It shouldn’t come as a surprise that American prog metal pioneers Dream Theater would be so bold as to do a tour that features their new concept album in its entirety, exclusively. This is a band that plays its lone commercial hit only once in a blue moon, and a band that has challenged itself in many ways over the years by playing entire albums from bands they loved, or rotating setlists each night.
Judging by Internet chatter, the new album “The Astonishing” has polarized their fan base to a certain degree, which is somewhat surprising since stylistically it is a return to their “Falling Into Infinity/Scenes From a Memory” days. But for the fans in attendance last night, it was an opportunity to enjoy this music live with some of the most technically proficient musicians on the planet.
The stage set is the most extensive the band has ever had (it should be noted that they enforced a strict no photo policy, with security asking people to delete pictures from their devices). The back of the stage featured large banners bearing the Majesty symbol, in a style that echoed the Nazi rallies of WWII, to represent the story’s Rand-ian future. Large screen panels showed animated footage throughout to either set a mood or move the storyline along.
All dressed in black, the band of course played flawlessly through complicated time changes, dizzying runs and chugging rhythms. Guitarist John Petrucci has emerged as the secondary frontman of the band since flamboyant drummer Mike Portnoy left the band, often taking centre stage while singer James Labrie disappears during the extended instrumental passages. Speaking of Labrie, while he’s struggled in concert at times in the past, he was close to flawless this time around, prowling the stage while switching tone to play the story’s various characters. Keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess showed his unreal skills, playing a rotating keyboard setup without missing a note. This album allows him many opportunities to shine, from his usual fast runs to soft, tender passages; after all, there’s a love story in there. John Myung on bass was his usual low key but “oh-so-efficent” self, and drummer Mike Mangini disappeared behind his massive drum kit, making incredibly hard passages seem ridiculously easy. (Were these really one handed snare rolls towards the end?)
They played “The Astonishing” from start to finish with an intermission between the two acts. The closing self-titled epilogue was strangely kept for the encore, but it worked nonetheless. As much as I love the new album, the encore would have been a good opportunity to offer an old favourite or two, but I understand their thinking and the concert was already a generous 2 and a half hours.
While this concert may not have been what some were expecting, it was still a brilliant night of music from world class musicians. The last few years have felt more like status quo for them so I’m glad they shook things up a bit. If you wanted to hear “Pull Me Under”, there’s always the next tour. Or the one after.