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Mean Fiddler, London Saturday 30 April 2005

Well I must admit to having avoid a lot of the solo projects by Dream Theater members over the past few years, having got burned on the glut of side projects that they began in the late 1990s. I had however heard a couple of tracks from James's new solo album (Elements of Persuation) and found them surprisingly heavy in comparision to the material he had released under the project name 'Mullmuzzler' and that got me interested in going along to the show. However, what sold me on it in the end was the addition of the excellent Evergrey as support band for the tour.

These Swedes never do anything by half and if you've had the good fortune to catch them live before you'll know that they never give less than 100% on stage. Despite this being only their second gig in the UK (Their debut being at the Bloodstock Festival in 2004), there was a good number of the crowd who were already familiar with the bands material and the vibe was great throughout the set and by the time I arrived (during 'She Speaks to the Dead'), the band already had the crowd eating out of their hands. Frontman Tom Englund is a gentle giant who knows how to coax the crowd along while bassist Mike Håkansson and 2nd guitarist Henrik Danhage are windmills of energy and it seems like that energy on stage translates directly to the audience. Evergrey are a band that you can't help but like when you see them onstage.

Two excellent cuts from 'Recreation Day' followed with the title track being particularly impressive, then two cuts from 2000's 'In Search of Truth' showed the aggressive yet catchy side of their music and 'A Touch of Blessing' from last years 'Inner Circle' CD showed the band at its grandiose, most progressive best. A short, yet perfectly formed showcase of what the band had to offer. Go catch them at this year's Bloodstock Open Air Festival at the end of June.

The setlist from Evergrey looked even shorter when placed alongside the massive list of numbers that James Labrie was down to play. His backing band included keyboardist Matt Guillory (Dali's Dilemma) who has also composed songs with James for all of his 3 solo disks, amazing drummer John Macaluso (TNT, Ark) and two equally capable players in the form of (bass) and (guitar). It all looked great on paper, but when they started playing it became obvious that something was missing.

Despite having cut down the amount of screaming he performs with Dream Theater, I was most surprised by just how much screaming James did with his own material, in many cases it seemed like a throwback to the 'Images and Words' period, with the mellower songs from the two Mullmuzzler disks in particular, evoking the Dream Theater sound from that era, while the heavier numbers from the new album were more evocative of the Dream Theater sound on 'Train of Thought'.

It was clear from the off that the musicians were all highly capable players, and they all smiled and looked relaxed on stage, but somehow alongside Evergrey, the music didn't carry the same conviction and after 5 or 6 songs I was all ready to leave. At that moment a fresh beer arrived in my hand and in the end I lasted the whole set, unlike a good proportion (maybe 30%) of the audience.

Maybe, if I'd had a little more time to listen to James's material before the show, I might have derived a bit more enjoyment from the show, but as it was, it was the musos and hard-core Dream Theater fanatics who lasted the course. It must be said it James's defense that it was the first time that he had taken his solo material out on the road, but I think that at the end of the day, the audience's lack of familiarity with the material worked against him, while Evergrey playing a tried and tested set made the most of the opportunity.

Evergrey: Blinded / End Of Your Days / More Than Ever / She Speaks To The Dead / I'm Sorry / Recreation Day / Mark Of The Triangle / A Touch Of Blessing / The Masterplan

James LaBrie: Crucify / Alone / Oblivious / Venice Burning / Confronting the Devil / Slightly Out of Reach / Undecided / Pretender / Falling / Drained / Lost / Listening / Shores of Avalon / Save Me / Freak / A Simple Man Encores: Stranger / In Too Deep / Invisible

Review: Charlie Farrell

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