Dream Theater & Zappa Plays Zappa
Friday, 28th August 2009
The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, USA
Article By Fred Hunter
Zappa Plays Zappa
So, another hot and dry summer night in Las Vegas and my first visit to The joint at the Hard Rock hotel/casino.
It is actually a decent venue, the sound is reasonably good and the view is pretty clear for all the audience.
I was there to see Dream Theater and of course was happy to see Frank Zappa’s son Dweezil play with his band.
The show was under the name Progressive nation and included two other bands; Scale The Summit and Bigelf.
However I could not make it to the first two bands (due to work) but was told by the German dude next to me (he was on a cross country jaunt and just happened to be in Las Vegas for this)
that Scale The Summit were really good but Bigelf were not to his taste.
So, onto Zappa; he came on stage and just like his dad would do, tuned up and then introduced his first song: Purple lagoons.
From then on it was a wonderful trip through the past hearing some great Zappa pieces interspersed with some astounding soloing.
Up next was the classic Montana, it is astonishing how much Dweezil’s tone and style resemble his fathers
(in particular, his dragging of his pick over the strings) and I felt that the band were somehow channeling the seventies bands Frank would tour with.
I have been a Zappa fan since the early eighties but never saw him live, so this was the closest I will ever get.
The musicians onstage were of the HIGHEST caliber; just walking through elaborate songs such as Village of the sun, Inca roads
and My guitar wants to kill your mama with extraordinary ease.
Dweezil’s solo on Inca roads was the highlight for me, just capturing that essence that Frank did on the You can’t do that onstage volume 2 version.
The rather over the top version of More trouble every day that ended the set (you guys all know that drum fill on Afterglow by Genesis – well check out this song on Roxy and elsewhere)
was also mind blowing. Whatever you do, check out Zappa Jr. if you get the chance.
Setlist Zappa Plays Zappa
My guitar wants to kill your mama
Village of the sun
Inca roads (including lengthy guitar and sax solos)
More trouble every day
Before Dream Theater began I continued my conversation with the young dude next to me from Germany.
It turns out his liking for Dream Theater completely derives from his love of metal, which was a surprise but kind of understandable.
What did shock me was that he had never heard of Marillion, Transatlantic, IQ, did not know Peter Gabriel was in Genesis and did not know any songs by Yes!
I found that quite fascinating and realized his link to the band had come through a lot of the eighties metal bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden and Slayer.
I found that ironic since even though I was a prog fan then, with so little of it around at that time I found myself going to Metallica, Iron Maiden and Slayer shows in the mid eighties!
Albeit, between Marillion and IQ concerts!
So, it is the true metal side that seems to make up a large proportion of the bands audience, guess I should not have been all that shocked.
Another observation was the clear abundance of young people and women, which, again is not very prog like.
Behind me were two girls who could have barely been sixteen, with their poor dad sitting next to them drinking a beer while they stood up and screamed like crazy at Dream Theater!
At least in Vegas there is the one plus - having a cocktail waitress walk through the rows serving any drink you can think of, which of course I took advantage of.
So, on to Dream Theater. Well, as usual they did NOT disappoint.
Opening with the lengthy but staggering A nightmare to remember they were firing on all cylinders from the get go and with Portnoy encouraging the crowd at every chance they took control with ease.
Without break the band segues into Constant motion and gets the metal crowd even more intense with the audience screaming along to every word.. except me,
I was never a huge fan of Systematic chaos so I only yelled the title bits.
After greeting us in his usual "dramatic" style James LaBrie introduced A Rite of passage from the new CD.
I have to say I thought this song was very average when I first heard it but it has grown on me and with the added visuals referencing the subject matter of Masons it worked very well.
As with almost everything they do I am not always convinced by the bands mixing and this show was no different;
Rudess and Myung were inaudible for the most part except when soloing and even then occasionally you could see Rudess on the screen but could not hear what he was doing.
During A rite of passage his solo looked good but was buried in the crushing guitar and drums.
Well, he got a chance to shine during a brief quiet interlude as he and the always astounding John Petrucci did short introduction to Hollow years.
I was surprised to hear this but happy, it was in the same basic arrangement as the Live at the Budokan version and a pleasure to hear.
Even more surprising was the next duo of songs; Erotomania and Voices which I absolutely loved hearing.
I had always thought Erotomania was the best thing on the Awake album so all these years later hearing it live was a real treat.
Rudess even put on his magicians hat to play this excellent instrumental.
There was also a great part when Portnoy threw his drumstick across the stage to his roadie while playing and then caught it and carried on without issue when the roadie threw it back at him –hilarious stuff.
Up next was Prophets of war an OK song that really kept the metal element of the crowd going nuts but did not do much for me… sorry.
The band then shocked me again by playing Take the time from their second album, another one of their better songs and quite a fitting way to end the show.
So, as I expected the show was not too long since there were three bands before them,
but the band were on top form with Petrucci and Portnoy being as sharp as ever and Myung being his ever quiet self holding down the bottom end while Rudess spun round his synth and LaBrie pranced the stage singing in his usual strong way.
I would say though, that LaBrie’s vocals, even though he was good had WAY too much reverb on them making him sound miles away at times,
something that is tempting to a lot of vocalists but the difference between Zappa’s vocalist and LaBrie’s distant singing was very apparent.
Very minor quibble however.
So, after rapturous applause the band came back and gave us The count of Tuscany.
Bizarre, but welcome choice!
I like the song and even though playing a 20 minute song as an encore is a tad odd, I enjoyed it thoroughly; a great end to a really fun concert.
I do have a bootleg of the Toronto show from August 14th where they played Rush’s The camera eye as the encore – I was secretly hoping for that,
but I knew realistically that was only for the Toronto fans! Maybe Mike was trying to hint to Geddy to play it next time Rush go out?
So, if you get the chance; go out and catch the new tour (especially with the new CD being a step up from anything they have done since 2002) I think the show is well worth a visit!
Setlist Dream Theater
A nightmare to remember
A rite of passage
Prophets of war
Take the time
The count of Tuscany
Zappa Plays Zappa Official Website
Zappa Plays Zappa MySpace
Dream Theater Official Website
Dream Theater MySpace
The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel
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