Dream Theater already played in The Netherlands with the current line up in Weert,
at the BOSPOP festival (July 2011) but they are back on the road to support their current album A Dramatic Turn Of Events.
The venue, in case someone would wonder why not the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam or The Ahoy Hall in Rotterdam,
was not unknown to the guys in Dream Theater because they played in the IJslhallen in 1999 too
and the choice is understandable because Zwolle lies geographically in the centre of The Netherlands and the Hall,
in terms of number of people attending, lies somewhere between Ahoy and the Heineken Music Hall.
Zwolle: By Dave Baird
I must admit to being a tad disappointed that Dream Theater didn't have a gig in Brussels on this tour,
in recent years they've been playing Forest National, and filling it rather nicely.
I knew four of five people that wanted to see them, but didn't –
I can't help but feeling that the band made a big mistake in skipping the European capital…
Secondly I was rather perplexed as to why they didn't play Ahoy or Heineken.
The Zwolle Ijshallen wasn't as bad as I expected in terms of sound, but being long,
thin and without any gallery seating the viewing options were very poor
(the photographers curse is that you're too close for the first 15 minutes and then too far away for the rest of the gig).
Added to that the Dutch audiences bizarre habit of talking/shouting constantly to each other throughout the whole gig (go to the pub guys please!)
plus the constant crunching of discarded plastic beer cups underfoot, well it didn't make for the best experience –
no doubt securing a place nearer the stage next to the more serious fans would have been better, but almost impossible.
Before the show I had great pleasure to do an in-depth interview with Mike Mangini which you can read here.
I also had quite a chat with James Labrie, who's also, like Mike, a tremendously nice and friendly guy.
Plus it was nice to bump into DPRP colleague Menno (who got to share this review as a result) and Bert from iOPages in the photo pit and backstage.
London: By Basil Francis
Wembley. 1900 hours. -6 °C. It's freezing, but for me and my three fellow prog-metal lovers, this isn't an issue.
We've just travelled for 50 miles and 2 hours to see one of our favourite bands, with an even longer trip planned for the way back.
As we reach the venue, one can't help think that it would seem more grand if it weren't dwarfed by the rather brobdingnagian Wembley Stadium,
with its giant metal arch reaching into the sky.
As we reach the entrance, I am yelled to by a man I haven't met in over 5 years, although my friends are anxious to keep things moving.
At the doors to the arena, I am told that I must open my bag.
I do so without hesitating.
The doorgaurd tells me I may not bring any bottles with caps on, eyeing the two green bottles of sparkling water I have brought with me.
Whenever buying bottled water, I always go for sparkling for two reasons.
Firstly, I enjoy the refreshing bubbly taste, but more importantly,
I feel cheated when buying something I could have simply gotten out of a tap had I been more prepared.
Reluctantly, I proceed to take off the lids of both bottles, causing the second to explode in a shower of sparkling water,
drenching both my coat as well as those of the doorguard and his helper, causing them both to curse and swear.
I pour the remaining water into the cups provided for unwitting liquid trespassers.
After this minute moment of mishap, I am inside, and presently eyeing the Dream Theater stash that is on sale.
There are shirts for £22 (my friend laments that he's only brought £21.50), hoodies for £30, and various other memorablia,
including the eponymous debut CD from the support act Periphery.
I explain to my friends (a couple of whom I've only met that day) that I've never heard of this group before,
and that I wasn't even sure if there would be a support act.
We walk west down the south side of the arena to find our seats,
passing hundreds of fans clad in all manner of clothes bearing either the Dream Theater name or the Majesty symbol in one form or another,
clutching beers and food and making merry.
As we walk, we catch tantalising glimpses of the vast interior of the arena. Eventually we make it all the way to the end of the arena,
where my friends say our seats are.
They purported that they had got us excellent tickets, and they are not wrong.
Sitting in Row 8 we are astonishingly close to the front, given that over a hundred rows behind us were starting to be filled up.
Zwolle: By Menno von Brucken fock
Dream Theater chose to be supported by another band from the USA hailing from Bethesda (Maryland), a six piece consisting of Spencer Sotelo (lead vocals),
Misha "Bulb" Mansoor (guitar, production), Jake Bowen (guitar), Mark Holcomb (guitar), Matt Halpern (drums), Nolly Getgood (bass).
