With eleven studio albums, five live albums, six live DVDs, thousands of live shows and an expanding fan base worldwide, there is no doubt American prog-metallers Dream Theater continue to be at the top of their game. After just an eleven month absence from Australian shores, the talented quintet returned to Sydney for only their second time in over 20 years in support of their second release on Roadrunner Records, Black Clouds and Silver Linings.
It was a mediocre start to the show, with support band Pain of Salvation opening with music that I found to be, little more than just 60s prog-rock regurgitation. With a topless guitarist and gelled up comb-overs, the band received a surprisingly enthusiastic response from the crowd given their lack of technical ability – something Dream Theater has not only mastered, but pioneered. While the band’s last song had me listening at the beginning thanks to the back-up vocalist’s ability to hit some fantastic harmonies, I quickly grew tired of their rather simplistic set. Despite what I thought was a rather disloyal reflection of their evident influences, Pain of Salvation was warmly received and, dare I say, I could be the only one in the building who disliked it.
Finally the lights dimmed and Dream Theater began their performance in a manner that mirrored their unfeigned identity – a combination of turbulent strobe lights that accompanied Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic Psycho soundtrack. As the band moved into their opening song, it became clear that the reputation the quintet had forged over the years would not be jeopardised. There is no doubt that Dream Theater are artists in their profession, every sound is perfectly sculptured to fit with another even if initially they appeared not to work together. And while the band has generally been recognised as progressive heavy metal, the adoption of more modern styles combined with their loyalty to the “prog-pioneers”, meant the band captured the attention of everybody.
This said however, despite my consistent admiration of the technical and genuinely imaginative sounds of Dream Theater, I was mildly disappointed with the set list. Like the heavy metal elitists would say “I prefer the older material”, and that was the one thing noticeably absent from the Theater set. However in the absence of the ‘Theater classics’, the band still provided an invigorating and genuinely engaging performance. With their imaginative musical transitions and their electric and fine-tuned onstage chemistry – there was no moment where the music felt flat or unrehearsed. Every note was perfect and every change almost unnoticeable. Key highlights included The Mirror, In The Name of God and Wither.
As the show edged towards the end, drummer Mike Portnoy, guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung and keyboardist Jordan Rudess collaborated on what I believed to be the ultimate highlight of the show. Playing their instruments in a seemingly effortless manner, the quartet performed an engaging instrumental that preceded a rare performance of Solitary Shell. Beginning with Rudess’ fingerboard and Petrucci’s mellow guitar solo, the instrumental quickly intensified and was then accompanied by Portnoy’s intelligent drumming and Myung’s enduring bass tones. Perhaps the most interesting part of the piece were the sounds coming from Rudess’ newest instrument – his iPhone – and Portnoy’s idea to wander around the exterior of his drum kit as he was playing. Lead by their ambitious vocalist James LaBrie, Dream Theater’s technical prowess surpassed all expectations in a manner that will continue to maintain their venerable legacy.