Since Mike Portnoy departed Dream Theater the band have not only continued apace, but even found new strengths with new found drummer Mike Mangini. ‘A dramatic turn of events’ confounded any notions that the band would lose confidence in the wake of Portnoy’s departure and the subsequent globe-spanning tour saw Dream Theater undertaking one of their most expansive stage shows yet whilst maintaining their well-deserved reputation as purveyors of musically intricate, metallically thrilling music. If anything changed in the new world of Dream theater, it was a subtle stream-lining, which saw the band continue to deliver monstrous slabs of musical proficiency, but with enough pop nous to make the whole a touch more accessible, and this stream-lining is also visible in the band’s live set-list – one that shows Dream theater balancing their set more carefully to deliver a well-paced and often thrilling experience.
Such a lavish tour deserves a lavish set, and Eagle Vision’s ‘live at luna park’ is the sort of tour memento that no Dream theater fan can be without. Packaged in a beautifully bound, hard-back, 12” book, the concert is covered with no fewer than six discs (the Blu ray, two DVDs and three, exclusive-to-the-set CDs), whilst the photography found within adds to the luxurious feel of the overall package. With extra features including bonus songs, multi-angle features and a documentary, pristine recording and stunningly clear imagery, this may well eclipse even the band’s previous live standard bearer, the heavy, exceptionally tight ‘Live at the Budokan’ and it certainly towers over the lengthy ‘score’ and the poorly balanced ‘chaos in motion’ the latter of which not only suffered from a surfeit of the band’s lengthier compositions but also from having been filmed in numerous locations.
Happily, ‘Live at Luna Park ’suffers from none of the problems which beset ‘score’ and ‘chaos in motion’. Elegantly filmed with sixteen cameras, the footage is crisp and clean and shows the band on rare form in front of a rabid crowd. Well-paced and edited, the direction allows the viewpoint to move rapidly form member to member, but, crucially, it always settles on the most important person at any given time (John during guitar solos, Jordan as he energetically abuses his keyboards and so on) and the director has avoided any foolish use of effects, wisely adjudging the stage show to be quite exciting enough without the need of further enhancement. Musically the show is a success, focusing for the most part on the band’s recent album, ‘a dramatic turn of events’ whilst providing plenty of older material for long-serving fans of the progressive titans.
As James notes following the opening blast of ‘Bridges in the sky’ (a perfect show opener) and ‘6.00’, the night is all about the music, and even at this remove it’s easy to lose yourself in this brilliantly filmed performance, as the band give their all in front of a packed and beautiful venue. Tracks like ‘dark eternal night’ sound as powerful now as they did on the day they first aired and the musical performances are second to none, most notably Mike Mangini who delivers a drum solo that has the eyes water as they try to keep up with his exceptionally fast, fluid movements around the kit. The man is, quite simply, a monster, and it is clear that he fits into the band perfectly, his joy evident on his face every time the camera cuts to him beating hell out of his long suffering kit.
A monumental track list makes up the Dream Theater experience – twenty-three songs and three solo slots divided over three CDs and taking up just over three hours, (with seventeen songs and the three solo slots making up the main Blu Ray performance and the final tracks included in the bonus section) and yet the time flies by. The band have served up a brilliantly paced show that balances longer material against the short, sharp shocks of songs like ‘the root of all evil’, with the result that the set moves gracefully forward, and James is now a formidable presence, stalking the stage with power and authority and delivering a note-perfect vocal performance that has you slack-jawed in admiration. This is surely the best Dream Theater have sounded live and the Blu ray captures it all in perfect clarity.
Highlights include the aforementioned ‘root of all evil’, a truly beautiful ‘lost but not forgotten’, an elegant ‘on the backs of angels’ and a breath-taking finale in the well-worn ‘metropolis pt. 1’ but in truth there are no weak tracks here, the band delivering a set that is laden with intricate musicality and overwhelming power and conviction. John Petrucci now handles far more of the backing vocals, and he does a fine job, whilst Jordan Rudess even finds time to strap on a keyboard and move around the stage, eliciting huge roars of approval from the crowd every time he does so. It’s a show that is as much about the communion between band and audience as it is about the music, and here Dream Theater seem so much more open to the audience than on previous ventures, James taking every opportunity to interact with the steaming audience, keeping excitement levels at a peak throughout.
Ultimately what do you want from a live package? For those wanting the basics, this is available as a separate Blu Ray or DVD, but the ultimate edition boasts truly wonderful packaging (the photo book feels reassuringly expensive and wonderfully sturdy), the show in all the formats you could possibly desire and a sense of exclusivity that will surely appeal to the majority of Dream Theater fans. Moreover, this has been priced at a sensible level (£34.00 at time of writing) and for those who have not already picked up the show, this is the perfect gift for any progressive rock fan out there. Dream theater, it would seem, are only getting better as time goes by, and this show is a remarkable assertion of the power they wield in the live environment. Don’t miss out.