After 10 years, Liquid Tension Experiment fans finally get what they want: another tour. Ever since Dream Theater’s drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci recorded two largely improvised albums in 1998 and 1999 with bassist Tony Levin and keyboardist Jordan Rudess, fans have been clamoring for more LTE. The quartet made four concert appearances in 1999, including a brief performance at the Winter NAMM that was filmed by an enthusiastic audience member, and has since been shared broadly enough to whet the appetites of the Internet community. When Petrucci and Portnoy decided that they wanted Rudess in Dream Theater, Portnoy reasoned that since 3 of 4 members in LTE were now in Dream Theater, the supergroup was finished. Since then, Dream Theater’s instrumental side project has been on an indefinite hiatus, with the exception of last year’s Spontaneous Combustion – a collection of jams between Levin, Portnoy, and Rudess recorded during the Liquid Tension Experiment 2 sessions, while Petrucci’s wife was giving birth. But de facto bandleader Portnoy has always been a fan of anniversary celebrations, and this year is the 10th anniversary of LTE’s first album. In celebration, the band are rewarding their loyal fans with 6 concerts this June.
Liquid Tension Experiment took the stage to find the floor of the homey B.B. King’s packed tightly with fans eager to finally see their favorite songs in action. LTE kicked the evening off with one of those tracks – the burning ‘Acid Rain.’ Petrucci’s 7-string sounded positively monstrous on the opening riff, and he and Rudess ripped through their famous unisons with energy to spare. Petrucci’s solo was extended beyond its generous studio length, and sounded mostly improvised. Hearing him wail so freely over ‘Acid Rain’ was a thrill, since he tends to perform his composed Dream Theater solos almost exactly as they were recorded. It’s impressive that LTE chose to begin their lengthy set with ‘Acid Rain’ – a song that the band claimed in 1999 was too exhausting to play as anything other than a closer.
‘Kindred Spirits’ was terrific, and dampened only slightly by Petrucci’s half-step misfret near the end of his soulful solo – which is the only mistake I remember noticing during the entire 130-minute show. After Rudess finished his wild solo, Portnoy’s increasingly energetic drumming during Petrucci and Rudess’ final unison brought the song to a thrilling conclusion. Here again and throughout the show, the band extended solo sections beyond their normal length and even added new ones – an approach that was very much in the improvisational spirit of LTE, since both of their albums were written quickly and spontaneously. These live solos turned out better than the recorded originals almost every time.
The band then got into more progressive territory, with the mini-epics ‘Biaxident’ and ‘Freedom Of Speech.’ ‘Biaxident’ was played beautifully at the NAMM show in 1999, so fans who follow bootleg videos have already had the chance to see the band play it second-hand. However, no bootleg can match the experience of seeing them pull off the song’s many changes with such deft skill live. The groovy middle-section was especially spirited, and Petrucci’s tone for his solo was pleasingly silky. ‘Freedom Of Speech’ was the real thrill of the two, though, with its hard-hitting jams ended by one of the band’s prettiest melodies. Petrucci’s well-developed solo near the beginning of the song has always been a favorite – picking up steam by building on the song’s triumphant melody and taking it through a lengthy chord progression. He performed it expertly, from its intricate, cascading slides to the string-bending anticipations. The slowly intensifying jam that followed the solo was also riveting – showcasing excellent communication and dynamic control within the band, and some fantastic groove development from Portnoy.
The band led into ‘Another Dimension’ with a meandering jam that was interesting, but not too compelling. It worked well as an intro, and played around with some of the themes from the upcoming song, but the audience was glad to hear Levin’s familiar Chapman Stick line signal the beginning of ‘Another Dimension.’ The song is heavy on the album, but live it was mosh-worthy. Of course, true moshing wasn’t an option for a packed crowd of prog rock analysts, but they did engage in a respectable amount of head banging! The song’s dizzying changes didn’t slow the band down at all, except during Rudess’ tasteful accordion solo, where the rest of the band had a chance to lay back a bit. The screaming finale was nothing short of absolute metal – Portnoy pummeled his set while Levin and Petrucci escalated their riffs higher and higher, leading to a final dominating chug.
Levin and Portnoy left the stage briefly to let Petrucci and Rudess slow things down for ‘State Of Grace.’ Without Portnoy laying down the groove, the duo phrased a bit loosely, but still delivered a sensitive ballad that allowed Petrucci to stretch out with some expressive soloing. The rhythm section joined the pair back up on stage and burst into ‘Universal Mind’ – a track famous for the high-speed guitar/keyboard unison arpeggio that opens the song. Most guitarists would play this arpeggio using the efficient sweep-picking technique, but not Petrucci. He alternate picked his way through it almost perfectly, in the intro and every time it appeared later in the song. The song also features a terrific trade-off jam between Petrucci and Rudess, which at this show included solos both familiar and fresh. Towards the end of the piece, Rudess took a brief but fantastic keyboard solo; similar to the one he played in the same place during this song at the NAMM show in 1999.
After a jam that was much more experimental than the first, and saw the band getting into some strange tonalities, they segued smoothly into a prog reworking of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody In Blue.’ The conversion worked startlingly well, and featured some terrific solo sections – again featuring a rocking solo from Petrucci that sounded very spontaneous. This new piece was almost the highlight of the night, topped only by the next song: the epic ‘When The Water Breaks.’ As soon as Portnoy announced that they had one more big song for the night, the audience breathed a sigh of relief.
‘When The Water Breaks’ ranks as one of LTE’s best and most diverse compositions, and the band’s performance of it was near perfect. The song began with a lullaby intro from Rudess, followed by a frantic mechanical riff and a fiery guitar melody that gave way to a dreamy groove featuring another infectious guitar theme from Petrucci – all executed with liquid tones and apparent ease. That was all in the first four minutes of the tune, which later provided explosive solo sections on a bed of heavy rock grooves. The band’s tight rendition of this opus was stunning – they held together just as well during the dynamic jams as they did during the song’s many breakneck transitions.
Having already exceeded the expectations of most reasonable fans, the full band departed for a moment before bringing Levin back onto the stage for a brief but very tasteful solo spot. As the rest of LTE reemerged, the familiar vamp of ‘Osmosis’ was filled in with guitar, keyboard and drums. Before the song could develop into the winding, layered groove it becomes on the album, LTE burst into the rapid-fire opening of ‘Paradigm Shift.’ That the band still had the energy to pull off the relentless first moments of that song after playing for 2 hours straight is astonishing (not to mention that they would repeat the entire show for the second set of the night!). The entire song was a highlight of chunky rock riffs and sexy grooves that featured an amazing performance of one of Petrucci’s best-developed and most dramatic solos.
The band spent a moment looking out into the crowd and bowing to their many fans, before eagerly leaving the stage to get rested for the lengthy concert they were scheduled to play in little over an hour. LTE fans without tickets to the 11:30 show filtered slowly out of the downstairs club while the hardest of the hardcore mingled by the bar. Portnoy has recently suggested that he’d be open to recording another album with LTE, and the band seemed to enjoy playing this music again – lighting up especially during their arrangement of ‘Rhapsody In Blue.’ Judging by the reception that fans gave them in New York, the world is ready for more Liquid Tension Experiment.
Freedom Of Speech
Improv Jam ->
State Of Grace
Universal Mind (w/ Keyboard Solo)
Improv Jam ->
Rhapsody In Blue
When The Water Breaks