For fans of progressive metal masters Dream Theater (and we are legion), the release of its new Live at Luna Park Blu-ray provides the final, definitive answer to the question “Can Dream Theater replace Mike Portnoy?” It’s been three years since the band’s founding drummer quit and was replaced by Mike Mangini. With this multiple-format release of of a concert film and recording from the end of the band’s first tour with Mangini, the answer—if we didn’t know this already—is a resounding “yes.”
Playing a set heavily based around their first album with Mangini, 2011’s A Dramatic Turn of Events (which, by the way, snagged the band its first-ever Grammy nomination), Dream Theater proved on this tour that not only had the band rebounded from this major change, but it had come back more unified, more cohesive and more powerful than ever before.
I saw Dream Theater twice on this tour, and as DT keyboardist Jordan Rudess told me in a recent interview with Entertainment Tell, the band pretty much stuck to the same set list for the entire run. So, not too surprisingly, Live at Luna Park is consistent with the shows I saw—an accurate and sublime souvenir of what may be the most pivotal tour in the band’s history.
Filmed in 2012 in Buenos Aires at the tour’s conclusion, the show kicks off dramatically with “Bridges in the Sky”, an epic track from A Dramatic Turn of Events. To the sounds of the Tuvan throat singing heard on the CD version of the song, the band walks out and launches into the song’s gargantuan main riff. It’s a brilliant piece of rock and roll theater, and the quick-cut editing and sharp camera work here, as on the rest of the Blu-ray, capture the band’s energy and onstage might.
The band—singer James LaBrie, guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, along with Rudess and Mangini—were in prime form for this show, seasoned by 14 months of playing together in this new configuration.
And the camaraderie the band was experiencing is very visible. Clearly they like having Mangini in the band—the precision, skill and technical abilities Mangini bring to Dream Theater give the music a new power, and the exchanged glances and visible emotion between the band members onstage show they’re getting along very well with their new member.
Dream Theater plays incredibly difficult music—the complexity of progressive rock (with its intricate rhythms and dynamic bursts of instrumental virtuosity) mixed with the force and power of heavy metal. That’s a difficult mix to pull off, and Dream Theater are undisputed masters of this mash-up genre.
You need some incredible instrumentalists to pull that kind of music off, and Dream Theater has four of ‘em. Petrucci is a true shedder, cranking out mighty riffs and inventive solos with precision and tone that is nothing less than jaw-dropping. Myung is the backbone of DT’s music, going toe to toe with Petrucci on the complex lines, his fingers moving faster than any bass player I can think of, while also providing sturdy support in the band’s more melodic, contemplative pieces. Rudess has virtually redefined the role of a keyboardist in a metal band, conjuring sounds that not only complement what Petrucci and Myung are laying down, but also take things in new, bold directions. His playing—which incorporates an iPad (using Rudess’ own apps, shown frequently on camera here) is so much a part of this music that it’s unthinkable to imagine Dream Theater without his contributions.
And what about the new guy, Mangini? Simply put, Mangini is magic. He may not be as “rock and roll” as his predecessor (an incredible drummer himself, and—as discussed in Portnoy’s recent Entertainment Tell interview—doing just fine with his new band The Winery Dogs), but his ability is unquestionable. Mangini reportedly holds a Guinness World Record as the world’s fastest drummer, and watching what he can do with just one hand (accomplishing much more than most drummers do with two) during his drum solo is astounding, nearly unbelievable. The band chose very, very well.
LaBrie is in fine vocal form throughout this 2.5-hour-plus concert, and he’s also an excellent frontman, speaking to the heart about his bandmates, and inciting the audience members to get into some pretty complex stuff. LaBrie has the good sense to get offstage when Petrucci and co. are charging through an instrumental passage, but when he’s on, he’s fully in control—not an easy thing to do with players of this caliber.
The song selection is well-conceived, covering a good cross-section of the band’s material from throughout its career—again, with a heavy emphasis on the then-new album. Certainly A Dramatic Turn of Events songs such as “On the Backs of Angels” and “Lost Not Forgotten” are well-served here, but Portnoy-era songs such as “The Root of All Evil” and “Metropolis Part 1” also get first-class treatment.
Dream Theater is known for putting out first-rate products, from packaging and design to the content therein, and Live at Luna Park is no exception. Under a brilliant cover that relates to the Dramatic Turn art, the discs inside bring great gifts of entertainment: the audio is astounding, delivering the band’s stellar musicianship with full body and clarity—the four musicians + vocalist all come through loud and clear. The camera work is—as is the norm with concert videos these days—fast-moving, with cameras swooping up and over the stage, capturing the tour’s superb staging (with three giant cubes suspended over the band serving as video screens and visual effect elements) in a way that’s immensely satisfying on Blu-ray.
The set I received for review included not only the Blu-ray but also three CDs to capture the over three hours of music on the Blu-ray (including bonus tracks). The Blu-ray also includes some welcome bonus features such as a behind-the-scenes documentary on the band’s tour, and the excellent cartoon shown before the concerts on this tour that portrays the band members as characters representing their personalities (LaBrie as a pirate, Myung as a ninja, Rudess as a wizard, etc.)
It’s amazing how well Dream Theater can deliver the goods onstage. From their multi-layered, big-production studio albums, one would think they might not be able to pull off their sound onstage, but they do, and no part is missing or compromised.
Live at Luna Park is an invaluable document of a mighty band at an all-time peak. Highly recommended to Dream Theater fans—both fanatic and casual—or to anyone with a taste for adventurous, creative music-making at its finest.