There are times when you are called upon to look over a project — review an album, or a video, or a book — and you haven’t the faintest idea of where to start. After experiencing said project you come away as impressed and appreciative of the opportunity, but are still perplexed about who precisely it was meant for. That’s kind of where I stand on the DVD release of Portnoy Sheehan MacAlpine Sherinian, “Live in Tokyo.”
It seems to have stemmed initially from drummer Mike Portnoy’s coterie, since Derek Sherinian was briefly the keyboard player for Dream Theater, and Billy Sheehan is currently the bassist in Portnoy’s latest band The Winery Dogs. All four players are renowned for a level of virtuoso playing with, perhaps, the most impressive being Sheehan. When you think deeply about it, you have to wonder how someone who initially was with David Lee Roth’s solo band and was a founding member of Mr. Big could be such a monster bass player. In truth, both bands had a fair share of heavy-hitting talent (and specifically, Sheehan’s time in the DLR band was alongside guitarist Steve Vai), it’s just that the big hair kept getting in the way.
Well, some of the band members here are now hurting for the kind of massive ‘dos they had in the late 1980’s, but they’re not hurting for chops. Recognition? Maybe. Tony MacAlpine comes to the group via Sherinian, his bandmate from the group Planet X and has an accomplished C.V. in jazz, fusion and standard rock. But you will likely only recognize the Dream Theater stuff that Portnoy brings to the fold (being a section of “A Change Of Seasons” and “Lines In The Sand”). The rest, though expertly played, is received nearly like brand new and if you are a person who likes experiencing compositions for the very first time in live performance, that’s perfect. If, on the other hand, you are what I believe is the standard purchaser of music video materials, being someone who likes to have a sense of familiarity while leaning into the process, you’ll get a little lost in the middle.
I think I ride the fence between the extremes here. I enjoyed watching the players play their brains out, and I have made no secret of my enduring affection for (mostly) instrumental music over the years, so I liked this offering quite a lot. Yet I expect the classification of those who would want to watch this to be small in number, partially because of the project’s very un-commercial-ity. They will not be people who pour over Guitar World magazine or obsess over moments on Blues Sarceno or Stanley Jordan CDs. They listen to Dream Theater CDs for a minute or two before asking when the “Master of Puppets” cover is on. They are neither right nor wrong in their ignorance of what’s presented, because there are times when stuff like this is willfully testing and impenetrable. But for those who really get into this type of sonic navel gazing (as I do often), this is a good representation of a night out at a fairly unfamiliar show.
The behind-the-scenes stuff on the DVD is interesting but only to a point. It appears to have been shot with personal recorders, so the image can be a little rough. The sound is definitely rough, and I think the interviews with various ensemble members were conducted near ungrounded wiring, maybe in the walls, but who’s to say? All I know is that the buzzing happening in the microphone was seriously distracting, and even a special features geek as I am could not stand it for long.
The conclusion is that if you are a musician, a real player, you will love the DVD. If you enjoy watching performances without having a lot of familiarity of what’s being played, you’ll probably like Portnoy Sheehan MacAlpine Sherinian, “Live in Tokyo.” If you don’t fit into either category, this probably is not a release for you.