The idea of watching a concert at a movie theater may seem a little weird. The whole purpose of a concert is to witness and experience the performance live and in person. At a concert, you get to be in the same place as your favorite artists and share a night of fun with them. But when you consider the high cost of concert tickets these days, maybe it makes sense. You don’t have to deal with the often riotous behavior of other avid fans and the focus is more on the music itself. Another benefit may be the fact that when all is done your hearing should still be intact. But depending on your perspective, that could be a good or a bad thing.
For many artists, the experience of being at the concert and the theatrics that occur there are more important than the content. That’s not exactly the case with Dream Theater. As a progressive metal band, their performances are going to be more about technical competency, musicianship, and a celebration of their body of work. Their fans really appreciate their music and therefore getting the chance to view the latest concert film in theaters is something that will appeal to them. Purchasing an album or downloading tracks off of itunes is good, but actually seeing the band members perform their technically challenging songs is entertaining in a similar, but different way.
While there are things that just don’t translate when recording a concert on film, Dream Theater Live at Luna Park doesn’t allow those things to distract from the experience. The film itself captures the band in a good light and is able to focus on instrument playing and the chemistry between all the members. This is really what fans want to see and this is why they will pay to see the movie in theaters. The sound is clear and the camera angles always show us something interesting. Redundancy in concert films usually runs rampant, but here it is not really a problem. Cameras sweep in, and on-stage cameramen are able to capture the action up close even if all the activity is a little distracting. The biggest flaw in the film is perhaps the fact that the audience noise isn’t as prevalent as it should be in a live concert setting.
Dream Theater has been doing what they do for a long time. Formed in 1985, they have a loyal following of fans and have been active in recording and producing music the whole time. Live at Luna Park is a performance by the band in Argentina, from their latest tour. As many other bands have experienced, the advent of itunes and other similar online music stores has led to an explosion of international popularity. Dream Theater takes this in stride and chose to film this particular venue in order to honor that type of popularity. That being said, Live at Luna Park isn’t a “greatest hits” performance trying to relive past glory days and spread musical goodness to virgin ears. This is a statement of renewed momentum from the band that has experienced much turmoil over the last few years.
The biggest carrot that Live in Luna Park dangles in front of its fans is the opportunity to see new drummer Mike Mangini in action. Mangini replaced founding member Mike Portnoy during the last album and fans were a little shocked to say the least. Portnoy had been a hugely influential part of the band since the beginning and with his departure, the future direction the band would take was in question. While Mangini was with the band to record the last album, he didn’t really get a chance to influence the songs and add his unique style to the drumming. As a result, the percussion sections of those songs often felt somewhat generic as compared to what fans had experienced previously when Portnoy was involved. Live at Luna Park is a chance for Mangini to showcase himself to fans and put them at ease as a suitable replacement. Luckily, they don’t have anything to worry about.
Live at Luna Park, therefore, portrays Dream Theater in flux. It is true that the band will never be the same without Portnoy. His contributions to song writing and his trademark hard-hitting drum style will be missed. Mangini is a different style of drummer, but born of the same talented substance. In Live at Luna Park, Mangini is smiling and appears to be having a good time. His drumming is fluidic, dynamic, and yes, softer than Portnoy’s. His drumming style makes the older songs flow smoother and his on-stage demeanor gives the band a sense of energy. A drum solo during the first half of the concert is energetic, creative, and above all, entertaining. If Mangini can inject this type of emotion into new material, fans shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
The heart of Dream Theater is in virtuoso guitarist and lyricist John Petrucci. His performance in Live at Luna Park is powerful, fun to listen to, and controlled. He isn’t the type of guitarist who is going to be running around on stage goofing off trying to entertain people. His music is too complicated for that. He is focused on his work foremost, and that’s what fans want to see. He really shows off his skills and technical competency. The solos are emotional and during the softer songs his performance works well to compliment the lyrics.
Frontman James Lebrie also performs well. His voice sounds album-quality and the lyrics are clear. On some of the older songs he can’t quite get to the right note to match the original release, but that’s not too much of a problem. A benefit of watching the concert film rather than the concert live is that the sound is clearer so you can really hear Lebrie’s vocals well. He does his best to keep the energy up and engage the audience. With a band like Dream Theater that is so instrument-heavy, there are times when there is nothing for Lebrie to do on stage. Sometimes he dances around but at others he just leaves for a while. Leaving the stage lets the audience focus on the band members that are actually doing something productive, so his actions are justified and respectful.
Keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess is dynamic and engaging as always. Besides Mangini’s smile-driven drumming, Rudess’ performance is perhaps the most fun for fans to watch. His use of technology, improv, and technical skills is interesting and makes some of the songs feel new again. For the audience, being able to witness Jordan’s ability to add extra “oomph” to Dream Theater’s sound is most satisfying. Few other bands feature a keyboardist that is included as heavily or is as influential in the band’s sound. Live at Luna Park features Rudess heavily and that’s a good thing.
If anyone feels left out on this release it is bassist John Myung. Despite being at the front of the stage, the cameras don’t watch him as often as the other band members and during some songs it is difficult to hear the bass part. Granted, Dream Theater’s songs are not bass driven, and it is difficult to capture the bass on a recording. You really have to be at a Dream Theater concert in person to be able to “feel” Myung’s bass-playing. Still, he is as talented and technically competent as the other members of the band and Live at Luna Park is a great way to watch him work his magic.
This concert video is being released in theaters at about the same time that the band is releasing a new album. While songs from this new self-titled album aren’t featured in this concert, it will surely help to promote the new release and get fans excited for the next tour. Live at Luna Park features a variety of songs from all of the band’s albums but focuses heavily on the most recent 2011 release A Dramatic Turn of Events. While the band mostly strays away from extended jam sessions and experimental interludes, it does put a few unique spins on old favorites to keep everything fresh and exciting. An acoustic interlude with the aid of a four-piece string section within the first hour of the concert helps to break it up a bit and allows the band to keep up their momentum later on.
With bands that tour frequently, concert films can feel redundant. They play mostly the same songs as before but in a new venue with a few twists thrown in. Live at Luna Park isn’t like this. For longtime fans the most interesting aspect of watching the band perform live on this occasion is the way it is able to adapt the older material to the styles of the current band members. As Mangini’s first outing with the band, Live at Luna Park is extra special in this regard. It plays homage to the past, but also gives a hint of where the band will be headed in the future. The band now has a larger catalog of material to draw from, its members are more skilled than ever, and the band itself is more popular than before. Therefore, for both longtime fans and newbies, Live at Luna Park captures a unique and exciting performance.
Dream Theater Live at Luna Park hits select theaters starting tomorrow, September 19th, 2013. The film will be released in stores on November 5th, 2013.