Not too far off Broadway a production hit Radio City Music Hall. Was it a concert? A theatrical production? Yes.
A homecoming show for most of the band members, Dream Theater made a stop at the famed concert hall – a well-fitting venue for this show in particular. The band veered off their beaten path to try something a little different while delivering the progressive metal sound they helped define. This tour caught some fans off guard at first, disappointed some who had set their own expectations in advance, and grabbed the attention of the rest.
Dream Theater presented their epic rebuttal to Rush’s 2112 and distant cousin of Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime, The Astonishing, in its entirety. The album was recently released on January 29, making it very fresh with some time still needed to take in the 130-minute long monster. Regardless, a start-to-finish live presentation was quite fitting for a tour in support of the album’s release.
The show had plenty of the staples of a Dream Theater performance: Petrucci carrying out his psycho exercises on guitar, Mangini’s big drum sound, and Rudess’ busy keyboard lines. Given the presentation of the music the show was very scripted and the focus was split on following the story behind the music. Those looking for the typical Dream Theater experience may have found a slice of it but will have to wait until the next tour. They stuck to their guns with presenting just The Astonishing, with no encore of other material.
The story behind The Astonishing is set in a futuristic version of the United States where music is made entirely by machines (NOMACs). Its plot follows the good guys (Ravenskill Rebel Militia) as they try to overthrow the bad guys (Great Northern Empire of the Americas). The progression of the story is told as the songs weave between ballads and Dream Theater’s trademark sound. The album version is fully orchestrated beyond just the five-piece band, something that was perfectly transposed to the stage through live programming.
The live presentation of the story of The Astonishing was well executed. It maintained a balance between concert and theatrics, weighted more heavily toward the concert component. The projections accompanied the music and helped convey the songs rather than taking a place at the forefront of the show. Maintaining the futuristic dystopian appeal the show occasionally felt like a walk-through of the video game Portal. For those who have no idea what that is, let’s leave it that the show had a rather technological feel to it.
Though it was a different show than the typical for Dream Theater, it was an interesting change of pace to have a combination of music and story. Going into the show without a thorough understanding of the story and the right mindset was a slight distraction from the music. Despite this, Dream Theater’s performance of The Astonishing was well thought-out and seeing it a second time would make it more enjoyable than it already was.