The Progster

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Review of Dream Theater in Singapore

OK, I thought I'd start with a longish review of the last gig I went to.

Dream Theater - Singapore Indoor Arena
27th January 2006

What good fortune I had, when I found that a business trip of couple of weeks to Singapore co-incided with Dream Theater playing there as part of their 20th Anniversary tour, especially having missed the London gigs in October last year. Yeah, the one where they covered Dark Side of The Moon on the second night, I know. Most musical mates at work simply called me a "Lucky Ba$tard!"

Having convinced my work colleague Bob that at the age of 36, it was about time he went to his first ever gig, this was surely going to put an interesting angle on the gig.

With only one show being played in most countries on the Asian tour, most couldn't enjoy the second night classic album cover, where in Japan audiences were treated to all 4 sides of Deep Purple's Made In Japan!

The arena was setup for a 4,000 audience, which looked to be missing about 500-1,000 of those. The 8pm start already looked in doubt when the sound engineer in his Spock's Beard tour t-shirt kept running back and forth between the stage and the mixing area, making unnassuring shakes of his head. After a while some lights started to show behind the huge black curtain hiding the stage, as he typed away frantically on the lighting controller, while shouting down a walkie talkie. By 8:30, things were taking too long, and the crew pulled down the black curtain to let him see what was going on, the drum kit and keyboards having been hurriedly covered to try to keep some level of surprise.

We then watched every light get tested out one by one, in every possible position, until finally he gave a thumbs up at 8:55. Through all of this the crowd sat quietly, some whistling or clapping when each CD track ended in anticipation of getting things underway. If this were Europe of the US, I'm sure the slow handclaps and jeers would have been a lot more intimidating for the poor lighting guy.

As usual, the standard announcement about no photography, video etc during the show was made as the lights finally go down and the PA rises to the intro taken from the end of In The Name of God. This was followed by a display of more mobile phone screens than I've ever seen, all taking shots of the bands first ever appearance in Singapore. This is Asia, NOBODY goes anywhere without a mobile! Instantly every area headed forward as far as they could get, the top price ticket area (about £60) moved up to the stage, leaving about 80% of the seating area empty behind them. The dozen or so armed police and the general security let them go, concentrating on the barriers to the cheaper seats which were by now also crowded, making sure none of them got a free upgrade. But this is Singapore, the land of rules and fines, no spitting, no jaywalking, no leaving a public toilet unflushed, the fines for smuggling chewing gum having only recently been lifted, surely nobody there would even think about such a thing.

Eventually the band are set, and kick off into the heavy opener from Octavarium, The Root Of All Evil, and to coin an overused phrase, the crowd go wild. No really, they did. Through the first few songs it was clear that the lighting wasn't the only technical difficulty, as it took some time to tame the sound which was kind of muddy for want of a better description. It improved markedly, but the vocals and Bass never seemed to be quite as clear as they could have been throughout the night. Mike Portnoy's massive drum kit sounded crystal clear of course. Both John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess chose to tour Asia with smaller rigs than normal. John using only 2 4x12 speaker cabinets (also likely using the 2 Mesa Boogie Roadking amps used on the G3 tour in Japan), and no sign of the usual major effects rack either.

Jordan also leaving at home the new modular synth seen on the European tour (see above). With the new Korg Oasys replacing his usual Kurzweil master keyboard (not on a turnable this time), Jordan was also making good use of his new Continuum keyless controller, a kind of Moog ribbon controller on steroids, as used on the intro to Octavarium. You can view demos from Jordan and others at the Haken Audio site. Under the Continuum was the Fender pedal steel, again used on the intro to Octavarium.

The 90 minute or so first set went through a strong selection from most of the 8 studio releases, including Under A Glass Moon, Peruvian Skies, Strange DeJa Vu and About To Crash. Preuvian Skies bringing with it a a short acoustic guitar break of Wish You Were Here. This was no reserved Asian crowd, heads bopping in unison, especially to the more instantly accessible rockers of I Walk Beside You and Solitary Shell. At this point Bob's foot was tapping too, this was a good sign! The whole band were in great form, Petrucci and Myung both racing up and down their fretboards, even at one point indulging is a spot of double fretboard action where they fingered each others instruments while plucking their own (if you pardon my expression). The Classic Rock Society Best Of The Year Best Drummer award winner Mr Portnoy doing what only he can do, directing the audience while drumming standing up at times, tossing an endless number of sticks to the crowd, and playing catch with the one of the stage crew. At the break, the asessment of Mr. Bob . . "Quite Spectacular!". The delays to get the lighting fully setup before the start, paying off with an impressive display of synchronised lights.

After the break, the second set concentrated on the remainder of Octavarium, including my personal highlight, the title track, which I think is the best single track the band have recorded recorded to date, and much more traditional prog than a lot of their recent work, all 24 glorious minutes of it. We were treated to an extended opening with Jordan Rudess playing a seering opening guitar-like part on the Continuum, much more dramatic than the understated version on the album, followed up by the pedal steel guitar, with James LaBrie coming in to help out on the 'Wish You Were Here Pt 1' style chord pads. At this point as I'm basking in the sheer indlugance of the opening, Bob tells me it is going right through his head and likely to give him a headache! Maybe the effect of all those years of gigs have affected my hearing, or maybe they have just tuned then to appreciate it more. The entire piece was played flawlessly with some of the best solo work of the evening, rising to the wonderful anthemic end piece.

For the encore we got The Spirit Carries On, with some nice choral keyboard work from Mr Rudess, followed by Pull Me Under. Now call me old fashioned, but ballads call for matches, and the odd yell when they are left to burn too far down. Not here. The odd lighter, and the glow of several thousand mobile phone screens waving in the air, this time pointed toward the stage rather than photographing it. I guess you can't halt the progress of technology.

There is just something about DT, in terms of their sheer musical capabilities and prefectionism that is simply stunning. Just a pity that the sound let them down a little on this occasion.

Midnight strikes, it's all over and everyone turns back to normal, doning their usual cloak of reservedness, but most likely a little changed inside from witnessing a trully awesome display of musical power, finesse and mastery.


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