Live Review: Dream Theater / Arion – O2 Apollo, Manchester 17.02.2023

Phil Pountney

As the evening drew in and I approached the Apollo I couldn’t help but notice an air of sophistication and maturity surrounding the whole ambience, and as I entered the regal theatre my suspicions were only corroborated even more when I was met with an empty merch area and a floor full of seats with a prominent quiet hush, only dampened voices resonating from within the confines of the padded structures. This ladies and gentlemen was an evening which threatened decadence and regality beyond its years, this was to be an event of massive luxury and indulgence, this was to be a lesson in opulence and extravagance. A certain group of prog rock masters had rolled into town, Manchester, you were about to be besieged by none other than the colossal Dream Theater.

With over an hour until the occasion was to be launched it gave you ample opportunity to survey your surroundings and pick apart the sights which adorned the stage. Fairly minimalistic accompaniments sat on the Apollo stage, a couple of side drops were strategically placed which joined the musical weapons with which we were to be entertained with tonight. Arion were sure to be bringing their competent blend of power metal in order to get the heads banging, this was to be a warmup which needed to be of epic proportions in order to engage the seated crowd and warm them up for the main event that was to follow. 

So as the clock had ticked by, it was time for the lights to fade and we were greeted by a bunch of Finnish Power enthusiasts. Vääränen worked the stage as if his life depended on it, trying his best to evoke some sort, any sort, of movement and response from the fairly motionless crowd that sat before him. It was always going to be a struggle to render any sort of activity when the crowd were poised within a seated theatre setting but as the set progressed and the Power Metal was delivered with the huge amounts of energy and gusto which Arion had brought with them, there was certainly some appreciation being shown from the confines of the seats and it was obvious that Arion had turned the tide when it came to winning a crowd over. By the time the set drew to a close, it was obvious that the effort and determination had certainly paid dividends and the shift put in by Arion was a  success of huge proportions given the obvious turnaround in the reactions of the gathered crowd.

When you have huge, titanic and marathonic anthems as Dream Theater do then you know you are in for a set comprised of longevity and endurance and this is exactly what was served up tonight. With the stage stripped bare except for the essential instruments and huge back and side drops on which grand and elegant videos were continuously projected upon, it left it bare for everyone’s concentration to be fully honed in on the wavy and dreamy soundscapes which washed over you. Subliminally we were invited to sit back and totally open up our souls to the sophisticated and graceful tunes that presented themselves to us, each one being an event of huge magnitude in itself, each fraction of the band being accomplished beyond belief. When a band is able to combine and propel Prog hymns such as ‘The Alien’, the colossal ‘Pull Me Under’ and the absolutely gigantic ‘Losing Time/Grand Finale’ then you are left with no option but to fall under their hypnotic spell and sit back in awe of the majesty which was cascading down from the stage. 

LaBrie was enigmatic as usual, delivering his vocals with obvious ease, each lyric acting as a stitch intertwining between the instrumental components and sealing them all up as the polished and intricate package we had delivered to us with dynamism and strength. Myung occupied the wing, stage right, and seemed to relish and grow beneath the spotlights that illuminated him as he pounded his bass with dexterity and precision, seeming to only grow into the set as it poured out before him and encompassed all the energy into a full package of complexity and refinement. Petrucci was probably the most transient and mobile of all the band tonight, moving back and forth across the stage with grace and purpose while mauling his six strings into submission in order to create a sublime and ridiculously complex fretboard journey which we were all invited along too with absolute honesty and sincerity. Rudess and Mangini occupied the stern with their own brand of assurance and loyalty, each of their chosen catalysts not allowing them to stray from their assigned homes but still affording them the opportunity to inject beauty and complexity, with committed power and command, into the ostentatious offerings. 

As the band seemingly signed off from the evening’s festivities it wasn’t long before we were once again graced with their presence and they then conjured up the epic and masterful ‘The Count Of Tuscany’ which was vast and mammoth in its structure, delivering a true lesson which is, when all is said and done, quintessential, no holds barred, Dream Theater. It was sublime and uplifting, transcendent and heavenly beyond belief, elevated to realms of great supremacy and an event which had to be seen to be believed in simply how uplifting and marvellous it really is in the live setting.

As the house lights raised and you snapped back into the real world, having absorbed all the opulent extravaganza that had gone before you, it was time to depart but not without taking with you the one sense which was overwhelmingly hanging in the air, and that was that you don’t just digest a Dream Theater gig and leave as a fan, you well and truly embrace the emotions and leave as a member of your new found, or long standing, Dream Theater family. 

Previous Meet: Indie Newcomers Bedroom High Club
Next Album Review: Enter 'The Hypnogogue' - the spectacular and ethereal world of The Church, a venerable band at their very best.

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