I first started listening to Dream Theater with A Change Of Seasons – back then the albums weren’t released locally here in Australia, so we had to pay huge prices for imports – and I immediately had that feeling of ‘This is the band I always wished existed!’ My brother and I soon went back and checked out Images And Words and Awake and I was blown away by the scope of the music, the intensity of the performances, the creativity of the arrangements and the depth of the lyrics. It took a long time for Dream Theater to finally tour Australia (0n the Chaos In Motion tour) and this brief run of two Australian dates was only their third ever tour down here, and first with Mike Mangini behind the kit.
The setlist is divided essentially into three acts. The first leans heavily (though not exclusively) on material from the two most recent albums, A Dramatic Turn of Events and Dream Theater [read my interviews with John Petrucci about these albums here and here respectively], with a too-brief-but-amazing Mangini drum solo, a building jam prior to “Trial Of Tears” and the beautifully dynamic “Breaking All Illusions.” The second act is the second half of Awake (in celebration of that album’s 20-year anniversary) capped off by “Illumination Theory” from the self-titled album. And the third is a quartet of songs from Scenes From A Memory, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary.
Petrucci’s tone was incredibly clear and powerful, with a variety of 6 and 7-string Ernie Ball Music Man Majesty guitars handling everything from crushing rhythms to singing leads to acoustic passages. And John Myung’s distorted bass tone at the start of “Lifting Shadows Off A Dream” drew an audible “That sounds awesome” reaction from several folks standing around my section. But perhaps the biggest standout was James LaBrie. While many singers (including LaBrie sometimes) might occasionally avoid a high note by shifting to a lower note in the key instead to save their voice, LaBrie not only hit the tricky notes but often ad-libbed even higher melodies on top of them. At several points I found myself thinking “There’s a big high note coming up that he avoided on the Scenes From A Memory live DVD… what will he do now? Whoa! He hit it then sailed past to even higher notes!”
Up until the departure of Mike Portnoy, Dream Theater tours have tended to feature quite varied set lists. In this new era the setlist is more static but in a funny way it seems to afford the band more freedom. I’ve never seen them have so much fun on stage. James LaBrie seems to have really stepped up as a frontman. It can’t be denied that Portnoy drew a lot of attention on stage, and it’s interesting to see where the focus goes now that he’s not there. For instance, when LaBrie wasn’t prowling the stage like some kind of heavy metal pirate ringmaster, he would pair up with John Myung to lock in and rock out. Or John Petrucci with fix eyes on Jordan Rudess for a guitar/keyboard harmony solo, or side up to LaBrie, or stand side-by-side with Myung for a complicated part. Or Myung would stride the stage in a more animated and engaged way than I’ve ever seen him do, heading over to form a little rhythm section duo with Mangini for particularly groove-oriented moments. Basically, Dream Theater as a whole seem to have collectively stepped into the void left by the absence of Portnoy’s showmanship.
By the way, down here in Oz we don’t always get a band’s full stage production. It’s often either stripped down a bit or completely left behind. Dream Theater brought their entire production to Australia for what must have been an astronomical dollar figure, and we Antipodean folk really appreciate the effort and expense. This was definitely the best Dream Theater show I’ve seen, and one of the best concerts I’ve seen by anyone in the last decade or so.
The Enemy Inside
The Shattered Fortress
On the Backs of Angels
The Looking Glass
(+ Mangini Drum Solo)
Trial of Tears
Along for the Ride
Breaking All Illusions
Lifting Shadows Off a Dream
Strange Déjà Vu
The Dance of Eternity
All photos by Peter Hodgson copyright © 2014