Dream Theater

Prog titans master their musical ambitions

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It’s a bold move for any band to play the whole of a new album live, and in the case of Dream Theater and The Astonishing, it could be either very brave or extremely foolhardy

The album is not only more than two hours long, but has also received a mixed reaction from fans, with some diehards claiming the band have lost their way. Thankfully, though, this is a triumph. What Dream Theater do is far more than merely perform the album; it’s presented as a cinematic epic. Split screens across the stage depict scenes bringing the storyline behind the concept to life, and they are set up in such a way that, at times, it appears to be in 3D. The story itself isn’t exactly original. Basically, it’s the battle to overthrow a tyrannical government in a futuristic society which has reverted back to feudal law – and the power of music is the key to this struggle. But nobody cares that this is a tale told before by other bands, because Dream Theater do it brilliantly.

Divided into two acts, as on the album, the first part entrances everyone to such an extent that it almost seems an intrusion to have an interval. In fact, the presentation is so strong that you feel the band should have been very much in the shadows, with actors brought in to play the various roles. In this respect, this is a rock musical that could be best served by the sort of theatrical staging enjoyed by Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds.

Dream Theater perform a stunning piece of theatre

Dream Theater perform a stunning piece of theatre
(Image: © Kevin Nixon)

The second act, though, is a little more relaxed, and by the end it feels almost like a normal gig, with frontman James LaBrie encouraging people to sing along to Our New World, and getting the whole venue on their feet for the climactic Astonishing. But it still all comes over like the demo for a movie, something heightened when the lengthy credits roll on the screens after the band leave the stage.

And what price the NOMACs, the robotic villains of the plot, becoming in-demand items for Xmas stocking fillers – prog metal’s answer to the Daleks? Of course, the band play with a supreme virtuosity, but it is LaBrie, tasked with making several roles come to life through his voice, who is the focal point. His performance is breathtaking. This is an unforgettable presentation of live rock cinema.