© Dave Ling - March 1995 - previously published in RAW magazine
"Tonight," predicts Dream Theater manager Jim Pitulski, "will be a who’s who of the music of yesteryear." He’s speaking before Dream Theater’s supposedly low-key one-off date at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in the heart of London’s Soho. For the uninitiated, the idea of tonight’s gig is for the US-Canadian quintet to fly in and perform a set of their all-time favourite tunes before a specially invited audience, and to record the show for future release. Hence the title of Uncovered – an unplugged set of cover versions.
Several guest appearances have been lined up, and although some are eventually forced to pull out at the last moment – Ozzy Osbourne had promised to come along and regale us with ‘Revelation (Mother Earth)’, but had an album to complete in New York; Bruce Dickinson was working on his radio show; and Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton, who was due to have contributed to a rendition of ‘Bloodstone’, was stuck in Germany – the list of prog rock and metal celebrities on the guest list remained impressive.
"Steve Howe [of Yes] will be playing with the band, so will Barney Greenway from Napalm Death, and the whole of Marillion will be here, so will [ex-Genesis] guitarist Steve Hackett," continues Pitulski. "If it goes well enough, this could become an annual thing, possibly in a different city around the world."
Ronnie Scott’s is tiny. It holds just 300-odd people, and it seems as though Dream Theater have brought a PA almost as big as the gig itself. Matters aren’t helped by the band arriving late, as there are interviews/photo-sessions to be done, and important hands to be shaken.
Finally they’re here, and the special guests also start to arrive. DT frontman James LaBrie collars Barney and wants to know whether he will be adapting his vocal tone for Metallica’s ‘Damage Inc.’, a mellow tune by Greenway’s standards?
"Naah, mate," Barney replies, almost horrified at the thought. "It wouldn’t be adequate, would it? I’ll just do the usual."
"Dream Theater know what they want to do, and they have the expertise to do it.
They’ve got the balance right between heaviness and precision"
Steve Howe of Yes after the Uncovered show
Steve Hogarth also wants to join in, so Dream Theater have to find some way of accommodating the vocalist and decide to switch their intended Marillion track. The doors are due open at 5pm, and at 3.55pm an exasperated road crew and an anxious Headbanger’s Ball crew begin to fidget as Hogarth and guitarist Steve Rothery are still trying to teach Dream-sters John Petrucci (guitar), John Myung (bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums) the chord sequences for ‘Easter’.
Finally, Steve Howe of Yes wafts into view, just as the band separate to different corners of the venue to explain the significance of the event to the press.
"Basically, it’s just us having a little fun," Portnoy shrugs. "We’re just paying homage to the bands that we grew up listening to."
"I can see my trial period In Dream Theater coming to an end"
Derek Sherinian – how right he was!
So who dreamed up the set-list?
"This whole thing was basically my idea, so I suggested a lot of songs we should play, although everybody was free to suggest things. But there were a lot of songs we tried that didn’t work out," the sticksman admits. "For instance, we tried Iron Maiden’s ‘Phantom Of The Opera’, but James didn’t dig it. And we tried ‘Child In Time’ by Deep Purple, but don’t worry – there are still some good ones on there!"
For the progressive metal fan, ‘Uncovered’ was Christmas, Easter, New Year’s Eve and
Moan United crashing out of Europe, all gift-wrapped as the most mouth-watering package of the year.
Despite selling almost a million copies of their second album, ‘Images And Words’, Dream Theater have never been remotely fashionable, and Portnoy is overheard enthusiastically telling one fanzine writer that the band are contemplating putting together their own Lollapalooza-type bill of difficult-to-categorise groups for a US tour.
"It could be cool," Portnoy adds. "We really don’t know if we’re gonna be able to get a support slot in the States or go out on our own, but if all else fails it could be something to pursue."
Unfortunately, although DT have confirmed a more traditional one-off at London’s Forum on March 15 (supported by Fates Warning) there won’t be any regional dates.
"It’s just not there for us in the UK yet," Mike points out. "Everywhere else we do phenomenally well, a couple of thousand seaters at least, but there’s not enough demand for a full UK tour – especially as we always take out a big show and we can’t afford to cover our asses if it loses money. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact." Leaving the dressing room we bump into Derek Sherinian, a man whose name suggests he should have been in Spinal Tap, but who has in fact been the band’s stand-in keyboard player since the departure of Kevin Moore in 1994. The 28-year-old parp king came Dream Theater’s way via Kiss and Alice Cooper, but says he has a premonition that he’ll soon be filling the position permanently.
"I can see my trial period coming to an end," he beams. "Each person has approached me individually to tell me how happy they are with me."
Showtime arrives and Dream Theater brush aside all those organisational hassles. With a set comprised of covers, this could easily have descended into an empty retro-wank, but the band throw themselves into things with such gusto that such fears are soon forgotten. Indeed for the progressive metal fan, ‘Uncovered’ was Christmas, Easter, New Years Eve and Moan United crashing out of Europe, all rolled together and gift-wrapped as the most mouth-watering package of the year.
