Ticket prices for the first nine rows had dropped from over $300 and $187 down to $62.50, which is what the regular floor seats had cost. There were only 1,100 fans in the 1,649-seat venue, with many fans likely turned off by the initially high ticket prices.
It was a mixed crowd. The progressive rock nerds and hippie fans were out in force. They'd shown up to see Zappa Plays Zappa, the band led by Dweezil Zappa that plays Frank Zappa's music. Everyone else appeared to be Dream Theater fans.
Openers Scale The Summit were a bit of an oddity with two lead guitarists, a bassist and a drummer but no lead singer or keyboardist. Keyboards are usually de rigeur for progressive rock bands. Fortunately, they were quite entertaining with their tight, intricate instrumentals. They were also surprisingly adept and earned standing ovations from some people. I thought they looked like they were barely out of their teens.
Next up were a strange-looking group, the oddly named Bigelf. They were mostly bearded and looked as if they'd survived living in a swamp since in the '70s. Lead singer Damon Fox played two keyboards and wore a top hat that would have made Slash proud. They had a heavy sound, but weren't overly loud. Imagine progressive rock mixed with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and a bit of Jethro Tull. I wasn't crazy about these guys. As with a lot of progressive rock, for many who are only hearing it for the first time it can be difficult to follow, yielding descriptions of such music as pretentious. On the other hand, there are always magical moments, which may or may not make up for some of the genre's seemingly overindulgent, instrumental noodling.
Zappa Plays Zappa were an eight-piece band, a bit smaller than the incarnation that gave their first-ever performance at Winnipeg's Concert Hall on July 18, 2007. That was a special show, with the band playing along to synchronized video footage of Frank Zappa. This time around saw some different players, including a tall, young guy who sang the quirky vocal parts that Frank would have sang. The music of Frank Zappa can be quite busy and challenging to listen to and I fear they may have lost many in the audience who were there to see one band in particular, namely headliners Dream Theater. Still, Dweezil looked really pleased, nodding and smiling a lot to acknowledge the generous applause and standing ovations that the group received.
As I suspected, Dream Theater opened with "A Nightmare To Remember," which has opened many of their shows on this tour as well as being the first track from their new album, Black Clouds & Silver Linings.
Dream Theater can be described as Rush meets Metallica — who sometimes meets Journey. As artsy and technical as they can be, some of their music is melodic balladry stuff that seems far removed from their biggest influence, Rush, and much closer to the corporate arena rock of Journey. Lead singer James LaBrie is not a screamer and really does sing well. Drummer and band organizer/ de facto leader Mike Portnoy works a huge drum kit, with two stools. Melodic shredding guitarist John Petrucci played flawlessly but, despite his prodigious amount of talent, doesn't seem to have his own sound unlike fellow guitar gods like Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen. Of course, hardcore fans will disagree with me. Keyboardist Jordan Rudess is the other hero-worshipped virtuoso in the band. He played a couple of "instruments" that I had not even seen before. One looked like a really small laptop screen, in which he would draw his fingers on the screen, back and forth and up and down, resulting in some fast and spacey psychedelic sounds. The other instrument was a longer and wider flat panel in which he made similar actions and produced equally fascinating sounds. At one point, he dueled with guitarist Petrucci at the front of the stage, using a keytar.