Review and photos by Patrick Dunn
Presented by Emporium Presents
Having already gotten to experience Dream Theater this past February, Twin Cities fans were especially fired up to have another opportunity to see John Petrucci on his first headlining solo tour at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis on November 12th. In addition to having steadfast collaborator Dave LaRue on bass, there were two other components making this outing extra special for Petrucci and Dream Theater fans alike. First was having fellow Dream Theater founding member Mike Portnoy back behind the drum kit, officially reuniting the two on stage for the first time since Portnoy’s departure from the band in 2010. The other unique element was having both of their wives’ band Meanstreak onboard as the supporting act, which was a great fit for the show and ended up being a legit crowd pleaser. (scroll to bottom for photo gallery)
The Pantages was an ideal location for this show, being a beautiful historic theater that happens to have a smaller room feel. Its excellent acoustics supported a solid a mix that was expertly dialed in, even for the band onstage according to Petrucci’s feedback. The stage setup was clean and simple with a giant Terminal Velocity backdrop and the tour’s theme was also visible on the front of both the guitar and bass amplifier cabinets. Anyone who’s seen Petrucci perform live would immediately recognize his usual set-up stage left, complete with two custom shiny metal foot stands. Portnoy’s clear acrylic drum set was built off a single bass drum for this outing, but still took up plenty of real estate positioned center stage on a riser leaving the entire right side open for LaRue to wander freely.
Addressing the audience early on, Petrucci welcomed fans to an evening of “firsts”, a historical tour for him. He called out Minneapolis as the place to be on this celebratory and seriously rockin’ Saturday night and thanked fans for choosing to be there over spending time with another fellow six-string sensation, Joe Bonamassa, who was also playing that night just a block away. He appeared to be genuinely excited to be back on stage, stating that what makes it fun for him is getting to play in front of an enthusiastic audience alongside such incredible musicians as Portnoy and LaRue.
While performing, he actively shared time between his rig and center stage looking out to the audience during the occasional moments when his concentration wasn’t expressly devoted to focusing on any one of several beautifully crafted Music Man Majesty signature series guitars that he cycled through depending upon what configuration a song required. Petrucci did also interact with his bandmates, jamming side by side with LaRue and exchanging glances with Portnoy in a way that felt nostalgic.
The selection of songs for this show loosely mirrored the new album with key tracks from Suspended Animation also mixed in. If you consider the complexity of this material along with the fact that each selection is at least 6+ minutes in duration, you should start to get a sense of how tall an order performing even one night of this show must be. For starters, launching into the set with Terminal Velocity is quite an ambitious “warm-up” and Petrucci was technically sound on all accounts. The tunes feel is mostly upbeat, consisting of several sections that travel in range from chord based to note heavy and appeared to be one heck of a workout for each member of the trio. Jaws of Life required Petrucci to work his magic on a 7-string, which produced a mean sound that instantly conveyed a sense of pure metal. While this is one you could surely bang your head to, the chorus was surprisingly uplifting and carefree.
One observation that deserves to be called out is the diverse landscape of styles being explored across the scope of this material. An example I found particularly interesting was the Italian Mafia vibe that The Oddfather is built around. It’s a clever tune that showed off Petrucci’s ability to blend blistering phrases with eloquently picked melody lines creating a cohesive balance the ends up being very impactful. It’s this very aspect of his playing and writing style that first caught my attention years ago and I still believe it is a major component in what sets him apart from the pack today.
The aptly named Gemini presents a push and pull dynamic between 2 distinctly different expressions. There were waves of blistering scale patterns contrasted by sections of individually picked tones that Petrucci allowed to ring out and develop in a way that was mesmerizing. While it may be an unusual approach, somehow it just works and was both interesting and enjoyable. LaRue got his chance to shine on this one with a 5-string bass solo that appeared to be inspired by the more note heavy side of this composition.
The biggest departure from the sets mostly rocking tendency was Out of The Blue. The song’s driver was a pleasing melody that became more stylized as it matured. It beautifully developed into an incredible solo section that was unexpectedly heavy and fast, but full of just the right emotion. As a fan of ballads and moody songs, I’d rank this as one of the evenings best tracks for my tastes.
While Portnoy added a lot to the entire performance, his contribution was extra special for Tunnel Vision. He was the clear choice to encourage the crowd’s participation with a clapping part that fit the Middle Eastern feel of this track. Portnoy worked his way around the entire kit, adding an extra level of flash to his playing while crashing cymbals and launching sticks into the air for good effect. This time it was Petrucci’s turn to establish a rocking groove as a launching point for Portnoy to solo around. He jumped at the chance to cut loose and gave his kit a mighty good thrashing to the crowds delight.
If I had to pick one song to best represent everything this show had to offer, it would be Damage Control. The composition enabled the trio to work their way through multiple sections that included dark crunchy chords, haunting melody lines with exaggerated bends, blistering solo parts with fluid sweeps and skilled tapping, time signature shifts that created intensity that would eventually resolve finding a way back home to a rock-solid finish. This is just one example of what was an evening packed full of musical journeys similar in nature. Just consider the amount of material that was covered, figure in the level of complexity, take your best guess at how many of thousands of notes were picked, not to mention all the techniques that were applied across the fretboard, all while reaching speeds few players could ever dream of being able to accomplish, and how could you be anything but truly blown away as I expect will be the case for everyone lucky enough to say the got to experience this extraordinary tour.
The Happy Song
Jaws of Life
Out of the Blue
Snake in My Boot
Temple of Circadia