Dream Theater, Arion – Manchester Apollo – 17th February 2023
Dream Theater released their A View From The Top Of The World album over a year ago and with a European run in progress, we find them in the UK winding down from a clutch of European dates. They’re heading towards a break which singer James LaBrie informs us, means we won’t see them again for some time.
It’s a chance for us to catch up with the new-ish music in a live setting and see what else they have up their sleeves from a huge catalog to fill out their set. As the stage set takes shape, a massive backdrop displays what amounts to a screen saver based on the album artwork; waterfalls cascading over rocks see the album cover come to life, accompanied by a symphonic/orchestral soundtrack that offers a calming ambience. High contrast in what’s to follow.
The stage set too is particularly clean and clear. The Apollo stage is pretty vast and with Mike Mangini’s traditional drum kit bearing frames and buttresses adorned with all manner of things to hit, replaced by what for him must seem like a practice kit, subscribing to less is more is not something normally associated with Dream Theater. On the riser to his right, Jordan Rudess remains with his already stripped-back keyboard set up. Set on a stand that revolves, swivels and tilts in every which way, his sounds are controlled by some fiendishly smart technologically led hardware while we out front get to admire his handiwork as he occasionally tilts towards the crowd. There’s also a small riser to his left; one for those who appreciate a certain symmetry and which will offer John Petrucci the occasional platform to display his guitar heroics.
And so it’s on with the show as the opening pairing of The Alien and 6:00 immediately establishes the range in the musical timeline of tonight’s set. From Awake to A View From The Top Of The World, they show how Dream Theater, when push comes to shove, have stuck by the trademark of their early name, Majesty. That and a bewildering musical prowess define them as a band that remains a divisive proposition. Inspirational or unnecessary, without them there would be no Haken and we’d be bereft of a leader in groundbreaking Prog Metal concept albums.
But back to the now and there’s no denying that the outrageous riff that Petrucci grinds out in Sleeping Giant is particularly devious and delicious and the number offers the chance for him and Rudess to duel like a pair of masterful magi. Occasionally they make eye contact but it’s a telepathic understanding between the four instrumentalists that you have to admire as they pour out an endless stream of notes within a complex frame. Master of ceremonies, singer James LaBrie makes the most of the instrumental passages to catch his breath, swig on some nectar or leave the quartet to mesmerise. Some of his vocals might get lost in the onslaught, but he’s constantly marching back to centre stage, straddling his mic stand like a rock star hobby horse, on a mission to encourage the seated audience to engage.
He also remarks on the stream of fans leaving their seats on trips to the bar. “I know you like a drink,” he observes, “but you know what’s gonna happen – you’re gonna have to piss...” necessitating more trips….maybe a little irked that beer/piss trumps listening to Dream Theater…
Bridges In The Sky sees the stage vacated while the intro with Mayan graphics offers the sort of atmospheric intro that’s disturbed by the shock horror tactics battery that jumps off the cliff at the two-minute mark. Aside from the new album, it’s the one concession to the post-Portnoy era that gets mined deeply for Caught In A Web. Yes, cue the spider/web images that accompany the fury that’s countered with a soaring chorus that has us not only caught by said web, but similarly hanging by a thread. Answering The Call sees ‘no justice, no peace’ slogans flashing up on the screen as Petrucci is off the blocks with the most outrageous soloing of the evening.
However, it’s the much-approved return to Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence that has the mouths watering. A quarter hour combo of Solitary Shell/About To Crash/ Losing Time/Grand Finale is arguably the set highlight. Less bluster and bravado, more song orientated and Dream Theater putting their own spin on functioning as a more straightforward rock band. As JP cranks out the About To Crash riff, it balances the complexity with the beauty of a fearsome riff as well as making the hairs stand up. As LaBrie reaches the “hope in the face of human distress” line, the thought occurs that this could be the ultimate DT crescendo/final (there are several contenders – answers on a postcard please). Maybe an album to reprise for a full performance with some major numbers (The Glass Prison, Misunderstood) in its contents.
Their ‘hit’ (or at least the song that became their breakthrough number) Pull Me Under confirms their Metallica leanings before the grand final of the new album title track. the sense of adventure in the music and lyric matched by the visuals that match the musical adventure and ambition. Going where no-one else has gone, thrill-seeking and indeed, the view from the top of the world all cross paths. Endurance and exhilaration – two words synonymous with Dream Theater.
An encore of the expansive narrative of The Count Of Tuscany – the intro welcomed with a huge roar – plays out with Petrucci and Rudess combining on a dreamy excursion (and was that When You Wish Upon A Star JP worked in?) before the finale begins. JP’s acoustic sounds evolve into electric power chording, guiding a lyric that inspires the audience to arise en masse as the drama reaches the “go and tell the world my story,” climax. One of many spine-tingling moments that the faithful will offer in evidence that Dream Theater are the invincible masters of Prog Metal.
For once passing by the ‘An Evening With Dream Theater’ format, special guests Arion had the half-hour task of stirring the early arrivals from their seats. For all the Metal tropes – the fashionably shabby black garb, the furious guitar solos and the rabble-rousing audience banter, there’s plenty about Arion that can’t fail. to hook in the crowd. The keyboard presence softens (maybe not quite the right word) but adds textures that take their songs into the melodic and easily accessible.
The set finale, At The Break Of Dawn (and yes, there were enough present either familiar enough to know, or bold enough to take a punt) encourages audience participation and might be the one that caught the attention and opened a few doors tonight. The album to find is Life Is Not Beautiful.
Dream Theater online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube
Arion online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
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Categories: Live Reviews
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