Dream Theater Whirl – Live in Australia

By Jon Van Daal

I am quite sure that many of you reading this have attended many, many Dream Theater concerts since they began in 1989. Sitting down here near the world’s butt in Sydney, Australia literally 98 percent of the world’s greatest progressive rock cum metal acts have never been here so you are very lucky indeed.  With this in mind you might find it hard to believe that it was nearly twenty years later that the world’s greatest band finally made it to the Antipodes.

I first heard Dream Theater when travelling to work in a friend’s car back in 1995. The fact that the car had A & D Class amplifiers and two 12 inch subwoofers certainly made the song, “Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper” sound good, hell who am I kidding it sounded bloody awesome. After listening to progressive rock since 1967 I hadn’t heard anything like this band’s take on progressive metal and from that time I have been a Dream Theater tragic.

The band’s first performance down under wasn’t until thirteen years after the initial experience in my co-worker’s car. They flew into Perth on Australia Day, 2008 and Australia was never the same again. Before the first concert here in (since the year 2000 in fact) I was involved with a small band of Prog-Metal champions trying to bring this band to the notice of various promoters down under. It obviously repeatedly fell on deaf ears but since 2008 they have been back in 2009 and 2014 so the 2017 “25 Years of Images and Words”  tour was eagerly anticipated

On to the show and standing at the front of the Hordern Pavilion with the stage reaching my shoulder the silence was broken with the sounds of “The Colonel” by “Two Steps from Hell”. With the entire stage still blacked out suddenly lead guitarist John Petrucci appeared under a spot light right in front of me playing the very heavy opening riff to “The Dark Eternal Night” from their “Chaos in Motion” platter – indeed chaos reigned as the audience went off upon hearing same.

Normally one is allowed to stay in the photo pit for the first three songs, however with a number of the songs on the night lasting longer than that there was a strict instruction to stay there for only the first fifteen minutes. Fortunately it was closer to twenty when I finally got the flick. During that time they also played “The Bigger Picture” from the aptly named 2013 “Dream Theater” album and had just started one of my old favourites “Hell’s Kitchen” from the ’97 classic “Falling Into Infinity” when the order to move came.

In the previous DT gigs that I had attended at the Hordern Pavlova they had been standing only affairs with a mosh pit at the front. This time around though everyone was seated and thus I had to mosey on to the back of the room to watch the rest of the concert. I picked a spot right next to the sound man as obviously this would be the best place to hear the band and I wasn’t disappointed. The thing was that the lighting man was right next to the sound guy and was bouncing his fingers and palms all over the lighting control desk – ADHD meets DT maybe.

Having played most of 2016 with their “ The Astonishing” Tour dates it was good to actually hear a song from the new album – “The Gift of Music” was just that. This, the band’s latest album had almost gone to the operatic end of the spectrum and their second song from this 130 minute opus saw “Our New World” played though sans, Lizzy Hale.

From the astonishing to the poignant – that’s where we went when the band played former “Weather Report” bass guitarist’s Jaco Pastorius’ song about his wife, Tracy Sexton. “Portrait of Tracy” featured a fantastic bass solo by John Myung and like a number of the world’s top bass guitarists he certainly did it justice.

On previous tours when I have been back stage Mr Myung could be found curled up in a corner practicing his chops, in fact he’s been known to actually practice AFTER a gig. When originally at Berklee College of Music, Myung and friend John Petrucci agreed to do a minimum of six hours a day practice and it seems he still does. Strumming his MusicMan Bongo 5 HS guitar, his performance was top notch.

After a tour into the unknown the band came back on course by bringing their heavy “As I Am” song from my favourite Dream Theater album, “Train of Thought” to the Sydney audience. James LaBrie’s snarling tones work well with Petrucci’s heavy riffs and made this scribe one happy man especially when an excerpt of Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ was included.

The final song from the first set was “Breaking All Illusions”- this longest track on Dream Theater’s 11th album, “A Dramatic Turn of Events”. This is basically a soaring progressive, musical odyssey,  with long instrumental passages. The twelve minute plus tune was masterfully played and well received prior to being taken back 25 years ago.

At  8.30 pm there was a twenty minute break which was followed with the lights dimming and a tape of someone twisting a radio tuning knob came on. This was going from station to station with snippets of all the hits back in 1992 before it settled on the “Fingers Metal Shop show” with a Long Island DJ saying lets listen to “Pull Me Under” from Dream Theater’s new album “Images and Words”. A spot lighted Petrucci started playing the oening riff from the song before the band then launched into that song to the cheers of all those in attendance.

“Another Day” quickly followed the lead in track and was being played with amazing dexterity and power. Usually when a band tours after launching a new album they introduce extra nuances and fills to sharpen up the song in a live setting. In this case 25 years has passed and the entire album was literally supercharged thanks to the improvements in instruments, amp, miking and the venue’s entire sound system – it sounded simply stunning.

