Dream Theater returns to stage with 25th anniversary celebration

Dream Theater, the Long Island-based band of progressive metal titans, has returned with a brand new tour. But with no new studio album since the release of its 2016 double rock opera, The Astonishing, the band and its members have decided to celebrate their past, specifically the band’s 1992 breakthrough album, Images and Words, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The tour, aptly named “Images, Words & Beyond,” features both a collection of Dream Theater classics and a complete performance of the aforementioned album.

The past three years have seen Dream Theater actively partake in touring. Aside from two separate tours for two studio albums, the band also staged several festival tours in Europe. The fact that Dream Theater was able to stage yet another world tour after all of that is very remarkable. Adding to that, this year also saw a former band member, founding drummer Mike Portnoy, stage his own tour of Dream Theater material with his carefully assembled band, The Shattered Fortress. Portnoy’s tour received rave reviews from fans, adding to the anticipation that Dream Theater faced from its fans in regards to this new tour.

While it was nice to finally be able to get a full tour of band classics after seeing the group play nothing but The Astonishing in its entirety, it feels as if Portnoy did a better job of encapsulating the Dream Theater experience than the real Dream Theater did.

The night started with a performance of “The Dark Eternal Night” from the 2007 album, Systematic Chaos. In contrast to the full-blown progressive rock that defined the last album, it was admittedly a nice change of gears to finally see the members embrace their metal roots. While singer James LaBrie’s voice was fairly good for this tour, his stage presence has changed dramatically since the last tour. In contrast to playing various characters in a rock opera, LaBrie opted instead for more of a Bruce Dickinson-like approach of speaking to the audience in between songs.

The first half of the show brought about a few neat surprises. The middle of the set featured a couple of deep cuts from the band’s discography, including the jazz fusion-inspired instrumental, “Hell’s Kitchen,” off its 1997 album, Falling Into Infinity, and “To Live Forever,” a song originally from the writing sessions of what would eventually become Images and Words. For the first time in Dream Theater’s history, bass guitarist John Myung finally received a dedicated solo spot in the show. But rather than use his solo as a means of showing off his skills as a player, Myung decided to pay tribute to one of his musical idols, Jaco Pastorius of Weather Report.

There were also several moments in which the band teased the audience by playing short snippets of well-known classics like The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” in the middle of its own songs. After a twenty-minute intermission, the main portion of the show began, following a faux radio montage of 1992’s biggest hits played over the loudspeaker. It was here that the most noticeable change in Dream Theater’s performance style became apparent. From this point on, every song was performed a half step below its original recorded key.

This stylistic choice could be taken as a sign of how much of a toll the band’s lengthy period on the road is having on the members, namely LaBrie. Also, the spontaneity that made up the first set was mostly absent for the rest of the show.

While the band added solo spots for the remaining three members — guitarist John Petrucci, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and current drummer Mike Mangini — during the album tracks, it feels like the band added them just to make it sound less like it was playing the record note for note.

A point of comparison can be found in The Shattered Fortress, in which Portnoy finally got to perform the Dream Theater epic, “The Twelve-Step Suite,” the performance energy from that band permeating throughout the venue.

It was very clear that Portnoy had been wanting to stage his tour for years. Dream Theater had previously performed Images and Words in its entirety a handful of times during their “Chaos in Motion” world tour in 2007, but those times saw the band take the album and add something new to the songs, largely at Portnoy’s suggestion. This time around, the energy from that tour’s performances was mostly gone. The three aforementioned solos were admittedly impressive, but they did not serve any purpose other than simply padding out that portion of the show.

Overall, while it was nice to see Images and Words presented in full, it seemed that Dream Theater was just going through the motions for an obligatory anniversary. The sole encore that night was a performance of the Portnoy-written epic, “A Change of Seasons.” At first glance, it looks like simple fan service to play the song for the first time in 10 years, but according to the band, this song started out as another track intended for Images and Words that ended up not making the final cut, thus giving the song purpose in the show. Unfortunately, the song ends up suffering the same problems as the main set. It is a great performance, but one that lacks any real passion.

Dream Theater is an undeniably strong live act, but this latest tour ends up showing a band in desperate need of a rest after constant touring. Hopefully, the band will take a lengthy sabbatical from touring after this current trek wraps up. Perhaps that time away could also be spent working on a new studio album.