Event Reviews

Dream Theater – The Astonishing Live – London – 18/02/2016

Written by Chris Reid

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It’s only been a matter of weeks since Dream Theater released The Astonishing. In a relatively short period of time the epic double disk ‘Rock Opera’ has managed to polarise one of the most die hard fan bases in all of progressive music. The double edged sword of being such a technically brilliant band, and a band that that creates such demanding & complex music, is that a vast majority of your fans are likely to be musicians themselves and/or analytical thinkers. Personally I am a big wrap for The Astonishing (read my thoughts on the album here), but there seems to be two distinct schools of thought when it comes to the latest Dream Theater release. On one hand we have the fans who love The Astonishing for being such a bold undertaking, for it’s uplifting melodies, and for breaking away from the ‘modern Dream Theater mould’. On the other hand we have the fans who aren’t happy with the chosen direction, format and style of the new album. Regardless of whether you are a big fan of the latest album or whether your feelings are a little less positive I think every fan of the band would agree that the story telling and overall listening experience would be enhanced in the live setting.
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I was excited to secure tickets to the Live premiere of Dream Theater’s new album in late 2015 and this excitement has only continued to grow since becoming familiar with music on The Astonishing. The London Palladium is a heritage listed theatre in the iconic West End of London with a capacity of over 2000. When you consider the obvious influence that musical theatre has had on the compositional style of The Astonishing then the location makes a lot of sense.

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Palladium

PALLADIUM

 

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Dream Theater live in concert on three previous occasions, but somehow I feel like I am more familiar with the format and overall presentation of the bands live show than a meagre three shows should allow me to be. Perhaps it’s the countless hours spent watching the Budokan, Score & Luna Park DVD’s?! whatever the case, I think that going into the premiere of The Astonishing Live is one of those rare occasions where any preconceived ideas about how the evening might play out can be put to one side. The band have spoken candidly about this run of shows being different to what a ‘typical’ Dream Theater concert is like – to paraphrase Jordan Rudess, ‘if you’re hoping to see us play Pull Me Under to a packed out standing room then you’ve got tickets to the wrong show’. Whilst it’s no secret that they’re going to play the Astonishing from start to finish but you cant help but be intrigued about how they plan to bring the story to life on stage.
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Shortly after doors opened the venue was buzzing with legions of black shirt wearing Dream Theater fans. In all my years of concert going it would be fair to say that I’ve never felt the sense of anticipation at a gig like the one could be felt around the venue on this night. There was certainly a musical theatre flavour to proceedings from the very start – Tour Programmes were available, the venue was 100% allocated seating, and a ban on cell phones and cameras was enforced.
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The house lights were dimmed and the show got underway with a voice over, setting some context to the state of affairs in The Great Northern Empire. The band took their positions on stage as the futuristic Descent of the NOMACS tantalised the eager crowd who knew what was about to unfold. Before you could blink the grandiose Dystopian Overture was in full swing. The sprawling animations and visual effects used during the opening were highly impressive – You were taken on a birds eye flight around the various landscapes and areas of the Northern Empire which coincided with the introduction of the associated musical themes.
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James LaBrie
took the stage to hearty cheers from the crowd as the band got stuck into The Gift of Music. Anyone who might have been concerned about the potential for the Astonishing shows to be too far removed from a standard Dream Theater show needn’t have worried. Whilst the size and nature of the accompanying visuals was on a whole new scale from the standard Dream Theater animations, the concert experience was still very much a Dream Theater show – John Petrucci was in his usual stage right position, John Myung and Jordan Rudess were occupying stage left and Mike Mangini sat up high on the drum riser in the middle of the stage.

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The First Act of the Astonishing is epic in terms of the story, music and the sheer length of time but it seemed to fly by. The heavier sections of the score sounded heavier and more powerful than they do on the record. The uplifting moments transcended in ways which you can only imagine. The visuals throughout the first act were fantastic additions to the music, linking the different locations and scenes exceptionally well. The role of the NOMACS really came to life. The highlights of Act One were too numerous to cover in detail but I’ll single out a few notable parts; I found the introduction to A Life Left Behind, along with the last couple of minutes of The X Aspect to be particularly memorable. A New Beginning certainly seemed to be a crowd favourite to the point that the guitar solo at the end of the song was met with a standing ovation by many pockets of the Theatre.
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During the intermission my over riding thought was how incredible James LaBrie had been during the opening act. The whole band had not missed a single note but impressively his is vocals were every bit as varied and emotive as they are on the album, portraying the different characters with style and conviction. James didn’t miss a single lyric which also impressed me greatly. Perhaps its just me but James LaBrie seems like a more confident vocalist since Mike Portnoy’s departure. Maybe that the fact that he is in his element when he is singing ballads and lyrical melodies, but maybe there’s something to say for having the backing of the band to sing all of the vocals on an album when you’re the bands vocalist?

