Dream Theater - Live in Texas

Dream Theater
The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory, Irving, Texas
Dec. 2, 2017

Words and Photo by A. Lee Graham

Set List:
The Dark Eternal Night | The Bigger Picture | Hell’s Kitchen | The Spirit Carries On | Portrait of Tracy (John Myung tribute to Jaco Pastorius) | As I Am | Breaking All Illusions | Pull Me Under | Another Day | Take the Time | Surrounded | Metropolis Part 1: The Miracle And The Sleeper | Under a Glass Moon | Hourglass (Liquid Tension Experiment cover) | Wait For Sleep | Learning To Live

A Change of Seasons I-VII

Not since Rush has a band been so revered and reviled.

Derided as soulless technicians by some, musical geniuses by others, Dream Theater polarizes listeners like few other acts still earning a living in these uncertain times. 

But devoted fans allow the dream machine to churn out album after album, tour after tour, as the most successful act most folks have never heard of basks in rapturous applause wherever they play.

That reception was no different in Los Angeles, Austin and Irving, Texas, where yours truly — an unabashed Dream Theater fanboy since 1989— caught the recently wrapped Images, Words & Beyond tour. 

On the heels of a jaunt supporting The Astonishing, an album ambitious by even Dream Theater standards, the boys hit the road yet again earlier this year to celebrate Images and Words

The outing drew thousands of spectators by casting a spotlight on the 1992 release that struck radio gold. That it achieved such success amid a culture obsessed with Nirvana, Billy Ray Cyrus and rap was odd in itself, but that “Pull Me Under” — Dream Theater’s first and only hit single to date — achieved that feat with a song lasting almost eight minutes created a template that the band continues to follow.

“Pull Me Under” wouldn’t make itself known until the second set of the recently wrapped tour. Before performing Images and Words in its entirely — a feat replicated every night — the band rocked a mixed bag of fan favorites. Exactly what favorites depended on the show.

Earlier in the tour, Dream Theater die-hards cheered when the boys excavated “Don’t Look Past Me,” an obscure tune originally intended for Images and Words by bypassed in favor or “Surrounded.”

Yet here it was: “Don’t Look Past Me” sending shock waves through Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theater.

Kicking things off in Los Angeles and Texas was “The Dark Eternal Night,” setting a heavy, thrashy tone. Metalheads rejoiced, while those enamored with the band’s more contemplative, atmospheric side stood motionless. That’s the magic of Dream Theater: its music straddles metal and progressive styles to such a degree that there’s enjoyment to be found for seemingly any music fan, not just those seeking melodies delivered in sevens.

That diversity made “The Bigger Picture” even more glorious, the anthemic counterpart to “The Dark Eternal Night.” Fans waved their arms and sang along as vocalist James LaBrie generated applause with every gesture, joke and ability to hit every single high note, dispelling expectations otherwise. This man has lost nothing over the years!

Neither have guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and drummer Mike Mangini, masters of their respective instruments. Their talents reverberated through “The Spirit Carries On,” “Breaking All Illusions” and “As I Am,” a churning rocker that segued seamlessly into Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” for a few measures.

Stealing the first set in Austin and Irving, Texas, at least to my ears, was “Hell’s Kitchen.” That the instrumental echoing Rush’s “Xanadu” featured a few seconds of the prog classic, as well as The Beatles’ “Lucy With The Sky With Diamonds,” only added to its majesty. 

Despite its serious musicianship, the band proved able jokesters, as well, with Mangini falling to the floor at times, Petrucci in Austin recalling an infamous New Orleans gig in a husky, Zakk Wylde-like voice and LaBrie drawing laughter from jokes and road stories sprinkled throughout the set. 

After a brief intermission and intro tape recalling the radio climate of 1992, the band tore into “Pull Me Under” and every other track that made Images and Words a progressive metal classic.  

How to cap an evening of over-the-top musicianship and madcap revelry? With “A Change of Seasons,” the 23-minute epic originally planned for Images and Words before plans calling for a double-disc released were trimmed to a single package.

As expected, Dream Theater performed the material to perfection. While some bristle that the band performed a song written by former drummer Mike Portnoy for his mother, most exulted  in its majesty. 

Before bowing to the crowd packing The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory, LaBrie mentioned plans to record a new album in 2018 and hit the road the following year. That day can’t come soon enough.