Review and photos by Patrick Dunn
From famine to feast, live music has returned in a big way this summer from coast to coast. Even with so much to choose from, a keen observer will pick-up on certain circumstances that can make a show standout from the pack. The Dakota in downtown Minneapolis is a special venue that has a history of hosting rare appearances by artists who may not come around often or who are normally only seen as part of a larger production playing to a greater capacity audience. A recent example of this had fans of progressive rock band Dream Theater jumping at the unique opportunity to experience a solo performance by Jordan Rudess up close and personal on July 6th.
I think many in attendance were sold simply on the idea of getting to see this piano playing prodigy outside the bounds of his career building gig with Dream Theater, but beyond that were not totally sure what to expect. To everyone’s delight, Rudess over-delivered on all accounts and presented fans with a show that was as much demonstration as it was performance. His playing alone was well worth the price of admission, but it was his enthusiasm to share the building blocks behind his process plus the tools and technology that help bring his creativity to life that elevated this show into something extra special.
Far different from his high-tech touring rig for Dream Theater, Rudess was armed with a Steinway grand piano, laptop computer and some supporting electronics. It was a joy to hear him “unplugged” in this intimate setting where you could truly witness the dynamics in his playing and observe his expert technique on the weighted 88-keys. Even the trained ear would have struggled to find a bad note played throughout the entire performance and if you consider the landscape of music he covered, that’s nothing short of astounding.
Relying solely on the piano’s acoustic output, Rudess played a range of styles from strict classical standards to off-the-cuff compositions that were completely improvised. As he began to introduce electronics and technology into the mix, a whole new world of possibilities started to take shape. With the help of an AI software app by Moises, he traveled back in time and played along with bands like ELP and Genesis that once served as an inspiration during his early years of learning. An even more captivating angle on this approach happened as Rudess was able to isolate the signature voices of Elton John, Jon Anderson, Greg Lake, and accompany them on their original historic recordings.
Possibly the most unexpected portion of the show occurred as Rudess abandoned the piano keys altogether and cranked out an incredible blues solo using an iPad and utilizing a technology he referred to as Geo-Tracking or Geo-Shred. Stretching even further away from the primary instrument he is exclusively known for, Rudess proved to be very capable on a MIDI-equipped guitar, which he claimed to have been working on learning over that past 9 months. He thoughtfully framed it up as a teaching moment to reinforce the idea that it’s never too late to act on any desire to learn to play any instrument regardless of your skill level.
Despite having presented so much incredible music, the show to this point was a bit light on Dream Theater material. Turns out it was by design as Rudess finished the set off in incredible fashion with a mind-blowing 13-minute medley including many of the best known melody lines spanning across his entire time with the band. He did respond to the crowds enthusiastic praise with 2 encores and even graciously stood in-line for an extended period of time to meet fans and sign autographs. This one will easily make my list of favorites in 2022.