Dream Theater - Live in Oakland

Dream Theater
Fox Theater, Oakland CA
October 25, 2017

By Dan Wall

The technical brilliance of Dream Theater often over shadows the fact that the band can craft one helluva a catchy tune. A sold-out crowd in Oakland was reminded of that fact recently as the band performed its masterpiece “Images and Words” in its entirety, as well as other favorites from its lengthy career, at the Fox Theater in downtown Oakland.

Unlike a lot of recent Dream Theater tours, this one featured songs that the entire audience could enjoy. It’s no shock to the band’s fanatical following, but there are times when this quintet can go overboard with its lengthy, 30-minute pieces that shift and change time so often that you would think Yes was up there performing “Topographic Oceans,” (not my favorite Yes album, as you might tell).

During this performance, the band only featured one song that long, the encore of the band’s epic “A Change of Seasons.”

For the uninitiated, Dream Theater is a band that mixes the best of progressive rock (think Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, Kansas and Rush) with the metal that they grew up practicing (think Metallica and Iron Maiden). DT touched on many of these influences and others during its marathon three-hour set.

Each member of the group is at the top of his chosen musical craft, from lead vocalist James Labrie to drummer Mike Mangini.

Labrie is not a gymnastic frontman ala Steven Tyler, but a mature leader who knows when to put the pedal to his voice, and when to hold back. On some of the band’s more majestic compositions (like “Take the Time” and “Learning to Live”), he effortlessly hit those tough notes (like Bruce Dickinson and Geoff Tate), yet also sang the more melodic and soft pieces (“Another Day,” “Surrounded”) with a delicacy few can match. He is also careful to fall back away from the spotlight and let the musicians in the band take over, which they did with frightening regularity on this night.

In particular, guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess played a couple of tandem solos that had the musicians in the audience burning their union cards. Petrucci plays with such a ferocity that most mortals in the audience had a hard time figuring out just what in the heck he was doing up there. It reminded me of the time I saw Simon Phillips play with Jeff Beck, and during his solo that night, the drummer who was in the band I was managing at the time started crying. I may have seen a few tears from the guitarists in the crowd when Petrucci went off on this night.

Rudess, on the other hand, has the look of an evil genius, a guy who knows he’s making sounds that some entire bands would have a hard time producing. Bassist John Myung often times sounds like two bass players, and you’d almost have to be playing in front of Mangini, a master of the double kick drum who looks like he has four arms and four legs Some of the patterns he plays are hard for me to figure out, and I’ve been around the drum kit a bit in my lifetime. (Credit must also be given here to original drummer Mike Portnoy, who was around when most of the songs played here were written).

With it’s popularity still held in the hands of its faithful following (which numbers between 3-5,000 in most major cities), the band was still able to bring along a huge computerized light show, pre-requisite sound system and a huge video set-up to keep the patrons entertained.

The main reason I decided to re-visit a Dream Theater live show was simple-the promise to feature the band’s second record, “Images and Words’” all the way through. Sorry to the DT freaks out there, but for this writer, it is the band’s best (and biggest) record. It features eight songs that feature all out metal, lush ballads and everything in between. Sometimes the group doesn’t even play “Pull Me Under” during its live sets, but that song remains its best song and one that all metal fans identify with. “Metropolis” and Learning to Live” are also big favorites onstage, and I got a thrill out of the performance “As I Am” (from “Train of Thought”) during the first set.

I probably won’t go see these guys for a while, unless the band plays a few of its early albums like “Awake” or Falling Into Infinity” all the way through, like “Images and Words” on this night. It seems to be something that fans and bands alike enjoy experiencing, so why not keep doing it.