Seeing Dream Theater at the Palace Theatre in Albany, NY is special to me. It was 23 years ago that I saw them live at the same venue for the very first time. Much has changed since 1993, but the Palace is still a great venue to see concerts. As for the show itself, this review becomes almost a sequel to my review of “The Astonishing” that I did a few months back. Since the setlist was the full double album and nothing more, it’s unavoidable really.
The pros. James LaBrie sounded amazing. He has a big role on the album so he has as big of a role in the live production of “The Astonishing” as well. He nailed every note that he sang (please note the clarification there, I’ll come back to that). Mike Mangini was so much fun to watch! He is one of the best drummers on the planet and he plays with shear joy. He was smiling and very animated. It was his birthday after all! Jordan Rudess proved why he is in Dream Theater. The album leans heavily on his playing and he delivered flawlessly live. Overall, the band sounded great and the whole album sounded great live.
The cons. It was Mike’s birthday and the band didn’t even stop to sing him “Happy Birthday” and it was clear the crowd wanted to do that. James acknowledged it as “The Answer” was starting but that was it. James was backed by backing tapes for vocals. I suppose it’s better than hearing Portnoy sing, but it still bothered me that there were many times I could hear additional vocals. Plus during “Ravenskill,” they used a taped vocal during the “conversation” between Faythe and the old man because it would have been way to hard for him to sing it and John Petrucci can’t sing that part.
There were even some moments when I could hear JP sing when he wasn’t at the mic. Additionally, there was at least one acoustic guitar part that was audible when JP was paying a separate electric part. Look, I know the point of this show was to render the album as it was recorded so that it was this “FULL” production. Dream Theater was never about backing tracks of any kind and I always loved that. If there’s only one vocal in their shows now, I’d have no problem with it.
John Myung for his part seemed more disconnected than usual from the music and the crowd. I don’t recall him looking up at all. He did look up and point at JP when the band were doing their “silent” introductions of each other during the beginning of the closing song “Astonishing.” That was actually really cool. I have to wonder how really into this concept JM was, because he had no role in writing any of it.
The main part of the experience is of course the album itself. The crowd was VERY into the music and of course the band. I found myself wishing they’d cut the album down to one set and then did a “regular” set for the second set. The first set (disc, act) does go on too long. It became more apparent when I heard it live. There are indeed too many mellow parts, as many folks have complained. The heavier moments tend to be too brief as well.
I can say that I saw Dream Theater perform “The Astonishing” live. I suppose that’s my main take away from it. Like any movie or play, it’s not something I’d sit through again. I am not a person who watches movies more than one unless it’s “This is Spinal Tap” or “Caddyshack.” This was not the typical Dream Theater show and the band deserve credit for sticking to their guns and doing it. That takes a lot of balls! Still, the show wound up pointing out flaws within the album that I hadn’t paid enough attention to: trite lyrics, too many valleys and not enough peaks. Regardless, I am a Dream Theater fan and the show was certainly more than worth seeing.
Setlist: The Astonishing in its entirety.