Dream Theater at The Big Top, Sydney – October 30 2014
5 years Dream Theater fans have been waiting for this night. Much has happened in the career of Dream Theater since they last graced our shores, but tonight, the music is what mattered most.
Considering the ebb and flow of a band’s career, it was curious but not surprising to see The Big Top at Luna Park selected as the Sydney venue, after two previous outings at the much more cavernous Hordern Pavilion. It was therefore pleasing to see a massive line all the way through the park leading to the entrance. DT fans were out in force tonight.
Kicking into ‘The Enemy Inside’ the band looked visibly thrilled to be here. However, the sound was boomy, inconsistent and uneven. I realized I was standing underneath the raised section – as soon as I moved towards the front, it cleared up. The Big Top is a notoriously difficult room to mix, but after the first ten minutes everything was as it should be.
Incredible as it seems, the band got better – the show got better – as the set wore on. It’s a challenge to hold anyone’s interest for 45 minutes, let alone two and a half hours of complex music. But DT presented the full package – their visuals were simply brilliant, crafted with care and creativity, complementing the vision of the band and riddled with in-jokes and self-references. The intermission features a gag reel with snippets of YouTube covers by fans (everyone from tribute acts to marching bands), the hilarious overdubs of Petrucci (which received raucous applause) and that famous iTunes LaBrie commercial spoof.
When you’re as epic and bombastic as Dream Theater, you simply can’t survive without a sense of humour and thankfully, these guys know how to level with an audience.
It was great to see momentary crowd shots with horns up or pulling faces. Jordan pulled out his Gandalf wizard hat and keytar solos and Petrucci wore his hugely epic beard with pride.
The subtleties were appreciated. They crafted a brilliant set than rejuventated the audience at all the right times. The Illumation Theory intro visual was a great set up and then for the encore, celebrating 15 years of Scenes From A Memory gave us all chills. Every hand in the air, every voice raised in song, every trhilling chord changes of Overture gave us goosebumps. Even writing this now I feel a tear coming ov with a shiver – anyone who was there, who has shared even a moment of DT history will know what I mean.
DT is as much about individual performances as the whole, so let’s dig in.
Myung. He was actually on fire tonight. I know it’s hard to tell, but he absolutely nailed it and was given the spotlight both visually and sonically – that bass solo – I could finally hear it! All those intro parts – finally, it looked and sounded great.
Jordan – what a legend. From his dexterity on the keys to his facial expressions, he cemented the sound beautifully. His playing on Overture was the highlight, the ominous introduction a staple of one’s memory for years.
Of course Mangini was there. It’s hard not to like the guy – he played brilliantly, showcased all the right chops and flair you’d expect. He owned the new material and serviced the old. Probably the only track that you truly missed Mike Portnoy was The Dance of Eternity. It was such a signature that it wasn’t quite the same without him. But no disrespect to Mike Mangini – he is comfortable in that chair and a worthy sticksman for DT.
Labrie is the often divisive character of DT – largely due to his sometimes erratice performances. I have to say, he isn’t the powerhouse he once was and the Labrie ‘squawk’ is a bit harsh on the ears. But man, two hours into the show, he was still pulling out mega notes, clean and soaring across the band’s ambitious melodies. Nitpickers can always pick out the two or three moments when he faltered, but come on… two and a half hours and it’s only 99.5% perfect? Good enough for me. Haters gonna hate.
And finally. John Petrucci. The guy is simply incredible. He is a giant among men. Petrucci’s spectacular playing and his contribution to DT make him the true heart of the band. It’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the modern era making as big an impact as this man’s playing on generations of guitarist’s and musician’s. There’s a reason that DT continue to be at the forefront of technical, progressive rock music – because this guy has set the bar so high that it’s damn hard to get there! We love you John.
Overall, a night enjoyed by all around me & one fine reminder of just how important Dream Theater are to progressive music and inspiring young musicians around the world.