Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dream Theater - Live Show Review

Let’s get this out of the way now—if you ever in your life have a chance to go to a Dream Theater show, you should never, ever, under any circumstances miss out on it. Knowing that, it was essential that I visited the State Theater in Minneapolis this August when Dream Theater made their stop in town.

After about half of the crowd found their seats, Into Eternity hit the stage for 40 minutes of some muddled and average metal. For a bit I was fearful that the entire show was going to sound horrible because Into Eternity’s set had the bass way too high in the mix, as well as extremely murky in nature. The guitars could only be differentiated when there was a solo being played. Lastly the vocals only made it to the top of the mix when Stu Block was screeching. The death metal growls just didn’t sound that great. Fortunately, the sound was just bad for this set.

Into Eternity’s set consisted of a good mix of songs from their entire catalog, but the biggest fan reception came from their newer material. It’s too bad that the only vocals that really cut through were the high pitch wails because they made me cringe more than anything else. It didn’t help that Stu felt it was his duty to “direct” the rest of the band while they were playing and he didn’t have anything to sing. In fact, it was pretty damn cheesy. The band is pretty talented, true, but the cheese just keeps them from doing anything on stage that isn’t worthy of eye-rolling.

The next band, Redemption, felt like they belonged on this tour, whereas Into Eternity was an odd fit considering they’re basically a power-death metal band with some strong solos. Redemption are a straight forward prog rock band that play a style of prog extremely similar in nature to that of the headliners, Dream Theater. Many of their compositions used the vocals for a verse or two and the chorus, but then focused on letting the band members show off their chops.

Usually letting prog rock bands go nuts on their instruments in a live environment to show off is what will usually gain them notoriety, but Redemption needs some work before they reach that level. The bassist, playing a large, six-string bass was impressive to watch, and so was one of the guitarists, as they both knew how to shred on their respective instruments, but the second guitarist kept missing notes and making small screw ups. It was obvious that the rest of the band was not exactly happy about it either. For the most part, however, the band performed admirably and was passable to listen to.

Now, with the two openers out of the way, it was time for the always epic Dream Theater to take the stage. As the lights dimmed, everyone in the theater jumped to their feet and cheered as the band entered. Talk about rabid fans, but it was easy to see why fans are so devoted to the band as the show played out over the course of two hours and fifteen minutes. Opening the show, after belting out the intro of “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, was “Constant Motion” from their latest effort, Systematic Chaos. This started off the show on a very classic rock oriented footing, but the crowd ate it up, especially when John Petrucci broke into his first solo of the night followed shortly by even more cheering at Jordan Rudess joined in on keys.

Keeping things heavy, the band jumped right into “Panic Attack” from Octavarium. Personally, I think this is one of the better songs on the disc and it translated well to a live environment with the thick guitar tones resonating throughout the theater. The menacing vibe of the song got the crowd pumping, and to give everyone a chance to catch their breath they followed it up with “Blind Faith”, which starts with a long, mellow introduction before hitting full force. The 11 minute epic let the entire band show their stuff, especially Petrucci on the extended guitar solo about halfway through the song.

For their next cut, they dove into “Surrounded” from Images and Words. The pace of the show slowed as the band moved through this classic. Of course everyone in the crowd knew this song, but it has never been a performance piece that allows the band to show off. More than likely it is used as a chance for everyone to get a rest from the intensity of the show opening and to give the audience a chance to experience a classic from the back catalog.

With the crowd aching for another heavy tune, Dream Theater dove into the chord progressing monster that is “The Dark Eternal Night”, another new tune. It sounded just as menacing live as it does on disc. The only drawback was the supporting vocals from Mike Portnoy didn’t come across as well as the distorted version on Systematic Chaos. However, this was merely the tiniest of set backs, considering the song allowed the audience to see Rudess and Petrucci bend their instruments to their wills yet again. The song culminated with the crunching metal grind of the final minute of the track.

Slowing things down again, the entire band exited the stage except for Rudess who broke out the keytar for some soloing action before moving back to his multi-keyboard setup to dive even further into his 5+ minute keyboard solo work which led into “Lines in the Sand” from Falling into Infinity. Sporting a very classic prog sound, this song was great to see them perform, but it seemed like the audience had the weakest reception of the night while the band was ripping through this underappreciated hit. Portnoy ended up singing James LaBrie’s vocals from the recorded track while LaBrie took on the vocal lines that King’s X vocalist Doug Pinnick performed on the album cut of the song.

Taking things down a notch and diving back into the classics again, Dream Theater broke out “Scarred” from Awake. Petrucci and Rudess made the intro very light and fleeting before the meat of the song came into play about 3 minutes in. The crowd reacted very well to the song and there was even a solid amount of singing along to the late bridge around the 6:30 mark of the song.

Unfortunately after “Scarred”, the band chose to go into “The Heart Carries On”, what I believe to be one of the band’s weakest songs. They dedicated it to the victims of the I35W bridge collapse here in Minnesota, which was a nice gesture, but it couldn’t save the cheesy lyrics, lighter waving radio rock sound, and general lack of maturity that the song possessed.

To cap off the night, the band played “In the Presence of Enemies” part I and II as one extended song, instead of the bookends that they are on Systematic Chaos. Throughout the nearly half hour of playing time that this compilation took to play, not a second was had to be bored. For being a new addition to the Dream Theater performance repertoire, it gave the band plenty of chances to shine and the audience ate it up. This was a perfect capstone to the night’s performance.

However, as everyone knows, the last song is never the last song. After a brief respite, the band came back out for a 20+ minute medley of “Tears in the Rain”, “Finally Free”, “Learning to Live”, “In the Name of God”, and “Octavarium”. It was great to at least hear sections of some of these songs, which I’m sure many in the crowd wished they could hear in their entirety.

In the end, the show was heavy on the classic songs and material from Systematic Chaos, which is to be expected. The show was a treat for both long time Dream Theater fans and for new fans alike. You really haven’t seen a rock band until you’ve seen Dream Theater. The musicianship of the members of this collective is world renowned and for good reason. They didn’t miss a single note the entire two and a half hours they were on stage. They were near perfect and truly worth every dollar you’ll spend to see them.

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