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Photo Caption: Hey you, and you: Dream Theater’s James LaBrie.

Photo: Julia Zave

Mother’s Day

By David King

Progressive Nation Tour

Washington Avenue Armory, May 18


There was a keytar on stage at the Washington Avenue Armory on Sunday night. You read that correctly—a keytar. And while a keytar could nowadays pass for nerd chic, it was not meant in an ironic fashion when Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess pulled out his alien-looking silver device and joined guitarist John Petrucci at center stage to tear out a dual solo. It was meant in complete awesomeness!

You might get the impression that I am hating on the extreme dorkiness of the night’s proceedings, but in honesty I’m not. I have no right to because, well . . . I brought my mom to the show. My 60-something, gray-haired ma got her Mother’s Day present in the form of a ticket to see her favorite metal band, Between the Buried and Me. Yes, my mom has a favorite metal band.

Besides the fact that I lose all cool points by bringing my mom to a metal show, the Progressive Nation Tour 2008 was not about cool. It was about the sheer awesomenisity of seeing dudes shred their instruments like the Bush administration would a pile of Constitutions. It was about fist pumping, air drumming, Bic-lighter hoisting, and the oft-maligned Bill and Ted shred fingers.

Dream Theater’s set began with a video montage, a Spinal- Tap-esque production that featured shots of the band way back in ’85, when all of the members still had full heads of hair. That’s besides the onscreen close-ups of each band member’s fingers as they shredded through their most challenging parts.

It was over the top in every way. Lead singer James LaBrie showed off his range, mainly in the higher registers. Drummer Mike Portnoy played a blinged-out kit, which featured dozens of cymbals and three(!) kick drums, as if his lightning speed was no big deal, as if he could even pick his nose while playing parts that would kill lesser drummers—and that (pick his nose) he did, with a drumstick. Most importantly, the guitarists played arpeggios at jaw-dropping speed.

Made up of tunes from different eras of their career, the setlist displayed the band’s many influences: from the Metallica- and Muse-esque, to the early-’90s ballads, to tech/nu-metal-inspired work like “Dark Eternal Night.”

While the pieces of the whole were stunning, the whole itself—you know, the songs—were less inspired than the playing. But in the end the songs really were not the point.

Sweden’s Opeth took their time to saunter through their goth-tinged, progressive death-metal set. Lead singer Mikael Akerfeldt shifted wistfully from a demonic growl to a choirboy singing voice, creating drama during songs that felt more like trances or ceremonies than pieces of music. The band hypnotized the crowd with “The Drapery Falls” and “The Baying of the Hounds,” and even broke off a decidedly slinky new tune, from their soon-to-be-released Watershed.

The band’s plodding, atmospheric nature put my mom to sleep and, although I am an admitted fan, something did feel sleepy about their performance. Akerfeldt’s laid-back, chatty, almost romantic style generally sets the mood for Opeth’s headlining performances, but stuck in the middle of a package tour it simply killed the urgency created by the opening acts.

Following a set from Woodstock-based prog act 3, Between the Buried and Me, who list both Opeth and Dream Theater as major influences, did their job and more, sending the crowd into a frenzy with tracks from their masterwork, Colors. (They also made my mom really happy.) They displayed traits of both headliners, and smashed them together with spastic progressions and Dillinger Escape Plan- or Meshuggah-style time and tempo changes. The result was the most exciting and frantic part of the night (at least for me and my mum) as BTBAM took the crowd through more than half of their latest album with no pauses. They went from an insane thrash session into a country-style hoedown, straight into the epic climax of “White Walls,” with the metal faithful pumping their fists as singer Tommy Rogers growled, “We will be remembered for this!” And they were, as only minutes later when the band started to pack up a chant started, “One more song! One more song!” My mom didn’t start it, I swear.

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