‘An Evening With Dream Theater’
Along for the Ride Tour
Date: Friday 14th February 2014
Location: London Wembley Arena
When I first saw the announcement of a new Dream Theater tour, I was instantly excited. Their new album wasn't out yet, and although their more recent work hadn't lived up to classics such as 'Scenes from a Memory', I imagined them to be a great live act. As time moved on and the date drew nearer, the band's twelfth, self titled album was released, and it ended up being their best since Train of Thought, I became even more excited.
But then I started to have doubts. A few stories found their way back to me, isolated events of the band having bad sound quality on stage, being seemingly not that interested in performing, not playing any of their well known songs. Now, I knew these were probably very rare events, considering their ongoing popularity as a live act, but it still made me slightly apprehensive as the day drew closer.
I was incredibly pleased to discover that, at the event I attended, such accusations were entirely wrong. The band stuck to a given setlist, I could hear everything perfectly, and the band (or at least frontman James LaBrie) seemed genuinely excited to be there. Furthermore, they played up their best qualities - theatricality, intensity and massive technical skill - and played down their tendency to jam unnecessarily and their cheesiness.
The setlist, instead of being taken from a broad range of albums, was almos entirely taken from four works in their catalogue, three of which were chosen for good reasons. The most obvious of these is Dream Theater, the recent release, which five songs were played from. From here, highlights were set opener and first single The Enemy Inside, which, as predicted, proved to be an excellent live track that plays up the band's metal tendencies but also proves that, when they want to, they can write a good hook (something they forgot for a couple of years) - as well as a condensed version of Illumination Theory. I don't think it's coincidence that they began their set focusing more on the metal aspect of their music, and ended it focusing on the prog aspect, in order to appeal to both of their main sets of fans. Although I'd have liked to hear the full version of this song, it wouldn’t have been plausible to bring a string orchestra in for just that one song, so I’ll take what I can get.
'Enigma Machine' featured a drum solo from Mike Mangini, notable since he's by far the newest band member. Mike Portnoy's shoes are difficult ones to fill, being one of the best modern drummers and all (although I may give the prize to Danny Carey) and indeed, the solo wasn't one of the greatest I've ever heard, but it was kept short and was enjoyable enough.
Also from the same album, before the concert started, we got to hear 'False Awakening Suite' played over a short video, notable for incorporating every DT album cover within it, which was a fun game to play. That aside, the band were incredibly prompt onstage and spent almost every second of their time playing, giving us well over two hours of music. Even during the interval, those who didn't leave the room were treated to videos of outtakes and band interviews from the most recent album.
Although James LaBrie was mostly excellent as a host and frontman, he had his moment of trying too hard - his efforts to get the crowd standing and singing along during early songs went mostly unrewarded. This disrupted some of the show slightly, where the pauses during songs stopped me from enjoying them as much as I might otherwise, but once he gave up on this and began focusing on his own singing, I couldn't fault him - he has a fascinating voice. It's not that he puts huge amounts of emotion in his own words; it seems more that he's using his singing as a way of putting emotion into the audience.
The band were also celebrating anniversaries this year - it's been 20 years since Awake, so we got a selection of five songs from there. I'm a massive fan of 'Scarred' with its stunning piano opening, and although it's short, 'Space-Dye Vest' has always been a lot of fun in its likeness to early Porcupine Tree. It’s not one of their albums that I listen to most often, and I’d forgotten quite how much quality material it had.
Lastly - and they really did keep us waiting until the end for this - it's been fifteen years since Scenes from a Memory, and the encore comprised a full four songs from this. We were given the beginning with the bombastic 'Overture 1928' and its polar opposite in mood, 'Strange Deja Vu', before skipping to 'The Dance of Eternity' which was energetic but has never been an album string point, and ending with 'Finally Free', the obvious closer that everyone in the audience sang along to without being asked.
These three albums aside, the song choices weren’t necessarily bad, but I could have thought of songs I’d have much preferred. The exclusion of ‘Metropolis Part 1’ was a complete shock – I’ve never heard of a tour before where it wasn’t played. I’d also have liked ‘A Change of Seasons’, which I don’t hear a lot because it’s from an EP but which is one of their best longer tracks, and missing out the entirety of ‘6 Degrees of Inner Turbulence’ seems like a huge omission.
Something else I liked was the song titles appearing on the screen at the beginning of songs – from my seat the screen was slightly obscured so I wasn’t able to appreciate their videos as much as I’d have liked, though they looked to be good, and I knew all the songs anyway – but it was a nice touch for people who might be less well acquainted with the band.
All in all, I understand that a band with a huge catalogue can never please the entire fanbase, and I appreciate them making the effort to play for as much of their time on stage as was physically possible. I also appreciate the fact that the band didn't try to give their tour a clever name. They've had some successes with these puns in the past (I appreciated 'A Dramatic Tour of Events') but also come up with some quite laughable ones (Where Dream and Tour Unite?) and were probably safer just sticking with the title of a recent song. They lived up to their potential of being an amazing, intense live band and I’d without a doubt go again.