The opening bars of “Take The Time” began to the thunderous applause of all in attendance. To me it has been one of the best tracks on this album and like those before it received the 2017 treatment. Towards the end of the song guitarist extraordinaire, John Petrucci broke into a solo that featured all his best chops as he had his Music Man seven string singing sweetly.

As you well know outside of Dream Theater, Petrucci has played in Joe Satriani’s Guitar 3 or G3 as it is better known. John hasactually being the most of any invited player in its history and as you recently saw here he is set to do this again in 2018. With eleven different Signature models of Music Man guitars he is rightly looked upon as one of the world’s best shredders and this amazing solo certainly demonstrated this.

From the frenetic pace of “Take The Time” the mood changed to a slower one with the classic track “Surrounded”. If anything it showed the power and dynamic range of singer, James LaBrie’s voice as he wooed to the assembled throng. Between songs he also spoke to the audience asking how many fans in attendance had purchased “Images and Words” back in 1992 – only about fifty hands went in the air that and that quite surprised the amiable Canadian.

Following “Surrounded” the familiar opening bars of “Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper” pierced the atmosphere to which there was tumultuous applause. This particular song is the most famous of the band’s early years, right up until Part 2 came out in 1999 as “Scenes From A Memory

After my initial experience in my friend’s car I put my own sound system in and with a 15 inch subwoofer it recorded 139.7 Db (enough to blow the rear window out at full volume). I therefore listened to this many, many times on the best of equipment at that time but when the band launched into the track on the night  the sound was simply HUGE.  I was standing in the sonic epicentre of the room where I could hear one of my favourite songs being played to the absolute best of the band’s ability. Of particular note was the power and presence of Mike Mangini’s drums and this saw the Boston drummer launch into a five minute solo.

Mangini was simply superb hitting every cymbal, tom and kick drum during the solo  that he had on his incredible drum kit. Without missing a beat the band kicked straight back into the song again following Mangini’s solo and finished off what to me was the highlight of the night.

Even the fittest of musicians would have been tired at this point and while Mangini’s solo gave the others some time to catch up it was straight back into prog-metal central with the song “Under a Glass Moon”. I’ve always worked by the adage that too much is just right and too much “Dream Theater” comes in at three times the level of any other band.

Following this full on pair of metal anthems calmness ensued with keyboard player Jordan Rudess’ doing the intro to “Wait For Sleep”. Rudess was one of the youngest persons (aged 9) ever admitted to New York’s world class Julliard School and his classical music intro would not have been out of place at the Sydney Opera House – such was his incredible talent.

Unfamiliar symphonic chords were followed by the familiar intro to “Wait For Sleep” – a beautiful soft pattern of piano notes that literally had chills running up my back. Soon LaBrie’s voice accompanied the piano and a stunning rendition of one of Dream Theater’s softest songs was the result. Progressive Music has always been the sound track to my life and when you hear something as absolutely stunning as “Wait For Sleep” then you know that it doesn’t get much better than this.

With all the players back on stage the band launched into a stirring version of “Learning To Live”, the final track on their 1992 opus – “Images and Words”. This is not a track that was played live back when the album was released and we had to wait until the 2001 release of “Live Scenes from New York“ to hear a live version. (Of interest was that the artwork for the platter was released on September 11, 2001 and had flaming artwork on the cover of the Two Towers). For me though it was worth the wait as all five members of the band sang and played as one in what was a perfect finale to the end of the second set.

While I have been a huge Dream Theater fan over the years I’ll admit that I haven’t been a fan of all of their music. I don’t know if this was to do with the fact that I bought all their albums at once and preferred some over others but I am not a big fan of  “A Change of Seasons” and the band chose to play this seven part album as their Encore. Like everything else on the night it was played to the best of the band’s ability and ended in a standing ovation but for me the highlight was the “Images & Words set”.

Setlist

Intro

The Colonel – Two Steps From Hell

Act 1:

The Dark Eternal Night

The Bigger Picture

Hell’s Kitchen

The Gift of Music

Our New World

Portrait of Tracy – (Jaco Pastorius cover with John Myung solo)

As I Am – (bridged with an excerpt of Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’)

Breaking All Illusions

Act 2 (Images and Words):

Happy New Year 1992 – Intro Tape

Pull Me Under

Another Day

Take the Time – (extended outro with a John Petrucci guitar solo)

Surrounded

Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper – (with a drum solo by Mike)

Under a Glass Moon

Wait for Sleep – (with extended keyboard intro by Jordan Rudess)

Learning to Live

Encore:

A Change of Seasons: I The Crimson Sunrise

A Change of Seasons: II Innocence

A Change of Seasons: III Carpe Diem

A Change of Seasons: IV The Darkest of Winters

A Change of Seasons: V Another World

A Change of Seasons: VI The Inevitable Summer

A Change of Seasons: VII The Crimson Sunset

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