Dream Theater Announce “Distance Over Time” Album, 2019 North American Tour

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I’m interrupting a summer (now gone) of digging deep into the recently-released Dave Matthews Band album, the two excellent Southern Empire albums (do pick them up), and my autumnal tradition of listening to all that is Big Big Train to report what’s been making the rounds on this midterm Election Day in America: Prog metal kings Dream Theater have announced a new album, “Distance Over Time,” which will be released 22 February, 2019.

The band will then hit the road for a North American tour starting in March, and while concertgoers will no doubt be treated to newly-released material from “DoT” (or, as a nod to Rush, should it be “d/t?”), the highlight of the tour will no doubt be the news of the band celebrating 20 years of their landmark album, “Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory.”

A short teaser from the forthcoming album, which was produced by guitarist John Petrucci and with sweet artwork by Hugh Syme, can be heard here:

Here are the “Distance Over Time” tour dates for America and Canada. The band also plans to follow the U.S. dates with a show in Mexico City in early May.

March 2019
20 – San Diego, CA
21 – Los Angeles, CA
22 – Los Angeles, CA
24 – San Francisco, CA
26 – Denver, CO
28 – St. Paul, MN
29 – Chicago, IL
31 – Milwaukee, WI

April 2019
2 – Detroit, MI
4 – Toronto, Ont.
5 – Montreal, Que.
6 – Quebec City, Que.
8 – Boston, MA
9 – Oakdale, CT
10 – Red Bank, NJ
12 – New York, NY
13 – Upper Darby, PA
15 – Washington, D.C.
17 – Nashville, TN
22 – Charlotte, NC
23 – Atlanta, GA
24 – Orlando, FL
26 – St. Petersburg, FL
27 – Jacksonville, FL
29 – Dallas, TX
30 – Houston, TX

May 2019
1 – Austin, TX

While I initially gave a solid review of their previous release, “The Astonishing,” I’ve since given it few listens when compared to the albums that came before it, especially the song-oriented releases (rather than concept albums). I don’t know that any information about the tracks on “Distance Over Time” has been made public, but I’m fairly certain that given the scope of “The Astonishing,” DT would likely return to a song-oriented effort on the next one, so I’m very much looking forward to hearing what’s next from the gang.

Dream Theater – Live in Chicago – 11/3/17

Dream Theater, Live at the Chicago Theater, Images, Words, and Beyond tour, November 3, 2017

Setlist:

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


Pre-show

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.

Continue reading “Dream Theater – Live in Chicago – 11/3/17”

They Can’t Stop Thinking Big: Dream Theater’s “The Astonishing”

In a time when attention spans are such that some artists are abandoning album-length efforts in favor of EPs – or even releasing one or two songs at a time – Dream Theater decided to double down with a 34-track, two-hour play set to their brand of heavy, progressive rock with “The Astonishing.”

Such an effort almost demands that a willing listener block out all distractions, don a pair of headphones, and, with the lyric sheet in hand, attempt to make sense of this massive body of music that Dream Theater created on this, their 13th studio album, in one shot.

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They surely deserve our attention. Since forming in the mid-1980’s and finding commercial success with “Images And Words” in the early 90’s, the group’s formidable talent pool – no matter who has left or subsequently joined – at times almost seems unfair to other bands in the genre.

Think you have a singer?  James LaBrie’s voice and operatic training makes him better prepared to execute the demands of a progressive rock/metal group than most others. Think your prog band boasts the best keyboardist, bass player, guitar player, or drummer around?  Sorry, but your band is outmatched at every position by Jordan Rudess, John Myung, John Petrucci, and Mike Mangini – four of the most talented people to ever play their respective instruments.  That’s not to say that there aren’t other prog groups making wonderful music on par with Dream Theater – we all know that’s untrue – but there aren’t too many bands out there with the collective ability to play nearly anything they can conceptualize, which makes Dream Theater impossible to ignore.

I began this column shortly after the release of “The Astonishing,” but it was clear that after a thousand or so words (with tons more to type before even wrapping up Act I), the review was far more a commentary on each track and how it moved the story along than a review of the album….such is the effort to write about such a huge amount of music! Additionally, the sheer amount of distractions that come with family and work matters was such that I just couldn’t give “The Astonishing” full and repeated listens, so I’ve had to break up the album into “acts within acts” to get through it.

The album begins in predictable epic form with an overture containing melodies and themes we’ll no doubt hear throughout this play, but once we hear from LaBrie for the first time on “The Gift of Music,” the album steers towards the realm of theater. All of the band members deserve props for dialing back the shredding – or at least strategically picking their spots – in favor of keeping focus squarely on the story.

That story, which is well covered in reviews elsewhere and on the band’s website, represents quite a challenge for LaBrie as he not only sings over much of this album but inhabits the characters as he goes.

And make no mistake: “The Astonishing” is James LaBrie’s tour de force.  By virtue of this being a play set to music, LaBrie simply owns this album from start to finish, displaying his full, dynamic range of vocal ability.  I don’t envy the task of him trying to pull this all off in a live setting, but we have his brilliant performance committed to a recording that will endure well after the tour ends.

As for the individual pieces, “The Gift Of Music” is a classic DT rock track in the vein of the more song-oriented material heard on their previous release.  “When Your Time Has Come” has to be one of DT’s most accessible tracks ever written, certainly on par with a track like “Another Day” from “Images And Words.”  This album boasts more piano-oriented ballads than anything the band has done prior,  but Rudess’ piano playing is divine on this album.  In and around some tracks are musical interludes that take the music from merely supporting the story to animating the story.

“A Life Left Behind” is a track unlike anything we’ve heard from Dream Theater before, the intro reminding me of something Kevin Gilbert might have written.  The album’s penultimate track, “Our New World,” is a triumphant piece as the “The Astonishing” winds down.  Because there is so much music to absorb, repeated listens will undoubtedly bring other favorite tracks to the fore.

The mix on “The Astonishing” is much the same as on their previous two albums, which is that “rich piece of chocolate cake” that Petrucci talked about when referring to his guitar tone on the last album.  It’s a huge slab of ear candy to this listener, but I can understand those who criticize the overall tone as being too polished – it’s a slick-sounding album, no doubt about it – but I bet fans will feel different when this album is performed live.

“The Astonishing” is, quite simply, an intense, overwhelming effort, and Petrucci is to be commended for hatching an idea of this scope and getting the other band members on board with it.  For the listener, the adjectives noted above are pretty much the same, which makes the album a bit daunting when it comes to casual listening.  Since “The Astonishing” was released, I’ve paused to ask myself during morning and evening commutes if I really want to dive into the experience of this album or would I rather listen to something that can be consumed from start to finish in a shorter span.

Because of this, and drawing upon past experiences, I’ve decided not to try to rank “The Astonishing” alongside the rest of the Dream Theater discography, simply because it’s sheer scope sets it apart from everything else. I have the same feeling about Spock’s Beard’s “Snow” or Saga’s “Generation 13” – whether or not I like those albums, I feel like it’s unfair to judge those albums alongside the rest of the bands’ respective output – albums of this scale simply stand alone.

Whether or not one fully embraces the story may determine the emotional attachment one will have to “The Astonishing.” While the music is spine-tingling wonderful in many places, for me it doesn’t quite touch the emotional nerve of, say, the title track to
Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” – the first time a piece of Dream Theater music reduced me to tears – but there is still plenty to enjoy about “The Astonishing,” and there’s no doubt that additional listens will reveal additional layers to this ambitious effort…

…and isn’t that what great, progressive rock is about?

Bravo, boys!