Dream Theater – San Francisco – April 17th, 2014
I was very exciting going into this concert, it had been 8 years since the last “An Evening With Dream Theater” concert and this was my first one! As with all Dream Theater concerts, it’s always a pleasure chatting with other people about bands and music; prog fans -love- talking music.
The stage production on this tour was downright impressive. There were tons of well synchronized lights doing all sorts of interesting things, a humongous screen that displayed accompanying visualizations and good live angles, and the best audio mixing I’ve ever heard at a concert. It’s really easy to tell that there was a lot of thought and work that went into the planning and execution of this. The result was an incredible concert to hear and see.
If you know Dream Theater, you know that they are always pretty much always on the top of their game when it comes to playing live; tonight was no exception. Jordan Rudess has his keyboard rig finely tuned by now to do all his rotating and tilting tricks with ease. In addition, he has all his gadgets in close reach for the more interesting sounds. I really liked the overhead camera view of his entire keyboard that they used for many of his solos, really put his skills on display. As usual, John Myung was content to stay on his side of the stage and do his thing. He didn’t get much screen time, but whenever I looked over at him, he was laying down some impressive bass line, especially on some of the newer material. He did wander over and take center stage at one point, very atypical of him! Across the stage, John Petrucci was doing the thing he does best: being a guitar god. Fantastic solos from him tonight, and he was really fond of using some lunging power poses; hope he stretched before the show! In the center, Mike Mangini is always an awe to watch. Such complext patterns, and he does them with ease. Plus the way his drum set is configured, he’s definitely visually appealing to watch than other drummers. Some of his fills had him spreading his arms further to his sides instead of rolling down the set in parallel. There were many instances of him going to town with one hand on a cymbal or tom which freed up his other hand to hit tons of other stuff. And of course, can’t forget the upper section of his drum set which even on the simplest fills, is amusing to watch. Last, but not least, the pirate James Labrie. His voice was spot on tonight, holding many high and long notes with ease. He also had a shiny new mic stand that he used along with the stage lights to reflect them and create a new pattern.
Even with the band playing two sets plus an encore, the time seemed to pretty much fly by. They breezed right through songs like a well oiled [enigma] machine. While talking with the people around me, we mused how even with 2.5+ hours of music and Dream Theater’s huge discography (and where unlike most bands, they play an overwhelming majority of their stuff live, not just “hits”), they have tons of albums with no representation and no “mandatory classics” but yet still manage to have an amazing setlist.
Dream Theater’s Setlist:
●False Awakening Suite (The set started out with an intro movie being played on the gigantic screen blocking the stage with an orchestrated version of the False Awakening Suite. After the countdown ran out, it started going through all the album artwork starting with When Dream And Day Unite and making them come to life all the way up to the present. Scenes From A Memory and Octavarium got the biggest crowd reaction, right along with the image of Dream Theater. It was incredible seeing them come to life and this is easily my favorite intro of anything. If you’re a Dream Theater fan and haven’t seen it, go look it up on Youtube and you’ll see what I mean.
●The Enemy Inside (As the screen rolled up, the members of Dream Theater were poised and ready to start rocking, and they didn’t waste any time as they launched right into this. The music video played along with them on the massive screen. Definitely a good one to start with, catchy, has a driving beat, and it just plain rocks!)
●The Shattered Fortress (This was definitely my most anticipated song on the setlist. I absolutely love the Twelve Steps Suite and it’s great to finally hear the conclusion live. I hope one day to hear the suite played in its entirety, but for now, this is the next best thing seeing how it contains, well, everything. Man, that false ending at the end of Responsible that segues into the reprisal of The Glass Prison always blows my mind. I got shivers down my spine once Myung started playing that bass line. Afterwards, James does the usual intro spiel at the beginning of a concert. But this time, he continued a joke he told to the people waiting by the tour bus after the show two years ago at their last concert. He said he loves this city, had a nice beautiful walk by the bay. But before the show he took a walk around the venue in downtown San Francisco. He let that set in a little before saying, “So I’ve been doing crack all afternoon. And I also found the woman of my dreams.” If you know the area, the back of the Warfield is a lot different from the front of the Warfield. And you know, it probably is possible to obtain crack somewhere around there.)
●On the Backs of Angels (I suppose this was their “mandatory hit” of the night, carried over from the last album. I love the toying around of time signatures and they executed it flawlessly. Solid performance, and great backing vocals from Petrucci.)
●The Looking Glass (Big pop from the crowd when Petrucci started the track, so it seems like they wisely picked one of the most popular songs from their latest album. Mangini’s drumming here really stood out for me on this song, subtle yet fluid.)
●Trial of Tears (One of the few songs I enjoy from Falling Into Infinity, so I’m glad I got to hear it live. They extended the middle a little bit to make room for a great Petrucci solo and a Rudess keytar solo. James even snuck in “It’s raining in San Francisco” during the chorus. It’s funny because we really need rain here. It didn’t work.)
