Anyone who’s known me for any extended period of time knows that Dream Theater is a very important band for me. I feel like hearing “Pull Me Under” for the first time in the 90s is a flashbulb memory for my musical history, and I still consider Scenes From a Memory to be among my most influential albums.
So, if I read that Jordan Rudess, keyboardist for Dream Theater, is coming to a nearby city, of course I am going to make the effort to go. The historic Ludlow Garage is an excellent, intimate venue in an awesome part of town, with an attached restaurant and bar. If you’re not from the area, the current Ludlow Garage was named after an automobile shop-turned-venue of the same name that famously hosted prominent acts in the late 60s/early 70s such as Grand Funk Railroad, Captain Beefhart, B.B. King, and many others. The current Ludlow Garage carries on and honors the legacy of the old venue, and has hosted numerous prominent rock, fusion, and prog acts, including many progressive rock luminaries.
Jordan Rudess opened the show with an improvised piece that utilized a classical guitar-esque sound. Periodically, Jordan would gaze out into the audience with a smile, as he masterfully arpeggiated and created beautiful melodies. This initial performance was proceeded by a spirited, funny, and candid explanation of some technical setbacks and adaptations for the performance and the venue, which set the tone well. As indicated by the name, we were there to enjoy an Evening With-type performance, as Jordan played covers, told jokes, and shared insights and stories about his life as a keyboardist, a synthesist, and a working musician in this crazy day and age.
Jordan could have easily just played prog covers and made everyone happy, but I think he made an effort to have a diverse set list, which is commendable. His set included Bach’s Partida #5 in G Minor, some improvised jazz and blues numbers (including a blues improvisation on the Geoshred app that he partially played with his nose-yes, you read that right), and some unnamed symphonic original works that he was playing for audiences for the first time. If you follow Jordan’s Instagram, you may have seen him playing guitar recently, and he did play guitar for one song on the set, but he specifically stated that he wasn’t ready to shred live yet. His guitar piece featured David Gilmour-esque playing, with very strong melodic sensibilities.
Jordan’s set did include its fair share of progressive rock, though. His set included a progressive rock medley that included “Moonchild” by King Crimson, “Brain Damage” and “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd, and “Entangled” by Genesis, which was thoroughly enjoyed by the prog-hungry audience. A part of his set utilized (and advertised) the Moises app, which is an application that was designed (with Jordan’s help) to isolate recorded tracks on songs. This allowed Jordan to jam to “Moonchild”, while an isolated track of Greg Lake’s original vocals played over the sound system. He also utilized the app to jam along with Elton John’s “Your Song” and “Soon” by Yes. He covered “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, and used the opportunity to share some heartfelt and humorous stories about what it was like to work with the legendary musician on his 2002 album Heathen.
He also recognized that many audience members were there due to his work with Dream Theater, and threw those fans a bone by playing and singing “Beneath The Surface” and sharing stories from his time with Dream Theater. Jordan also played a brand new medley of Dream Theater music, which took care to include more recent works as well as some classic songs. And, while we’re discussing Dream Theater, one of my favorite parts of the night was when Jordan talked about each member of the band and what they bring to the table. He talked about how John Petrucci has a razor-sharp memory, John Myung is the master of practicing, James has mastered health and self care while touring (which is crucial when your body is your instrument), and Mike Mangini lives on a different rhythmic plane than us mere mortals.
This discussion of complex rhythms segued into a mini lesson on rhythms (which was also an advertisement for Jordan’s masterclass). He explained his technique of breaking down odd times by reducing them to more digestible numbers; for example, 11/8 might sound intimidating, but 4 sets of 2 and one set of 3 is a lot less intimidating. He then played a melody in 11/8 and showed the audience how to clap along, which the audience was able to do, for the most part. You could tell that the venue was full of progressive music fans that were ‘along for the ride’.
The concert was a delight for fans of Jordan Rudess, Dream Theater, and progressive music as a whole, and if that description fits you, you should make the effort to see Jordan on his solo tour. He still has many more dates for this current tour, and as a lifelong fan of progressive music, this event was definitely a treat! Check out the remaining dates below.