is really us, this album defines us' response, which should really be retired after 30-odd years in service from bands the world over. C'mon, someone just say 'We couldn't be arsed to think of a title. It saved us 5 grand in consultancy fees.'

Then there are a few fan questions, which seem to get answered to a greater or lesser degree depending on how stupid the band think they are, and eventually, with a collection of empty Beck's bottles rapidly approaching double figures under my seat, the album gets put on.

And here's where this review really comes unstuck, because here's all I can remember:

- It seems AMAZING. Like, literally the best thing I have ever heard. Mind you, so does the busker playing 'Another Brick in the Wall' at the tube station on the way home. And the Aqua song which pops up on shuffle on my phone on the train. And the sound of the fox mewling in the street outside my flat at 3am. Beer = FUN!

- It's notably more melodic than previous Dream Theater music I've checked out, a bit less emphasis on histrionic fretwankery and epileptic drum seizures. Not that that's saying an awful lot.

- We're listening to it in 5.1, which is pretty cool. It doesn't strike me as being a particularly adventurous mix but there are a couple of moments, especially near the beginning of the first track, (which we'll say is called 'Track One', really defining the essence of opening an album) where there's a giant swoosh of sound from front to back of the room like an especially flamboyant jet engine taking off, with toms rolling all about the room, passing the 'ohmigod' test.

- There's a point towards the end of the final track where I lean over to Bob and start singing 'High vibration, go on...' , but he doesn't seem amused.

Here's my hot off the press Twitter review:

Which is high praise indeed. I'll probably buy it. Which is even higher praise, for a Dream Theater album. But don't take my word for it. Wait for someone to hear it sober - seems unlikely that applies to anyone in the room tonight, mind you.

Apart from perhaps the band, who sit in the row behind us trying not to look uncomfortable whilst watching a room full of pissheads attempting to make sense of their latest magnum opus. Jordan Rudess shuts his eyes and taps his feet, earnestly - either really getting into the music or trying desperately to hold in one too many lagers.

Talking of which, in the middle of the album (which will therefore be the best part, everyone) I decide I have no choice but to get up and run down the corridor for a wee, which I attempt to do as quickly as possible so not to offend the band. Finishing up and starting to do up my flies, I turn around and there's James LaBrie.

"Hey!", he says.

"Hello!", I say, as cheerily as you can when the lead singer of the world's biggest Prog Metal band has probably just seen your knob.