Dream Theater, Live at the Chicago Theater, Images, Words, and Beyond tour, November 3, 2017
Act I: The Dark Eternal Night, The Bigger Picture, Hell’s Kitchen, To Live Forever, Don’t Look Past Me, Portrait of Tracy (Jaco Pistorius cover by Myung), As I Am (with excerpt from Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”), Breaking All Illusions
Act II: Images and Words – Pull Me Under, Another Day, Take the Time (with extended guitar solo outro), Surrounded, Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper (Mangini drum solo and extended instrumental jamming), Under a Glass Moon, Wait for Sleep (extended piano intro), Learning to Live
Encore: A Change of Seasons
Last night, I saw Dream Theater live for the very first time, and I was not disappointed. I’ve been wanting to see them for a while, and it turned out that getting to the Chicago Theater from the far north side of the city is quite easy on the sheep herding machine… er public transportation. The Chicago Theater is absolutely gorgeous, and I’m amazed at how big the theater itself is. The theater has around 3,600 seats, and I’d be willing to bet there were over 3,000 people in attendance last night. Even though I was in the second to last row of the balcony, I could see the stage perfectly. The theater is designed in such a way that you can see from anywhere, so there are really no “bad” seats.
The band started off strong with the heavy “The Dark Eternal Night,” which was a perfect way to start the show. Heavy and intense, it pumped the crowd up instantly. When James Labrie came out after the instrumental opening of the song, he connected with the audience right away, including high fiving the people sitting in the pit. Throughout the entire concert, he spoke to the audience and interacted with them. Having only seen official live footage, I always saw Labrie as sort of aloof because there isn’t much interacting in the live footage. However, it is clear that he only acts distant for the filmed shows, because he did a phenomenal job as a frontman. I was thoroughly impressed.
I’m really glad they played “The Bigger Picture” next, since it is one of my favorite Dream Theater songs. I really like their self-titled album (it was my introduction to the band), and that song has very meaningful lyrics. I was disappointed that it wasn’t included on Breaking the Fourth Wall, so it was great to hear it in person.
I was really surprised to hear songs I didn’t know in the setlist. Apparently “To Live Forever” and “Don’t Look Past Me” are very rare demos from around the time James Labrie joined the band, so from an historical perspective, it is pretty cool that they chose to play those. I wasn’t familiar with either of these songs, although I knew of the existence of “To Live Forever.” As a fan, I would have preferred that they play something different, particularly off of Awake. “The Mirror” and “Lie” would have been great, but they played both of those a couple years ago while celebrating the anniversary of that album, so I understand why they went with something else this time around.
Before John Myung played a Jaco Pistorius cover, Labrie talked to the audience about some of Myung’s influences as a player, including Geddy Lee. In an effort to get the bassist to break his vow of silence, Labrie asked him who some of those were before placing the mic in his face. To our astonishment, Myung actually spoke! He told us all regarding his influences, “You can look it up on Wikipedia.” He doesn’t speak often, but when he does it is funny. He was the only band member other than Labrie to talk to the audience at all. Go figure.
“As I Am” was a special treat that turned the heat up again after a few mellow songs. They included an excerpt from Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” towards the end, complete with some vocals, which was surprising. It actually fit quite well. They ended the set with the brilliant “Breaking All Illusions,” which is by far the best song the band has released in the post-Portnoy era. It is a shame Myung hasn’t contributed more lyrics over the years, because he is probably their best lyricist.
Act II included all of Images and Words. Before they started playing, Labrie gave us a little history lesson on the album, including reminding us that it went gold in the US. More interestingly, though, was when he told us that the music video for “Pull Me Under” was filmed in Chicago. Bet you didn’t know that. Maybe he gave this lesson after they played “Pull Me Under.” I can’t remember.
