First, some non-music observations…
I haven’t been to Merriweather Post Pavilion (MPP) in over twenty years, and I must say that this place is a far superior venue than the Nissan Pavilion in Virginia. It’s smaller, but the amenities, staff and overall environment trump Nissan in every way.
It’s fun to watch people at these type of events. The advantage to a multi-band show is the down time you can use to people watch. So, I decided that we would judge the band t-shirts of our fellow concert goers for genre appropriateness. Being that this was a prog-rock/metal show, the category was pretty broad. The winner was a Coldplay shirt. I mean, dude, COME ON!
We were both surprised at the number of women and young people at the show. Usually this genre is overwhelmingly guy centric. Not just guys, but older, middle aged guys. Not sure which act was the draw, but, like they say – diversity is a good thing!
One of the unique features of MMP is the ‘Music Pinball Museum’. Basically, it’s an arcade made up of the old music themed pinball machines from the 70’s and 80’s. They even had the KISS machine!
Taking pictures at concerts is a pain in the ass. I find that I can enjoy the show a lot more if I leave the camera in the car. I think this is my new policy!
To all of the middle aged white people… don’t pump your fist if you can’t keep time with the music! Here’s a hint, follow the snare drum. If you don’t know what that is, well then sit down and be still!
And finally, it has become apparent to me that rules against tailgating/drinking in the parking lots are to be applied very loosely. Both Nissan and MPP have signs banning the practice, and cops on patrol to enforce these bans. Tailgating was observed and practiced in full view without a sideways glace. I suspect the rules are only enforce upon trouble makers and people behaving inappropriately.
Now about the music.
The show featured five bands. The hosts, Dream Theater, Zappa Plays Zappa, Queensryche, BigElf and Scale the Summit.
Scale the Summit was first up. They are an instrumentals only band. They were very tight and made for some good walking around and drinking beer soundtrack.
BigElf had the second slot and by this time we had found a place to sit outside the pavilion where we could see the stage and the video screens. We got a real laugh when we saw their lead singer/keyboard player. He was wearing a top coat and top hat and had eye makeup reminiscent of Alice Cooper. We stopped laughing once they started playing. Very cool sound. Much like early Deep Purple with the heavy organ sound and loud guitars. Will have to check out their recorded music.
For Queensryche we moved into the pavilion to our seats. I had been “warned” that they put on a great show. I was not mislead. Lead singer Geoff Tate can still really belt it out. After 20 plus years of singing heavy metal, a lot of his peers have lost some of their chops, but not Geoff. This tour is in support of the American Soldier album and this was Queensryche’s only appearance on the Prog Nation Tour, so it was quite a treat. The lyrical content of the album is based on interviews with service members and veterans about their experiences. The affection the band showed to our troops was very obvious and sincere. Quite a few moist eyes were observed. The music was classic Queensryche – heavy, melodic metal. Very cool. Can’t wait to see them on their own to get the full concert experience.
Next was Zappa Plays Zappa (ZPZ). This was quite a treat and my main reason for going to this show. ZPZ is Frank Zappas son Dweezil playing Frank’s music for a new generation of fans and those of us who never got to see Frank before he passed. This band was incredibly tight. Jazz band tight. As a matter of fact, they were more a jazz band than a prog-rock band. They played for about 75 minutes and maybe played 6 songs. Each song devolved into extensive jamming and soloing. This would be the first time I’ve seen/heard the vibes played at a rock show, amazing. This band was well worth the ticket price themselves. If you have the chance, you MUST go see them. If you have children who are in band or in a band, you MUST take them. It will be a life changing experience for them musically. Seriously.
Finally, the tour hosts Dream Theater took the stage. They waited until it was completely dark, for the obvious reasons. You just can’t have a full on prog-rock show without your lights and pyrotechnics, now can you? Dream Theater did not disappoint. They featured songs from the new album, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”. They also played one of my favorite of their songs. “Sacrificed Sons” is a song DT vocalist James LaBrie wrote in the aftermath of 9/11. This song featured a Theremin played on an iPod! You can always count on Dream Theater to be on the cutting edge with the music tech, but damn, that was cool!
I just had to buy that application for my iPod. On a side note, it appears that four out of five members of DT are members of the chin hair club for men. Keyboard player Jordan Rudess sports a four inch long white goatee. Guitarist John Petrucci has a Stonewall Jackson looking goatee and mustache. Singer James LaBrie was styling with a classic pirate style ‘stash and goat – all that was missing was an eye patch! Drummer Mike Portnoy wears a full beard, but with his chin hair dyed blue and white! Only the bass player was smooth faced – maybe he lost a bet.
All in all, I would give the show a 4.5 out of five. The only downside of a prog show is that the bands tend to sacrifice emotion for technical precision. Except of course for Mike Portnoy, the man is a maniac behind his kit.