Concert Review: Dream Theater’s Epic, Near-Jinxed India Debut
Despite the relentless rain that depleted the concert venue, the American prog metallers were in top form in Mumbai
With the bolt from the skies and a roar from the crowds, it was pretty evident how Dream Theater‘s India debut was going to go–a bit distracting, but a performance that would show off technical prowess, arena-rock intensity and a dose of gratitude (coupled with some humor).
While frontman James LaBrie delivered the talk often heard by bands making their long-awaited India debut (about their love for Indian food, taking eons to finally visit the country—in Dream Theater’s case, 27 years, and even breaking off into a goofy impression of an Indian accent that reminded us of comedian Jus Reign), Dream Theater gave every hardcore fan everything they wanted: about three hours of prog blitzkrieg.
We deserved a better organized show!
There was no preface to the set that celebrated 25 years of their second album Images and Words–Mumbai prog rockers Blue Blood had canceled their opening set owing to health issues of one of their band members—and there was no replacement programmed. By 7 pm, a few thousands had been scattered across the three zones and the elevated Dream Class, dodging a fair amount of water puddles to find a good spot. The route to the washrooms was a treacherous bog even before the rain lashed the area.
For fans that traveled from across the country–from Agartala, Kochi, New Delhi and Bengaluru, among other places–there was probably a prevalent feeling of being cheated of a good concert experience. At a time when multiple cameras and large screens are the norm at large-scale shows, everyone in the packed silver section had to rely on two screens showing a standard stage view that barely zoomed in on the members when they launched into insanely proficient solos.
Despite walking off stage leaving their brutal opener “The Dark Eternal Night” incomplete, understandably being spooked by the formidable lightning, the band returned and LaBrie assured he didn’t want any of us to get electrocuted, before launching into “The Bigger Picture” and the instrumental “Hell’s Kitchen.”
When Nineties nostalgia kicked in
A nod towards the success of “Pull Me Under” (a backing track of a radio transistor dialing between 1992 hits like “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam and “Friday I’m in Love” by the Cure) introduced fans to the world of Images and Words, which in a way initiated the full-blown nostalgia trip that the band has taken around the world. The second hour was preceded by their selection of career-spanning hits such as “As I Am” (cheekily closing with Metallica‘s “Enter Sandman,” which amusingly got some wild cheers from a rather enthusiastic crowd!) and “Our New World.” The virtuoso skills on show–bassist John Myung’s bass tribute to Jaco Pastorius (“Portrait of Tracy”) was followed much later by a keyboard solo from Jordan Rudess and a typically versatile drum solo from Mike Mangini–probably had most of the crowd smiling wide, despite being soaked to the bone in the relentless showers.
With another break came their encore. Clearly, when you’re a prog band, an encore isn’t just one or two songs, but an entire EP. Their 1995 record A Change of Seasons dived deeper into nostalgia and mind-boggling musicianship, with the band presenting their shape-shifting sound—and baffling time signatures that frequently confused headbangers doing their thing. For a band that arguably laid the foundation for prog bands for the decades that have followed, you expected nothing less.
Despite the rain and a less-than-desired presentation of the show, since the music played for about three hours, few would walk away with anything less than a good Dream Theater performance. It harkened back to when all emphasis was laid on the performance, and no one–not even the often criticized frontman LaBrie, who reached most of the highs–in the band was one to disappoint.
All photos by Prashin Jagger