A combination of setting, staging and a great performance makes The Astonishing a total triumph.
Going into a Dream Theater gig with a sense of trepidation was new territory. You know the musicianship will be virtually flawless if not perfect, but when you’re going to be sitting through an album that’s provoked an incredibly mixed reaction, in full, fear of the unknown sets in. Upon entering London’s famed Palladium, the array of video screens of different shapes and sizes gave a hint of what was to come and the set up looked encouraging. With the grand old venue full to bursting come 8pm the lights dimmed and it was time for an “Astonishing performance”.
What is even more apparent in the flesh than on CD is that The Astonishing is the John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess show. The other members have plenty to do (with Mike Mangini making full use of his complex kit as always) but the album is all about the use of keys (in a variety of ways) and Petrucci’s six string. Be it a blistering solo one minute, a pounding riff the next and some acoustic work thereafter, Petrucci has to be on the top of his game for this to work. Fortunately for all present he is more than up to the challenge, as are the rest of Dream Theater. Even James Labrie (often held up as the band’s weak link) only descends occasionally into “shouty mode”, giving a well toned, controlled and powerful performance throughout.
The first half is packed with impressive moments. The Gift Of Music and The Answer prove early favourites and could become Dream Theater live staples in years to come. Meanwhile, the likes of When Your Time Has Come and especially Brother Can You Hear Me really come to life in the live setting. Ravenskill sees the long hair flying in the seats, while the epic act closer The Road To Revolution brings the first of several standing ovations.
Moment of Betrayal and Begin Again proves highlights of the second half (where the only noticeable dip in the audience’s attention occurs mid way through) until the final section knocks everyone’s collective socks off. Hymn Of A Thousand Voices sees James Labrie leading the audience in the singing, yet with Our New World there’s no need as the majority of the audience bellow the chorus at him with gusto. The Astonishing closing title track goes down a storm, with a prolonged ovation that continues all through the end credits and only fades out in disappointment when it becomes apparent there really won’t be an encore on this occasion.
The Astonishing is by no means Dream Theater’s best work. It is overly long and drags slightly in places but in a theatre setting and with the screens to help tell the story it gains a new lease of life. Quite frankly we wish everyone could see it this way, as the live premiere of The Astonishing was simply magic. 9 / 10