A medley of Elton John’s ‘Funeral For A Friend’ and ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ is a totally unexpected opener, resulting in a curiously appealing blend of Dream Theater’s jaw-dropping musicianship and Elton’s unmistakable songwriting style. Deep Purple’s ‘Perfect Strangers’, which the band had recorded for Bruce Dickinson’s Radio One show a day earlier, is up next and it has rarely sounded better.
Some nerves briefly affect U2’s ‘Red Hill Mining Town’, LaBrie halting the song and re-starting it, before slipping into the easy groove of a Led Zeppelin medley. ‘The Rover’ is linked to a fantastic ‘Achilles Last Stand’ before Petrucci launches into the savage riff of Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Song Remains The Same’. And Rush’s ‘Tears’ is perhaps an obscure choice from an obvious influence (it’s actually the ballad on the ‘2112’ album).
Napalm’s Barney is then invited to perform an unstoppable ‘Damage Inc.’, before Steve Hogarth arrives to add his unmistakable vocal tones to The Beatles’ ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’, guitarist Steve Rothery augmenting him for a beautiful version of Marillion’s own ‘Easter’. Tori Amos’ ‘Winter’ is perhaps a rather off-the-wall choice, and few people seem to know ‘In The Dead Of The Night’ by John Wetton’s pre-Asia band UK, either. It’s the loss, as the latter is an exceptional tune from a very underrated band.
However, there’s a huge roar as Steve Howe’s wizened old face and flame red guitar hit the stage for an instrumental run through of Yes classics ‘Machine Messiah’, ‘Heart Of The Sunrise’, ‘Close To The Edge’, ‘Siberian Khatru’ and ‘Starship Trooper’. Honestly, during this selection there were more widdles per second than the average Donington portaloo will witness in an entire day.
With the band already into curfew time, they close the show with a medley of Pink Floyd’s ‘In The Flesh’, Kansas’ immortal ‘Carry On Wayward Son’, the Wayne’s World approved climax of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’’ by Journey (Nurse, I need a change of underwear!), Dixie Dregs’ ‘Cruise Control’, and finally wind up with Genesis’ ‘Turn It On Again’.
Afterwards the crowd are buzzing over another typically melodic yet phenomenally heavy Dream Theater performance. And Steve Howe is raving as much as anyone else.
"It’s excellent that they’re making this music, they have the electricity and dynamism to do it, although obviously they’re heavier than Yes were," he glows. "But they know what they want to do, and they have the expertise to do it.
"They’re still young and seem to have the same dedication that Yes all the way through the 70’s. There just isn’t enough of that kind of progressive music around, but somehow Dream Theater’s fan-base seems to be growing all the time, so they must be doing something right. They’ve got the balance right between heaviness and precision, and they’ve got a good direction."
So when will the audio or video recordings of ‘Uncovered’ be made available? That’s difficult to ascertain because, as Portnoy had explained earlier: "Basically, we’re recording it because we don’t want to not have it recorded. We just didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle. There are no specific plans to get it out there, but it could turn out as B-sides or an EP.’
Dream Theater fans are advised to start writing those petitions now!
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Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway is RAW’s dressing room spy!
"And they said it would never happen," shouted a member of Dream Theater upon completion of my own vocal attempt at Metallica’s ‘Damage Inc.’. This snap remark pretty much summed up the very idea of a Napalm Death member contributing to this hallowed event.
Having being roped in for my un-musical assets, I felt like a square peg in a round hole as the dressing room debated notation progressions, and various melodious throats were exercised.
Being a relatively unknown Brummie with no pomp credentials, I expected to be shot down in flames when slotted in alongside the Rothery/Hogarth finesse of ‘Easter’ and Howe’s intricate twiddling on the Yes medley. However, the gig was undertaken with a wealth of good spirit. And onstage it went like a breeze. Minor elation glowed from the insider when guitar God Rothery commended me afterwards – swoon! – and my temples ached more after tonight’s gig than after screaming out most of Napalm’s lyrics.
After the show, everybody moved to the Royal George pub to get suitably refreshed, and I toyed with the idea of asking Steve Howe: "Will you kill me if I ask you whether you actually liked Yes’ infamous 1973 concept album ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’." Sadly, he was whisked away before I got the chance, so the myth (not to mention my head) remained intact!
* Thanks to Barney for his permission to re-use this segment.
The official Dream Theater website
The ‘Uncovered’ gig at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club was one of my all-time favourite shows. Being there as a fly-on-the-wall the afternoon build-up made it all the more special. The gig is still talked of in revered tones by Dream Theater fans, though to the best of my knowledge it was never released in its entirety by the band, only as a Fan Club giveaway and with certain tracks on the B-side of ‘Change Of Seasons’ – perhaps that’s why it has retained its mystique? Thinking about it now, the show took place in January 1995… maybe Dream Theater will do it all over again to mark the tenth anniversary if we ask them politely enough? (September 24, 2004)
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