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introRuhrCongress, Bochum, Germany
10th March 2016
Dream Theater

DREAM THEATER, the Progressive Metal kings from the US, were performing their amazing rock opera with full visuals in an intimate setting during their “The Astonishing” Tour in Bochum. The Grammy nominees and rock icons have already visited us last year with their self-titled album and played incredible shows and were up now for something special.

DREAM THEATER are John Petrucci (guitar), John Myung (bass), James LaBrie (vocals), Jordan Rudess (keyboards and continuum) and Mike Mangini (drums). The band is one of the top giants in Hard Rock having sold more than ten million records and DVDs worldwide. Albums such as the gilded classic ‘Images And Words’ (1992), which includes the breaking through single ‘Pull Me Under’, brought in countless awards for the visionary band from Long Iceland that combines melodic Power with a love of virtuosic experimentation. The Rolling Stone took them on their top 10 of the best Prog Rock bands of all time. Their song ‘On The Backs of Angels’ from the celebrated work ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’ (2011) proved to be one of their most successful ones; they were nominated for a Grammy in the category “Best Hard Rock/ Metal Performance” and reached a top 10 nomination in 14 countries. http://www.dreamtheater.net / https://www.facebook.com/dreamtheater

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Music & Performance
When a band like DREAM THEATER produces a highly ambitioned two-and-a-half-hour-concept-album, of course they play it in one show. I expect no references to their thirty years of band history. A show like they presented last year in a few concerts in Germany where their setlist consisted of one song of each of their albums won’t fit. So talking about the concert is talking about the album as well: ‘The Astonishing’. As I walk into the RuhrCongress in Bochum, I am curious if they finally offered my favourite piece of merchandise, which is pretty popular with other bands: a USB-Stick with the full concert I am about to watch. But they don’t. So my expectations are one step closer to fulfilment. Why should I buy a recording of a concert which contains only the latest album I have recently bought? A nice gimmick before walking into the hall is a NOMACS-shaped photo-devise where you could take a picture of yourself in front if a backdrop of the Great Northern Empire.

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What are you talking about??? Well, the Great Northern Empire is the land where the whole story of ‘The Astonishing’ takes place. The Empire used to be the USA a long time ago and now is ruled by the cruel Emperor Lord Nafaryus. He sends thousands and thousands of NOMACS through the sky, ball-shaped drones that are making terrible noise so the people continue their work without any trace of liberating sounds of music. But there is Gabriel, the chosen one. He lives in the small village Ravenskill and has a terrific voice that brings the music back to the people. Gabriel is the only hope for his brother Arhys, the leader of the rebellion against the Emperor. Add the beautiful daughter of the Emperor, Faythe, her jealous brother Daryus and Arhys’ little son Xander who the rebellion-leader cherishes most because of his dead wife Evangeline, and the stage is set for the story. This rather simple Hollywood-like story seems to be the band’s attempt to move away from the sometimes highly sophisticated concepts of their past to one which fits better to films, musicals or even computer games, as they lately announced.

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So like it or not, DREAM THEATER are about to prove once more that they redefine themselves with each album once more. And they have never been closer to a “theatre”. There are chairs everywhere in the hall! Having arrived at my seat, I find a sheet of paper (for free, astonishing!) containing a short introduction to the story and all the main characters. Nice gift, thank you! But I bought my usual coffee mug anyway although 20 € seems to me a little expensive. Still, who cares? To cut a long story short, the whole show really reminds me of a theatre as well. In the beginning, a friendly voice tells everyone to turn off their cell phones. On a metal concert? Are they afraid that the ringing is louder than the music? Then the Intro ‘The Descent of the NOMACS’ gives everyone a first impression of the work of light and film screens during the show, illustrating, of course, what actually happens in the story. Then the musicians appear for the ‘Dystopian Overture’. I have to admit I love Mangini on drums although I loved Mike Portnoy as well and although Mangini was the reason why DREAM THEATER didn’t take the German drummer Mirko Minnemann. Still I have to love Mangini because the former drumming professor of the university of Berkeley has so much fun in everything he does on stage and tonight this is even more important than before.

