Story & Photo by Ben Hansen
Special to HNC
SALT LAKE CITY—Dream Theater, a globally successful band and trailblazing pioneer of the progressive metal scene, arrived in Salt Lake for a rare tour stop on Friday night. This was only the second time in the last 14 years that the band was able to stop in Utah, with previous performances just not working out logistically for various reasons, including one missed date due to the onset of a massive snowstorm that stopped the band’s trucks firmly in their tracks several years ago.
But nothing was going to stop the band this time from the U.S. leg of its tour to support its latest top-10 billboard album A Dramatic Turn of Events. The band has undergone a significant change in the last couple of years, with founding drummer Mike Portnoy departing and Mike Mangini taking over. With the incredibly complex music that Dream Theater writes, one could easily expect Mangini to fail. This, however, is not the case.
• See in-depth interview with front man James LaBrie.
The set began with the song “Bridges in the Sky,” an 11-minute epic roller coaster from the latest album, laden with ferocious drum rolls and tempo changes around every turn. Watching Mangini play was like watching a kid enthralled with a video game, savoring each moment before he conquers it. Mangini passed along a lot of infectious energy to the crowd, and was saluted again and again by standing ovations throughout different parts of the set, with a screaming standing ovation given following his astounding drum solo.
Guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, and keyboardist Jordan Rudess worked in precision with Mangini throughout the night, delivering every song crisply and with authority. Each transition and riff was matched so perfectly that it seemed as if they were all parts of a well-oiled, high-efficiency machine.
Lead singer James LaBrie, always the epitome of a professional musician, once again showed his stuff by giving 100 percent, despite revealing in an interview before the show that he was suffering from what he described as a “wicked cold.” Regardless of his ailment, LaBrie sounded strong and sharp, with no note too high and no measure to long for him to hold amidst a very challenging set.
The songs “Endless Sacrifice,” “Fatal Tragedy” and “Forsaken” were delivered with both precision and power, eventuating in many James LaBrie copycats in the audience who sang along, doubtless to awake the next morning with laryngitis.
Different nights on the current tour receive alternating song sets, and Salt Lake City was fortunate enough to get a two-song acoustic set with LaBrie and Petrucci. The first acoustic number was a song rarely played in recent years, “The Silent Man,” where Petrucci delivered admirable backing vocals. “Beneath the Surface,” the last track from the band’s new album, created a reverent atmosphere for the crowd, as once again the harmonizing between LaBrie and Petruci was orchestrated perfectly to video screens providing alternating and complimenting images in the background.
This concert was a new multimedia experience for Dream Theater’s live show, as the band incorporated some better lighting and employed the use of several different video screens. The result was a much more intimate concert, where even those in the balcony felt connected as if in the first few rows. LaBrie played this up to the crowd, as he proclaimed, “We wanted to give you some eye candy….well, not us. Maybe 25 years ago we were!”
Somehow, Dream Theater was able to squeeze in 15 different numbers, although the length of many of their songs challenge 10 minutes. With 10 albums to their credit and an obsessive fan base, it would be difficult for the band to satiate many members of the audience. Their cohesive set was very diverse, pulling out favorites and rarities from all eras of the band’s existence, providing something for every level of fan in attendance.
From the instrumental “Ytse Jam” and the new track “Outcry” through the encore of “Under a Glass Moon,” Dream Theater proved once again that its most recent dramatic turn is yet another step up in the the band’s musical evolution.