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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Concert Review - Dream Theater at Hammerstein Ballroom 3/28/14

Dream Theater.  The undisputed kings of progressive metal.  The band that every other progressive metal band is inevitably compared to.  And for good reason too.  Say what you want, but they deserve to be the band that draws all the comparisons.  They have been releasing some of the very best albums of the genre since 1989.  Many would cite them as the band that started the entire genre.  For me personally, they were the band that introduced me to an entire world of music I previously didn't know existed.  I listened to the song "6:00" from their dark masterpiece, Awake, and I never returned.  Scenes From A Memory was the first album I purchased by them and I immediately had a new favorite album of all time.  I owe a large percentage of my music collection to these guys.

The amazing thing about them is that they are as good live as they are in the studio.  For music this complex, one would expect them to lose some of their mastery when taking the stage, but somehow that's not the case.  James LaBrie seems to defy nature and sound better with age.  At age 50, his voice sounds better than ever, and I don't say this with any sense of hyperbole.  I've seen Dream Theater eight or nine times and his performance at last night's show ranks up there as the very best I've ever seen.  Not to mention, his performances on recent studio albums, Dream Theater and A Dramatic Turn of Events, have been full of energy and passion; a sort of return to form to his glory days of the '90s.

It's rare to attend a show billed as "An Evening With..." but last night's Dream Theater show was one of the few I've had the pleasure of seeing in my concert-going life (I've seen perhaps three or four shows like this, and this was the second time I've seen Dream Theater perform such show).  They took the stage at 8:00 and opened with the hard-hitting single, "The Enemy Inside" from their latest, self-titled album.  Despite the insanely perfect performance, the sound at the venue was a bit off, and that would unfortunately continue for much of the first set.  A few more songs from recent albums followed, which were all enjoyable, but no classics.  Right as the sound started to improve, they busted into one of my all time favorite epics from their 1997 "pop" album, Falling Into Infinity - "Trial of Tears".  I'm talkin' 13-minutes epic.  Full of sweeping keyboard bits, emotional guitar solos, soaring vocals, and all other aspects that make a prog-rock epic an epic!  It was such a treat hearing a fairly underrated song from such an underrated album in the DT discography.

They followed that wonderful song with their latest instrumental, "Enigma Machine", from their self-titled album.  I'm not crazy about this song.  As far as instrumental songs go, I feel this ranks towards the bottom of their catalog.  However, the band has been known to incorporate hilarious animated videos into their live show (proving that Rush have inspired them in more ways than just the music) and the "Spy vs. Spy" spoof entitled "DT vs. DT" that played during this song turned it into a very enjoyable live song.  Not to mention, Mike Mangini, the dude who replaced the legendary Mike Portnoy, showed off his masterful drumming skills with an insane drum solo in the middle.  The first set carried along with another song from their latest album and finished with my favorite song from their previous album, "Breaking All Illusions".

After a 15-minute intermission, the band returned for a second set.  I nearly had a heart attack when I found out during the first set that the band was celebrating both their 15-year and 20-year anniversaries of Scenes From a Memory and Awake respectively.  Those two albums just happen to be my two favorite Dream Theater albums!  They opened the second set with "The Mirror", the crushing track from their 1994 classic, Awake.  No matter how much longer this band continues making music, this will always be the heaviest song they've ever written.  They'll never top this one in terms of heaviness.  And they haven't lost a step since writing this song 20 years ago.  They sounded just as fresh last night as they did on the recorded version.  As I anticipated, this song led right into the next track on the album, "Lie", which is almost as heavy and equally satisfying.  They followed that up with one of their most beautiful ballads, "Lifting Shadows Off a Dream", at which point I realized they would likely be playing the last five songs on the album in succession.  To my sheer happiness, they did indeed continue on with the 11-minute epic, "Scarred", as well as the emotional "Space-Dye Vest".  Now, let me just say, in all my years of seeing Dream Theater live, "Space-Dye Vest" was probably at the very top of my list of songs I thought I'd never see them play live.  Written by their original keyboardist, Kevin Moore, I assumed this song vacated the band's live repertoire upon Moore's departure.  Thankfully, I was wrong, as seeing it performed last night was such an incredible surprise.  As if this second set alone wasn't already better than most shows I've seen in the past year, they ended it with a bang by playing the 22-minute closing track on their new self-titled album entitled "Illumination Theory".  Their performance was simply flawless, complete with beautiful videos accompanying the too-pretty-for-words orchestrated middle section.

After a very brief break, the prog masters returned for a glorious encore comprised of songs from my personal favorite album of theirs, Scenes From A Memory - a concept album that tells a twisted tale of love, murder, and reincarnation.  "Overture 1928", the blazing instrumental that sets the stage for the album, set the stage for the four-song encore.  The crowd ate up every note as it seamlessly transitioned into "Strange Deja Vu", a song that lays the foundation for the complicated story that lies ahead.  The complex instrumental, "The Dance of Eternity", was up next which led into the grand finale, "Finally Free", which gave way to a crowd sing-a-long of the "One Last Time" reprise contained within the middle of the song.  Labrie's final lyrics, "We'll meet again my friend someday soon" was directed towards all the happy fans who just experienced a perfect display of music mastery.  I hope to see you again someday soon.

The full setlist can be viewed here:

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