Friday, 19 February 2016

Dream Theater - The Astonishing - Live at the London Palladium

To say that Dream Theater is an ambitious metal band is like using the proverbial is "the pope a Catholic?" line, but one has to admit that even by their standards they've pushed the boat out a bit or should I say a heck of a lot with The Astonishing.

They must've had a hell of a time coming up with the music for this album and I don't mean hell in a good way. The array of music on this album is truly mind boggling. The decision to tour the whole thing live, yes all two and a half hours of it is a very brave one indeed but I guess this band enjoys challenging themselves both on record and live and perhaps most importantly challenging their legion of fanboys and casual listeners like me.

The tickets for this damn thing weren't cheap by any stretch but I succumbed to curiosity and nabbed a ticket at close to £60. I just wanted to see how they could pull it off. The problem is you actually need to like the album as well to enjoy it more as a full on live experience and I don't think I can really say that about TA. It has typical good or even great DT moments but for this particular listener with a severe case of ADHD, it's just all too much. Yet I was intrigued enough to wanna see it live and in the London Palladium no less. A venue rich with history in the fields of classic British entertainment but not in rock and metal circles that's for sure.

Still I guess this grand old venue was a rather apt setting for DT to showcase their most ambitious offering yet and last night was the actual start of their European tour. They are actually doing a double header at the Palladium and are back there as I type, later on tonight for a second sold out night. The queues outside the Palladium were quite long but eventually I took my seat in the upper circle high above the stage but with a good view however. The show started at 8 sharp as the band took their positions and the intro parts of the TA played through a large video backdrop. The actual stage set up was a simple one allowing each member plenty of space with a simple drum riser holding up Mangini's extensive drum kit. I actually had a very good view of his drum skills and IMO Portnoy is not really missed in DT not that I'm a drum enthusiast. I couldn't really care less about drums but the guy was pretty much perfect.

To me TA is all about Keys wiz Rudess and Labrie's vocal highs and lows. In fact Petrucci who writes pretty much all the music with Rudess seems to have less impact on his guitar than on previous albums. He never seems to cut loose his arsenal of technical riffs at all. TA is not that kind of album at all really which is probably one of the reasons I can't fully get in to it. However the emotional aspects of the album really come through live. I couldn't tell you what song is what as I haven't heard the album yet but there are some glorious moments where the band sounds totally in sync with one another and on a musical level that other bands cannot even come close to matching.

I must say the sound mix in the Palladium was superb. It was very loud but crystal clear. Petrucci's guitar when riffing was superbly sharp and crystal when soloing. His solos seem more restrained and melodic on TA than I recall them before. They played the album with a 15 minute break between each CD to allow every one a rest or toilet break and each section got loud cheers. As I said I think this is the first night of the tour so maybe they were a little bit shaky at the start but they soon settled into their stride. I think the star performer of the night was Mr Rudess. TA feels like it's "his" album. His emotional and triumphant stamp is all over it. The swathes of ambient music and then his rising crescendos really leave their mark on the audience.

A little about Mr. Labrie. The guy can seriously do these songs justice live. How he remembers all the lyrics is a miracle in itself. He gets to use his emotional soft voice a lot on these songs whilst his more aggressive higher pitched voice sounded a bit shrill at times. Still I don't think any other guy can be the voice for DT after all these years. The show ended with the rousing and titanic ending song with the whole of the 2000 seated Palladium standing up to cheer this gargantuan epic of a fantasy album. Can I say it was an amazing show? Well it wasn't amazing in the enjoyment sense, but more in the sense that a band would even attempt such a thing. Even Maiden are not playing the whole of The Book of Souls live..I think? What I can say is that DT have really outdone themselves with their ambition and to witness it live only re-enforces the feeling that TA is an album that completely challenges the listener to the nth degree.

By the way no filming or photography was allowed during the performance but I did manage to capture the sound if not the pictures during some sections of the performance.

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