Active since 2005, the band underwent several changes in the line up and only recently Holcomb joined, while Getgood is not a full member (yet).
The band played a highly energetic set from their 2010 album Buttersnips and also material from their current EP Icarus.
From the photo pit the sound was quite horrible so it's neither easy nor fair to criticise the performance of this band.
Sotelo's performance featured his growling and grunting far more than his vocal abilities, which is something I don't particularly like.
Although the noise was big, melodies seemed to lack and from my perspective that is undesirable.
Technically all musicians involved were superb, but as always without a catchy chorus or something you can hook on to,
this kind of music tends to be loud and 'just technical' instead of moving and melodic.
In fact this something that has been said about Dream Theater as well: technically outstanding but they lack emotion… Fortunately I don't share that opinion!
Zwolle: By Dave Baird
Like Menno, the concert was my first introduction to Periphery and I share many of the sentiments.
They were certainly very technically gifted musicians and the music had a tremendous amount of energy,
but it was pretty impenetrable for the uninitiated, lacking in any strong tunes or catchy riffs; essentially a wall of sound.
But there was enough there to pique my interest and I'll certainly look into their albums and give them a chance.
If I were to describe them then they were like a cross between Opeth and Green Day, but without the melody…
London: By Basil Francis
Presently, the Meshuggah-inspired group Periphery are dealing out lashings of their own take on progressive metal to the audience.
The audience (ourselves included), are sitting quietly and obediently, listening to the onslaught of cacophonous noise.
Unfortunately for Periphery, it appears that their sound mixing on this night is not too well balanced,
with the crashing drums drowning out almost everything, and only a few melodic sounds getting through.
The lead singer, Spencer Sotelo, tries to rally the audience with a cry of 'Is everyone having a good time tonight?',
to which the audience give a meagre response.
In desperation, he shouts 'Who's come here to see Dream Theater?', at which point everyone cheers,
before realising that it's a rather silly question, the answer simply being 'Everyone'.
Sotelo can be seen to be growing more and more impatient with the crowd of non-followers, and shouts 'Right,
for this next song I want you to sit as fucking still as you can!' Soon after,
the band claim that they just have one song left, and realising that we still have quarter of an hour left of their set,
a process of elimination leads my more knowledgeable friends to deduce that Racecar is about to be played.
Listening to this very track the next day, I realise just how awful the mixing is, as there is almost no resemblance between this, and what I heard live.
The band all have a painful-looking habit of gratuitous headbanging, with Sotelo actively shifting his entire torso to the beat.
Arthritis of the neck, anyone?
Setlist Periphery (London)
Jetpacks Was Yes! v2.0
Zwolle: By Menno von Brucken fock
Anyway around nine o'clock the moment was there, the beautiful music by Hans Zimmer (Dream Is Collapsing) as a prelude for the maestro´s:
John Petrucci (guitar), John Myung (bass), Jordan Rudess (keyboards), James LaBrie (lead vocal)
and the latest addition Mike Mangini (drums) entered the stage.
A very nice stage set with a sort of three dimensional three part projection screens above and behind the band
on which the audience could see either cartoons, close-ups from the performing artists as well as images related to the music Dream Theater played that show.
An impressive light show with wonderful colours to complete a fantastic live experience.
The band played tight, the subtlety and virtuosity of Mangini makes one forget what a formidable drummer the band used to have in Mike Portnoy.
Complex rhythm patterns, impressive simultaneous playing by all four instrumentalists and a vocalist who was in a pretty good form that night,
although he was backed by his own voice from the computer.
He encountered a major challenge in the oldie Fortune In Lies where he had to reach for the highest notes he is capable to sing.
At his best during the acoustic interlude with excellent renditions of The Silent Man and Beneath The Surface,
James seemed at ease and was interacting with Dream Theater's fans frequently.
The interactions on stage between the two Johns seemed genuine and it was obvious the band was enjoying playing live (again?).
The seemingly obligatory drum solo by Mangini was impressive are very melodic instead of a sheer demonstration of power & dynamics,
surprisingly good! Dream Theater played for just over two hours and this time not a solo spot for Rudess who also didn't play his
'wizard key-tar' this evening.
