Radio City’s South Park -festivaali was held in Tampere for the second time this year, but despite its young age, Live Nation has already organized a secondary mini-festival in Helsinki under the same name. The one-day Helsinki edition was set to take place at the Helsinki Ice Hall, featuring only four bands. However, the line-up relied on quality instead of quantity: progressive metal legends Dream Theater would headline the event, supported by atmospheric rock masters Anathema, the Finnish rock sensation, Von Hertzen Brothers, and the newcomer, At the Hollow. The gig was set to take place on August 2nd, 2015, just about two months after the festival in Tampere.
For a person like myself – a fan of Dream Theater and Anathema who liked the little he’d heard from Von Hertzen Brothers – this was to be the highlight of the summer. That’s why it was a bummer to hear that the festival would be moved to Kulttuuritalo, and Von Hertzen Brothers and At the Hollow would be dropped from the bill. However, the two bands I actually was a fan of were still going to play, and I’d never been to Kulttuuritalo before, so I was still excited to go.
There was a fairly long line outside Kulttuuritalo on the day of the show. While the ticket sales hadn’t exactly gone through the roof, presumably leading to the venue change, there were a respectable number of people going to the show. The venue opened to the public at 17:30, but when I got inside, the doors to the auditorium were closed as Anathema was still doing their soundcheck. Around 18:20 the audience members were finally allowed inside. After finding a good spot in the (approximately) fourth row, I noticed that the only drum kit on stage was Mike Mangini’s, and there were acoustic guitars that certainly didn’t belong to John Petrucci. Then I realized that the songs Anathema had played during the soundcheck had been unusually quiet, and suddenly the pieces came together in my head – Anathema would play acoustically. First the venue downgrade, dropping bands, and now this? The seeds of disaster had been planted, but would everything turn out ok?
Anathema came on stage at 19:00 as a trio, featuring Vincent Cavanagh (guitar, vocals), Danny Cavanagh (guitar, keyboards, vocals), and Lee Douglas (vocals). After “The Lost Song, Part 2” Vincent explained what had happened: the band had arrived in Helsinki after three flights, but their luggage was still on its way from Romania, where they had played their last show. They had considered cancelling, but decided to soldier on, and with the help of some borrowed gear they managed to put together an acoustic set.
After a slow start the audience warmed up to them, and by the end of “Untouchable, Part 2” the crowd was singing along to the melody of the song. The highlight of the hour-long set was “A Natural Disaster.” As always, before they play this song Danny asked people to light up the room with phones and lighters, and they did so accordingly. It was a magical moment and a great way to get the audience members involved, even if they didn’t know the song. Throughout the set, Danny took advantage of the loop pedal, creating background rhythms by tapping on his guitar, and loops of his and Vincent’s guitars kept playing even after the band had left the stage following a surprise cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”
Anathema made the best of a situation where many bands would’ve given up. They were visibly relieved and moved by the supportive reception, and they undoubtedly found a lot of new fans during their time on stage. While the only song I didn’t hear at my first Anathema show last year in Tampere was the Pink Floyd cover, the stripped-down arrangements and the more intimate atmosphere made for a brand new experience. The fact that the band hadn’t played acoustically since the UK cathedral tour in March made it all the more impressive. Danny said Finland is a great place for acoustic performances, so hopefully we’ll get a full-length unplugged set from them soon!
While Anathema received a warm welcome, the band the majority of people had clearly come to see (based on the T-shirts) was Dream Theater. At 20:30 the dramatic intro “False Awakening Suite” from the band’s latest self-titled album started playing, accompanied by the familiar intro video from last year’s world tour that featured all the album covers and cool animated transitions between them. After the intro the band kicked into “Afterlife” from its 1989 debut When Dream and Day Unite. Due to the relative obscurity of the album not everyone recognized the song, but its power metal -like up-tempo riffing and catchy vocal melodies made it a great opener.
The obscure starting track was followed by the classic “Metropolis Pt. 1,” after which James LaBrie explained the theme of the night: Dream Theater is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and the band would play one song from each studio album in chronological order. One of the songs that got me into Dream Theater six years ago, “Caught in a Web,” was segued directly into the “Innocence” section of “A Change of Seasons,” which was in the setlist to represent the 1995 EP. The 23-minute epic is one of my all-time favorites, so it felt like a huge tease to hear only one part of it, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the band will play it in full again someday.
“Burning My Soul” induced plenty of fist-pumping, despite not being a song most DT fans would include in an anniversary set, and Jordan Rudess brought out his Zen Riffer keytar for the keyboard solo. “The Spirit Carries On” got people to sing along and wave their hands, although the slightly cheesy ballad proved to be no match for Anathema’s “A Natural Disaster.” It was funny to see Mike Mangini make faces during the second verse, though. Rudess played a little piano solo that served as an introduction to the nicely melodic “About to Crash,” which worked well even outside the 42-minute title epic of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. The loudest roar from the crowd came when John Myung started the bass intro to “As I Am.” The song formed a one-two punch of heaviness with “Panic Attack,” and it’s no surprise that these two rockers got the best reception from the metal-loving Finns. Some people were even jumping during these songs – who would’ve expected that at a prog concert, in Finland of all places?
