Monthly Archives: April 2014
F#CKYAMOTHERF%CKER!!! Yes, that about sums up that whole gig. This show was THE show for me, not just another Dream Theater show, but a grande once in a livetime event not to be missed, pun intended. I was loving the new record, the self titled album. This album made me excited to be a DT fan again, made me excited to listen to the new songs, digest and pick them apart, but more immediately – they were touching, uplifting anthems that I joyously sang along to (in addition to playing air drums and air guitar). Songs like “The Looking Glass,” “The Bigger Picture,” “The Enemy Inside” and “Along for the Ride” were constantly on my brain, even after listening to the tracks in my car or on the MP3 player. I haven’t been this excited about a Dream Theater release since Train of Thought back in 2004. The new songs were technical masterworks of course, but they also had so much heart. The songs were compelling and they had this great staying power. The mix was astounding. There was no annoying compression often associated with “heavy” music. The music was atmospheric and there was a sense of space. It reminded me so much of the atmospherics present on the AWAKE album, much of that is owed to Kevin Moore I think. The sound on the new record was wide open, natural, and very refreshing. Mike Mangini’s toms were practically singing. They literally jumped out of the speakers with clarity, punch and tone. John Petrucci’s guitar playing was brilliant as ever, but there was a new kind of discipline and restraint to his playing…it was supportive and very song-driven, and best of all, it was emotional playing. Jordan Rudess’ keyboard parts weren’t so in your face and obnoxious, sorry JR fans. They also had a class and refinement to them that was more in keeping with early DT…atmospheric and very artistic. And regarding John Myung’s bass playing…well, you could actually hear John Myung!!! JM’s bass parts are almost always buried under the other instruments. On the new album you could hear JM in all his glory. The man is a SICK bass player, a great riff writer and master musician. Lastly, the greatest kudos have to go to vocalist James LaBrie, who sounded golden on this album. Previously plagued with vocal cord issues, LaBrie finally had his power and range restored post 2004. The best example of his vocal ability is documented on the 2005 DVD, Score. The guys were in the zone with this new album. I was itching to see this band in concert again. The last tour was ok but lacked that uber level of awesomeness. This time, not only was I digging the new album (REALLY digging it), but I decided to fork over some extra cash for the Platinum VIP experience – a coveted opportunity for fans to actually meet the group, take a photo and have some beloved items autographed. And for the first time in 8 or so years, the group would once again utilize the “Evening With..” format which meant two sets with an intermission. That amounted to close to 3 hours of ass kicking, face melting live DT. If that wasn’t bitchin’ enough, this particular tour marked not one, but two special occasions for the group. 2014 would see the 20 year and 15 year anniversaries of the immortal AWAKE and Scenes From a Memory albums, respectively. AWAKE was a masterwork and deeply personal to me – it made me pick up the phone and order my first drum kit. SFAM was just as monumental. That particular album was a triumphant return to form after the poorly received Falling Into Infinity album. SFAM was also the first DT record with Jordan Rudess handling the keyboard duties and many would argue that it revitalized DT’s career. And as John Petrucci hinted in an interview with Liquid Metal DJ Jose Mangin, the anniversaries meant some special performances for the current tour. I was giddy and eagerly anticipated this tour. This will be a lengthy write up, so let’s begin with my arrival at the venue and VIP experience.
Cutting it Close/VIP – This was the first time ever that I bought into the supposed “VIP experience.” I rather ignorantly mocked those who paid large sums of money to briefly encounter their musical heroes up close and personal. Yes, it was jealousy. This time there was plenty of justification for the cost and I had some extra cash leftover from the holidays. The price tag was $250 and the ticket itself was a $50 GA ticket, built into the price. My actual GA ticket arrived first via standard mail. I was a little nervous, as there were no instructions included about the pre-show VIP process. I emailed CrowdSurge and they promptly responded, assuring me that an email with specific instructions would be sent a week or so before show date. That email did arrive, and it directed platinum VIPers to arrive early, no later than 5:15pm for check in. They were very specific and insistent that late comers would not be allowed inside. Yikes. I had to make the drive from Central California and decided to get a room in Gilroy, a sleepy and picturesque little farming town about an hour south of San Francisco. I didn’t want to stay in the city, I just have bad luck whenever I stick around in San Fran (the venue was in a less than desireable area), plus the rooms were cheaper south of San Fran and San Jose. Unfortunately I arrived in Gilroy later than I had wanted. I was getting nervous and hoped the remainder of the drive would be a breeze. I checked into my room then continued on to San Fran. And wouldn’t you know it, the one hour drive turned into a painfully slow two hour drive, and I rolled into the parking lot behind the venue at 5:13pm! Parking in this area is expensive and I quickly handed over the $25. I scurried to the front of the venue on Market Street and quickly found the VIP line, a collection of about 80 or so fans waiting to be let inside.
