When considering Dream Theater, there’s a certain air of majesty and sophistication that accompanies them. It’s rare that prior to a band taking to the stage you are required to take your seats. What, no pit in which to mosh and beat the living daylights out of your fellow metalhead in a spirited ritual of celebration?! Nope, that’s not the Dream Theater way, and, arguably, their clientele are not of that disposition anyway. No, the London leg of their ‘Images, Words & Beyond’ tour is all about enjoying, appreciating and exalting in a band whose musicians are at the precipice in ability. So what did these overlords of progressive metal have in store?
In-keeping with London’s West End Theatre’s traditions, what transpires is a very theatrical production. The band began their first act on the attack, with the snaking riff of “The Dark Eternal Night” tearing through the roar of the crowd as they took their places upon the stage. With a fitting light show to boot, the Boston collective lit up the Apollo with prime selections from their vast discography, from the opening ‘Systematic Chaos’ cut, to the uplifting ‘The Astonishing’ duo “The Gift Of Music” and “Our New World”, it is a veritable tour-de-force. If questions were raised at the seating arrangements, then these were long forgotten by the intermission. Where with most bands it is merely entertaining to watch and observe their playing, Dream Theater’s prowess simply has to be admired from the comfort of a seat.
Special mention deserves to go to the band’s rendition of ‘Train Of Thought’ opener “As I Am”. It’s a song that encapsulates everything about the band in one (long) song: great songwriting, atmosphere, aggression and sensational playing. The evident joy with which they tear through it left a notable mark on the crowd. This was especially plain to see when they wove the Metallica classic “Enter Sandman” seamlessly into the fold – how many others could not only pull off a great cover, but patch it into their own song without it sounding like, well, a patch job? Answers on a postage stamp, please.
After a brief intermission, the sounds of 1992 welcomed the band back to the stage, with gems from the likes of Pearl Jam, Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers (amongst a smattering of other less-worthy mentions). To that end, it harks back to the year when it all took off for Dream Theater. Act Two, debatably, is the reason why the Apollo was full to the rafters on a balmy April Sunday: ‘Images & Words’. It’s the band’s magnum opus; their signature album and, most likely, around ninety-percent of the room’s introduction to the band. Thus, the amount of love in the room could almost be bottled, packaged and sold for a vastly inflated price (though in London, that is par for the course).[metalwani_content_ad]
The chiming, arpeggio chords that herald the glorious beginnings of “Pull Me Under” are met with a deafening roar and a frantic scramble to the front (between the blocks of seats). While the band’s earlier efforts were very much a joy to behold, it’s patently clear that ‘Images & Words’ is the main attraction. Every line is sung with gusto, every lead lick eked out of John Petrucci’s fingers felt and every drum fill (poorly) imitated. “Under A Glass Moon” sounded glorious reverberating off the walls of the Apollo’s hallowed hall, whilst the gentle “Wait For Sleep” drew breath and respite amid a resplendent performance. Full album performances are rare enough, but when you catch one of such note being performed to a rapturous crowd by passionate musicians, it makes for one hell of a memorable night.
Closing the show with the lengthy “A Change Of Seasons”, the band capped off a scintillating evening of prog metal magic. As singer James LaBrie reminisces, they would not have guessed they’d be playing to a capacity crowd in one of London’s heartland venues, much less twenty-five years after an album they recorded with moderate hopes for. With the man that got them their record deal in the first place, Derek Oliver, in attendance, there was a rather heartening level of humility about the prog masters. Whilst some of the extended instrumental solos that were spliced to songs by way of showcasing the instrumentalists’ talents may have lost a little of the overall performance’s momentum, it never comes across with that sense of prog snobbery. LaBrie acknowledged that those in attendance helped them to where they are and everything that’s done on stage seems wrought with a speck of thanks, as well as pure enjoyment.
Longevity in music has certainly become a lot harder to achieve in recent years. Love it or loathe it, the modern era has certainly presented new challenges to many a band, so it is testament to Dream Theater that they’re still plying their trade. Especially to such an adoring crowd. That they can pack the Apollo on the promise of a performance of their 1992 classic alongside fine selections from their discography only serves their reputation better, but it’s the performance that they delivered that cements their title as prog gods. They may have once been called Majesty, but they’re every bit as majestic as their original moniker would suggest. With plenty of heart, aggression and unbridled joy to hand, these lords of progressive metal ensured all who sat before them left with many images and words to share of the experience.