Metro Theatre, Sydney
Friday November 24, 2017 :
“Hello, Sydney, so glad to see you my friends, it’s been a while,” sang Mike Portnoy in the altered lyrics of the Dream Theater song he wrote called ‘This Dying Soul’. This song made up the second important part of his ‘Twelve Step Suite’ and was sung at the Metro in Sydney as JON VAN DAAL recalls.
I first met Mike Portnoy in Downey, California while I was attending a drum clinic with my son Kiel in 2000. After the show we joined the line for an obligatory MP signature. There was a kid in front of us that wanted him to sign a cymbal but he couldn’t get it out of a bag as it had a broken zip. “Take your time,” Mike told him, the same thing happened to me when I went to get Elton John’s signature, he remarked. With the pressure off the cymbal magically appeared and everyone was much the happier. The point I am trying to make is that with Mike Portnoy, he is the Ultimate Fan, and over the years he has gone out of his way to make his music and how we listen to it, celebrate it and relate to it, a total fan experience.
When he played with Dream Theater, he chose the set list every night and if the band was playing in a city two nights in a row, he would sometimes make the second night something extra special. Such albums as Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Iron Maiden’s Number of The Beast were some that were covered over the years but Mike always wanted to do his own special opus with Dream Theater – ‘Twelve Step Suite’, but he left the band before that could happen.
The problem with giving, giving, giving to his fans is that it did take a toll on him. This saw him rushed to hospital with a near fatal bout of Pneumonia and trying to deal with being the centre of attention saw alcohol become his way of dealing with fame. Mike found solace in Alcoholics Anonymous and their “Twelve Step” program of recovery that has helped him put the bottle away ever since.
The ‘Twelve Step Suite’ was his way of acknowledging the fact that the program gave him back his life and so, over the course of five albums and eight years, he wrote five songs that interconnected musically and lyrically. Earlier this year while on the “Cruise To The Edge” cruise, he was able to finally play it in a live setting for his then upcoming 50th birthday.
Back to the concert and the show opened with a movie soundtrack, ‘The Original Theme to Pyscho’ being played. This was followed by Dream Theater’s ‘Regression’ being played on the big video screen as the band members filed on stage to the applause of the capacity crowd. Suddenly the six players broke into ‘Overture 1928’ from the 1999 platter Metropolis Part 2 – Scenes from a Memory. I shut my eyes because it wasn’t Dream Theater in front of me but basically most of the band, Haken, guitarist extraordinaire, Eric Gillette and Portnoy himself. Wow, wow, wow, wow – they just killed it.
This was followed by the song ‘Strange Déjà Vu’, and saw the first appearance of Haken front man, Ross Jennings who came out swinging his microphone stand in 360 degree circles in a very James La Brie (Dream Theater’s vocalist) manner. The show was now complete with the very best that the band could offer.
The last song to the intro was ‘The Mirror’ and this was the reason why Mike Portnoy had chosen Haken as his backing band as he told me. “My son’s band, Next To None, were on a North American tour with Haken and at the last show they asked if I would come up and play the Dream Theater song ‘The Mirror’. When I played that song with them I knew at that point that I had found my band if I ever was to play the ‘Twelve Step Suite’ live, they just nailed it. So at that point I knew that they would be my backing band”, he told Reverb in a recent interview about the upcoming tour.
Following the song Mike came down from his drum kit, grabbed a microphone and introduced the story of the ‘Twelve Step Suite’. “It is great to be back” he told the assembled throng. “These last two shows are my favourite of the tour – it has been a while but I love being in Sydney, it really is one of my favourite places to be”, he went on to say.
“What was supposed to be a single show at the start of the year turned into a complete world tour and here I am back in Australia playing Dream Theater music”, he said with a chuckle. “I am so lucky to have such a great bunch of guys around me and if you look at Charlie Griffiths, he has his original Dream Theater shirt on that he bought when the band played their first show in London. The ‘Twelve Step Suite’ is my 50th birthday present to you,” he concluded.
The drumming whiz was soon back on his throne and as a bell tolled in the background he counted the band into ‘The Glass Prison’. With the help of keyboard player Diego Tejeida, the song soon turned into a complete onslaught by the four guitarists that made it an awesome display of unbridled power that was totally lapped up by all those in attendance.
Over the course of the next five songs, vocals changed between Jennings and Gillette in the finest Dream Theater tradition. At times the four guitarists came to the front and played as one “a complete electric orchestra” as Portnoy once called it. He also said that Eric Gillette was one player that totally reminded him of Dream Theater’s John Petrucci and he matched the original player’s work, note for note..
Like Petrucci, Gillette is endorsed by Ernie Ball guitars and plays a seven string with all the panache of Petrucci. After having stood at Petrucci’s feet many times and watched him at work (with G3 and DT), Gillette was simply awesome. As for the twin lead players from Haken, Griffiths and Richard Henshall as Mike pointed out in his speech, “it is the second time this week that they have toured Australia” (Haken toured here six weeks ago).
Through it all, Portnoy was joined in the rhythm section by bass maestro, Conner Green who could flick his face-covering locks back and forth as he came to grips with the most exotic bass lines that were usually the province of DT’s John Myung. When this was added to the mix, the entire sound was just brilliant.
As the last chords of ‘The Shattered Fortress’ finished, the band filed off stage for a well earned breather. The stage was left in darkness with the large video screen playing a reel of dancing light formations but soon, Charlie Griffiths returned for the encore with a taped intro to ‘Home’. He plucked the strings of his Vader eight string and was soon joined by the soothing keys of Diego Tejeida as the song continued. Green came on stage as did Mike Portnoy, and soon the remaining guitarists joined in.
The sound grew in intensity and then Portnoy and company lit the fuse that saw the whole floor tremble as fists were thrust into the air – just a vulgar display of power that hit this reviewer in the base of the skull. This was truly the very best progressive metal played by some of the best musicians on the planet. Now in the home stretch one of the most complex pieces of music ever written, ‘The Dance of Eternity’ followed with ‘Finally Free’ rounding out the night.
Over the course of this trio of songs, it was mainly Jennings who sang the lyrics and for the most part did so with authority like he owned the words. That said the higher octaves of ‘Finally Free’ were a little above his range but he received a 98 out of a 100 from me for effort. The entire band on the other hand received a 120 out of 100 for their penultimate performance of the tour.
1. Prelude (Bernard Herrmann song, from The Original Film Score of Psycho)
2. Regression (Dream Theater cover)
3. Overture 1928 (Dream Theater cover)
4. Strange Déjà Vu (Dream Theater cover)
5. The Mirror (Dream Theater cover)
6. The Glass Prison (Dream Theater cover)
7. This Dying Soul (Dream Theater cover)
8. The Root of All Evil (Dream Theater cover, Eric Gillette on vocals)
9. Repentance (Dream Theater cover, Mike Portnoy on vocals)
10. The Shattered Fortress (Dream Theater cover)
11. Home (Dream Theater cover)
12. The Dance of Eternity (Dream Theater cover)
13. Finally Free ( Dream Theater cover)
Reviewer and Photographer : Jon Van Daal