His magnificent technique was demonstrated throughout the show though, especially in the encore Pull Me Under where Rudess played some dazzling keyboards.
Because I know the acoustics of this hall aren't particularly great, I found the overall sound quite good.
Maybe the balance within the drum kit could have been slightly better and the vocals weren't too loud,
but generally the sound was much better than 10 years ago, when I hardly could hear the keyboards.
It will be very interesting to find out what these five guys can come up with next.
With Mike Mangini being a full member of this incredible band, emotions or not, Dream Theater will be unbeatable for many years to come as far as I'm concerned!
Zwolle: By Dave Baird
A Dream Theater show is always special, but with the arrival of Mike Mangini they've been taken to a higher level.
Technically the band have always been pretty much peeress, but Mangini's not considered one of the best drummers on the planet without good reason,
he has chops to die for and the ability to glue the band together like never before.
This was perhaps most apparent in the track Outcry with its complex instrumental mid-section – what impressed me the most here,
aside from the technical brilliance, is that the band managed to infuse some emotion into these parts and, despite the tightness,
they were playing both loosely and freely.
Other highlights of the set for me was A Fortune in Lies and Surrounded where along with the acoustic section of the set, James really shone.
I must say that his voice is in tremendous shape, he's going for and hitting the high-notes really well.
Of course the setlist was heavily based around the tracks from A Dramatic Turn Of Events and although my personal favourite,
This is the Life, was absent the other I was eager to hear was of course the marvellous Breaking All Illusions – a Dream Theater classic.
Needless to say that the band pulled it off with some aplomb, Rudess' keys simply stunning and the little shifts in the pre-solo section:
Dream Theater -> Gentle Giant -> disco-beat were seamless.
Many were waiting for Petrucci's bluesy solo and dare I say it, but he played it even better than on the CD,
it was simply awash with feeling, the lush, rich tones dripping from the arena walls.
One of the observations during the festival tour in 2011 was that none of the songs in the set were written by Mike Portnoy,
of course launching a salvo of conspiracy theories.
This has very much been put-to-bed now as they played The Root of All Evil, which of course is the third instalment of (old) Mike's AA Suite.
On top of that, having spoken in person to several members of the band I can say that there's only sadness and respect for old Mike,
no apparent malice whatsoever, regardless of what you may read elsewhere.
On the subject of drummers, having just interviewed Mike I was really looking forward to how solo,
especially as at Loreley I was too busy photographing to really pay attention to the music (the second photographer's curse!).
Needless to say that his solo was one of both jaw-dropping virtuosity, musicality and well joy -
Mike's so in love with being in Dream Theater and this shines throughout his performance and the way he connects with the fans.
Pull Me Under was a nice, if rather short, encore and far more preferable to As I Am, which had been on rotation for a few shows recently,
and the band left the stage after taking the plaudits, looking pretty happy about life.
So a really super concert given the constraints of the venue, personally though I hope that next time around they resort to the "Evening with…"
format with a 3 hour+ set and please don't forget Belgium next time fellas.
London: By Basil Francis
After Periphery disappear, their giant banner is taken down, and before us, Mangini's kit is revealed.
And it is magnificent.
Forming a circle around the invisible drummer, this kit has just about everything a drummer could want to have,
including electric pads, roto toms, all manner of cymbals, and even a gong.
Never have I seen such a beautiful sight, and many audience members crowd to the front to take a picture, and subsequently stand for the rest of the gig.
We are given half an hour (in which time I buy a packet of crisps), before our heroes set foot on stage.
The lights dim and presently, the odd cubic shapes mounted on the wall are revealed to be projection screens (because rectangular screens are too boring).
A cartoon depicting the members of Dream Theater is shown, along with the soundtrack from Inception.
For two minutes, tension is built up in the audience until we are ready to burst, before they come on stage.
Myung, then Petrucci, then Rudess and Mangini behind the drums, with LaBrie following only when his part is needed in the first track, Bridges In The Sky.
What follows is absolute gold.
An impressive setlist encompassing the history of the band is delivered.