Check in begins 10 minutes later and we slowly enter the grand Warfield, a noble theater with a rich history. While the exterior of the venue is rather unassuming, the interior had a touch of class about it. It was very charming and had a historical air to it – I looked up and marveled at the high ceilings, regal drapery and gold embellishments. It’s a 2300 seater originally built in the 1920s. Legendary promoter Bill Graham converted the venue into a proper concert hall in the 70s and it’s been a world renowned institution for live music ever since. We enter the lobby area and we are afforded first dibs at the merch table. We wait and chat with one another and marvel at all the framed concert posters of all the artists that have graced the Warfield’s stage. They were the premium posters with custom artwork, vibrant and rich with color and individually numbered. Artists like Deftones, The Killers, Faith No More, Prince, Rancid, Jane’s Addiction, Pearl Jam, George Clinton and countless others covered the lobby walls. The Warfield staff were on it. They were courteous, professional, and very thorough. The VIP staff were also on their game, quite busy and dutifully facilitating things along. I have to say thanks to the talkative staffer that shared her chocolate chip cookies with me, yum 🙂 All I had to eat that afternoon was a snickers, so the cookies were a welcomed treat. As we waited I found out that the couple behind me were from Fresno. A Visalia native myself, I said hello and we swapped some concert stories. The guys directly in front of me were also friendly and talkative, we anxiously awaited meeting the group and we wondered how the meet and greet would go down. The staff were very interactive. One of the main staffers asked everyone about their very first concert experience. Sure enough, we had a Backstreet Boys concert goer in the VIP line lol. Fun game to keep us occupied. We waited a long while. Fittingly enough, 6 o Clock rolled around and the meet & greet began. DT emerged from a set of doors at the end of the lobby. They were greeted to spirited cheers and hollers. The line proceeded down to a curtained area with the band on the other side. One by one, fans were quickly ushered in for a picture. It was a very controlled process. A staffer was the lone photographer, no personal cell phones or cameras could be used. A week later we would be able to access our photo online. I quickly swooped in between keyboard player Jordan Rudess and drummer Mike Mangini. Jordan said something along the lines of “Get in here, man, don’t be shy.” I briefly said hello to the group and for the sake of efficiency, quickly made my way in and out of the picture opportunity. I said thank you and some quick goodbyes to the band members.
The next phase of the meet and greet involved returning to the end of the line, this time with items to be autographed by the group. There was a 2 item limit, much to the disappointment of some guys that brought multiple items like CDs, DVDs and drum heads. I selected my hard ticket as well as the complimentary poster for signatures. I made my way back to the band members who were seated at a table. The fans were to lay their items down on bassist John Myung’s side, and the items would work their way down to each band member in assembly-line fashion. At this point I was able to get in a few words with each of the band members. John Myung was extremely quiet, briefly making eye contact with me and saying hello. I was polite, conscientious, and tried not to act like a little bitch. Vocalist James LaBrie had to be the most outgoing of the group members as he continued to jabber with the guy who went before me. As he signed my items, I quickly told him about my first concert experience which took place in San Francisco at the Maritime Hall in 1998. I said “James, I was in the front row and you grabbed my hand so hard it was red…but it was AWESOME. I LOVED IT. So thank you!” James looked at me and seemed puzzled. “Really? I did that? Were you holding a drink??” We all had a laugh and I said “Umm I don’t think I was old enough to drink then…” Then Mike Mangini had a grin from ear to ear and said “Are you nowww???” We laughed some more and I said that was sweet and thank you. It wasn’t very much, but I was happy and it was positive. As I walked away I thanked John Petrucci and wished him an excellent performance. He looked me in the eye and said “Thank you, sir, thank you very much.” It was brief, but cool nonetheless.
