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Dream Theater returns to roots

Newest album looks back at the pioneers of progressive rock

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The progressive-rock band Dream Theater is, from left to right, John Myung, John Petrucci, James LaBrie, Mike Portnoy and Jordan Rudess.

The progressive-rock band Dream Theater is, from left to right, John Myung, John Petrucci, James LaBrie, Mike Portnoy and Jordan Rudess.

Colin Lane

Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess felt the pressure in 1999 when he replaced Derek Sherinian in the Boston-based, progressive-rock band.

"I know Dream Theater fans can be extremely possessive of this group," Rudess said by phone from Las Vegas. "There were some fans that liked me joining, and I'm sure there were some who wanted to run screaming into the night."

Still, Rudess didn't come into the band cold. He had played on two Liquid Tension albums with DT guitarist and drummer John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy, respectively. And he was familiar with the style of lead vocalist James LaBrie and bassist John Myung.

"Those two Liquid Tension albums introduced me to Dream Theater fans," said Rudess. "And it helped ease my joining a bit."

Rudess' first DT recording came on the band's fifth studio album, "Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory." Since then, he's been a vital part of the band, thanks to his classical training. "I used to accompany kids at school when I was in second grade. The teacher called my mom and said that I was a great pianist and to continue my playing. My mom stopped her and said, 'But we don't have a piano.'

"Needless to say, a few weeks later, the family bought a white baby grand piano and I began to formally take lessons," said Rudess with a laugh.

At age 9, the future prog-rock keyboardist was accepted into the prestigious Juilliard School of Music and continued his studies during his teens. When he was 16, he saw other kids carrying around albums by such bands as Yes, Genesis and Gentle Giant. "I didn't know who those groups were. The only rock 'n' roll I was familiar with was the Beatles. I had a collection of 45s and played them by my bed on a little turntable.

"But when I started listening to the different progressive rock bands, it blew my world wide open. In fact, when I heard Patrick Moraz's keyboard sound with the group Refugee, it took hold of me and was instrumental in making me want to stop playing classical music."

The decision for Rudess was simple, but telling his family was one of the hardest things he's ever done. "Each year you go to Juilliard, you have to reaudition. I did and I got in. And the school had called my mother and told her that I was on track to become one of the pianists to emerge from the school.

"It was then I told my family that I was leaving the school to pursue a career in rock music. And that didn't go over very well."

Last year, DT released its eighth studio album, "Octavarium." And, according to Rudess, the album is a return to DT's roots in time for the band's 20th anniversary. "The last album we did, 'Train of Thought,' was us making a metal album. We wanted to make an album like Metallica or Iron Maiden. And it was heavier and darker.

"With 'Octavarium,' we decided to look back at our influences — ELP, Pink Floyd, Genesis, all those progressive rock pioneers. We opened it up again and let our hearts take over."

Surprisingly, "Octavarium" features some of the shortest DT songs yet, which clock in at five minutes, as opposed to the group's average 10-minute mark. "Yeah, well, they just happened," Rudess said with a laugh.

If you go

What: Dream Theater

Where: Kingsbury Hall, University of Utah

When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: Sold out

E-mail: scott@desnews.com