Words/Photos: Chris Rugowski
Oshkosh – On July 12 I got to see Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, and Animals as Leaders for the first time, in what is dubbed as an arena, though it’s more like a big gym, and that’s OK. If I had to guess there were likely 1000 or fewer people there, but none of the bands cared. They all rocked out like they were playing to a crowd of 100,000. They were honestly having fun in the most prog rock way possible, with complex rhythms made to look effortless, intense solos, long songs, and a crowd to take that in.
They say history repeats itself. However, July 12 was a night when history was made and it will never repeat itself. Not even with the entirety of this tour. I’m not sure there will ever be a time again when Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, and Tosin Abasi take the stage together with one another and create the magic that happened here. For the final song of the night, the full Dream Theater band got on stage with Townsend and Abasi coming on at planned points and recreating Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On – it was beautiful, absolutely pristine. Between solos from everyone and including drummers switching roles, I didn’t see who the other drummer was. It was any prog fan’s dream.
If they continue this rolling tour in the future, I’d love to see a lineup consisting of Haken and Joe Satriani, Polyphia just to name a few of the top bands, and if my opinion had any sort of play here.
Overall, while the venue wasn’t what I expected when I saw “arena” I have to admit, the sound was great and the stage from the middle and back of the room looked really good. Anyone who missed their chance to see three of the industry’s top bands in such a small space missed out, seriously.
I’ve noticed one thing about prog music in general, that I’ve yet to see in any other genre that isn’t a traditional “festival” You will see all types of people at a show. From kids to grandparents, of all genders, all ethnicities, prog brings people together in ways that other music types just can’t.
And how could we forget, it was John Petrucci’s birthday too, which added to the fun everyone was having.
Now for the disclaimer, the truth is, I knew enough Dream Theater and Devin Townsend before this show to be dangerous. I had listened to more Townsend than Dream Theater. I still listened to both, but not on a super regular basis as I find myself listening to artists’ catalogs after the show I review because I’m usually blown away. This is no exception. I am now taking a deep dive into all the bands again and realizing in no short order how talented they all are. It makes me want to become a better musician.
ANIMALS AS LEADERS
The thing about this band is they walk on stage, they own the stage, and they do it with ease. A technically intricate band yet still fun to watch, you get mesmerized by the way Tosin plays, sucked into the drums as they draw a fine line between hitting every drum and keeping a straight beat, and seduced by the bass lines Javier plays – I might add I’ve never seen a guitar used as a “bass” before in this sense, but he does a spectacular job. I spent a lot of time listening to their live album so it was a major treat to see them do it live. Something I won’t take for granted.
They did play my favorite tune, “Brain Dance”, and it wasn’t even so much the tune live that got to me, it was the scraping of the guitar strings that solidified the performance for me. There was something so visceral about this sound. Also, the irony of hearing “Physical Education” being played in a gym made me chuckle. They ended with Cafo, and I’m going to go out and say it, wow. Just wow. This tune was on point, and everyone in the band was congealing and coalescing into a culmination of cacophony that sounded beautiful and that fit. If you’ve ever heard the way that song starts and plays you’ll understand what I mean by this. That’s the thing about this band, they can take the most insane riffs and turn them into a story that makes you see things you didn’t think instrumental music alone could. This idea is called synesthesia, and it fits this band, at least for me.
His scream is so bloody and beautiful and just came out of his body so naturally. His singing voice and tone are just something to behold. It was 10x better live than any album could be. And his band was phenomenal too. The guitar/key player was unreal switching between multiple instruments, and then playing guitar and keys at the same time. The bassist keeps that groove going without missing a beat, the drummer pounding the tunes and making it sound epic and fun, which is a quintessential Devin Townsend trait. Especially when they got to “Bad Devil”, which was just a fun tune.
They played like it was a packed stadium of 100,000 not 1,000. That was neat to see.
I loved the lighting during their set, it was very much complementary to the style of music, broad and pointed when it had to be, dark and moody when it had to be. The lighting director clearly understood his job when he took this group on.
Devin is such an oddball live, I love it. So many of these bands on tour have the same spiel every night because everything is planned down to an nth degree, and you can just tell his approach is unique and appropriate to the venue, such as his Oshkosh B’Gosh comments about his son.
Once my 15 minutes were up in the pit I got back to my position just in time to hear the end of “Dimensions”, and got to take my favorite tune in all its glory, “Deadhead”. What a treat to hear this, of all the times I’ve listened to it on the playlists, wanting to turn it up even more it was never loud enough and here it was, in all the glory of a live show, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. Powerful, emotive, moving, and destroying any conception that you can have a slower tempo song that slays for 6 minutes that still keeps people interested the whole time.
“By Your Command” was dedicated to coffee and turning 50. Another humorous note about Townsend is his commentary between songs, it brings the show to life a bit more.
During “Deep Peace” I realized how great his singing voice is. I love the acoustic guitar, the sound guy had the deep rich tones and full roundness of the guitar just perfect for this one. I truly appreciate how the guitarist plays the keys and guitar at the same time and does it with ease in a way that looks natural, he must have great pickups in his guitar, or hand strength that can crush steel.
