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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

Dream Theater

Live in Holmdel, New Jersey, July 2010

Review by Julie Knispel

Dream Theater has not been an opening band for a very long time. For most of the past 20 years they have been headliners, or at the very least co-headliners on package tours.  There have been three very large exceptions to this; in 1998 when they opened for Emerson Lake and Palmer and Deep Purple on a North American package tour, in 2004 when they opened for the final leg of Yes’ last tour of North America with Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, and this summer, opening for British metal legends Iron Maiden on the first leg of their Final Frontier tour.

This tour marks another unique occurrence for the band.  Historically, Dream Theater set lists vary from night to night.  There are multiple reasons for this, with the primary one being the band’s fervent fan base, many of whom will follow the band and see multiple shows across a single tour leg.  Changing set lists ensure that each concert is a different and unique experience for their fans; while certain tracks are set pieces and won’t leave the set for the tour, others shift in and out at the whim of band leader Mike Portnoy.  For the 2010 Iron Maiden tour, however, Dream Theater is playing a static set list of mostly heavier material, custom tailored to try and reach out to Iron Maiden fans that might find something of interest in the younger band.  Considering that Dream Theater has been active for 25 years now, ‘younger’ is certainly only a matter of degrees here.

Such would be the case at the Garden State Arts Center (actually the PNC Bank Arts Center, but as I’ve been going to shows there since the 1990’s it will always be the GSAC, corporate sponsors be damned) in Holmdel NJ on 11 July 2010.  Taking the stage on a warm July night, Dream Theater was bound and determined to make new believers out of a crowd that had waited just over two years for the Irons to return to American soil.  As the band kicked in to their opening tune, “As I Am,” I was struck by the fact that I was in a school bus with 50 other people waiting to head from the north overflow lot at the venue.  While I’d gotten there with what I thought was plenty of time to get to the venue, the concert had in fact sold out, and as such I’d been shunted almost a mile and a half away from the actual front gates.  As such, I was entering the gates when the band finished up their first track.

“A Rite of Passage” was up next, off the band’s newest album Black Clouds & Silver Linings, and it got a decent response from the crowd, while the somewhat slower “Home” seemed to set the audience where I was standing back a bit, despite it perhaps being a bit better known.  The crowd’s energy was kicked back up with a pair of shorter, faster paced songs; “Constant Motion,” from Systematic Chaos saw a big response from the crowd (some of whom were still flowing into the amphitheatre), while ‘Panic Attack’ seemed to be a big hit.  It also got my one headshake of the night, as James LaBrie introduced it with the statement “If you have ‘Rock Band 2’ you’ll know this one…‘Panic Attack!’”  I know it’s indicative of where the industry is these days, but it still strikes me as a bit of a downer that a video game has become a way of advertising a song, rather than the album it’s from.  In any event, “Panic Attack” got a very big response.

Dream Theater closed out their set with their biggest (and many would say only) hit, “Pull Me Under” from the band’s 1992 release Images and Words.  It’s become almost an obligatory track for the band to play, especially to audiences not necessarily familiar with the band’s catalogue, as it received extensive radio and MTV airplay despite its 8-minute length.  As the opening notes played the crowd cheered, obviously familiar with this piece, and the band played the piece with enthusiasm, which was nice to see considering that by this point it’s likely that they have played the song over a thousand times since its release. 

It’s difficult to say if the band won over any new fans with their performance.  While they did get a good response to quite a bit of their set, I did see just as many people standing around, arms crossed or in some cases talking to neighbours, throughout the set.  Additionally, Iron Maiden shirts obviously outnumbered Dream Theater ones by a margin of fifteen or twenty to 1.  Still, for a brief opening set (Dream Theater got about 50 minutes of stage time), they put on an energetic and forceful performance that hopefully caught a few people’s ears.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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