Wed. Dec 2nd, 2020

17.1.2020 Dream Theater @ Jäähalli, Helsinki

Progressive metal legend DREAM THEATER visited the Finnish capital one more time in the context of their Distance Over Time Tour, which is also a celebration of the 20th Anniversary of 1999’s masterpiece “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory”. Given the fact that this is my favorite album of theirs, I wouldn’t miss the chance to check out how the band is able to recreate its magic two decades later and with a different drummer. Their latest album was also a return to their roots and arguably their best studio effort since Mike Portnoy left the band back in 2010. There are no supporting acts on this tour since the band wants to focus on a longer setlist divided into two acts. With all these things in mind, the stakes were very high for this Friday evening. Check out our photo gallery here.

Around 19:30 lights went out and the cinematic intro “Atlas (Instumental Alt)” helped to build the tension until the band members slowly filled the stage with a light show dominated by shades of blue. They kickstarted the evening with the energizing “Untethered Angel”, the first track of their latest studio effort, which of course works very well as an opener. The sound is perfectly balanced and even from the front rows you can capture all the little details and nuances in their music. As we all know, James LaBrie’s live performances are far from perfect, and he clearly struggled with the higher notes in this track. Nevertheless, the instrumental parts were played in such synchronicity that you might wonder, whether they are really playing it live or whether it’s a tape they’re just mimicking to.

Next in line was the lengthy 16-minute rollercoaster entitled “A Nightmare to Remember”, a track driven by heavy riffing courtesy of the maestro John Petrucci, which also allowed the whole band to get their moment to shine, including awesome keytar solos by the wizard Jordan Rudess, who came closer to the audience. LaBrie’s voice was a bit saturated with reverb but that didn’t affect the overall experience. During the current tour, they keep alternating between “Fall into the Light” and “Paralyzed”, and the latter was the chosen one for Jäähalli. I’m glad it went that way because this was one of my favorite tracks on “Distance Over Time”. The animated video visuals at the background helped to intensify the effect of this live rendition of the song and Petrucci’s solo was just hallucinating.

“Barstool Warrior” is also one of their finest new tracks, infused with plenty of classic prog-rock elements and with such a feel-good vibe. I love it when DREAM THEATER allows the melody to be the driving force behind the songs instead of just senseless shredding. One of the highlights of the first act for sure. With “In the Presence of Enemies, Part I”, they went back to 2007’s “Systematic Chaos” and delivered nine minutes of almost purely instrumental gymnastics, accompanied by an impressive light show. “Pale Blue Dot” wrapped up the first half of the gig, including great work by Mike Mangini on drums. Even though I find his drumkit and way of playing drums a bit distracting, you can’t deny the guy’s talent and showmanship. The band leaves the stage for a twenty-minute break.

When the lights went down one more and the screens introduced us to the story of “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory”, I immediately started feeling shivers down my spine. Since I heard they were going to play the album in full I hadn’t listened to it nor checked any live footage in order to maximize the impact of this live performance. The ticking clock and hypnotist’s voiceover of “Regression” brought me back to my teenage years when I heard the album for the first time. The one-two punch that is “Overture 1928″ and “Strange Déjà Vu” must be one of the most epic openers you can find on a concept album. The crowd just went crazy with the infectious melodies and rhythm of these tracks. James’ vocal performance also improved a lot after the break.

After so much adrenaline, the soft and short piece “Through My Words” is the perfect bridge to connect with the heartbreaking mood of “Fatal Tragedy”, one of my favorite tracks from “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory”. In a wonderful rendition of this dynamic song, Jordan gets to deliver more of those kickass keytar solos at the front of the stage, and I’m glad he can also enjoy some time in the spotlight. With “Beyond this Life” the madness is finally unleashed with a performance filled with great momentum, a high sense of drama and a very inspired Mangini. “Through Her Eyes” must be one of their most beautiful songs and brought back so many memories that it was inevitable to feel a bit nostalgic and emotional when listening to it after such a long time.

The epic “Home” and instrumental extravaganza “The Dance of Eternity” (featuring great work by bassist John Myung) are two great examples of how DREAM THEATER used to master the art of crafting complex and lengthy tracks to perfection without losing their catchiness and freshness. I’m not saying that they have completely lost this ability, but I do feel they have become more self-indulgent over the years. That’s why I think “Distance Over Time” was a step in the right direction. Anyways, going back to “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory”, James’ voice had started to get a bit shaky, so after one more break, he came back with full strength to perform “One Last time”, another of those tracks that stay with you forever from the moment you first listen to it, and a great singalong for the crowd.

“The Spirit Carries On” was definitely one of the most special moments of the evening, with hundreds of flashlights and hands waving in the air. A heartfelt performance of another of the timeless classics you can find on “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory”. But the best was yet to come: “Finally Free” is a true masterpiece and one of my all-time favorite songs. A twelve-minute journey full of dramatic turns and twists, culminating in a grand finale filled with emotion. The only minus was Mangini’s improvisations towards the end of the track, completely out of sync with the rest of the band. After a short break, they come back to the stage for the encore “At Wit’s End”, another of the finest songs in “Distance Over Time” and a treat for all your senses. They leave the stage for good in the midst of a loud ovation.

All-in-all, it was a wonderful evening, with over two and a half hours filled with virtuosity, excitement, and nostalgia. Although a very technical band, DREAM THEATER connects with their audience in a way that has allowed them to stay at the top of the progressive metal scene for over three decades now, with no signs of slowing down. “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory” will live forever as one of the greatest concept albums ever recorded and it was a pleasure to hear it live from beginning to end with such a great display of visuals and such a good sound mix. Some people complain that these celebration tours where bands play old albums in their entirety are just cynical cash grabs, but a nostalgic guy like me couldn’t disagree more, especially when we’re talking about a masterpiece like this one.

Article written by David Araneda
Photos by Laureline Tilkin

Setlist

  1. Untethered Angel
  2. A Nightmare to Remember
  3. Paralyzed
  4. Barstool Warrior
  5. In the Presence of Enemies, Part I
  6. Pale Blue Dot
  7. Regression
  8. Overture 1928
  9. Strange Déjà Vu
  10. Through My Words
  11. Fatal Tragedy
  12. Beyond This Life
  13. Through Her Eyes
  14. Home
  15. The Dance of Eternity
  16. One Last Time
  17. The Spirit Carries On
  18. Finally Free
  19. At Wit’s End

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