I was worried that Labrie would have trouble with the Images and Words set. He sang incredibly well during Act I, better than some of the official live albums out there. However, Images and Words was released a long time ago and has some of the highest vocal notes they have ever done. Regardless, Labrie did a fantastic job. The only song he really had trouble with was “Another Day.” I have a feeling he may have been holding back so that he could hit the other high notes later in the concert, because there were moments when a lot of us in the audience audibly said “wow” at certain points because he actually hit the notes dead on. Throughout the show, he constantly walked back by the drum kit or behind the speaker stacks to drink water, or whatever he drinks to keep his voice fresh. I’ve never seen a vocalist drink so much during a show, but whatever he’s doing is working. I’m not sure how many more years his voice will be able to withstand this busy touring schedule, but for now he sounds great.
“Metropolis Pt. 1” was the song that truly showed how brilliant Mike Mangini is on the drums. In the middle, the rest of the band left the stage for Mangini’s drum solo, which was amazing. He showcased his blistering speed (for which he once set a world record), but I was more amazed by the jamming session the band had after the drum solo. Mangini’s groove with the other bandmates was absolutely perfect. While he seemed a little tight and mechanical at the beginning of Act I, he was clearly loosened up and creative by this point in the show. At some points during the Images and Words set, I think his drumming was actually better than some of Portnoy’s original recorded parts, which were brilliant already (despite the horrible mix on the album). That just goes to show how talented Mangini really is. For any doubters out there, don’t detract until you’ve seen him in person.
I believe it was also during this jamming session that Petrucci took his guitar pick and placed it on John Myung’s arm. Surprisingly, it didn’t fall off. What great men of many talents. A few minutes later when Labrie was introducing Rudess’ wonderful piano solo, Petrucci trotted back out on stage to try the same trick on the singer, but Labrie playfully responded, “I don’t want your pick.” It was great to see the band acting goofy.
The wizard, Jordan Rudess, played a beautiful intro that he recently wrote for “Wait for Sleep.” He has insane compositional skills, as well as the same level of talent as players like Keith Emerson and Van Cliburn. This short interlude was absolutely jaw-dropping.
After finishing up Images and Words, the band left the stage for a few seconds before coming back up to play a 24 minute encore. Who does that?! Dream Theater, that’s who. They probably played “A Change of Seasons” because it was originally supposed to be included on Images and Words. Whatever the reason, it made a perfect ending to a fantastic show.
I’m glad I remembered to bring my ear plugs. I kept them off for the first few songs before I decided to put them in. Once I did, the music actually became much clearer. There was a lot of fuzz in the mix, as there is at every metal concert (or loud rock concert) I’ve ever been to. The ear plugs cut all of that out, allowing me to hear the intricacies of the individual instruments. With the ear plugs in, it was easy to tell that the band was pretty much spot on with the original recordings. They really are a great live band. The only sound issues they had was a little bit of feedback during the first song. The sound guys fixed whatever the problem was quickly because I didn’t notice it at all the rest of the performance.
At one point, Labrie made a special thank you to their lighting guy, who has been with them for 25 years. The light show was spectacular. While waiting outside before the doors opened, I was wondering why the band needed two full sized semis for their equipment. After seeing the lighting setup, I now see why they needed those trucks. I jokingly thought they needed one of them for Mangini’s drum kit, which may have been the case.
As a final note, I must comment that the crowd was great. The people were friendly, and I was shocked to see women at this concert because of the stereotypes about prog fans. There weren’t many, but there were some. I was also amazed at how young most of the people were, at least in the balcony. There were also a lot of fans of Southwest Asian descent (i.e., Pakistan and India), including a nice guy I talked to outside before the show. I asked him if Dream Theater was popular in Pakistan (where he told me he was originally from), and he said it was amongst people who are serious about music – so basically like here in America. All this is to say that all the SJW idiots who say prog music is only for white people can go pound sand. This concert was a very unifying event – everyone was really chill – no fighting or arguing. As anyone who has ever been to the city of Chicago before can attest, there is very little in the city that doesn’t include fighting and arguing… or apparently carjacking, which is up this year over years past.
If you get a chance to see Dream Theater live on this tour, do it. Seeing Images and Words live in its entirety is a rare treat, and the band is playing as well as they ever have.