I first heard Dream Theater in the summer of 1992. My dad picked me up from band practice where I had screamed myself hoarse and I turned on BBC Radio One’s ‘The Friday Rock Show’ as conversation seemed unlikely. After a few seconds I turned up the volume and glanced to mark my father’s expression which I expected to immediately sour, but to my surprise it didn’t.
With neither party speaking, the music – the likes of which I had genuinely never heard – took over the space within that hallowed Nissan Bluebird and stayed on, loud, until the end of the song. I prayed to discover the name of the band and legendary host Tommy Vance did not disappoint. The song was Pull Me Under by North American prog rockers Dream Theater. For me, music was never the same.
Dream Theater, my first exposure to prog rock
It was my first exposure to prog rock. The genre gets a bad rap and conjures up, for some, images of flared flautists pedal-toning over a small choir of yodellers. In reality it’s a very broad label for a genre that tends to explore musical ideas outside of a traditional structure.
And this lends itself to concepts, to sonic canvasses where the music reflects the changing dynamics within a journey or stream of consciousness. In short (and to stop me sounding like the sort of ersatz wizard who gives this kind of music a bad name) there’s no pressure or hurry to get to the chorus.
They formed in the mid 80s at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, US. 35 years and a handful of significant lineup changes later, they’ve sold 15 million albums worldwide and are universally recognised as prog royalty. Indeed, their first incarnation was named ‘Majesty’ before changing to Dream Theater at the end of the decade.
Dream Theater are and have always been a joy to behold live
The band’s consistency is pretty remarkable and you cannot mistake their sound. Straight rock beats but in bars of seven under staggered, palm-muted dyads amid a wash of Bach-infested organ chords, that’s normally how it begins. But soon you are in the clouds with vocals like the breath of angels over dark then hopeful acoustic patterns. They take a song and see how far they can go with it. And it’s often spellbinding.
Dream Theater are and have always been a joy to behold live. This will be the sixth time I’ve seen them. The first was April 1993 at the iconic Marquee Club in London.
And 27 years later I’m going to hit Lyon’s Tony Garnier Halls on Jan 27th for the latest instalment. It will be nostalgic to a degree, it being the 20th anniversary of what many consider their best album – Scenes from a Memory.
The protagonist, who is under hypnosis, explores his past life, within which a ghastly murder is uncovered. If you’ve ever seen the film Dead Again (good luck finding it) you may find a number of parallels, and it may owe at least a nod to Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime, whose vocalist Geoff Tate was lauded by many as the finest vocalist in hard rock – until Dream Theater’s James LaBrie breezed onto the scene with his ethereal pipes and monster range.
A tribute to their best album, Scenes from a Memory
On strings you have the stylistically unmistakable John Petrucci, whose soaring solos have always made it impossible not to play air guitar with a contorted face, and John Myung, arguably the most understated band member in rock history who…well, who plays the bass.
We will hear the 1999 album in its entirety plus a selection of others which will no doubt showcase their latest record Distance Over Time – which runs under the hour mark, an incredibly unusual feat for a DT offering, and fair recompense, one might argue, for the pomp carnival of their last album which featured over 30 songs.
To what absurd contraption will Cadfael-esque keyboardist Jordan Rudess attach himself this year? Will drummer Mike Mangini make a large hoo-hah out of his ability to play extremely fast (he’s actually the second fastest ever)? These questions and more will be answered on Monday night when one of the most extraordinary groups of virtuoso musicians you are ever likely to behold hits our little city. If there’s one gig you should see this year, it’s this one.
Waiting for the band outside the gig in Glasgow in the mid-90s, I got talking to their tour driver. “What are they like?” I asked him.
“They’re ok,” he replied. “Though they’ve got a bit of growing up to do.”
I think now that the youngest member of the band is 52, there’s a fair chance they have.
Ticket links here: https://halle-tony-garnier.com/fr/manifestations/dream-theater