The Show/Set 1– We were instructed to hang around the lobby near the merch table and concessions area. We were told that we would be let into the hall first, then the rest of the house would come through the main entrance at 7pm. I used the downtime before doors opened to stow away my goodies at the Coat Check downstairs. What a life saver for 2 bucks. Didn’t have to worry about protecting my items like a prized football during the show. I also bought a beer and a hotdog, quite yummy actually! It came time for the VIP peeps to be allowed inside the hall. We politely walked in and I immediately went for the pit area. I came to the realization that I didn’t want to stand directly underneath a speaker truss for three hours. I remembered this would be a long show so I chose an elevated spot right up against a barrier. I got to meet this cool guy named Ken and his teenage son Josh. We immediately struck up conversation about music, gigs, NAMM, the death of the “deal” at Guitar Center, other artists we’ve met, etc. As we talked amongst ourselves, the hall quickly filled up. I was amazed how packed the venue was. We were shoulder to shoulder, and the ushers had a time diligently and politely redirecting fans to the allowed zones, i.e. off the steps and out of the isles. By the time the show actually started, I would have believed it if I was told the show was oversold! There were that many people in attendance and we were packed like sardines in the GA area. During the show, clusters of fans continued to approach the pit area, only to give up and return to their original positions or they were denied by the ushers.
As far as the crowd goes, there was a great diversity to the audience. There were plenty of younger peeps with more recent tour shirts as well as the veteran fans with their Waking up the World 94-95 tour shirts. I had a shirt just like that, but I wore the damn thing out 😦 It was also cool to see the love for other groups, several fans sported tour shirts by Opeth, Mastodon, Queensryche, Van Halen, AC/DC, Metallica, and of course, RUSH. Finally, 8pm rolled around the the intro video began. The crowd was LOUD, very energetic and participatory. We witnessed a very well made film/animation that showcased the evolution of the band by presenting iconic album artwork from each release. Each visual then morphed to visual elements of every DT album in their catalog, culminating with the new album. Each “era” brought spirited cheers from the crowd. The pretaped “False Awakening Suite” begins, ultimately leading the crushing opener, “The Enemy Inside.” It’s a high energy, brutal opener, and it was fittingly followed by “Shattered Fortress” off of Black Clouds & Silver Linings (and part V of Mike Portnoy’s 12 Steps Suite). I’m not the biggest fan of “Shattered Fortress,” however what makes it unique is that it is thematic continuation of “This Dying Soul” and “The Glass Prison,” metallic classics off the Train of Thought and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence albums. These first two selections had the crowd rabid, screaming for more. The entire pit area was captive and enthralled. Heart rates were racing, fists were raised toward the ceiling, and devil horns littered the GA area. “On the Backs of Angels” continued this theme, then the upbeat RUSHesque anthem “The Looking Glass” began, greeted with cheers of approval. That track is killer. It has a lot in common with RUSH songs on Permanent Waves – uptempo, uplifting and filled with melodic, emotional phrasing. Think of the mood and vibe on RUSH’s “Free Will” and “Entre Nous,” the same elements are found in DT’s “The Looking Glass,” only amped up, DT style. That intro is awesome: superb riffing from John Petrucci and eye popping drumming from Mangini. The rolls on those high toms leapt out at you. James was in fine form, nailing the demanding sections and delicately soaring on the chorus, then gradually building up. Fans sang along including myself. The chorus begins and James sings with a delicate delivery…”You are caught up in the graaaavityyyy…” James was a powerhouse during this show. The man has done an excellent job taking care of himself and preserving his voice. He jogs several miles a day, goes to bed early and doesn’t drink alcohol, or so I’ve read. The band performed the songs flawlessly and with passion and power. The mix was unbelievably clear and even, it’s as if this venue was made for this kind of music. I didn’t research the tour like I usually do and had no idea what would be played. I was shocked to witness “Enigma Machine” performed in its entirely and perfectly! The song was adorned by a brief but brutal drum solo by Mangini, showcasing his sticking speed, cross body rolls and melodic patterns on the overhead E-drums. I along with the rest of the audience wwere floored by his ability. “Trial of Tears” off of Falling into Infinity was next and it was played in a complete, unabridged fashion. It was very cool seeing Mangini pull this song off with his own personal embellishments and nuances. I love this track because it has a lot in common with the newer material, and it showcases the brilliant lyric writing of bassist John Myung. All lyrics written by Myung are golden. As for the vocals, James substituted some of the lyrics during the chorus, omitting the New York reference by singing “It’s raining, raining..on the streets of San Franciscooo, it’s raining…” prompting cheers from the crowd. Next was the the magical power ballad “Along for the Ride” which has become a favorite of mine, and I think it effectively replaced “The Spirt Carries On” as the new emotional show-stopper. And once again, James’ singing is wonderful on this track. You couldn’t help but sing along, especially the chorus sections. The closer for set one was “Breaking All Illusions” off of A Dramatic Turn of Events. It’s a powerful closer and it was used in the same fashion during the previous tour. And so set one came to a riveting close and we were thirsty for more. Kudos to the band for having the first set consist of mainly newer material, post 2009. It was very, very well received and the crowd loved it. I avoided spoilers for this tour and had no idea what would be played during set two. The band took a 15 minute break and we were treated to a hilarious collection of youtube videos and tributes, all related to DT, including the awesome action figure animations, various covers, dubbed interviews, Plastica’s cover of Erotomania using toy instruments as well as the hilarious “Triangle Guy” parody.
