Words By: Giancarlo Cortez
Dream Theater made their way into the Sony Centre for Performing Arts in Toronto on April 16, promoting their latest album The Astonishing.
Not many bands have progressed the way Dream Theater have. They absolutely have neither hits nor music videos on MTV. Radio? Forget it… radios don’t play 30 minute songs. This Long Island group is probably the heaviest band doing headlining shows at a classy venue like the Sony Centre. More than two decades of perseverance through a seemingly never ending writing-recording-touring cycle has paid off. The band is composed of guitarist, backing vocalist John Petrucci; lead vocalist James Labrie; drummer Mike Mangini; bassist John Myung; and keyboardist Jordan Rudess. Its membership went through several reconfigurations between 1985 and 2010, archiving its current line-up when Mangini replaced original drummer Mike Portnoy in 2010. After the band swept a Grammy nomination for On the Back on Angels (2011) the American/Canadian band members have enjoyed a new beginning.
Behind the stage techs are tweaking gear, checking levels, pulling out low end, adjusting gain. The fans are mostly musicians craving to know what pedals or amps are being used. You would not really see any mosh pit action at these shows. The seats would not help either. 10 minutes after show time the band finally hits the stage. A Dream Theater show is more than a rock concert. This is rock opera released as their thirteenth studio album! The fantastical plot, the characters, the maps, the orchestra in the screen makes it a unique experience. There is even a Dream Theater video game coming out based on this album. The New York based musicians are here to play the entire new album, one of their highest charting albums to date. The video for “The Gift of Music” has pulled approximately 1.5 million eyeballs. And they’re without a doubt extremely proud of this.
John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess deliver stunning riffs with ferocious solos on “A Better Life”. This time, though, they paced themselves. The virtuoso’s didn’t solo to the point where the singer is forgotten. Petrucci is undeniably Petrucci. The way he bends the strings is so unique. There is not a bit of “look at me when I solo” show off stuff here. Instead, he played acoustic guitar for intros. Mike Mangini is glued to the band after joining 6 years ago and it shows on “The Gift of Music”. It would not be fair to ignore and dismiss all the other work in his storied career. The sticksman had a very demanding job drumming for legendary guitarist Steve Vai in the 90s. The Massachusetts native also recorded for hair rockers Extreme and thrash metal legends Annihilator. He actually quit teaching drums at Berklee College of Music (Boston) to join the band… so there you go if you doubt his skills.
James Labrie, the Ontario native, is still giving his best towards the end of the first set even though it is difficult to sing on that range, to sing that long (80 minutes first set, 50 minutes second set) on a daily basis is no easy job. Maybe his body language on stage could help…his emotional singing was a highlight nevertheless. A lot of his singing on this record borrows a lot from “The Spirits Carries On” off Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. The sonic assault along with the display of visuals delight the fans, they eat up 34 new tracks. The musicians go back and forth from short interludes to cinematic instrumentals to very sad ballads.
There are plenty of “good” metal bands. There are literally hundreds of leather-lunged singers and tireless drummers. And then there’s Dream Theater. They are the modern originators of progressive metal. Now we all know why the old songs were not played. The Astonishing is a concept album in its entirety. It’s meant not to be broken up or anything added to. Just like a movie with no extra scenes. After all, Dream Theater have never been a band to go along with the crowd.