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Live Reports   

THE PORTNOY FEST



Bands: Dream TheaterOpethBigelfUnexpect
City: Paris
Venue: Le Zénith
Date: 2009-10-04

Actually, at the Progressive Nation festival, our conversations are just as fruitless – but they feature much more classy words. Like, words you can find in books, y’know?
Joking apart, an experience like the Progressive Nation, a traveling prog festival put together by Mike Portnoy, is quite a change of scenery compared to the more traditional metal festival. Here you can discover a totally new approach to music. The audience is not exactly outgoing, that’s a fact. Most people in the crowd will therefore stay stock still. That being said, with a modicum of observation, you can see that inside, these people are bubbling intensely. When the above-mentioned big blond guy is dripping with sweat from a pogo, the Opeth fan is dripping concentration. This love of music is just as powerful as the first.
And we did meet quite a bunch of people on Sunday 4th October! The entire Your Majesty fan club (Dream Theater’s official fan club) was present, as well as the incredible Franz, whose collection of Dream Theater merchandising only equals Doc’s hatred of Spaceman. We also met all the members from the band Conscience, barely out of a tiring recording session for their new album. There was Patrick Rondat, one of the best French guitarists of our time. There was Ayin Aleph and her rather unusual attire – a surprising guest considering she’s not the most ardent Portnoy fan. There were Elo (former member of Pipo et Elo and Bobby Watson) and Pipo (former member of Pipo et Elo and current member of Rosa Luxemburg), who doesn’t look that much like John Petrucci, after all. In short, we didn’t know which way to turn!
A few hours before the show, when we interview him, Jordan Rudess explained that the goal of the Progressive Nation festival was to use Dream Theater’s fame to give younger bands a more subtantial audience. On the top of the bill for this European Progressive Nation: Dream Theater and Opeth, accompanied by Mike Portnoy’s personal favourites, Bigelf (Mike will actually come and play with them on one song) and Unexpect.


Unexpect

We’re very sorry about it, but we’re not able to offer you a report of these two bands’ sets. Let us explain ourselves: your humble servant could not make it to the Zénith before 8 pm, so our photographer Olivier was supposed to cover Bigelf and Unexpect. Now, Olivier was purely and simply denied the right to watch the show. A very original directive consisted in marching the photographers out of the venue once their work was done. In short, they were allowed five minutes to shoot the band, before spending an hour outside the Zénith, waiting for the next band. Unbelievable.



Bigelf

Your servant reaches the Zénith at around 8 pm, right on time for Opeth’s show. The entry of the Swedish musicians is faithful to the honesty and sobriety of the band: simple, unadorned and devoid of any stage effects. After a much too long “Windowpane”, a very unwise choice to start the show, the concert really kicks off with the excellent “The Lotus Eater”, a song from Watershed. First thing to note: the sound is absolutely excellent – which will also be the case for Dream Theater. However, the people standing in the first front rows, with their ears tormented by the drums and their hearts close to stopping thanks to the roaring bass, will probably contradict us.



Opeth

The setlist turned out to be slightly disappointing due to a severe lack of variety. It will only serve to reinforce the following assessment – an assessment that will probably horrify the fans reading this article: Opeth’s music is quite a bit repetitive! Of course, if you focus chronologically on their career, the evolution Is obvious: the Swedish was at first a death metal band, then they progressively included progressive rock elements and acoustic touches into their music, and went as far as releasing an album without any electric guitars. Today, Opeth’s style is well defined and offers a mix of all these elements. When you see them on stage, hearing songs from different eras of the band only underlines the repetitiveness of the melodies. The form has evolved – the content, not so much. There were a few good surprises, however: Akerfeldt announces that the band is close to celebrating their 25th anniversary and therefore revamp a few older songs.



A penetrating show

Opeth is a nice band to see on stage, due to their extreme sobriety. This original trait makes them a unique band in a metal world that usually plays on drama and exaggeration. Michael Akerfeldt’s very British composure makes him extremely charming and classy. The man knows the meaning of the word “self derision” and will never try to turn the spotlight away from Dream Theater. The perfect frontman of an opening band totally devoted to the main act, Akerfeldt regularly warms up the audience by announcing the imminence of the American band’s show. On the whole, the show turned out to be federal. Opeth’s music is undeniably captivating, and the listener tends to retreat into him- or herself to fully appreciate the atmosphere created by the Swedish band. Opeth is a band to be savored selfishly, on one’s own, with one’s eyes closed.



