Dream Theater always seem to be keeping busy with their tours and album releases, and now that they’ve been around for so many decades, their tours seem to frequently include anniversary sets! The show at the Helsinki Ice Hall on January 17th, 2020, was in support of their latest release, Distance Over Time, but also included the entirety of Metropolis pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory.
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The show began with a really heroic-sounding intro, “Atlas” (by Nick Phoenix & Thomas J. Bergersen) with a video of a robot browsing through Dream Theater‘s albums, selecting what (presumably was) the newest album. The show was divided into two acts, the first largely covering their newest material, and the second continues the 20th anniversary tour of Metropolis pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. The videos continued on the screen throughout the show, telling the story much in the same way as the show back in 2014.
The first song, “Untethered Angel” is also the first song from the new album. The synth sound was very glimmery and James Labrie has a truly wonderful voice. It’s clear, piercing, and works really well with their style. Mike Mangini‘s drum kit is a huge focal point on the stage. It looks really over-the-top but is also a lot of fun.
“A Nightmare to Remember” had really heavy riffs and almost sounded like symphonic black metal, and was one of only two songs in the first act that wasn’t from the new album. There was a beautiful slow part with clear, soothing guitar lines, but then suddenly Jordan Rudess grabbed a keytar and came to the edge of the stage to rock. He had been hiding in the background before at his crazy swiveling robotic keyboard station, so it was fun to see him come out and fool around, especially considering how demanding their music is. Most of the time the band focuses solely on the performance, leaving Labrie to act as frontman, so this was an effective change of pace.
Since this was a Dream Theater show, the guitar and keyboard solos were mind-bogglingly technical and fast, and in true prog fashion, they could go on for ages. Mangini isn’t a showy performer though, relying purely on skill and doesn’t take things too far (even though he could). The crowd was semi-inactive, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Dream Theater fans are more interested in enjoying the music and its nuances rather than going crazy.
“In the Presence of Enemies pt. 1” was the other song that wasn’t from Distance Over Time, with a crazy fast guitar part that reminded me of “Flight of the Bumblebee.” John Petrucci changed between wild, hard-edged metal riffing and soaring, emotional guitars with ease and… who doesn’t love Petrucci and Rudess’ overwhelming beards!
The first act ended with “Pale Blue Dot,” which had a crazy, sinister riff that made me feel like an apocalypse was on its way, with the keyboards adding heavily to the feeling of a coming horror. The skill shown by the band, as well as the complexity of the music can be a bit overwhelming at times, leaving a sort of numbness. Rather than picking two long, older songs, they could have played a few more shorter songs (like “Forsaken” if they wanted to play something from Systematic Chaos) to break up the pacing a bit more.
The first act ended here, which came as a surprise to us, as we didn’t know there was an intermission. This was nice, as it gave us that needed break, as well as time to go get a bit more wine. The second half of the show was Metropolis pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory in its entirety. It’s a classic DT album and always good to hear. “Overture 1928” was a definite highlight with a vibe that brought airships to mind. The major keys are nice, giving it a positive vibe and makes the listener feel like they are on an adventure that is about to unfold.
“Fatal Tragedy” also caught our attention with its passion and pure heavy metal power. Rudess’ smiley keytar solos were again a definite highlight. These guys are such professionals at their craft, creating a mesmerizing act of flawless skill. The first proper slow song of the night was “Through Her Eyes,” quite a saccharine rock ballad but was a nice change of pace at this point in the show. “Home,” the first song from Act II of the album, also stood out with its awesome yearning chorus and middle-eastern vibe.
Having only seen Dream Theater twice (this time included), “Dance of Eternity” is still a definite favorite and brought a crazy grin to my face. It’s an epic track, an interesting composition that suits its name, and it appears to have elements from the other songs on the album. Petrucci and John Myung (bass) were unmoving sentinels of precision playing. “The Spirit Carries On” was another sugary 80s-style ballad, but again this worked to its advantage, breaking up all the intense progressive tracks and allowed the crowd a change of pace, even if the songs themselves are a bit too cheesy.
When the album wrapped up, the band was called back for one more longish track, “At Wit’s End” from the latest album. With that one last punch of progressive madness, the show was over.
At first I had wondered why there was no warm up act, but the reason was clear by the end: Dream Theater was their own warm-up act. The new material acted as a nice contrast to the old, with a few surprising inclusions from mid-older albums to shake things up. Of course, hearing Metropolis pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory in its entirety was extremely cool and made for an interesting contrast against the first half of the show. While at first the progressive intensity became a bit numbing, the intermission helped reset our batteries and allowed for an enjoyable night all-in-all.
Intro – Atlas (Instrumental Alt) by Nick Phoenix & Thomas J. Bergersen
1. Untethered Angel
2. A Nightmare to Remember
4. Barstool Warrior
5. In the Presence of Enemies pt. 1
6. Pale Blue Dot
7. Metropolist pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory
Act I: Scene One: Regression
Act I: Scene Two: I. Overture 1928
Act I: Scene Two: II. Strange Déjà Vu
Act I: Scene Three: I. Through My Words
Act I: Scene Three: II. Fatal Tragedy
Act I: Scene Four: Beyond This Life
Act I: Scene Five: Through Her Eyes
Act II: Scene Six: Home
Act II: Scene Seven: I. The Dance of Eternity
Act II: Scene Seven: II. One Last Time
Act II: Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On
Act II: Scene Nine: Finally Free
8. At Wit’s End
Photos: Miia Collander