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To perform an album like ‘The Astonishing’ live on stage, there are a lot of technical devices necessary, samples most importantly and that means, the whole show is on “click”. This has influence on every musician tonight, except John Myung, who plays his incredible bass lines-like always without any movement in his face. But if you know the concerts of the band you see that especially Petrucci and Rudess seem a lot more concentrated and less relaxed than usual. However, LaBrie has never been the most charismatic frontman on earth and tonight he really has much work to do. ‘The Astonishing’ doesn’t contain the usual long instrumentals to take a rest. Only short breaks for him! He is rushing on and off stage all the time, mainly, I suppose, to keep his voice working. Ok, enough about the differences. The first Act of ‘The Astonishing’ is mostly impressive, no doubt! No member of the band has to prove his musical skills to anyone and so beautiful melodies and, compared to the past, rather subtle instrumental arrangements merge into a one-hour-feast for ears, eyes and soul. Take ‘A Savour in the Square’, ‘Three Days’, ‘Brother, can you hear me’, ‘A life left behind’, ‘Ravenskill’ or ‘The X Aspect’, performed on stage with light and film, this really is a new kind of experience in the band’s history.

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After the closing theme of the first act, ‘The Road to Revolution’, the band leaves the stage for a short break. Act 2 starts with another overture, ‘2285 Entr’acte’, and maybe one of the most catchy songs of the album, ‘Moment of betrayal’. But despite this song and the fact that ‘The Path that divides’, ‘The walking shadow’, ‘My last Farewell’ and ‘Loosing Faythe’ are great songs as well, the energy of the first act has dissolved somewhat during the break. The ‘Hymn of the thousand voices’ is meant to be sung by the audience and LaBrie tries to encourage everyone. But sitting for two and a half hours doesn’t encourage the people’s mood for singing, I guess. In the end I am a little puzzled why the final song of the album, ‘Astonishing’, is presented as an encore. I mean, imagine a play where the last scene is played after the applause. That didn’t fit, guys, especially because there was no further encore!

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So what am I thinking when I walk out of the RuhrCongress? If you love the album, you’ll love the show, if you don’t and especially if you come to listen to some old stuff you should wait for the next tour. But I am very happy that DREAM THEATER presently writes albums that can hardly be compared with ‘Images And Words’ or ‘Awake’. These musicians needn’t copy themselves because they still have a vision of their future and their development. The relationship between all of their albums is that THEY brought them to life in the moment of inspiration. Their latest inspiration led to ‘The Astonishing’ so enjoy it if you like it, if not, luckily there will be the next album of the band in the long journey of their career. So: Next stop - Ravenskill.

Setlist
---Act 1---
-Descent of the NOMACS-
01. Dystopian Overture
02. The Gift of Music
03. The Answer
04. A Better Life
05. Lord Nafaryus
06. A Savior in the Square
07. When Your Time Has Come
08. Act of Faythe
09. Three Days
-The Hovering Sojourn-
10. Brother, Can You Hear Me?
11. A Life Left Behind
12. Ravenskill
13. Chosen
14. A Tempting Offer
-Digital Discord-
15. The X Aspect
16. A New Beginning
14. The Road to Revolution
---Act 2---
18. 2285 Entr'acte
19. Moment of Betrayal
20. Heaven's Cove
21. Begin Again
22. The Path That Divides
-Machine Chatter-
23. The Walking Shadow
24. My Last Farewell
25. Losing Faythe
26. Whispers on the Wind
27. Hymn of a Thousand Voices
28. Our New World
---
-Power Down-
29. Astonishing

Rating
Music: 9
Performance: 8
Sound: 9
Light: 10
Total: 9 / 10

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All pictures by Daniela Vorndran (http://www.vorndranphotography.com / http://www.facebook.com/blackcatnet)


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