Hordern Pavilion, Sydney NSW
September 19th, 2017
The Images & Words 25th Anniversary Tour
There’s not many a band whose mere appearance could cause me to fly interstate to witness a show, but Dream Theater is indeed that band – not once, but twice (their previous self-titled tour in 2014 committing the same travesty of only visiting VIC and NSW). Having made the trek down, I settled in to let the dulcet tones of Images and Words wash over me, hearkening back to my formative musical years, when prog metal was the only thing I listened to, from sun up to sun down (then I discovered -core and ruined that for myself oops).
Heading in, I really only had three requirements:
- Play I&W as promised (and really, there’s 3 songs they could have happily dropped here)
- Dope solos from everyone please
- …that’s it
And all that happened…in spades.
The Hordern, decked out in a simple but effective lighting setup, provided ample hosting space for their antics. Barring the hiccup of the seats in my section being completely chaotically un-numbered (‘I guess they assume Dream Theater fans can count’, a nearby attendee joked), the venue lived up to the demands of harmonically rich, historically significant prog with ease.
Disposing with the usual pleasantries of opening acts, Dream Theater instead opted to dive right into the music, simply giving us two hour long sets with a brief interval. Commencing with a triumphant orchestral song, the band walked out to applause, with Petrucci immediately ripping out the opening chords to Systematic Chaos’ ‘The Dark Eternal Night’. A completely unexpected start to the night, but no complaints here – that song rips.
One thing I noticed immediately was how hearing the tracks live allowed me to hear subtleties and nuances that I’d never noticed before – even though I’ve listened to these songs literally hundreds of times. The interplay between Petrucci and Rudess’ melodies cascading back and forth was showcased in full glory – with Rudess finishing the track off with a trademark keytar solo, front of stage.
James LaBrie, the world’s most unfairly maligned frontman, took a moment to apologise for not coming to Australia more, before launching into ‘The Bigger Picture’, a cut from their self-titled release. I always found this track a little corny as recorded, but it worked surprisingly well live. Corny turned to euphoric, and sweet turned to anthemic as the song crescendoed.
From here, they continued with an instrumental transition into Falling Into Infinity’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ – another unexpected, but very appreciated track. No complaints here.
James LaBrie returned to the stage as they played two tracks back-to-back from their most recent release, The Astonishing. ‘The Gift of Music’, which started off meh and accelerated into standard Dream Theater fare, transitioning into ‘Our New World’, an overall eh track, proved that my decision to hardly invest in this recent release was an accurate one. Sorry, guys.
But then things were back to hype as we got a JOHN MYUNG SOLO. Playing a cover of the Jaco Pastorius track ‘A Portrait of Tracy’, he seamlessly transitioned into the opening bars of ‘As I Am’.
If the song itself wasn’t epic enough, they snuck in a transition into ‘Enter Sandman’ at the end, just to spice things up even further. Finishing up this first set with ‘Breaking All Illusions’, the standout track from their first release without founding drummer Mike Portnoy, we were left in expectation of what was to come – Images & Words. Aw yiss.
The intermission finished with a radio broadcast from New Years Eve of 1992, introducing the era of music with a medley of releases from the time (Pearl Jam, RHCP, Nirvana…), and then, bam. ‘Pull Me Under’ hits us. It’s confusing to many a Dream Theater fan that this song launched up the charts on release – it’s not their best song by any means. Hell, it isn’t even the best song on the album. But hearing it live showcases its power like the album version only hints at. Halfway through, LaBrie comments that everyone’s sitting down – and from here on out, instantly, the entire crowd is on their feet. Complete with a gnarly half-time- switchup at the end, we’re off to a good start.
…only to come slamming back down again with ‘Another Day’, the worst track on the album by far. Look, it’s a *fine* track…but the less said about this, the better. Moving on.
James LaBrie gives us another thankyou speech, heading into ‘Take The Time’, a stellar track. The iconic centrepiece quadruple solo lit up the stage, before jumping into an extended guitar solo outro.
‘Surrounded’ is a functional track, it builds and gets better as it goes – but we’re all just waiting for ‘Metropolis’, which is heralded in with a crowdwide cheer. There’s nothing much to say here – the performance was flawless, of course – until Mangini drops in an unexpected drum solo. I’m pretty sure he was actually playing ‘The Dance of Eternity’ on his various percussion accoutrement – and while drum solos are often a boring interlude, Mangini managed to make this one a standout.
Myung dropped into his trademark Metropolis solo, closing off the song before heading into the equally iconic ‘Under A Glass Moon’. Again – a stellar performance, complete with Petrucci’s trademark solo. Perfection.
Ruddess then gifted us with a sneaky keyboard solo before transitioning into ‘Wait For Sleep’. In a moment of what felt like authentic emotion, LaBrie sat down at the front of the stage, while Ruddess accompanied his vocals. It was slightly more touching than I expected, if I’m honest.
Eventually, we got to ‘Learning to Live’, another favourite.The entire concert up to this point I had been taking notes throughout each song – but when this track finished, I looked down at my notes only to realise I had written nothing. 12 minutes of sheer bliss.
They headed off for a breather, before returning to play ‘A Change Of Seasons’ in full – another surprise (to me, at least). It’s not often you get a 25 minute encore…but with Dream Theater, it’s basically the norm.
I’ve gone this far without even mentioning that Petrucci literally looks like the physical incarnation of Jesus but with really buff arms and pink guitar, or how much Ruddess rocked his trademark rotating keyboard platform.
Fingers crossed they return to Australia in the next couple of years (2019 Awake 25th Anniversary?), and make it a full country that time. One can dream. Theater.
Review by Michael Parente
Photo Gallery courtesy of the legendary Mick Goddard (MickG Photography)
Please credit Wall of Sound and Mick Goddard if you repost.