“Hello, Manilaaaa! We f***in made it!!!” Arms outstretched like a prog-metal messiah, Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie shouts in a high register, his voice still locked at the top of his multi-octave range having just finished an astounding opening performance of “The Dark Eternal Night.” The capacity crowd in Kia Theater sent the energy back to the stage… every lick, every lyric, was mouthed by DT fans.
LaBrie commented something along the lines of “So! This is how it’s gonna be… we’re gonna sing every word together tonight!” He also “warned” the crowd that the show will run for almost three hours.
The Grammy-nominated quintet, currently on their Images, Words, and Beyond World Tour, was brought to Manila through My Music Taste (a “fan-initiated concert-making platform”) and rabid DT fans filled up the Kia Theater. The tour is a 25th anniversary celebration of their 1992 album Images and Words; while the band has produced 11 studio albums since, I&W remains their most successful commercially and gave the band a Top 10 hit with the single “Pull Me Under.” The compilation album Greatest Hit (…and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs) refers to the “anomaly” and also reveals a sense of humour seemingly absent from a band fond of elements that most music journalists find uncool: high concepts, multi-song suites, heavy riffs, odd meters, and jaw-dropping laser-precise musicianship. For warm-up music, classics from Queen, The Who, and Black Sabbath were played over the PA… and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” It was a much-needed moment of levity because let’s face it: every member of Dream Theater is an acclaimed virtuoso, a living deity on their respective instruments. They have to be human somehow, yeah?
The concert was divided into two acts– with a 20 minute intermission, thankfully, as people needed a break from the intensity with a beer or two–with I&W taking up Act 2, plus an encore of the seven-part A Change Of Seasons. They even inserted a bit of Metallica‘s “Enter Sandman” during “As I Am.” The acoustics of the Kia Theater sometimes dulled the dynamics of the band but it almost didn’t matter: the musicianship remained at a ridiculously high level, and fans have memorised every nook and cranny of the intricate songs anyway, errant reverb be damned.
John Petrucci, looking something like an Italian Viking Biker (is there such a thing? there is now), was first to take the stage and predictably was met with rapturous cheers. His precision riffing and soloing, an influence on younger virtuosos including Animals As Leaders‘ Tosin Abasi, and Periphery‘s Misha Mansoor, Mark Holcomb, and Jake Bowen (his nephew), was in full turbocharge mode, with the occasional whammy bar abuse to break (brake?) things up a bit.
If old school “serious musicians” are still debating over what constitutes a “real” instrument, Jordan Rudess isn’t one of them. Using a tablet as a keytar, Rudess played a blazing solo using the GeoShred app.
Post-show, a few drummers could be heard discussing the technical merits of Mike Mangini (above) over original drummer Mike Portnoy, and vice versa. Marco Ho (AKA Bogart D’ Explorer; a great drummer himself IRL) admits he’s loyal to Portnoy having grown up to the latter’s style but “mad props to Mangini. I went to his clinic a year ago and he was doing these double-strokes on the rim [with one hand].” Non-drummers simply said, “What a sexy drum set!”
It was during the first act where the first solo spot was featured. LaBrie, in a shockingly normal voice replete with his Canadian accent went, “So this guy, right over here to my right…” The crowd immediately erupted in long loud cheers, interrupting LaBrie who continued, “Right?? Let me f***in’ talk! (the theatre erupts with laughter) You know, first of all, one of the best bass players in the world…” The notoriously reticent John Myung performed a sublime rendition of Jaco Pastorius’s (with the crowd roaring its approval at the mention of Pastorius) bass chordal harmonics workout “A Portrait Of Tracy.”
But before Myung’s bass solo, LaBrie casually spoke about hanging out in Manila the day before the show and, “Your English is so extra-ordinarily f***in’ clear (crowd cheers).” He was anxious about potential communication problems and elicited laughter from the crowd by making a mock-incredulous expression before continuing, “But seriously though, everyone was so engaging and so… so freaking amazing… it keeps our sanity on the road, because it shows ya that, you know what, we’re all together on this, right? (crowd erupts in more cheers). So, thank you very much and (gently reassuring)… We’re coming back!” The crowd loses it again… and not for the last time.
Photos by Francis Reyes. Special thanks to Eric Tubon (Fuseboxx) and Mico Ong (Fuseboxx/Kastigo) for set details.