LaBrie even hints that they will revisit When Dream And Day Unite, which makes me in particular very excited.
While a large amount of A Dramatic Turn Of Events is played, the songs in between these are really quite special.
We are treated to a rhythmic rendition of 6:00, on which Mangini shows his mastery of Portnoy's technique; a powerful yet true-to-the-original Surrounded;
the previously hinted-at A Fortune In Lies, where Mangini defies all belief by performing the snare marching part with one hand;
and some soulful singing on The Spirit Carries On.
During the first half, Mangini even breaks into a 7-minute drum solo, showcasing his brilliant talents,
as well as most of the drums (but notably not the gong, which is used later).
All in all, it's a brilliant set, but I had a few small reservations, the main one being that my favourite track from A Dramatic Turn Of Events,
Lost Not Forgotten, was not played, and indeed hasn't been for the entire tour.
Unlike Periphery, the band's mixing is extra crisp, with even Mangini's ride cymbals sounding like you were standing right next to them.
Througout the show, various members of the band are shown on the middle projection cube playing their instruments.
The only downside to this is that the video is not quite in sync with reality, making for slightly awkward viewing.
At other times, for example during Outcry, films are projected onto the screens, and in this case, the song is revealed to be about the Arab Spring.
At other times, computer generated films involving the 'unicycle boy' are shown.
It seems that Rudess has made himself a new toy, as at various points he uses an iPad,
loaded with his very own app to perform impressive solos and effects.
His keytar, an ever-present object onstage, remains dejectedly unused.
His main keyboard has also been modified with the ability to tilt and thus show off his talents during the more intricate solos.
Perhaps the most lovely (if nonessential) bit of new equipment is LaBrie's new microphone stand, with it's base carrying the familiar Majesty symbol.
This has obviously made him quite a happy chappy as he proceeds to carry the whole microphone stand with him wherever he goes on stage,
thrusting it in the air as he goes.
One aspect of this performance which I took to heart, and which wasn't present last time I saw them, was how the band, and in particular LaBrie,
tried to make friends with the audience.
The Canadian singer has never been one for good banter, but the audience appreciates his trying.
In between heavier tracks, Petrucci appears onstage with an acoustic guitar, thus limiting the number of tracks he could be about to play.
LaBrie mentions that they are about to go back to the Awake album, and while the audience braces themselves for an acoustic rendition of Erotomania,
he and Petrucci subvert all expectation by playing The Silent Man. We are treated to Petrucci's beautiful backing vocals during the chorus,
and one is but to hope that he may do more of this in the future.
Of course, you don't just get out the acoustic guitar for one meagre track,
and subsequently the more recent track Beneath The Surface is also played.
A criticism to be made about this evening is that none of the songs have anything special added to them, and are played rather straight.
The only song which has been modified is The Spirit Carries On, before which Petrucci delivers a moving guitar solo, accompanied by Rudess.
LaBrie blabbers emotionally about how the next track has a lot of meaning to everyone, and how the cows and the daisies are beautiful,
until you just want to tell him to shut his yap, the silly old coot.
The song plays and the whole arena is joined in unison, with lyrics that everybody knows.
While I was sitting close to the front, and did not see any of this,
I could be sure that more than a few lighters were out and being swayed behind me (unless these had also been confiscated by the surly doorguard).
The band finish playing, leading to the usual tradition of stamping and clapping and hooting and yelling to bring the band back on stage.
Inevitably, the band comply, and as I had expected, the familiar opening chords of Pull Me Under are played.
the final chorus of this fine song, LaBrie coaxes the audience into singing independently by thrusting his microphone forward into the throng.
After this, the show is really all over, and over 5,000 people slowly shuffle out, thoroughly satisfied by what they have just experienced.
Voices are raw, ears are ringing and people are very tired, but one thing remains: Dream Theater are utterly incredible.
Setlist Dream Theater (Zwolle & London)
Intro music: Dream Is Collapsing (Hans Zimmer)
Bridges in the Sky
Build Me Up, Break Me Down
The Root of All Evil
A Fortune in Lies
The Silent Man
Beneath the Surface
On the Backs of Angels
War Inside My Head
The Test that Stumped Them All
The Spirit Carries On
Breaking All Illusions