Opeth, some restraint in a world of exaggeration

Setlist Opeth:
Windowpane
The Lotus Eater
Reverie / Harlequin Forest
April Athereal
Deliverance
Hex Omega

During the interlude, we listen with great pleasure to Pipo & Elo songs; the audience will notably sing “As I Am” all together.




Dream Theater: Jordan Rudess

Curtains are in fashion: after In Flames and Slayer, it’s now Dream Theater’s turn to have their own. After the usual introduction from Psycho, John Petrucci’s shadow appears behind the curtain while thunder rolls and the threatening piano theme of “A Nightmare To Remember” can be heart. Some effect, that does. The first song from the new album Black Clouds & Silver Lining, “A Nightmare To Remember” is a damn good opening song. It’s also a recreational moment for the fans, who, whenever this song is performed, are impatient to see how Mike Portnoy is going to handle his blast (the first of his career) and his vocal part. The latter has been severely criticized, but it remains highly efficient on stage: many people in the crowd even let off steam by screaming “DAY AFTER DAY!” along with Mike. Frustrated by the absence of growls on the studio version of this part, he uses this tour to do what he pleases and offers the audience dirty and barely mastered but still highly efficient death vocals. As for the infamous six bars of blast so much ink has been spilled over, they’re still far from perfect…



Your blast needs some working on, Mike!

The show starts off with a more than metal sequence: “A Nightmare To Remember” and “The Mirror / Lie”, whose riffs and power could make Metallica jealous! Those who doubted the pertinence of Dream Theater playing more aggressive songs have no reason to doubt anymore. In this field, James Labrie has made a lot of progress and built up some charisma. Let’s note that before his growl, Portnoy took the mike to warm up the audience. A good initiative, ’cause no one can possibly deny the drummer’s a real showman. In the future, it would be interesting to establish a bad guy (Portnoy) / good guy (Labrie) relationship between the frontmen. As a whole, Dream Theater made a lot of progress as a stage band. It’s obvious the band worked on their show.



James Labrie, a frontman making clear progress

From a vocal point of view, James Labrie delivered an incredible performance, without ever being out of tune, including on “The Mirror”, a rather difficult song. The man totally recovered from the accident that damaged his vocal chords back in 1993. Despite a few wrong notes rather difficult to hide in the atmospheric part of “The Count Of Tuscany”, Patrucci was beyond reproach. Rudess, for his part, graced the audience with a few solos, for one rather easy to digest. But let’s be honest, talking about the quality of the performance and the skills of the members of Dream Theater equals stating the blindingly obvious!




Even John Myung moved from his spot!

“A Rite Of Passage” (what a chorus!) and “Wither”, both good singles, rendered pretty well on stage. For those who followed the evolution of the tour, the concert held no surprises, but the excellent performance makes up for this. It should be noted that the band is using the French leg of the tour to film the audience on “Whither”, for the upcoming video. The only downside of the show was the length of the concert and the arrangement of the setlist. On the paper, a 90-minute-long show is “not bad”, you’ll say. But time goes by more quickly when the songs are long. Hence why “In The Name Of God” (a very good song, all things considered) was not welcome. An epic is a lengthy song made up of several parts, whose goal is to make the listener escape through a real musical journey. Now, this aspect of the thing disappears completely in this hard-to-digest setlist, which contains too many long songs: “A Nightmare To Remember”, “In The Name Of God”, “The Count Of Tuscany” and the sequence “The Mirror / Lie” – four songs that account for one hour already! Obviously, time does fly! For their worth to be recognize, these two mammoths should have been spaced out. “The Count Of Tuscany” concluded a very atmospheric set with a nice light show that made a change from Windows Media Player-type animations. Tonight, the Pink Floyd-like atmospheric bridge and the part on acoustic guitar, which seemed to divide the fans when it was released on CD, is gathering them.



John Petrucci during “The Count Of Tuscany”

On an amateur video shot backstage by Rudess that night, Portnoy says: “two years ago, we surprised everyone when we played Images And Words in its entirety. This year, we’ll surprise everyone by not playing Awake!”
Too bad – but we won’t lose hope!

Setlist Dream Theater:
A Nightmare To Remember
The Mirror
Lie
A Rite Of Passage
Jordan Rudess Solo
Wither
The Dance Of Eternity
In The Name Of God

Encore:
The Count Of Tuscany




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