Review by Samantha Wu
Photos by Andrew Hartl

The members of Dream Theater have truly outdone themselves with their current tour, The Astonishing, that took to the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts stage this weekend. This prog metal band is known across the globe for their highly theatrical and visually stunning stage shows to accompany their impeccably skilled musicianship — the drawn-out solos performed by virtuosos in their field are expected at a Dream Theater show.

To accompany their latest concept album of the same name released earlier this year, the band has literally constructed a full world within their show, The Great Northern Empire of the Americas (GNEA), and has populated said world with a royal family (including Emperor Nefaryus, Empress Arabelle, Princess Faythe, and Prince Daryus). A rebel militia group known as the Ravenskill is determined to take down the ruling and oppressive family with the power of music. There is chaos, strife, and intrigue within this fantastical dystopian world that is both futuristic and medieval at the same time. The project is inspired heavily by science fiction and fantasy stories like Game of Thrones and Star Wars.

Fans can learn more about these rock opera characters in the playbill accompanying the show, with further details in their tour program available for purchase or on their website. The characters in question are featured throughout the projections shown on every flat surface on the stage. The graphics, animation, colours, and visual effects are, simply put, some of the best that I’ve seen in any live stage show. They are stunningly gorgeous and sold me on the show. Often times I found myself more intrigued by the visuals than by watching Dream Theater perform.

Not that they didn’t do a fine job as they usually do. The band was in fine form performing The Astonishing album in its entirety with two acts broken by an intermission (much to the dismay of one fan who called out for the song “6:00” at regular intervals throughout the show). The members of Dream Theater are consistently heralded as within the Top 10 of their field, which makes their music some of the most technically skilled and complex out there. It translates to their live shows and, in particular, to the extended solos that show off what these guys are truly capable of. There are times when it seems like they draw out their songs for far longer than ever necessary but within the context of this performance and the story being told, it just seemed to work.

That said, it was hard to not notice the number of times lead singer James LaBrie reached for his water and thermos on stage and ducked off stage in between songs. During his performance, it seemed evident that he was pushing himself and it may have been that he was coming down with something. I have to hand it to him, doing two-hour-plus performance like this almost nightly is far from easy and can wreak havoc on the body. In fact, at the end of the show, it was LaBrie who drew attention to guitarist John Petrucci who he said was “sick as a dog” and thought would “pass out at any moment”. Now THAT I need to applaud as he held it together incredibly well throughout the show,  his illness wasn’t showing in his performance at all.

Hats off to Dream Theater, one of the most talented and hard working bands out there, for pulling off such a mind blowing show despite illness and fatigue. Their North American tour continues in the States with a stop in Boston next. If you have a chance to see them this time around, do so as you won’t be disappointed. I just hope the guys have the chance to catch their breath and rest up soon.


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