OK, let me start off by saying that I'm a tad biased here. Dream Theater have been one of my favorite bands, metal, prog, or otherwise, since I first heard "Pull Me Under" and the Images and Words album back in the early 1990's. I've followed the band for many years, closely dissected each and every release of theirs, had numerous discussions (sometimes heated, sometimes passionate) with both fans and haters alike on just about every aspect of the band there is to pick apart, and basically have lived my life with Dream Theater as a big part of it for close to 20 years now. In addition, I've seen the band over 20 times in concert over that span of time, at numerous venues, both as headliners as openers, and in many cases I've even gone to see them multiple times per tour, if the opportunity has arisen.
So, why do I continue to spend my hard earned dollar to see the same band over and over you might ask? Well, to clarify, Dream Theater is not the only band I've seen live in my time. Though I've lost count at this point, I've probably attended well over 400 live music events over the years, and there are few major bands I have not been able to catch live. There are quite a few that I've seen countless times, Metallica, Yes, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Jethro Tull, Symphony X, The Allman Brothers Band, Opeth, Children of Bodom, Journey, Megadeth, Black Sabbath, Dio, Deep Purple, Slayer, and Overkill, just to name a few.
What I'm finding though, in many of these instances, is that these bands tend to play the same set, with perhaps a slight variation, from tour to tour, and decade to decade. I'm at my wits end watching Judas Priest playing the same grouping of "Living After Midnight", "Hell Bent for Leather", "Breaking the Law", "Screaming for Vengeance", and "Grinder" each and every tour, that I'm at the breaking point and refuse to go and see them live again. I actually almost caught their most recent tour with Whitesnake , but the only real reason was to catch Whitesnake, who I haven't seen live since the Slip of the Tongue tour many years ago. Alas, something came up and I was not able to attend. Though I love Children of Bodom , Alexi & Co. have been around the NYC area here at LEAST a dozen times over the last 5 years, perhaps more, and I've caught them on almost every single stop. I think I know their songs better than I know my A-B-C's. As for Iron Maiden, I still love those guys, and get excited each time they announce a big tour, but with them it's either they play their whole new album release and piss off their loyal fans (who don't seem to want to hear any new music by these guys, but that's for another blog entirely), or they only play the classic songs and annoy those fans who are tired of the same ole same old and want to hear fresh new songs. As you can probably tell, I'm somewhat in the latter camp, which I believe to be the minority these days. I want to be surprised by what I'm going to hear. If I wanted to see the same band play the same damn songs year in and year out, then I'll just save my money and play the CDs at home when the feeling strikes me. So, what does this have to do with Dream Theater you might ask?
Well, the boys from Long Island pride themselves in giving their fans their money's worth, night after night, year after year. What does that mean exactly? Most Dream Theater fans are ravenous, and follow the band's music and live shows much like fans of the Grateful Dead did throughout the last 30 or so years. The band is fully aware of this, and keep things exciting for their fans by playing entirely different set lists almost every night while on tour. Sure, a few songs might appear at almost every gig, but if you were following the band on multiple stops in the tour, chances are you'll hear a pretty different set each and every night, filled with songs from throughout their discography. I can say without a doubt that in the close to 20 years I have been going to see Dream Theater concerts, I've never seen the same set list twice, ever, even on tours where I've caught them multiple times at different venues. Even when they took part in Gigantour, or even recently in their Progressive Nation tours, though they stick to roughly the same blueprint of songs each night, they still mix up 25-30% of the set each show. I haven't heard them play "Pull Me Under" in years, and you know what, I'm all the happier for it. Rare, hardly played live numbers from Awake, Falling Into Infinity, and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence have begun to surface in recent years, alongside just about every tune from each of the most recent albums, making each night at a Dream Theater show a guessing game to see what's going to pop up.
Over the years I've gotten tired of waiting to hear the great Yes play something off of Drame, or even some select pieces from Tormato, Relayer, or Going For the One...ANYTHING but the tired "Roundabout", "Starship Trooper", "And You and I", and "See All Good People", all classics for sure, but after the millionth time, I need something fresh. It took the band adding a replacement for the ailing Jon Anderson to inject a few tunes from Drama into their set this last tour, which is a sad thing indeed. No such problems at a Dream Theater show-what you get every night is a varied set, played masterfully by a group of musicians who are virtuosos on their instruments. Though some folks might not like their extended instrumental passages (I've often heard complaints from people that they go into too much 'wanking' or 'twiddly widdly soloing'), or find them too proggy and not metal enough, or too metal and not proggy enough, or they don't like James LaBrie's vocals (he IS the voice of Dream Theater folks, like him or not), you can't deny that the band are steadfast in their belief that they need to give their fans the best show possible each and every night. Catch them on "An Evening With Dream Theater" night, and you'll get 3hours plus of progressive metal majesty.
Of course, if you're one of those people that just wants to hear "Pull Me Under", "Another Day", "6:00", "Metropolis", "Lie", "Take the Time", "Under a Glass Moon", and "Peruvian Skies" each and every time, well then I guess Dream Theater isn't really the band for you to spend your money on in a live context. That's not really what progressive metal is all about. When I want to just go out and hear the hits, I'll take my wife out and catch Journey, Foreigner, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Heart, or Lynyrd Skynyrd (and I do love those bands too), have a few beers, and sing along and get caught up in the moment. I expect more though from the metal and prog bands I love, and Dream Theater, as well as Opeth (that's a story for another day), never let me or their fans down. Bands like these have such a deep and amazing catalog of songs, and it's been a pleasure over the years having seen them time and time again digging into that catalog and keeping us entertained. For me, that's what going to see live music is all about. If I'm bored, it's no longer fun. Let's hope some of these band's put the fun and spontaneity back into their live shows.
To All Things Progressive,
Pete Pardo, Publisher