In February 2020, weeks shy of the global pandemic that saw live shows being brought to an imminent and indefinite halt, Dream Theater took to the stage for two sold-out nights at the Apollo Theatre in London. Performances not only in support of their latest, critically acclaimed studio album ‘Distance Over Time’, but also a celebration of the 20th anniversary of their seminal concept album, ‘Metropolis Part 2 – Scenes from A Memory’. Little did anyone know that this festive milestone would also serve as a temporary, final hurrah before migrating to life as we know it. Fortunately, they documented both these performances, resulting in their ninth live album and DVD entitled ‘Distant Memories – Live in London’. With two Grammy nominations under their belt and millions of albums sold, Dream Theater have more than earned their benchmark plaudits as progressive metal titans. And, for the most part, ‘Distant Memories – Live in London’ captures a snapshot as to why.
Entering via an intro video that walks us through a series of metallic doors opening in succession, a busy robotic figure attentively engages with a touch screen monitor displaying a messy desktop cluttered with all things Dream Theater. The A.I figure then unseals a hatch that coordinates with the band being unleashed onto the stage to rapturous applause. Kicking off with “Untethered Angel” from ‘Distance Over Time’, the intricacies and complexities in Dream Theater’s playing create a feeling similar to watching trapeze artists without a net. There is an anxiousness that one wrong move and the entire house of cards could collapse. A tension and excitement brilliantly depicted by directors Pierre and Francois Lamoureux. But Dream Theater never falter. Particularly keyboardist Jordan Rudess and drummer Mike Mangini, both a joy to behold, constantly bouncing energy off one another. Like watching a storm assaulted sailor executing tasks desensitized to the crashing waves, Rudess keyboard tilts, twirls, and teeters in all directions yet he never misses a key. While Mangini, who despite taking over the drum stool a decade ago, still performs with an “every day is the first-day” enthusiasm.
As “Pale Blue Dot” closes out the first installment, Dream Theater injects some refined and heightened energy into their twenty-year-old album. A brief video animation of a hypnotist’s watch introduces the latter half of the set as a film editor, Martin Julien, wonderfully captures the multi-generational scope of Dream Theater for the seated, but not sitting audience. By the time the band hit “Scene Two: I. Overture 1928”, the excitement in the Apollo Theater is spilling out from the screen. Guitarist John Petrucci, and bassist John Myung, enjoy the occasional duet while fans watch enraptured. Vocalist James LaBrie delivers a powerful performance while keeping his audience engaged. Though, unfortunately, and unusually, his presence can sometimes feel disconnected from the evident harmony of the band, creating a feeling of indifference by his absence during the lengthy instrumental sections. As the evening draws to a close, coming full circle with “At Wits End” from ‘Distance Over Time’, LaBrie offered thanks and farewell to the appreciative audience, heart-fully stating “We’ll see you again London. For sure.” Words that, in Covid hindsight, echo bittersweet.