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Live Reviews : Dream Theater @ The Big Top, Sydney 30/10/2014

By on November 3, 2014

Images: Martin Michea
Words: Andrew Craig

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It’s been a while since progressive metal giants, Dream Theater, have graced our shores. Five long years in fact. And it’s not like the band has been lying dormant during this time. They’ve kept in the limelight through countless ways, from the infamous quitting by of one of their founding members and drummer, Mike Portnoy, to their successful auditioning process of their new drummer, Mike Mangini. And not to forget the subsequent two extremely successful Roadrunner Records-released studio albums that followed. Oh, and in true Dream Theater fashion, a couple of live releases and huge world tours that followed.

Yep, it’s definitely been a busy one for the band since their last visit. So it was no wonder that there was an immense sense of anticipation in the air as I arrived at the Big Top in Sydney for what was going to be the last show of their massive world tour in support of their most recent, self-titled album. Upon entering the Big Top’s main auditorium, I was greeted with a massive screen covering the entire stage with lots of different DT-related graphics being projected over its surface. Unlike the last visit here, when they had the most excellent Pain of Salvation supporting them, this tour was one of Dream Theater’s renown ‘An Evening With’ shows, where the band doesn’t have an opening act and instead plays a 3-hour long set with an interval and encore. Meaning that Dream Theater had the whole stage to themselves, massive stage screen, video screens, backdrops and all. When the intro track started, “False Awakening Suite” from their latest album, the crowd roared into a frenzy. All that anticipation was suddenly let out. Although it was unusual to here an instrumental track played as an intro tape, it worked quite well when the screen suddenly dropped to show off the entire stage with the band already to go and kicking into the massive riff that opens “The Enemy Inside,” the first single from their self-titled affair. While the song itself worked well as an opener, I couldn’t get past the MS Paint styling fonts that appeared on the video screen during the chorus. So much effort went into the video content, but it all seemed ruined with such cheap, crappy fonts and colours paletted over the top of the of the video stream.

Throughout the entirety of their latest tour, Dream Theater have been playing the same set over and over, something that they never used to do. One thing I used to love about seeing the band was that they would surprise each city with a different setlist every night. This made me not too excited for the first half of the set which comprised mostly of material from their post-Portnoy era. Although one highlight of the first set was after finishing “Enigma Machine,” which contained a rather entertaining drum solo by Mangini who was engulfed behind a drum kit which warranted its own postcode, they flawlessly broke into “Trial of Tears,” a personal favourite of mine from their 1997 album “Falling Into Infinity.”

After a brief intermission, the band came back out on stage to a much less extravagant stage introduction then before. Rather than relying on curtains and videos, it was time to deliver some of their most absolutely amazing material, predominantly from the 1994 ‘Awake’ album. Guitarist John Petrucci, who was sporting a beard that you would swear was photoshopped on if he wasn’t standing right in front of you, broke out into the opening riff of “The Mirror.” One of all-time favourite tracks, it was great to see this crushing song live again. Throughout the ‘Awake’-era part of the set, the band played the entire second half of the album. This brought back some amazing memories for me, as it was this album and “Scenes from a Memory” (which was represented well in the encore) that truly got me into the band back in my early days of high school. One personal highlight was what I like to call ownage-cam. There were several cameras placed around the stage which would project on the big screen at the back of the stage, showing up-close instrumental ownage from each member. Keyboardist Jordan Rudess took full advantage of this, as the aerial camera that was floating above his keyboard was often used to show his shredding across the keys as well some intimate close-ups of his face when he decided to get nice and close to it.

The encore of the night focused on material from the amazing 1999 album “Scenes From A Memory”. Busting through “Overture 1928”, “Strange Déjà Vu” and “The Dance of Eternity” brought back immense feelings of nostalgia as I remembered absolutely destroying my copy of the album from being overplayed throughout the year. Keeping the talking short and sweet, vocalist James LaBrie, who sounded in complete top form throughout the night, thanked the crew and crowd for an amazing night and tour before kicking into “Finally Free,” a song which I never thought I’d get to witness live. The instrumental section at the end has never failed to send a shiver down my spine and tonight was no exception as the band closed their massive 3 hour long set with one of, in my opinion, the best songs they’ve ever written. Bravo Dream Theater for the amazing night!


Act 1:
False Awakening Suite
The Enemy Inside
The Shattered Fortress
On the Backs of Angels
The Looking Glass
Enigma Machine
Trial of Tears
Along for the Ride
Breaking All Illusions

Act 2:
The Mirror
Lifting Shadows Off a Dream
Space-Dye Vest
Illumination Theory

Overture 1928
Strange Déjà Vu
The Dance of Eternity
Finally Free