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Live Reviews : Dream Theater @ Hordern Pavilion, Sydney 19/09/2017

By on September 20, 2017

In late 2016, progressive metal stewards and one of my all-time favourite bands, Dream Theater, announced something teenage me would have needed a change of pants for. They made public that, in honour of its 25th anniversary, they would be playing a special run of shows across Europe in which they would be playing their classic album, Images and Words, in its entirety. While my interest in the band post-Portnoy has dwindled over the years, this news had me instantly looking up flights to see if it was viable for me to fly across the globe to catch one of these once in a lifetime shows. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be, so I just drank myself into oblivion, crawled into a ball of despair and watched their Live at Budokan DVD over and over.

Fast forward several months, I was at my computer one early morning, wiping the sleep from my eyes, downing my morning sludge of instant coffee while checking through an endless barrage of e-mails. One e-mail happened to jolt me suddenly awake: Dream Theater Announce Australian Tour, Special Anniversary Show Performing Images and Words in its Entirety. As I dodged boiling hot drops of the coffee I spilt in my excitement, I instantly started playing the waiting game, which sucks, so I started filling my time over the coming months with many games of Hungry, Hungry Hippos.

The time had finally come. A journey through the afternoon peak hour traffic nightmare into the depths of Sydney saw me arriving at the Hordern Pavilion with not much time to spare at all. After picking up my ticket from roll call, I came to find that the entire venue was seated. I guess a smart move for a Tuesday evening show which has a running time of over 3 hours. I didn’t know whether to get a beer before heading in, or several coffees. As I took my seat, the venue darkened and the intro tape, Two Steps From Hell’s The Colonel cranked over the PA. Suddenly the progressive metal maestros burst onto the stage, busting into one of the heavier numbers from 2007’s Systematic Chaos, The Dark Eternal Night. The song had the crowd instantly singing along, a perfect out-of-tune choir of worship, which overpowered the venue’s own sound at time. It was at this point, I decided sitting for this show wasn’t an option, so I found somewhere near the sound desk where security were allowing people to stand. This worked out so well for the second set, which I’ll get into in a moment.

After one of the new tracks, which to be honest, I just can’t get into their new stuff as much, came a life changing moment. Finally seeing the instrumental from 1997’s Falling Into Infinity, Hell’s Kitchen live! This is where the band felt like they were completely warmed up and ready to unleash their incredibly tight performance skills. While drummer Mike Mangini mightn’t have the showmanship which I always admired of previous drummer Mike Portnoy, he sure does have the technical skill! He effortless played through the classic hit, playing some of the more difficult drum rolls across the toms and octobans one handed, all while with a massive smile on his face.

Throughout the rest of the first set, there wasn’t a huge amount that kept my attention. In fact, I noticed when they kicked back into another new track, there was a mass exodus for the bathroom. Train of Thought’s As I Am helped to keep the set on track, but it all felt like just one long intro leading up to the reason everyone was here, Images and Words in its entirety.

After a quick intermission, the Happy New Year 1992 Intro tape played across a darkened stage, and then it was finally time! The first guitar notes of their classic hit, Pull Me Under, burst through the cheers of the crowd, which sent the venue into a frenzy. The band exploded back onto the stage, with vocalist James Labrie singing some of the notes like it was still 1992. The technical skill, flawless performance and energetic playing of the track told me that this night was going to be something truly special! It was at the end of the song that LaBrie declared to the crowd. “I don’t think this sitting down shit is working!” and just like that, the structured seating of the venue no longer mattered; everyone was up on their feet and rushing to the front. Before I knew it, I was down near the barrier, only metres away from the band. The whole vibe of the evening changed from here as it no longer felt like some RSL tribute band show, it now felt like a full-fledged rock performance, and holy hell balls, was it a great one!

From this point, the night just got better, with Dream Theater smashing through each of the iconic tracks from one of the greatest progressive metal albums of all time. Take The Time was a personal highlight of mine, with guitarist John Petrucci playing an extended outro of blistering guitar solos that sent shivers down my spine. Always a crowd favourite, Metropolis Pt. 1 went off a treat, with Mangini playing a killer drum solo halfway through, performing flawless one-handed rolls without even breaking a sweat. Waits for Sleep was hauntingly beautiful, with singer LaBrie taking a seat towards the front of the stage, and keyboardist Jordan Rudess playing the seminal notes I’ve waited so long to hear live. After the album’s closer, Learning to Live, a progressive classic in its own right, this brought the stunning set to a close. With already over two hours playing time, surely this was the end of the night. Nope.

The band’s encore was not a short one, in true Dream Theater fashion. The band came back out to a darkened stage, with guitarist Petrucci the only member lit up. Then came the notes that instantly took me back to my teenage years. A Change of Seasons. One of my all-time favourite tracks! The band played the whole 23+ minutes of this classic track, to an absolutely ravenous crowd. This is a song that up until this tour, the band hasn’t played in its entirety for a very long time, so this was definitely an extremely special treat. Every moment of this song had me mesmerised, as all of the Dream Theater members played the track with such passion, especially LaBrie, whose vocal performance in this song was nothing short of phenomenal!

While the last decade of Dream Theater’s music hasn’t captivated me the same as their earlier days, this show was truly something special and one I’ll remember for a long time to come. Hearing Images and Words and A Change of Seasons in their entireties was a remarkable experience. Do yourself a favour, do not miss these shows as they will surely not be repeated!

Catch Dream Theater in Melbourne at the Palais Theatre, tonight! Tickets on sale now via www.dreamtheater.net and www.palaistheatre.com.au.

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