On their latest album, the massive two-disc concept album The Astonishing, American prog rock/metallers Dream Theater create an alternate universe where music is used to fight against an “oppressive empire”. On the third track, ‘The Gift of Music’, James LaBrie sings, “People just don’t have the time for music anymore/And no one seems to care.”
In the context of The Astonishing, they’re talking about how important music is and how they have a sort of saviour named Gabriel. In Mumbai on 8 October, Dream Theater were delivering one of their latest songs to over three thousand fans in raptures, amidst rain and lightning — clearly, every one of them cared.
One of the top prog bands in the world (that’s still active and making albums on the regular), Dream Theater’s India debut added to a prog-heavy year in live music in the country (as predicted). It also became an indication of what to expect in the coming months in India, virtuoso musicians such as Uli Jon Roth and Steve Vai following DT’s performance.
The Boston quintet — LaBrie, guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and drummer Mike Mangini — have maintained a stature of being one of the first few super technical bands, going ‘betcha can’t play this’ on stage and in the studio, gaining a global following and some mainstream success as well. They were celebrating 25 years of breaking into nationwide radio and sales charts when Images and Words released in 1992, including their hit single ‘Pull Me Under’.
But that was 1992. Let’s not forget that Dream Theater has become a little less relevant over the years (as fans of former drummer/co-founder Mike Portnoy will be quick to agree), but the hardcore following stayed, following them through complex albums and even the departure of a founding member. If their show in Mumbai was proof of anything, it’s that the band is still a formidable force as performers.
Even LaBrie shook off any notion of being a weak link in the band — hitting most of the right notes and adding a bit of humour between songs and sets to a gleeful (and drenched to the bone) Indian audience that had travelled from every direction of the country. For the die-hards, DT’s Images, Words & Beyond 25th Anniversary World Tour set — a three-hour sonic sojourn that included hits old and new and two of their most evocative releases from the 1990s) — was a nostalgia trip all the way. Fans were definitely a bit old-school, judging from all the singing along they did to songs that blared out of the speakers prior to the show — from Ozzy’s ‘Mr Crowley’ to Iron Maiden’s ‘Fear of the Dark’.
The vibe seemed just as old school — and though promoters may have been working under less than favourable conditions of thunderstorms before and on the day of the show — it certainly didn’t warrant charging an exorbitant Rs 50 for a glass of water and then propping up just one camera by the sound console that projected the band at their most static — a single angle, with no zoom.
But all was forgotten – at least temporarily – when DT took the stage. Camera phones lined the venue for songs such as ‘The Dark Eternal Night’ (cut short when the band was clearly spooked by the lightning that crashed their heavy opener), ‘As I Am’ (mingled with an a-ha cover of Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’, much to the liking of everyone present), ‘Breaking All Illusions’ and ‘Take the Time’.
This was, of course, a setlist that most people came in knowing what to expect. An 180-minute show that touched upon the band’s current repertoire, Images & Words in its entirety (the sublime ‘Pull Me Under’, ‘Metropolis Part 1′ and ‘Under a Glass Moon’ leaving every fan sated) and then a 25-minute encore of their emphatic EP A Change of Seasons. It sounded amazing all the way, barring the occasional pop and crackle from the stage. There were show-off solos from Rudess, Myung (a cover of Jaco Pastorius’ ‘Portrait of Tracy’), Petrucci and of course, their latest addition Mike Mangini.
LaBrie (who even tried his hand at an Indian accent) and Rudess did make the oft-heard promise of returning to India. Considering this has been many years in the works and started with a rumour in June, we’re still sceptical. Bringing down Dream Theater like Opium Events did is no small feat. All of which is a good reminder that their India show was even more special, at least for everyone who was there.