The Saga Begins
This story starts in 2008. A high school me is broadening my music tastes, looking to expand well beyond what is readily available. I was looking to do more than bob my head, I was looking for music that would make me incredulous, music that would leave me in a state of awe.
That year I was introduced to progressive metal, a sub-genre of metal that is entirely unique. It takes elements of metal and fuses it with a more experimental sound. In Dream Theater’s case, this is a focus on each member’s incredible musical ability. So, I borrowed a few CD’s, ripped them to my computer, and entered the world of Dream Theater.
My first taste was the intro of their 2007 album Systematic Chaos: “In The Presence of Enemies Pt. 1.” It’s a nine-minute evolving track that features cascading guitar solos, changing time signatures, dueling guitar and keyboard sections, and incredibly intricate drumming. Hell, the vocals from their frontman James LaBrie don’t even make an appearance until five minutes and thirteen seconds into the song, emphasizing that this group is indeed a team effort.
That was my jumping point into the motivation to attend a few memorable concerts where I witnessed many incredible and hilarious moments. These shows included my first mosh pit, where I watched a guy get gashed in the eye and choose to stay, to the cheers of all those around him. I also had the experience of landing a front row spot at their Orpheum show in Minneapolis, where my place was at the feet of John Petrucci, Dream Theater’s guitarist. I got to watch a top guitarist shred for hours. It was absolutely incredible.
Ten Years Later
Fast forward to 2019, and now I’m back as a writer and photographer. And I’ll tell you, even though the makeup of the band has changed (Mike Portnoy, the drummer of the band, left the group and was replaced with Mike Mangini,) their ability to make me stand in awe with my mouth agape has not changed in the slightest.
The concert started right around 8:00 pm, there was no opener. One would assume this would be a pretty short concert. Most headliners go on for about an hour to an hour and a half, and that’s that. However, this concert clocked in at three hours, with a twenty-minute intermission built in. That’s right, you did the math correctly, 2:40 of playing time.
We’re not talking simple acoustic riffs and lights strumming either. We’re talking demonstrations of virtuoso instrumental and vocal skill for the entire timeslot. There was even a section where Petrucci’s guitar amp started to malfunction, and instead of taking a break, there was a drum and keyboard improvisation session until the problem was resolved. It was so seamless that I almost didn’t catch it at all.
The first half of their show was a sampling of their newest album, Distance Over Time, featuring some of the better-known tracks, “Untethered Angel,” “Paralyzed” and the absolute musical romp “Pale Blue Dot.” The first half delivered like Dream Theater performances before it: clean, concise, and awe-inspiring demonstrations of musical prowess. “In The Presence of Enemies Pt. 1” even made an appearance, in all its glory, near the intermission.
A Story Told Through Progressive Metal
Then came part two of the show, which was a performance of their 1999 concept album Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From a Memory in its entirety. If you’re not familiar with a concept album, it’s a collection of songs that share a narrative instead of merely being grouped together, it tells a story. This album is a saga of love and murder told in a 1:17 progressive metal epic. It is the 20th anniversary of the release of the album, and what better way to celebrate it than play it for the fans. It doesn’t hurt that it is also one of Dream Theater’s most fondly remembered works.
The show ended with their most well-known track, “Pull Me Under,” acting as the encore. The crowd erupted into multi-minute applause, with the band eventually taking one final bow before taking off to Chicago to do it all over again the next night (Honestly, I don’t know how that’s possible).
A Band to Behold
Once again, I was left in awe. I caught myself chuckling a little under my breath at just how insane some of the musical breaks were. Every band member got their chance to demonstrate just how much they’ve mastered their instrument (or voice) and, as someone who studied a musical instrument for over half of his life, I truly appreciated how impressive each performance was. The amount of natural talent, dedication and endless practice hours are genuinely on a level beyond most of the planet. At the time, this show felt so much different than a concert. It felt like something more like a play. It did help that they played an entire concept album.
I understand prog metal isn’t for everyone. It’s a rather niche genre. But I implore everyone to give Dream Theater a quick (or long [since many of their tracks clock in around 7 minutes or more]) listen, especially if you’re someone that has studied the intricacies of musical performance. You’ll appreciate the prowess of all these fantastic musicians and their ability to push the boundaries on what is possible in pure musical performance. A Dream Theater performance is indeed a sight to behold. I’m glad I was able to make it to yet another one of their shows. You bet I will be there at their next performance in the cities and the one after that as well. James LaBrie, their frontman, expressed his desire to do this for another 20 years, even if that means being in a wheelchair to do it.
I hope one of these times my favorite 24-minute epic, “Octavarium” will make an appearance at a show.