At a time when people are cherry picking their favorite songs from online music services, the idea of releasing an album that is meant to be experienced in its entirety is probably ill-advised. Never one to be swayed by industry trends, Progressive Rock band Dream Theater chose to defy the odds by releasing their most ambitious concept album to date. They performed their story called The Astonishing in its entirety May 1st at the State Theater in downtown Minneapolis. In order to fully appreciate this show, it is kind of necessary to have listened to the album and read the story considering they do not play any of their back catalog hits on this outing.

The stage décor included a multi-screen video backdrop that aided in setting the scene of a futuristic town square, where much of the story takes place. However, the most interesting visual for the many gear junkies on hand was Mike Mangini’s colossal drum set center stage that probably exceeds the size limit qualifier to appear on HGTV’s Tiny House, Big Living. The 1 ½ hour first Act worked through the bulk of the story, which required a dynamic range of music to communicate all the different emotions in play. After a short video teaser and narrator lead-in, the band offered up a complicated instrumental attention grabber, which is precisely what put this band on the map and built their loyal following.

Having written all of the music for The Astonishing, guitar god John Petrucci and keyboard magician Jordan Rudess are clearly driving this production. Recognition must be given to decorated vocalist James LaBrie whose heightened role is equally important in delivering the message behind this story as he is tasked with singing the lines of all 7 characters, giving him more stage time compared to previous tours. The project also calls for more solo piano moments where Rudess really shined from behind his custom keyboard rig that moved about in ways you’d associate with a ‘64 Impala loaded up with hydraulics. Always the show stealer and deservedly so, Petrucci stirred up the biggest crowd reaction with his solo on A New Beginning that perfectly demonstrated why he’s considered one of the most versatile players currently in the game. The calculated build that occurs during The Road to Revolution brought the audience to their feet applauding a triumphant close to the first set, which had to be an encouraging sign for the band.

An enthusiastic start to Act 2 played out like a medley recapping the journey we’d been on up to that point. Moving beyond that, Moment of Betrayal is the standout composition of the entire project and feels like a musical playground with plenty of space for great interaction between each of the musicians. The aptly named Heaven’s Cove was the evening’s prettiest melody brought to life by Petrucci giving a 12-string acoustic a good workout while Rudess matched his efforts to create a pleasing harmony. The audience spent most of the show in their seats, which didn’t seem to sit well with LaBrie who finally asked fans to stand up and “make this glorious” as they raised the bar with Hymn of a Thousand Voices. With the crowd now up and fully engaged, Our New World came off as the biggest track and provided a fitting climax to the performance. The band returned to the stage seemingly proud of their efforts and maybe a bit relieved as if they just completed a marathon (which they kind of did) and closed with the title track The Astonishing.

Photo of State Theater and review – Patrick Dunn