Live Review: Dream Theater at WiZink Center (Madrid, Spain) (31/01/20)

Majestic progressive metal quintet Dream Theater courteously brought all their heritage via notorious conceptual sanctuary “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory” (1999) as they unwrapped the newly minted record “Distance over Time” (2019) to the exhilarated standing audience of WiZink Center’s The Box, which accommodated nearly 3,000 fans eager to experience a 3-hour show out of the ordinary, a performance that all those inquisitive about music techniques ought to live through at least once in a lifetime. After such an amount of tours and setlists, this specific performance offers an appropriate window to dive deeply into Dream Theater’s systematic spot-on chaos.

Kraftwerk’s “Electric Café” (1986) was the selected LP who acted in the absence of a support act, looking after the standing attendees waiting on tenterhooks. Nothing better than the analogy of Kraftwerk’s “Man-Machine” or “Die Roboter” concepts to give in to Dream Theater’s ultramodern cyborgs enveloped in glistening blue tones, as if opening a scenic musical gift stubbornly adamant to take all fans to a homelike future. Not only there were robots in the screens, but also in the custom-designed microphone stand of vocalist James LaBrie, created by Metaldozer. It pays homage to the cover of “Distance Over Time”, arguably their most accessible and succinct record, with a total running time of about 57 minutes. However, it is easy to acknowledge that Dream Theater has not forfeited any of the virtuoso abilities in this compact creation, and most certainly, as guitarist John Petrucci declared, that listeners absorb the feeling of “unity, camaraderie, joy and inclusion” they felt in the process of writing said album [Source].

LaBrie’s custom mic stand by Metaldozer

The show is starting and there is epic orchestral music all over WiZink Center. It could have been Alan Silvestri waking up Captain America to watch over the show, passionately. It was ‘Atlas’ (Power of Darkness, 2010), by Thomas J. Bergersen and Nick Phoenix, and everyone was gawking without blinking the screen, where a robot separated the discography of the band in two subdivisions. Some fans even observed that the humanoid was intersecting between their “good” and “not so good” albums, quite a conspiracy brewing and an intriguing guess. The opening track of the new record, ‘Untethered Angel’ (Distance over Time, 2019), a robust performance for a craving audience, included an exuberant twin solo between one of John Petrucci’s Music Man guitars and Jordan Rudess’ “mechanical rodeo bull” (it moved sideways in the exact same way) keyboard. Moments like these exhibited the camaraderie Petrucci was talking about when describing “Distance over Time” (2019).

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Mike Mangini, on the king-size “two-storey” drumkit, was involved in an intense workout moving arms up and down to reach the cymbals accurately fast, as if programmed for impeccability. The only one who, on occasion, appeared to be somewhat uneasy, was James LaBrie trying to reach higher notes and sail through the falsetto kingdom comfortably. In consequence, it was comprehensible that the live mixing’s task was to cautiously surround LaBrie’s vocals bringing up the rest of the instruments. Once again, that exemplified the true meaning of unity and respect for all the members of the band: “Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno”, one for all, all for one; LaBrie for all, all for LaBrie. Truthfully, he deserves a lot of recognition for standing fiercely onstage even though his vocal capacity is subject to some adversities. And so does the rest of the band for believing in him the way all of them do.

Another proficient aspect of Dream Theater’s perceptible performance is that it seems the crowd is facing a translucent masterclass. Yes, it is tremendously complex to play and to listen to, but it is shown so clearly that it seems thoroughly natural. For a band who navigates through odd-time signatures and polyrhythms, it is effortless to sympathize with the band’s masterful musicianship.

After presenting four tracks of “Distance over Time” (2019) and two relative oldies, “A Nightmare to Remember” (Black Clouds & Silver Linings, 2009) and “In the Presence of Enemies, Part I” (Systematic Chaos, 2007), the first act drew to a close. The band flew off for a well-deserved short break prior to the journey whose scenes would take everybody home.

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The clock is ticking and the same numbing voice as ever whispers: “Close your eyes and begin to relax…”. A gentle acoustic introduction sets the hypnotic regression in motion and soon after, drum rolls give everybody a poetic welcome into a conceptual 1928 where Victoria was enigmatically murdered. The concept, storyline, tone and lyrics of this influential album demonstrate a level of artisanship that should be rigorously researched, as well as critically listened to, by anybody who wishes to make “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory” (1999) a sentimental home to return to assiduously. Scenes from 1920s cartoons were shown in the screens, a great disparity between the first Act, full of robots, planes, the Dream Theater logo encompassed by fire or a crimson devil looking too badass. Kudos for a great differentiation between both Acts.

Humanoids were replaced by vintage reflections of Victoria’s misfortunes, and all those familiar with the album were suddenly triggered with ‘Scene Two: I. Overture 1928’ (Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory, 1999) as they began to jump in the spot full of energy. The animations of Victoria’s reality seemed to embrace a retrofuturistic steampunk style akin to Ken Levine’s videogame BioShock Infinite (2013). An important highlight of the second Act was that John Petrucci sometimes switched between the acoustic and electric guitar during certain verses, without the help of a guitar tech. This says a lot about the band’s diligent commitment to refrain from using recorded parts or extra touring musicians. A tender moment came with ‘Scene Five: Through Her Eyes’ (Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory, 1999) when mausoleums with the names of fallen artists such as Bowie, Cornell or Zappa were illustrated digitally, whilst LaBrie’s tone and lyrics bear-hugged the fans: And I know what it’s like to lose someone you love… And this felt just the same”.

Following a fast break, the “metal” track of the record as LaBrie put it, ‘Scene Six: Home’ (Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory, 1999), brought the craziest fans to both their happiest and craziest moments. Petrucci’s solos, like a bat out of hell, ignited loud acclaims. Mike Mangini, who is such a perfectionist he “chooses the pieces of metal on the kit that follow the frequencies of the music lines” [Source], gave evidence of his hard work through demanding polyrhythms. “Shout it at the top of your lungs!”, exclaimed LaBrie. Victoria was undoubtedly smiling from above.

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If you feel like attending one of Dream Theater’s “Distance over Time” shows, check out their full touring schedule here.

Check out the full setlist here.

Special thanks to Rikk.

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