●Enigma Machine (One of the big instrumental tracks of the evening. As with all their other instrumentals, it’s definitely designed to show off everyone’s skills; which meant tons of blazing solos. While everyone was doing that, they were playing an amusing little cartoon on the screen entitled DT Vs JLB. This Spy Vs Spy inspired animation had the instrumentalists in their alternate working as a team trying to infiltrate some security to obtain a jewel with the Majesty symbol on it. Along the way, they were shadowed by the pirate James Labrie. After about the halfway point, the rest of the guys drop out and give Mangini space to do a drum solo. He showed off some one handed techniques among the rest of his general mind-blowing drumming technique.)
●Along For the Ride (This was the feel-good, sing-a-long moment of the evening.)
●Breaking All Illusions (I like the decision to make this the end of the first set. It’s got that right amount of prog-ness that really shows off their technicality, James has that big soaring chorus, and it just has a grand, triumphant feeling to it. Even though I had a view of the stage clock, this whole first set really went by so fast.)
Intermission (15 minutes doesn’t really seem like a big break, but that’s all they needed to recharge for a second set. Towards the end, they threw up a Youtube remix for us to watch full of BlobVanDam animations, random instrument covers, and Triangle Man getting the call to join the band. Then, without warning…)
Awake 20th Anniversary Set
●The Mirror / Lie (As James mentioned, this year is the 20th anniversary of Awake so they were going to pay it a little respect and dedicate much of their 2nd set to it. It seems most people realized what was going on and immediately warmed up to it. Just like the album, they played The Mirror and Lie together as one continuous track. Without Portnoy, it was Petrucci who is handled backing vocals, and there was just something off about them. Perhaps he was trying too hard to mimic the way it was sung on the album and it just didn’t fit his voice. The last half of Lie was quite intense, and the stage lights were turned to match that.)
●Lifting Shadows Off a Dream (I loved James’ vocals on this track, he really nailed it. There also was some awesome drumming by Mangini with a lot of amusing octoban work and up-and-down motions.)
●Scarred (I’m not sure if it was the song, or the crowd’s energy was waning and needing a recharge, but the reaction to this one was a little more lukewarm. It’s a shame because there some really intense moments that were really impactful thanks to some vivid imagery and more good lighting.
●Space-Dye Vest (It took 20 years, but the band finally broke the silence on this song and brought it into the rotation. I recall Portnoy saying that they really didn’t want to do this song without Kevin Moore playing with them since it was “his” song, but neither of them are in the band… so it was fair game I suppose. Not really one of my favorite DT songs, but knowing it’s history definitely made an impact on me. It almost made me honored to hear it on its inaugural tour debut.)
●Illumination Theory (The big epic of the night. It’s not my favorite of their epics, and the big symphonic break in the middle kinda killed all the energy. After that though, they really brought it home and capped off the second set with a bang.)
Encore: Scenes From A Memory 15th Anniversary Set
●Overture 1928 (Once the guys returned to the stage and the screen started counting backwards from 2014, everyone knew they were in for a treat. Sure enough, we hit 1928 and the band blasts into the main riff of the song. To say that this encore was well received is a huge understatement; people were going crazy. Myself included! I absolutely love this instrumental, compact yet it still packs a punch and really has that overture feel that sets the bar for the rest of the songs.)
●Strange Deja Vu (Naturally the overture linked right into this song. They also accompanied it with some new video footage that made it a little more modern, but sure enough, Nicholas found an old Victorian house and there was a creepy (but pretty) Victoria in the mirror. But man, there were so many people were singing along! James absolutely nailed “…why I’m heeeeeeere” I was so, so happy to hear this song. It made my night.)
●The Dance of Eternity (The band dared to do the infamous dance! Such an insane song in terms of notes, phrasing, and time signatures; it still blows my mind that they’re able to do this one live. They weren’t able to do the awesome 4-way split screen that did on the Progressive Nation 2009 tour, which was unfortunate. There was a part where everyone is doing their crazy part and the screen cuts to a shot of Jordan playing his part. Jordan sticks his head under the camera, turns so it’s facing the side of his face, and starts creeping up towards it until it’s just a shot of his eye. All while playing some crazy passage. Crazy wizard show off.)
●Finally Free (One more jump in the album to wrap up the entire night. I couldn’t quite tell, but it seemed like there was a new hypnotherapist voice as well. For the most part, it was a very solid finale. Everyone was spot on, and James didn’t cop out in the middle of the song and sing the bridge lower like on Live Scenes From New York. Perhaps it was expecting too much, but Mangini didn’t use the outro to its fullest potential as a drum showcase. He was definitely doing impressive fills, but not to the magnitude that Portnoy did when he drummed this song. Not really a complaint, as it was still a fantastic ending to what was a great set. I really do hope they do more Evening With Dream Theater sets, as I’m kind of spoiled now and am hooked!)