Dream Theater @ The Fox, Oakland CA 05/07/16
I hadn’t been this close to the stage since the Touring Into Infinity Shows back in 1998. To say that I was geeking out would be an understatement. We had seats at stage right, between Petrucci’s and Labrie’s positions. We sat down in disbelief, we were in the 5th row and I seriously considered pinching myself. A fan made his way ahead of us and said a cheeky “man, these seats suck!” We cracked up, mock agreeing with the statement. We looked up, behind, and all around. We couldn’t help but marvel at the lovely, ornate facades inside the Fox. It was a majestic house and probably the nicest venue my friend and I had ever encountered. It shined. This venue was rich with history and culture. It stood out like a little jewel in the odd mix of buildings in downtown Oakland. It was a cool venue and very appropriate for the band’s ‘production.’ This album, The Astonishing, was akin to a play, the way the story unfolded and the manner in which the music was formatted. The music dripped with classical references and operatic vocals. It was heavy with piano, strings and acoustic guitar. The group even utilized the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra for parts of the album and bagpipes are featured in “The X-Aspect.” Vocalist James Labrie performed multiple roles and sang in character, changing his tone and delivery accordingly. For the live show, the group employed slender, cascading video screens that brought the story to life in CG form while the band performed. The light show was elaborate and helped to give the visual story on screen more drama and spatial effects. Add a venue appropriate for a Broadway production and you have THEE rock opera. The group is called Dream Theater, after all. If I had to criticize anything it was the confusing audience configuration.
This was a seated gig, including the pit area (again, like a play). And as the gig progressed, it was hard to figure out what kind of behavior was appropriate at this kind of show. Can I hoot and holler like a standard DT gig? Can I be all raised fisted and devil horned? Can we stand up…at least during the aggressive and heavy parts?? It was hard to figure out how to support our group. It wasn’t until “Hymn of a Thousand Voices” that we were prompted to stand. Throughout the set, James and John would periodically approach the edge of the stage and they encouraged a response from the crowd, but what kind of response? We went crazy (as much as we could) while seated, but it was weird and limiting in frustrating way. Although I hadn’t been too exposed to the new material, it was still an excellent concert. It was vastly different from the previous tours and there was the complete absence of older material, but it was still a compelling and entertaining show. As a fan, stamina and patience are definitely needed if you’re still not familiar with all 2 hours of new material. A portion of fans have decried this tour because of the exclusive focus on the new. I’m still not sure how people missed the memo, but it was always my understanding that this tour would feature the new material only, in its entirety. Fans living under a rock and expecting “Pull Me Under” would be sorely disappointed. This reminds of the Tales From Topographic Oceans Tour that Yes put on in 73/74. I for one enjoyed the focus of this tour, but truthfully I’m spoiled in that I’ve attended over a dozen shows on previous tours – I can see how the DT concert newbie would be frustrated at the current set. Performance-wise, each band member was in excellent form, but what’s new? Hands-down, the performer of the night had to be vocalist, James Labrie. James was on his game. Labrie isn’t just another metal singer. He’s a melodic singer with classical voice training, incredible lung capacity and a diverse tonal palette. Vocally, the new album is like a marathon. It’s two hours of demanding vocal acrobatics. Labrie is all over the place on that album, crooning and sighing on delicate ballads and gradually brining up the energy and on the anthems and heavy rockers, all while changing his delivery and approach to stay in keeping with the individual characters of the story, including a woman (Faythe) and a young boy (Xander). It’s like he pulled out everything in his bag of tricks. And Labrie executed the parts live, pacing himself and heading back for sips of hot water and honey throughout the show. One of Labrie’s recurring criticisms, especially pre 2012, has been his grating tone when singing/shrieking in the upper registers. However, the last couple albums including The Astonishing have seen vocals lines that appear to be written to better accommodate Labrie’s midrange – upper midrange register, what I consider the creamy spectrum of his tone, smooth and rich sounding. Backing vocals were piped in during some of the songs to flesh out the harmonies. Petrucci has a microphone set up so he can contributing backing vox, but I’m not sure how much of him we’re actually hearing.
The light show and video screens augmented the music in an awesome way. It wasn’t exactly like there was a movie playing in the background while the band performed. But it was just enough to pull the listener in and help to visually deliver the story that is The Astonishing, a geeky mash-up of all dystopian sci-fi stories imagineable (just think Star Wars, Hunger Games, The Hand Maiden’s Tale…and 2112, all thrown into a blender), but fun nonetheless. My favorite moment of the show was the triumphant “Our New World,” a grooving anthem that will MAKE you join in on choruses. It’s one of DT’s most concise songs ever, flying over in just under 4 minutes and featuring some of John Petrucci’s finest soloing, and in a 7 beat…at least I think it’s a 7 beat. All in all, it was a different but very good concert. Now that the group would listen to me, but I’d make changes regarding the seating configuration. While I can see why the seated arrangement up front was used, I think it takes away from the crowd energy and just confuses a hell of a lot of people. And now imagine if they added an encore. I think a fitting closer would be “A Change of Seasons.” The group would probably pass out by show’s end…
Posted on June 15, 2016, in Concerts: 2012 - Present, Dream Theater and tagged A Change of Seasons, dream theater, James LaBrie, John Myung, john petrucci, Jordan Rudess, Mike Mangini, Our New World, Tales From Topographic Oceans, The Astonishing, Yes. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.