Review by Paul Quinton, photos by Lisa Billingham
This was the final show of a three date UK trip, although just part of what will be a lengthy world tour in support of their latest album, and packed out the Civic, despite some raised eyebrows over ticket prices more suited to an arena show than the friendlier confines of the Civic Hall. The album is the second since the controversial departure of Mike Portnoy, and the first in which new drummer Mike Mangini has been fully involved in the writing and arranging.
There was no support, the show is billed as ‘An Evening With Dream Theater’ and that’s exactly what it is, so, with the stage concealed by a white screen, the lights went down bang on the advertised start time of 8 O’clock and the show began with an excellent short film showing animated versions of the band’s various album sleeves to the sound of the band’s ‘False Awakening Suite’, before the curtain dropped and the show began with ‘The Enemy Inside’, from the new album. It was a well-constructed opening to the show, but didn’t quite prepare you for the sheer power with which the band steamed into the song or the sheer spectacle of the stage show. The sound was huge, as good as any I’ve heard in the Civic, the light show was superb and the high definition screen at the rear of the stage was as good as anything I’ve seen outside an arena show. In addition the band were more animated and interacted more with the crowd more than I can ever remember, with singer James LaBrie calling for the crowd to clap and sing along, (not always easy in a Dream Theater song!), and even the notoriously reticent bassist John Myung coming to the front of the stage at times.
The opening half of the show was split evenly between songs from the new album and from the band’s back catalogue. After ‘The Enemy Inside’ the band played ‘The Shattered Fortress’, and really began to hit their stride, with the middle section, while being as heavy as anything in their repertoire, absolutely mesmerising in its complexity and yet without the band ever missing a note. You found yourself wondering about how intense their rehearsals must be to reach this kind of almost telepathic tightness.
For this early part of the show, the band seemed to be getting better and better, with ‘On The Backs Of Angels’ and ‘The Looking Glass’ being followed by a solo from guitarist John Petrucci, leading to an utterly glorious ‘Trial of Tears’ that, whilst one of the oldest songs in the set, was possibly the highlight of the show. It should also be said that at this point, James LaBrie was singing as well as I can remember, and he kept things at a high standard during a terrific ‘Along For The Ride’. If the band let the pace drop at all during this opening set, it was during Mike Mangini’s drum solo, which, while it used the full capacity of his remarkably constructed drum kit, wasn’t quite the tour de force this show might have deserved, and was the only time during the opening 75 minutes that the band lapsed from the absurdly high standard they’d reached during the first half.
The 15 minute interval included the screening of some clips from Youtube of the band’s music being covered by various people and groups, including US marching bands and even a small orchestra. For the second half, LaBrie noted that the band were celebrating a couple of anniversaries in 2014, one of which was the 20th Anniversary of the band’s 3rd studio album ‘Awake’, so much of the second half was devoted to that album. Typical of the band, they didn’t choose the tracks that might have been expected, although when they can pull out performances as good as they did for ‘Lie’, ‘Scarred’ and ‘Space Dye Vest’, I don’t think too many people would have been complaining.
This just left a performance of the longest track on the new album, ‘Illumination Theory’ to conclude the second half of the main set, and this was also one of the few instances in the show where the performance dropped somewhat. The middle section of this song is an orchestrated piece, and for this the whole band left the stage and a short animated film was shown. This genuinely caused the atmosphere and intensity of the show to falter and although it’s undoubtedly essential to the song itself, in the live context it just didn’t work, especially when the band should be bringing the show to its climax.
For the encore, the band chose to honour another of the anniversaries LaBrie had drawn attention to, the 15th anniversary of the remarkable concept album, ‘Scenes from A Memory’, and if the pace had slipped during the latter stages of the main set, this restored it in tremendous fashion. ‘Strange Déjà Vu’ followed by a mesmerising ‘Dance Of Eternity’, which included a sequence in which Petrucci and Myung played in sync at the front of the stage, showing an almost eerie understanding, before the show finished with the crowd singing the finale to ‘Finally Free’ and giving the band a rapturous and well-deserved reception at the finale. There’s no doubt that the band are in a rich vein of form at the moment, adding humour and emotion to their tremendous powers as musicians. At the end, LaBrie promised the band would return to the UK later during this lengthy tour, and if they can maintain this level of performance they shouldn’t be missed. An absolutely terrific show.
See more of Lisa’s photos here;