Dream Theater’s Along for the Ride Tour started in January 2014 and, as well as supporting their recent self-titled album, has also been in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Awake and the 15th anniversary of Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. This is their first tour in which they have had an unchanging setlist, which included the entire second half of Awake and several songs from Metropolis Pt. 2 as well. This massive 3-hour tour stopped in Helsinki on February 24th, 2014, at the smaller stadium in town: Jäähalli.
Before the show started, there was a screen over the stage with some starry-sky/universe images playing on it to some ambient music. When the time had come, a countdown started, followed by a cattle-style branding of the Dream Theater logo to an animated person’s chest, which started the animation of all of DT’s album covers, continuing with Images and Words all the way up to the latest album, Dream Theater.
One rather notable thing about the show was the presence of a movie screen in the back, which played a fairly wide assortment of strange videos throughout the show. When there was nothing visible, it displayed an image of some graffiti that matched the rest of the stage decorations and the backdrop. The show started with the band playing “The Enemy Inside,” and the screen showed the song’s official music video during the performance.
After the first track was done, James Labrie called for the crowd to put their hands in the air before they began playing “The Shattered Fortress.” The screen showed some general kaleidoscope images while Labrie ran back and forth, and the backing vocals overlapped very smoothly. The verse that ended with, “self-righteous hate” was particularly sharp, followed by a short and heavy slow bit and the shred that followed was very nicely executed. This went into the next slow-down where the deep voice speaks, and there were visuals of some old buildings, and a guy in a forest encountering a picture frame. It then kicked back into the heavy part with more kaleidoscope and some live cam with some blended effects added.
At this point, Labrie paused to talk a bit. He said it was great to be back in Helsinki again, and he welcomed everyone to their night with Dream Theater. He stated that the show would run about three hours total, and then congratulated Finland on their Olympic Bronze in ice hockey. He also mentioned that during their show in Oslo, Norway, he predicted that, “we would win gold,” (meaning Canada, I assume) and they did. Mike Mangini (drums) made some comments at this point, and Labrie asked him if he wanted to come out from behind his kit to mingle with the crowd (he did not).
In the following songs, the screen visuals were just about anything imaginable. There were gears and rising skyscrapers, spirals of money, matrix numbers, and live cam, finished by America crumbling when they played “On the Backs of Angels,” and “The Looking Glass began” with a bat-signal with the Dream Theater symbol on it, and showed an animated yellow car driving to a cabin in the middle of nowhere (this was the first of many times I noticed the car – it may have appeared before and I just didn’t see it). Some general equalizer visuals and live cam were also included in the majority of songs.
One somewhat amusing moment during the show was when a man appeared behind Jordan Rudess (keyboards) during “Trial of Tears.” I had wondered what he was doing, and apparently he was preparing Rudess for his keytar solo, as he stood behind him holding up the instrument and the strap so that when Rudess finished what he had been doing, all he needed to do was turn around quickly and step into the instrument so he could walk out to the front of the stage and rock out with a bit of style. He then returned to tickle the ivories on his big swiveling keyboard as John Petrucci (guitar) sang the “ashes” and “it’s raining” in undeniably good harmony with Labrie.
The yellow car returned, driving down the street with heavy music blasting as it arrived to a house in a residential area. This house appeared to be full of what I gathered to be amps. This instrumental track, “Enigma Machine,” was one of the heaviest songs they played. I seem to recall that name was also on some of their equipment (the amps, if I recall correctly) so I wasn’t sure if the song was in support of a brand of equipment, or if the equipment was labeled in support of the song. This track also had one of the coolest videos, with 2D animated band members in a black-and-white cartoony style going around and doing things. The song was finished by a drum solo by Mangini, complete with some rather impressive double-kick.
The yellow car made an appearance in “Along for the Ride” as well, and then in “Break All Illusions,” Labrie called out, “I want to hear your wonderful voices! Come on Helsinki, let’s make this huge!” They put a little bit of extra into this song, with some funky bits mixed in to make it fun. This was the last track before they departed for a short 15-minute intermission. During this part of the show, the screen played a mash-up of some DT-related YouTube video clips.