The Show/Set 2 – The last portion of the very entertaining intermission video was wrapping up. The stage was dark and band took their places once again. And then the dark magic happened…JP immediately ripps into the sinister, bone crushing riff to “The Mirror” \m/\m/ The guys pummeled us with a superb version of the song, complete and faithful to the studio original, with Mangini laying down those signature drum parts with ease. JP provided the low, growling like vocals during the pre-verses: TEMMMP-TAAY-SHUNN. I was never fond of the way Mike Portnoy delivered those vocals. JP’s delivery was closer to the studio original. Jordan’s patches were also very much in keeping to Kevin Moore’s original parts. I was freaking out, hearing and seeing this song the way it’s meant to be played. Fists were pumping, heads were banging, and much of the crowd sang those words as if it was second nature. James’ singing was great. He had that acidic quality to the vocal delivery and soared above the dark instrumentation during the choruses and bridge. The bludgeoning didn’t stop there. As the group laid down the outro to “The Mirror,” just like what’s found on record, without missing a beat the band tore into “Lie” and the crowd roared. We were practically transported back to the Waking Up the World Tour. On record, “The Mirror” and “Lie” can be thought of as the same track with several movements and recurring themes. The one-two combo hasn’t been played regularly since the mid-90s. It’s a ferocious combo, heavy but with a groove that was undeniable. I dare you not to headbang or groove to those songs. We shouted out the chorus section, “DON’T..TELLLL…MEEE…YOU WAAAANTED MEEE…DON’T TELLL MEEEE, YOU THOUGHT OF MEEEE. I WOOOOON’T…I SWEAAAARRR I WOOOOON’T!!!” I kid you not, it was just like those 1998 gigs I attended, the same exhileration, the same intensity and power, and the feeling of being connected with the music, performers and audience – I felt shivers travel up and down me. Finally the song returned to the the outro groove to “The Mirror,” followed by another insane JP guitar solo then ultimately ending in that fierce, staccato unison part on the snare, bass and guitar. After the final beat, the whole venue practically screamed in approval, a deafening surge of cheers, whistles and death metal screams could be heard. A guy behind me yelled “F*CK YA MOTHERF*CKER!!!” Damn straight. My jaw dropped to the floor. It was loud and you could see that James was loving it. We all calmed down and regained our composure. James shared that the band was celebrating the 20 year anniversary of the AWAKE album, and jokingly expressed that some of us weren’t even born when the album was originally released. He said something along the lines of “I never thought I’d be saying that…20 years….What the fuck happened?” James also teased that the group was also celebrating the 15th anniversary of the release of their opus Scenes From a Memory, which prompted a deafening roar from the crowd. James teased “ya we won’t be playing anything from that album…just kidding, we’ll get to that a bit later.” With that, James then introduced the next number, which shocked me and left me elated: “Lifting Shadows Off a Dream.” In 14 DT gigs I’ve never witnessed that song performed. It’s a melodic number with great interplay between John Myung and John Petrucci, AND…it also has lyrics by John Myung. Golden. We continued on our journey through AWAKE’s second half, or Side B if you will. Lifting Shadows features this awesome arpeggio with delay from John Petrucci. John Myung plays these high melodic lines on the bass that augment and embellish JP’s arpeggio. On top of that, Rudess played that great symphonic part on the keys, dark, brooding, but atmospheric and romantic sounding in some strange way. Mangini played the drum parts true to form. That bell, splash, stack progression gets me every time. And he added those subtle Mangini-isms that left me grinning, it sounded good, and the guys were nailing these songs and this incarnation of the band rarely if ever played these songs live. After a triumphant sing along and finish, “Lifting Shadows” then eased into that familiar triplet pattern on the ride cymbal: “Scarred.” I was thinking “Holy crap…are they going to play the whole second half of AWAKE?” This was the fourth AWAKE track to be performed, and it also happened to be my favorite song off the album. “Scarred” was a monstrous epic, over 10 minutes in length, and featured compelling, thoughtful lyrics by John Petrucci and wicked vocals by James. This song was James’ crowning achievement on AWAKE. He used his shrill voice, his husky growl, as well as his