Review By: Kevin Kuhlman
Photos By: Fred Kuhlman
Promoter: Danny Zelisko Presents
Venue: Chandler Center For The Arts
Date: Saturday October 28th, 2017
After a myriad of heavy metal staples blast through the PA, including Iron Maiden and Ozzy, at the Chandler Center for the Arts, an unexpected change occurs — the music fades out and, slightly louder, comes a familiar horn line. It’s, oddly enough, “Sweet Caroline,” by Neil Diamond of all people welcoming the crowd to tonight’s show. Immediately following the inevitable audience sing-along, the lights cut to black and the long awaited Dream Theater Images, Words & Beyond show kicks into full gear.
Opening with the heavy riffage of “The Dark Eternal Night,” off of their 2007 album Systematic Chaos, singer James LaBrie hails the crowd with the promise of a 25th anniversary performance of their seminal 1992 album Images and Words. First, however, the band played an hour-long set filled to the brim with deep cuts, fan favorites, and even a surprise rarity that even I, a Dream Theater superfan, haven’t even heard before. Whether it be Jordan Rudess utilizing a newly implemented iPad keytar during the opening number, or John Myung’s cover of “Portrait of Tracy” in tribute to Jaco Pastorius leading directly into the opening bass chords of “As I Am”, or the third ever live performance (the first two being on the previous two shows on the tour) of “Don’t Look Past Me,” a song originally written before Images and Words but never officially released. It was a wonderful blend of new (Songs from Dream Theater and A Dramatic Turn of Events make an appearance) as well as music from the band’s early era that would have been a satisfying show in and of itself.
But the reason we were all crowded in that small theater was for the 2nd set of the night: Dream Theater’s performance of Images and Words, the band’s best selling album. Following an intro reminiscent of the changing stations on a radio in 1992 that included song snippets by early 90s acts like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Sir-Mix-Alot, and others, guitarist John Petrucci begins the opening riff of “Pull Me Under,” the band’s biggest (and only) hit single, causing a raw and joyous reaction from the show-goers. And while the album’s other songs never reached that same level of cultural saturation, you wouldn’t have known it in the room that night. From minor hits like “Another Day” to more expansive and esoteric works like “Learning to Live,” the crowd ate up every second of their second set. At times the crowd even sang along with LaBrie which made it sound a lot like a large arena’s echo.
Last time they played the valley, Dream Theater put on an intricate stage show as they put on a performance of their newest album, The Astonishing. This time around, the Band’s stage was minimalist, as the band’s instruments and a bare bone’s backdrop were the extent of the stage design. Rather, the music did all of the heavy lifting as new wrinkles and solo spots were integrated into the nostalgia-oriented proceedings. “Take the Time” became a canvas for Petrucci’s guitar acrobatics, “Wait for Sleep” opening piano intro was used to showcase Rudess’s otherworldly improvisation skills, and drummer Mike Mangini’s solo melded perfectly with the instrumental breaks in “Metropolis”, including references to the sequel album the song spawned, particularly sections from “The Dance of Eternity.”
And as if playing the band’s most famous and iconic album wasn’t enough, the night finished with what can only be described as their magnum opus: the 25 minute epic “A Change of Seasons.” While indulgent even by Dream Theater’s standards, the song is a beloved staple that melds the band’s musical mastery with an emotionally-charged lyrical earnestness that the band has rarely, if ever, truly matched. And while it is a bittersweet experience seeing “A Change of Seasons” played without longtime drummer Mike Portnoy (the song is a tribute to his late mother and written about his experience before and after her passing), it was incredible seeing how flawlessly and effortlessly the band was able to recapture that musical magic despite the song not being a part of the band’s repertoire in years.
If there was one issue the band should address it was the sound mix. While the instrumentation was perfectly crisp, LaBrie’s vocals were a bit muddled and overdriven. It’s a shame, because on the quieter ballads like “Surrounded” and “Wait for Sleep” LaBrie sounded incredible, but when the music kicked into high gear the vocal channels just sounded subpar. Don’t get me wrong, you could understand LaBrie but compared to past performances, the vocal sound mix seemed off.
That said, seeing Dream Theater perform Images and Words live was enough of a treat in and of itself. It’s long been a favorite album of mine, and seeing under-appreciated songs like “Under a Glass Moon” and “Learning to Live” get their due at a 25th anniversary show was worth the price of admission. Dream Theater continues to be a marvel to experience live, and the Images, Words and Beyond tour is a reminder of what makes them the best band progressive metal has to offer.
Dream Theater currently consists of John Petrucci on lead guitar and backing vocals, James LaBrie as lead singer, Jong Myung on bass, Jordon Rudess on keyboards and the outstanding drumming of Mike Mangini.
Photos © Fred Kuhlman 2017
Dream Theater’s Setlists:
The Dark Eternal Night
The Bigger Picture
To Live Forever
Don’t Look Past Me
Portrait of Tracy (Jaco Pastorius)
As I Am
Breaking All Illusions
Set 2: Images & Words
Pull Me Under
Take the Time
Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper
Under a Glass Moon
Wait for Sleep
Learning to Live
A Change of Seasons