They came back into it after the break with “The Mirror,” whose main point of interest was the very crazy and sporadic lighting. Labrie stopped after this track to speak again, saying that they had kicked off the last world tour, the Dramatic Tour of Events Tour, in Helsinki. They were now winding down the European tour, with three more shows to follow before heading to North America. He did promise that they would for sure be back in Europe over the summer for some festivals. At this point, he also mentioned the anniversaries of the two albums that the tour was helping to celebrate.
The latter half of the show only had six songs, as compared to the nine of the first half, but the first five of these were the entire second half of the Awake album – from “The Mirror” through to “Space Dye Vest” (which is a particularly eerie and moving song). They then finished up with “Illumination Theory” before leaving the stage. I admittedly have less specifics noted down because I had been quite drawn into the performance at this point.
“Overture 1928” was a very solid choice for the first encore when they were cheered back to the stage. It’s a short track but it contains a lot of the various sounds from Metropolis Pt. 2 and as an instrumental, it just worked. “Strange Déjà Vu” followed, with some sort of distorted Blair Witch-style video playing on the screen in the background. Making up for the shorter second half of the show required a total of four encore tracks, plus outro, and the third was “The Dance of Eternity,” which is perhaps one of their coolest instrumentals (or maybe I’m just a sucker for ragtime piano – either way, it was awesome). And closing in on the 3-hour mark, they began their final track: “Finally Free.” Labrie sat on the stage like an artist casually existing under the spotlight, before it moved on to Rudess before the song officially kicked off. The backing video had started with a flowery field but transitioned to fast-moving sunset clouds, into lighting cloud, and finally guns with smashing and screaming sounds as the song progressed. “Illumination Theory” played in the background as they said their farewells and took their bows before leaving the stage.
One thing that must be said with Dream Theater, is that they are not a band designed to be visually stunning. When they come out, they are there to play music for people who like the music they play. And they play it perfectly. They might be sacrificing a bit of visual flair to achieve this, but gears of progressive metal turn much more easily this way. Especially in a long show, it might be best for the band to reserve some energy to input into their shred-capabilities rather than bouncing around the stage and playing sloppily. Not saying that they don’t do anything on stage, but they don’t do a whole lot of moving about. Labrie has to hold the entire stage by himself, essentially, and he manages to do it, giving love to all sides of the stadium, and still sings beautifully. They have a rather cool confidence too – they know they’re good, but they’re not arrogant about it. They want you to have a good time and enjoy it. I had thought, for a while, that it might be nice to see them a bit more active on the stage (think Iron Maiden), but then I realized that this style of music doesn’t call for that kind of energy. The progressive metal sound is ever-changing and really interesting, and if they had been too active on stage, combined with that video screen, it might’ve taken away from the performance. This was a gig where skill was more important than show, and the crowd was more engrossed than insane. And it worked.
This was also a particularly good show, when you have a band with such long songs. Sometimes an hour and a half show just doesn’t cut it. If you’ve only chosen the long songs, you might only get some eight to ten tracks in a gig before the encore. This three hour show was just what the doctor ordered for die-hard fans who love those long tracks, but don’t want to be limited in what they’re paying for.
Dream Theater has always been, to me, a great band that I don’t really listen to. Progressive tracks that go upwards of 10 minutes rarely keep my attention, even if I do like their sound. However, I can see clearly, especially during shows like this, why people who are into that adore this band. You rarely ever see a single band play for over an hour and a half, let alone double that, and as I heard a fan saying on the way out of the stadium, “I’m worried that Dream Theater will never be this good live again, because this show seems impossible to beat.” The show was tight, energetic, and overall totally worth the three hours it took to see the whole thing. Admittedly, it was a show where a person might’ve been grateful for a seated spot. I know I was!
1. False Awakening Suite (intro)
2. The Enemy Inside
3. The Shattered Fortress
4. On the Backs of Angels
5. The Looking Glass
6. Trial of Tears
7. Enigma Machine (with Mike Mangini drum solo)
8. Along for the Ride
9. Break All Illusions
10. The Mirror
12. Lifting Shadows Off a Dream
14. Space-Dye Vest
15. Illumination Theory
1. Overture 1928
2. Strange Déjà Vu
3. The Dance of Eternity
4. Finally Free
5. Illumination Theory (outro)