During their last song, “Bad Devil” the band wore oversized cowboy hats, Devin wearing the one with horns. They asked the crowd to dance, which they most certainly did. This tune is just a fun one, it’s a little different from the rest of the set, which is very melodic and epic, this tune hits you right in the “I can’t move” feels. A fitting ending song for a great set.
Here we are, the penultimate pinnacle of the night.
These people do more with their music in a 9-10 minute song than some bands do on their entire album.
Did I ever think I’d see Dream Theater in a relatively small and lightly attended venue, absolutely not.
This was another brownie point for the lighting director – while it’s obvious that lighting and shows are very much a planned thing, it’s hard to keep to the script when you can play one million notes in a bar and you have 10-20 minute songs. The LD kept the show interesting and again, super complementary to the band, which was all over the place.
Seeing Petrucci from 5 feet away and being that close to someone playing guitar like he was was super invigorating. I found myself wanting to stare at his neck hand and just take in the ability like osmosis. Of course, now we can’t forget about their great bassist John Myung here either, the guy’s hands never stopped moving! He’s got to do a marathon on that instrument in every show. Drummer Mike Mangini could play all night long and I think I’d be happy with watching him alone. He plays the drums like an instrument, with care and precision, and power all while keeping the beat. Singer James LaBrie’s vocal ability live shows the prowess of this band. There is no shortage of talent in this band, it was a dream to see Dream Theater.
I especially enjoyed the videos on the screen behind them matching the songs, the contextual aspect was great. It allowed the listener to get lost in the scenery while enjoying the music.
They did have a minor scuffle with the keyboards having a power issue, but that was OK because it allowed LaBrie to tell the best joke all night, telling us the translation of his last name from French Canadian was “Cheese”. The drummer noticed the B’s about Wisconsin: Beer, Bowling, and Brats – he’s not wrong. At this point the band was just having fun with the crowd, you could tell there was no ill temper during the night. LaBrie called out the other two bands as well, “There’s no bullshit, there’s no egos, everyone is having fun with this tour.” Even the fans.
What stuck out to me was the last three songs, “Pull Me Under”, “The Count of Tuscany” and their encore, “Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On”.
“Pull Me Under” was SO heavy, and the changing rhythms were quite prominent in this one. I enjoyed that aspect. You could feel the music during this song, literally.
“The Count of Tuscany”, is a 19-minute epic epilogue to end a night that was already epic enough. How much more epic can you get – how many epics can I put in this sentence? The subs were blasting on this one, I sat down and I could feel the subs shaking my body from the back of the room. The light play during this song was delicious to the eyes. And again with the time and tempo changes in this song, it catches you off guard if you’re not expecting it, but in natural Dream Theater fashion, it feels perfect. I found myself asking during this song, “How does Petrucci keep that tone on stage? It feels unreal.” This song did not feel like 19 minutes whatsoever. It was so easy to get lost in the performance.
And here we are, the encore…. But before that, a heartfelt happy birthday song to John Petrucci, complete with a cake, and hugs. You can tell this band does like each other.
OK, now here we are “Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On”. Normally a 6:40 song became much longer as they pulled Abasi, Townsend, an additional key player (who I was told was Frank Zappa’s player, but I can’t confirm this), and another drummer. This is what made the night for me, seeing so much talent on one stage….you’ll never see this again. This tour is where dreams are found, fitting with the name “Dreamsonic”. This rolling prog rock festival is everything you as a prog rock fan will want.
In closing the Dreamsonic 2023 Tour is truly a masterpiece, go see it while you can.
The complete schedule for the North American dates of DREAMSONIC are:
June 16th – Cedar Park, TX – H-E-B Center At Cedar Park
June 17th – Dallas, TX – Texas Trust CU @ Grand Prairiein
June 18th – Sugar Land, TX – Smart Financial Centre
June 21st – Clearwater, FL – Ruth Eckerd Hall
June 22nd – Hollywood, FL – Hard Rock Live Arena
June 23rd – Orlando, FL – Hard Rock
June 25th – Atlanta, GA – Fox Theater
June 27th – Johnstown, PA – 1st Summit Arena
June 28th – New York, NY – The Theater at Madison Square Garden
June 30th – Bridgeport, CT – Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater
July 1st – Philadelphia, PA – The Met
July 2nd -Boston, MA – Leader Bank Pavilion
July 4th – Laval, QC – Place Bell
July 5th – Hamilton, ON – FirstOntario Centre
July 7th – Gary, IN – Hard Rock Casino
July 8th – Cleveland, OH – Jacobs Pavilion
July 9th – Newport, KY – MegaCorp Pavilion
July 11th – Detroit, MI – Masonic
July 12th – OshKosh, WI – OshKosh Arena
July 13th – Cedar Rapids, IA – Alliant Energy Power House
July 15th – Denver, CO – Mission Theater
July 17th – Spokane, WA – First Interstate Center
July 18th – Calgary, AB – Grey Eagle
July 19th – Edmonton, AB – Northern Alberta Jubilee
July 21st – Vancover, BC – Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre
July 22nd – Redmond, WA – Marymoor Live
July 24th – San Jose, CA – San Jose Civic
July 25th – Inglewood, CA – YouTube Theater
July 26th – Phoenix, AZ – Arizona Financial Theatre