Monday, August 24, 2009

Concert Review: Progressive Nation 2009 Tour, Burton Cummings Theatre, Winnipeg, MB, 16/8/09

As I suspected, Dream Theater opened with "A Nightmare To Remember," which has opened many of their shows on this tour as well as being the first track from their new album, Black Clouds & Silver Linings.

Dream Theater can be described as Rush meets Metallica — who sometimes meets Journey. As artsy and technical as they can be, some of their music is melodic balladry stuff that seems far removed from their biggest influence, Rush, and much closer to the corporate arena rock of Journey. Lead singer James LaBrie is not a screamer and really does sing well. Drummer and band organizer/ de facto leader Mike Portnoy works a huge drum kit, with two stools. Melodic shredding guitarist John Petrucci played flawlessly but, despite his prodigious amount of talent, doesn't seem to have his own sound unlike fellow guitar gods like Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen. Of course, hardcore fans will disagree with me. Keyboardist Jordan Rudess is the other hero-worshipped virtuoso in the band. He played a couple of "instruments" that I had not even seen before. One looked like a really small laptop screen, in which he would draw his fingers on the screen, back and forth and up and down, resulting in some fast and spacey psychedelic sounds. The other instrument was a longer and wider flat panel in which he made similar actions and produced equally fascinating sounds. At one point, he dueled with guitarist Petrucci at the front of the stage, using a keytar.

While I was a bit familiar with the new album — having played it a handful of times so far — I found myself exhausted in trying to keep up with the complexity of the tunes, many of which were instrumentals. I actually thought James LaBrie would sing more than he did, but regardless, everything the group played was met with great applause. At times, LaBrie's vocals were drowned out by the sound. And while he sang really well, he didn't appear to break much of a sweat or look like he was pouring his heart into it.

At the end of the show, which finished at 12:10 am, Dream Theater made their way to the front of the stage to shake hands with the lucky few who were standing at the front. Apparently, security were only letting those sitting in the first row to stand up front. Given the number of people standing, though, I'd say it was more like the first three rows. Zappa Plays Zappa had also reached out to shake hands following their set, and Dweezil Zappa made a point of shaking hands with the very first person who left his seat for the front of the stage. It's always nice to see bands take a moment to acknowledge the fans, and there was plenty of that.

Not every band who plays the MTS Centre bothers to have big video screens so that the fans can get a great view from every seat. It's even less common to have them in the Burton Cummings Theater, but Dream Theater brought one which featured plenty of three-dimensional computer animation interspersed with live footage of the band. Some of the animation featured a cartoon version of keyboardist Rudess, complete with wizard hat, playing in unison and then even dueling together. When you consider that many of the fans in attendance are musicians and instrument fanatics, it made sense that there were close up shots of each member soloing on the big screen.

There's no doubt that Dream Theater's show will become the stuff of legend among the local community of their fans and progressive-rock fans who know of them (and I bet your average Rush fan doesn't have any DT music). The Zappa crowd was also treated to an abbreviated but dizzying display of music prowess. I do wonder, however, how long Zappa Plays Zappa can tour by playing only Frank's music. Dweezil Zappa is a composer and guitar virtuoso in his own right and I would like to see him play some of this solo material.

Dream Theater's setlist:

A Nightmare To Remember
Constant Motion
Beyond This Life
Hollow Years
The Count Of Tuscany
Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle
The Sleeper

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