pure high range. And when he went into that high range it was utterly flawless and left you thinking, “Damn, THAT is awesome singing.” I sang along to every word. The whole track was performed, unabridged and with the proper outro. Seriously, how are these guys pulling off these songs so well. And then the bombshell occurred: “Space-Dye Vest.” Boys and girls, “Space-Dye Vest” has never been performed before on ANY tour, not even the Waking Up the World Tour. It’s a hauntingly gorgeous piano ballad filled with recorded samples, stark orchestration, and ambient atmospherics. It’s so Kevin Moore. And that is the reason it has never been performed. “Space-Dye Vest” is practically a Kevin Moore song, he wrote the lyrics and music. But now with Mike Portnoy out of Dream Theater, the rest of the band decided to throw us a curve ball by finally performing it live…and it was brilliant. The audience was so quiet during the delicate sections as Jordan laid down his parts. They must have been awe-struck and in disbelief. At song’s end the group received a rapturous applause. And an equally surprising song choice occurred, the 20 minute epic “Illumination Theory” was performed and very well received. Matter of fact, I enjoyed it more in a live setting. This was the final number for set 2 and the band waved goodbye as we tried to recover.
The encore section came and we were again aurally assaulted with tracks from Scenes From a Memory. Talk about being spoiled. Not only did we get a generous helping from the new album and AWAKE, but we were also treated to four tracks from the immortal Metropolis Part II: Scenes From a Memory album. The tracks flew by with the same intensity and damn near perfect delivery like the previous songs tonight. If I had any complaints it was about Mangini’s snare sound. It’s a warm sound, mid range and not too cutting. The studio versions of the SFAM songs have the benefit of higher pitched, great sounding maple and steel snares. For some reason I didn’t notice the difference during the AWAKE portion of the concert, maybe it was me??? Anyways, minor complaint. Mad props to the band for bravely performing three lengthy instrumentals, rather than showcase more obvious selections from the new record or from Scenes From a Memory. Double mad props for performing “Illumination Theory.” I didn’t see that coming. I figured the group would omit that song in favor of a couple more brand new tracks or reach back to some older selections. In a surprising and even braver move, DT performed no songs from Images & Words, arguably their best loved and highest selling album. This was a very adventurous and un-obvious set, if that’s even a word.
The guys frickin NAILED it this night. While all my live DT experiences have been good, I hadn’t been this impressed and floored since the Train of Thought gigs in 2004. Each of the guys were performing with a great amount of dexterity and precision, however they made it look like fun and they were enjoying themselves. The audience had to be the contributing factor to the band’s spirit onstage. This audience was very much alive and into it, and I was having a Hell of a time witnessing the pit area from my vantage point. It was electric in the venue, and I couldn’t help but look around and behind me, then upward toward the balcony. This gig was intense and the crowd was loving it, there was plenty of audience participation and spirit. It was a compelling and exciting scene, witnessing the raised fists, devil horns, fist pumping, head banging, hooting and hollering. Wow, now THIS is what a DT crowd should look like. You could see the admiration, love and support for this group. And there’s something uniquely special about continuing to see a group that I practically grew up with. I was barely old enough to drive when I first saw this group so many years ago. And now here I am years later, family man with wonderful wife and kids, career, and I’m still able to support a group of performers with the same amount of passion and enthusiasm as I did when I was kid. Loyalty. Rabid loyalty. That what makes this fan base so unique and undying. This group may not be a mainstream pop group, Hell, they’re not even a mainstream metal band, but their fanbase and popularity continues to grow with each release and tour, and it’s astonishing witnessing that growth first-hand.
The Enemy Inside
On the Backs of Angels
The Looking Glass
Trial of Tears
Along for the Ride
Breaking All Illusions
Lifting Shadows Off a Dream
Strange Deja Vu
The Dance of Eternity
The following pictures were taken using my LG Optimus smart phone. Damn i’m loving the camera on this thing. No alterations or effects used.