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DREAM THEATER

DREAM THEATER – THE ASTONISHING ‘LIVE’

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The Second Act got underway with 2285 Entr’acte and picked up seamlessly from where the first act had left off. Moment of Betrayal was clearly an early crowd favourite and it would be fair to say that the drama that plays out in the lead up to the stories climax were heightened through the use of the visuals. I was taken back at how complex some of the second act really is from a instrumental perspective. Its not until you see the guys pulling some of these tracks off live that you realise that the perceived simplicity (which many fans have been critical of) is actually a fallacy.
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LaBrie
continued to shine thorough the second act and was arguably the most impressive member of the band last night. Delivering over 2 hours of vocals with limited breaks is a vulnerable gig, but he did exceptionally well. Jordan Rudess anchored the entire band throughout the 2 hours of ques and changes. He played his parts with feeling, subtlety and flair – a rare talent and a pleasure to behold. John Petrucci was John Petrucci – He didn’t miss a note throughout the evening despite the relentless nature of his parts and numerous guitar changes for the many acoustic passages. Mike Mangini and John Myung were incredible too. I went on record in my album review in saying that they have fairly unremarkable roles on The Astonishing, but I’ll retract that statement after seeing them play it live. Mangini is an absolute monster on the Kit – the unorthodox way in which he sets out his drums and the way he is able to play symmetrically on either side of his body certainly adds to the visual experience of what it is to watch Dream Theater live. It will take me days to pick up my jaw after seeing his single handed roles during Astonishing and some of the backhanded cymbal hits he was making in amongst the frenzy of some of the more intricate passages. John Myung will need a forearm massage after last night, his left and right hands were active for basically the entire 2+ hours. He went about his business exuding class as usual.

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The climax of the story is undoubtedly when Faythe is brought back to life during A Hymn of A Thousand Voices, and this was a the highlight of the night too. The emotion in the room had reached boiling point by this stage and the opening riff of Our New World saw an outpouring from the crowd as slowly but surely the entire crowd were brought to their feet. The crowd remained standing throughout this song and the remaining couple of tracks.
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There were cheers all-around when the NOMACS plummeted back to earth during Power Down and the track Astonishing was a fitting way to provide closure to the night, with the last couple of minutes being every bit as epic as any of the defining moments from any of the other timeless Dream Theater classics. The crowd held their standing ovation and rapturous applause as the band took a collective bow , coming to terms with what they had managed to pull off on opening night.
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The band left the stage with the credits rolling on the big screens behind them. The crowd remained standing in applause, hopeful for an encore but there would be none. Whilst you would never nock back an opportunity to see them play a classic DT tune, I’m glad that the band feel strongly enough about The Astonishing as a stand alone piece of work that they feel that no encore is required.
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To play through a 2+ hours of intricate music with in-sync visual effects leaves absolutely no margin for error and Dream Theater’s performance was flawless. The magnitude of the achievement was all the more impressive given that this was opening night. Like any stage show The Astonishing will get stronger the longer that they perform it, but only a nit picker could find fault in what Dream Theater delivered last night and even then you’d be stretching – perhaps James laBrie’s choice of pants could be improved but that is literally all!
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Dream Theater
is a progressive band and clearly they will not be bound to a genre or stereotype. They have composed a spectacular piece of music which is able to stand up against musical theatre scores and their previous work in its own right. Dream Theater are musician’s musicians and true artists, and there is something special about being able to see them deliver something on this scale in a setting like the Palladium. The Astonishing isn’t a typical Dream Theater album and the live show isn’t a typical Dream Theater concert, yet regardless of whether you love the new album or not, only the most stubborn minded of fans will be able to find fault in this live experience.

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Unforgettable!

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Dream Theater

DREAM THEATER

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‘The Astonishing’ is out now. Check it out HERE
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Chris Reid

February 19th, 2016

4 Comments

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Chris Reid

Chris is a long time metal enthusiast who plays bass guitar in Perth band Let's Kill Uncle. https://www.facebook.com/letskilluncle  

4 Comments

  1. Geoff Penn says:

    Spot on ! Was there to share an amazing world premiere of music from the greatest prog band in the world. I am 70 years old and Dream Theater are my musical life blood. The audio-visuals were superb.

  2. Mark says:

    The review was spot on. The palladium gig was just so good and it brought the whole “Astonishing” story experience to life. It’s almost impossible to put into words how good this performance made me feel after suffering from some pretty bad depression recently. It’s the power of brilliant music played by the very best that makes life worthwhile.

  3. mike says:

    love this band have ordered my c.d., I live in cape town south africa and my dream is to see this great band live , will enjoy the c.d. once it arrives that’s for sure

  4. Raquel says:

    I was there and your account is 100% accurate. The only regret I have is not rising to my feet sooner! It was like church in there toward the end. Hallelujah!

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