By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy
When it comes to progressive metal and traveling through our own subconscious, no band does better than Dream Theater. The first time I caught Dream Theater was in 2016 when they put out their futuristic dystopia album, The Astonishing, and they were really the first major rock band that Matt and I got a taste for when we started working together. After nearly 35 years together, the band that helped solidify progressive metal is back on the road, celebrating the 14th release, Distance Over Time. Not only would they be sharing the brilliant work they have created off that record, but they would also play the entire Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory album, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. One album helped define their legacy as a musical act, while the other showcases their continuing evolution. They made a stop to Los Angeles at the famous Wiltern on March 22nd, and they had the whole night to themselves. Let the journey begin.
The theatre goes black, a futuristic rock sound plays over the PA, and the video screen shows an android scrolling through Dream Theater’s vast catalogue, stopping at Distance Over Time. The band walks out, and hits us with their latest hit single, “Untethered Angels.” Longtime frontman James LaBrie still has magnificent tenor style voice, a gift bestowed to him by the Angels of Rock. He rocked the songs with a custom made mic stand that was shaped like a robotic hand holding a skull, similar to the new album’s cover art. Guitarist John Petrucci continues to be a master virtuoso with his righteous riffs. Bassist John Myung was wicked-fast and versatile with the bass licks, while drummer Mike Mangini was like a cyborg, just hammering away on the kit with awesome precision. I always believed that Mangini was an excellent replacement for Dream Theater when founding member Mike Portnoy left. Jordan Rudess is a master at tickling keys, simultaneously switching between 2 keyboards that give each song that unique style. Towards the end of “A Nightmare to Remember,” he brings out his keytar and rocked out with Petrucci. The show was broken into 2 acts, the first being material from different works over the years as well as the new album. The songs from Act 1 also included “Fall Into the Light” (live debut), “Barstool Warrior,” “In the Presence of Enemies, Part 1,” and “Pale Blue Dot.” Hearing the new stuff live was amazing to say the least.
After about a 20-30 intermission, Act 2 began. It was time to hear Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory in its entirety. For those that are not aware, this album is a concept record that is a tale of tragedy, love, betrayal, murder, and reincarnation, with LaBrie acting as the singing narrator. Each song that is performed tales a different part of the story that unfolds in the album. “Regression” deals with remembering a past life, while “Through My Words” journeys through the past life reaching out to our protagonist. The tunes are broken down into scenes, making us more invested in the tale to see how it will come full circle. From “Strange Déjà vu” to “Fatal Tragedy,” “Beyond This Life,” “Through Her Eyes,” “Home,” “The Dance of Eternity,” “One Last Time,” “The Spirit Carries On,” and “Finally Free,” we are journeying through tragic story that is backed up by stunning animation playing on the video screen, giving us a further visual aid of what is happening. During one of the songs, (I believe it was “The Spirit Carries On”), the animation showed graves with the names of fallen rock idols who we would never forget, including Frank Zappa, David Bowie, and the great Chris Cornell. With the album finished, we were all finally free. Wanting one more song, Dream Theater ended the night with their signature classic, “Pull Me Under.”
Full Dream Theater gallery below:
Metropolis Pt. 2 is considered to be one of the greatest prog rock albums ever put together. It was also Dream Theater’s first of 4 concept records they would orchestrate over the years, and it was a true masterpiece. They were better this time around, and the energy at the Wiltern was more uplifting than the time I saw them at the Grove of Anaheim. Distance Over Time is one their finest works, and fans cannot get enough of it. We traveled through the scenes from a memory, and have emerged more enlightened and spirited. Next time they play a full album, I would love to hear Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, my all-time favorite. To Dream Theater, I salute you. Horns up!!!