Leeds O2 Academy – Friday 22nd July 2011
This was my first visit to the Leeds O2 Academy and I have to say that I was well impressed with the venue and it is far superior to the O2 in my hometown Sheffield. The venue was absolutely packed with the highest ratio of men to women that I have ever seen at a gig. I doubt if there was more than 2% of the fairer sex in the 2,300 capacity crowd.
The noise that greeted Dream Theater as they hit the stage was as if they were playing a homecoming gig. As the last strains of the intro, Hans Zimmer’s “Dream Is Collapsing” faded the band launched into the wonderful “Under A Glass Moon”. The first thing that hit me was just how hard, new boy, Mike Mangini, was thumping the hell out of his monstrous drum kit. Wrongly, I thought that there was no way he was going to be able to keep this pace up for the next two hours.
As James LaBrie took front and centre stage it was clear that he was in fine voice this evening. Unfortunately, due to the high level of musicianship by the other members of the band, LaBrie is often perceived as the weak link in Dream Theater.
A large video screen behind the group was cleverly utilised throughout the whole set mixing up video images with close-ups of the band; during many of the instrumental sections the screen split in four, with close ups of Jordan Rudess on keyboards, Mike Mangini on drums, and original founding members John Myung on bass and John Petrucci on guitars.
The sound was pretty impressive, similar to that of AC/DC’s “Black Ice” tour where you felt the music to your bones!
As the band went into “These Walls” from 2005’s “Octavarium” album it was clear that, unlike myself, the majority of the audience were real hardcore fans knowing every part of every song: drum rolls, guitar solos, keyboard segways, bass runs and lyrics.
James LaBrie welcomed the crowd and made the introduction of their new family member, Mike Magini, before introducing the next song “Forsaken” from 2007’s “Systematic Chaos”. The frantic pace was maintained with “Endless Sacrifice” where Labrie was in particularly good form.
Over half an hour in and we had only had four songs and Mike Mangini was introduced to the fans once again and left to perform a rousing drum solo. The sheer power and speed which he play was staggering and similar to Neil Peart’s drum solo a few months earlier, there was nobody leaving their place to head to either the bar or the toilet. Mike played like he had been playing in Dream Theater all of his life and seemed genuinely moved by the tremendous ovation he received at the end. Now after such a powerful solo spot you think that the band would give him a breather but not so, continuing with the instrumental “Ytse Jam” from their 1989 debut album “When Dream & Day Unite”.
The pace finally relented with one of my personal favourite songs “Peruvian Skies” again James LaBrie highlighting his magnificent voice.
The next quarter of an hour was given over to “The Great Debate” from arguably the most intense Dream Theater album (aren’t they all?) “Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence”. At this juncture, I was showing signs of old age, and I could have done with a sit down!
The first song to be recorded with Mike Mangini was played next “On The Back Of Angels”; this was the first time that I had heard this song and hopefully the rest of the new album “A Dramatic Turn Of Events” will be just as impressive.
“Caught In A Web” was a welcome addition from the old days and the intensity returned with the duo from “Metropolis, Part 2: Scenes From A Memory”: “Through My Words” and “Fatal Tragedy”.
The main set was brought to a triumphant close with “The Count Of Tuscany” from the last and superb studio album “Black Clouds & Silver Linings”. This might only be a couple of years old but is already a classic and one of my favourite Dream Theater tracks of all time. If ever one song summed up the band then it would be this one; it has it all: intricate passages, solos galore, melodic and heavy vocals. The story behind the song is very simple and easy to follow and brought the set to a climatic finale.
The band left the stage to tumultuous applause and returned within a few minutes to encore with the incredible “Metropolis Part 1: The Miracle & The Sleeper”, another ten minute plus epic from, arguably, their greatest album “Images & Words”.
The band appeared quite humble by the ovation that they received especially new boy Mike Mangini, however, his band mates must be used to that sort of reaction by now. I cannot imagine any Dream Theater fans being disappointed with tonight’s performance or even the set-list. This was certainly a far cry from the last couple of concerts that I had attended: John Mellencamp and Journey; I still enjoyed it just as much, however, whereas I could watch Journey every night, I think unless you are a die-hard fan, you need to prepare yourself for Dream Theater, as it is a complete aural assault that leaves you drained. One word that best describes both Dream Theater and tonight’s show: “Intense!”