The Metallica-influenced “Constant Motion” sounded surprisingly good. I’ve never been a big fan of the song or ex-drummer Mike Portnoy’s vocals, but hearing LaBrie pull off the vocals in the verses alone and Petrucci sing Portnoy’s lines in the chorus made it sound better than the album version. “Wither” was a much needed change of pace after three metal songs and gave the audience a chance to calm down. Almost all the songs so far had been shorter (by Dream Theater standards anyway) songs and singles, with the exception of “Metropolis Pt. 1,” but the 10-minute “Bridges in the Sky” broke the trend. It was my personal highlight of the night – the crushing riffs and the soaring chorus sounded just as majestic as on A Dramatic Turn of Events. On the other hand, the chorus of the encore song “Behind the Veil” lacked the harmonized guitars of the studio version, which made it sound kind of empty. However, as this was the last song of the whole tour, the performance was something special. The ending was extended and some of the band members had put on some headgear: Rudess was wearing his wizard hat, while Mangini had a green bowler on.
Saying, “Dream Theater can play,” is about as redundant as stating that grass is green, but the band’s playing was very tight, most likely as a result of being on tour for over five weeks – I heard a total of one wrong note from John Petrucci’s guitar! Unfortunately LaBrie struggled with the highest notes in “Metropolis Pt. 1” and “Caught in a Web” and sounded a little off-key at times, but in every other way he was fine.
Overall, Dream Theater’s show left a good taste in my mouth. Although both the acoustics of Kulttuuritalo and the production of recent DT albums have received plenty of criticism, I thought the mix sounded clear and balanced where I was standing. Mike Mangini’s drums had more punch than on the studio albums, and even the band’s unsung hero, bassist John Myung, could be heard properly. LaBrie did his job as a frontman, engaging the crowd and moving around to make sure each side of the stage got attention. The visuals were stunning, especially now that I could see them up close, and I especially liked the tree imagery during “Innocence.” The lighting was also cool – the fiery red lights on “Burning My Soul” were apt for the song, as were the yellow ones in the chorus of “Bridges in the Sky,” which starts with the line “Sun, come shine my way.”
While I wasn’t crazy about some of the song choices beforehand, they all worked live and defended their place in the setlist, and the show was a good summary of Dream Theater’s discography and career. I also have to give the band props for not repeating any of the songs they played last year – very few bands can get away with changing their setlist completely between tours! Because of the different setlist and venue, this concert was a different beast. If the Along for the Ride show at Jäähalli was like a theater production (no pun intended) with a clear structure and a story, the show at Kulttuuritalo was more of a standard rock/metal show with its more intimate and energetic atmosphere. Of course this 1½-hour festival set couldn’t beat the 3-hour show where they played half of my favorite album, Awake, but it was great to be closer to the band this time. LaBrie promised they’d give us another 3-hour show after the next album comes out – I’m already looking forward to that!
To give some mild criticism, I think the show’s flow and LaBrie’s vocals suffered from the chronological order of the songs. The most vocally demanding songs were played at the very beginning and “Behind the Veil” was an odd choice for a closer when “Metropolis Pt. 1” is an obvious encore song. “Constant Motion” also suffered from having to follow up two metal songs – a ballad would’ve been better in this spot. On top of that, it would’ve been fair to play an extra song or two, since the ticket buyers had originally paid to see a four-band package.
After reading though a couple of Finnish message boards, I came to the conclusion that the organizers dropped the ball when it came to advertising because a lot of people hadn’t heard about the event until it was too late. I find it ridiculous that I never heard a single ad for the festival on Radio City; after all, this was the radio channel’s own event! It looked like Kulttuuritalo was at least ¾ full, but I have no doubt that the festival could have been held at Jäähalli with all four bands if more effort had been put into promotion. However, in spite of all the setbacks the Helsinki debut of South Park was a night to remember, but there’s a long way to go if the aim is to make the festival a viable event.
Intro: Because (The Beatles song)
1. The Lost Song, Part 2
2. Untouchable, Part 1
3. Untouchable, Part 2
4. Thin Air
5. The Beginning and the End
6. A Natural Disaster
7. Distant Satellites
8. Fragile Dreams
9. Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
Dream Theater setlist:
Intro: False Awakening Suite
2. Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper
3. Caught in a Web
4. A Change of Seasons: II Innocence
5. Burning My Soul
6. The Spirit Carries On
7. About to Crash
8. As I Am
9. Panic Attack
10. Constant Motion
12. Bridges in the Sky
Behind the Veil