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London, Wembley Arena, 13 October 2007

Even though I have seen Dream Theater live more times than I can possibly remember, I still consider attending one of their shows amongst the highlights of any year - especially when the support slot is covered by a band of the sheer quality of the US Progressive Metal outfit Symphony X.

The initial plan was to arrive at the venue prior to the doors being opened, with the purpose of conducting a short interview with Symphony X's frontman Russell Allen, but as is normally the case with such endeavors, I was finally informed that the scheduled interview would have to be postponed until after Dream Theater were to leave the stage of the Wembley Arena, which ended up being eleven o'clock at night!

Was I disappointed? Not really. None of that really mattered to me, seeing as I had already started preparing myself for one hell of a show, so after having collecting my tickets and found my allocated seat, which was thankfully positioned quite close to the stage, I prepared myself for Symphony X - or so I thought...

Being the opening act for Dream Theater in a normal size venue is one thing, but having to open a show at Wembley Arena in front of what could only be described as a 'sea of people', the vast majority of which were wearing Dream Theater, is a daunting task that even the most experienced of bands would have trouble performing.

Well, when Symphony X came on stage, supported by the haunting tunes of 'Oculus Ex Inferni', it certainly felt as if they were the headlining band and it only took a few minutes before Russell Allen and Co managed to have the whole crowd screaming with excitement.

The band's set was predominantly based on their latest effort 'Paradise Lost' - quite understandably, seeing as not only is it by far their best effort to date, but also because they were given only forty five minutes to warm the crowd - a task that was achieved with absolute success.

The last time I saw this band was when they were opening for Stratovarious, during the promotion of the album 'The Odyssey', and I remember how they had then suffered a terrible sound to the point that Russell's voice could hardly be heard.

Well, this time round, the tall frontman dominated the scene both with his imposing presence and breathtaking vocal performances, nailing demanding compositions, such as 'Set The World On Fire' and 'Serpent's Kiss' to the finest of details, while at the same time playing around with the unsuspecting audience.

Fans of the band's early work must have been quite pleased to hear classics such as 'Sea Of Lies' and 'Of Sins And Shadows' whereas I was once again lost in the beautiful melodic theme of 'Inferno (Unleash The Fire)'. Unfortunately, time goes much faster when you are having a good time and only forty five minutes after the Symphony X came on stage, they left, having received one of the best standing ovations that any supporting outfit, regardless of style and genre, could ever wish for. I am only hoping that their 2008 headline tour will see them visiting London once again, so as to enjoy a full size performance by this great outfit.

After the Dream Theater set was over, there were quite a few people who began drawing comparisons between them and Symphony X, and quite a few of them were happy enough to claim that Russell Allen's outfit was far better in comparison. Personally speaking, I believe that Dream Theater and Symphony X are two totally different beasts and any comparison between them two is not only pointless but also completely unjustifiable.

The truth of the matter is, though, that much as I enjoyed listening to Dream Theater's unpredictable (in terms of song choice) set, this performance will not be rated amongst my personal favourites in recent years. James LaBrie was less dominant on stage than we have all known him to be, often depriving us of his characteristic elongated high pitch screams, whereas the rest of his colleagues were hammering their demanding parts with surgical precision.

John Myung (Bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums) worked once again as integral parts of a well-oiled machine and John Petrucci's performance was of epic proportion, often leaving both me and people at the front rows of the arena with huge smiles on our faces.

The sound, normally the band's most important ally, was not as strong and clear as you would expect in a Dream Theater show, yet no major problems occurred by this minor set back, and most people seemed not to be particularly bothered in that respect, especially seeing as the band presented them with a seventeen track set, featuring half the songs of their latest opus 'Systematic Chaos', but excluding 'Forsaken' much to my personal disappointment.

We were all compensated, though, by great performances of classics such as 'Surrounded', 'Strange Déjà Vu', 'As I Am' and 'I Walk Beside You' and by a very unusual keyboard solo, performed by Jordan Rudess' 'portable' instrument. After a very technically demanding elongated performance that included both parts of 'In The Presence of Enemies', Dream Theater left the stage and upon their return they performed another handful of songs amongst which were the classic 'Learning To Live' and the more straight-forward 'Octavarium' - the last notes of which signalled the end of this impressive performance.

Now, as far as whether I enjoyed this show, the answer is 'hell yeah'. Was I satisfied by the chosen compositions? No, but I have never yet attended a Dream Theater show that allowed me to provide a positive response to such a question. Ideally, I would want them to play an eight hour set, but common sense alone dictates the impossibility of such a request. This was definitely a great night for Progressive Metal music - one that graced us with a performance by one of the leading bands of the genre but also by one who deserves to reach similarly high standards of acceptance by the fans of the genre.

Symphony X Set List

Oculus Ex Inferni - Set The World On Fire - Domination - Serpent's Kiss - Paradise Lost - Inferno (Unleash The Fire) - Sea of Lies - Of Sins And Shadows

Dream Theater Set List

Constant Motion - Strange déjà vu - Blind Faith - Surrounded - The Dark Eternal Night - Keyboard solo - Lines In The Sand - As I Am - I Walk Beside You - Take The Time - In The Presence of Enemies, Pt. 1 - In The Presence of Enemies, Pt. 2


Trial of Tears - Finally Free - Learning To Live - In The Name of God - Octavarium V

Review by John Stefanis

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