Sunday, 11 October 2009

Progressive Nation 2009 - London Wembley Arena - 10th October 2009

2008 saw Dream Theater take 3 other bands on tour around the US under the header of 'Progressive Nation'. 2009 saw them do the same with different bands and now also sees them take the tour to Europe with sub-headliners Opeth, first time Euro tourers BigElf and avant-garde Canadian septet Unexpect. The biggest date of the tour sees the four bands play at London's famous Wembley Arena, albeit a Wembley Arena that is only around two-thirds full.

Unexpect take to the stage at around quarter past six; they aptly manage to shock, confuse and amuse the audience all at once. Their sound, consisting of male and female vocals that are both growled and clean, is largely driven by the 9 string bassist ChaotH and is augmented by the keys of Exod and violin of Blaise Borboen-Leonard plus the metal standard guitars and frantic drumming. While the group clearly have many good ideas they fail to allow any idea to settle or progress, instead sounding rather like they write by trying to jumble everything up and throw it all up in the air before seeing where it will land. The sight of the band's furious headbanging and hair whipping is hilarious to say the least, as is the aforementioned 9 string bass. They're quite fun to watch and their willingness to conform as little as possible is to be applauded but they're the worst band on show at Wembley tonight.

Next up are retro rockers BigElf who, after entering to the strains of the imperial march music from Star Wars, proceed to play a series of heavy metal songs with organ attached in awe as much as possible to Black Sabbath. They're progressive only in the very loosest sense of the word with only the occasional Pink Floyd-esque touch backing up the tag. What they lack in originality they make up for in fun factor and their half an hour on stage flashes by. It also features a brief cameo by Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy who is obviously the band's biggest fan. They also deserve credit for their nerves for this is only the second UK show for a band who's major influences are all British and to play it at Wembley Arena is a nerve racking thing indeed but they succeed in winning many of the crowd over.

Some members of the crowd are here not for headliners Dream Theater but for Opeth, widely viewed as the pioneering leaders of today's metal scene. Some other members of the crowd look a little apprehensive as the Swedish behemoths take to the stage. These people have only heard about Opeth and look a little wary as if a vicious dog has just looked up from its bone to see that there's the possibility of fresh meat in their direction. Rather kindly Mikael Akerfeldt's crew start up with the all clean guitar and vocals 'Windowpane' but this is merely the calm before a storm and 'The Lotus Eater', introduced by Akerfeldt as "a masterpiece" and quite rightly so, shows what Opeth is really all about. They play a relatively soft set by their standards but there's still enough growling and shuddering grooves to strike fear into the heart of some onlookers. They are a formidable live act and I can't help but wonder why Dream Theater take them on tour as they come very close to blowing the headliners off the stage!

When Dream Theater do arrive however, for a short by their standards 90 minute set, they manage to match Opeth and more. Akerfeldt even joins them, providing the growls for opening epic 'A Nightmare To Remember'. Every solo, whether it comes from the keys or continuum of Jordan Rudess, the guitar of John Petrucci or even the bass of John Myung, is greeted with roards and gazes of wonder and astonishment. Singer James LaBrie is also on fine form, especially during the excellent 'The Mirror' and 'Lie'. Wembley is even treated to a special 'Percussive Nation' drum off featuring the drummers from all four of the bands as well as an extended version of the classic 'Take The Time' with extra Petrucci outro soloing. The band encores with the stunningly epic 'The Count Of Tuscany' and the show is over all too soon. With a suggestion of a return next year Dream Theater are gone and an incredible evening of, for the most part, progressive entertainment comes to an end.

Unexpect - 5/10
BigElf - 7/10
Opeth - 9/10
Dream Theater - 9/10

Opeth setlist:
The Lotus Eater
Harlequin Forest
April Ethereal
Hex Omega

Dream Theater setlist:
A Nightmare To Remember
The Mirror
Jordan Rudess Keyboard Solo
Prophets Of War
The Dance Of Eternity
Percussive Nation 2009
Take The Time
The Count Of Tuscany

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