Dream Theater at Ikeda Theater at Mesa Arts Center , 12/4/11

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Dream Theater Ikeda Theater at Mesa Arts Center Sunday, December 4, 2011

Loyal fans talk about Dream Theater's live show in hushed, reverential tones. I'd never experienced the band live before last night, but years of hearing fans rave about the prog-rock theatrics of the long-running group set my expectations high. Mesa Arts Center's Ikeda Theater made for an intimate venue, and my conversation with Jordan Rudess last week had me curious how things would work out with new drummer Mike Mangini behind the kit.

Throughout the set, the bands songs sounded like I was hearing them from the album, which always amazes me when it happens. There was a core of fans front and center that went nuts all night long, but the rest of the crowd occasionally needed some encouragement. Intricate lighting shows complimented each song on the long-winded set list, and according to the middle-aged burly man next to me, Dream Theater usually doesn't get on stage with more than their instruments.

The true buzz of the show was getting to see Mangini, up close and live. The crowd bantered about the band's latest, Grammy-nominated album, and whether Mike Mangini could really step into Mike Portnoy's shoes on stage.

As a heavy metal lover, sometimes it's nice to have that frenetic energy and powerful mosh pits; but with bands like Dream Theater who have been around for decades, the fan base ranges from young to old, and people are truly just there to enjoy the music and aren't preoccupied with going nuts.

Frontman James LaBrie stepped it up, keeping the crowd going and interacting with Mangini enthusiastically. The band had an overall respect for each other that was palpable with all smiles, and it transferred to the crowd. A long drum solo halfway through the set seemed to solidify to the fans around me that Mangini was indeed a good fit for Dream Theater. Mangini's drum kit is a little bit unorthodox; forgoing the usual left to right, light to big tom setup. Instead, it starts with the smallest tom in the middle, surrounded by a snare on top and bigger toms on the side. It doesn't change his sound but gives him accessibility to really showcase his talent.

Songs ranged from lots of fan favorites to several from the new album, A Dramatic Turn of Events. Now, I know that over the several years Dream Theater has been together, they have attracted a bevy of different types of fans. But at this show, I could look to my left and see a somewhat hippy-ish guy, with a long beard and flannel, dancing. On my right, a metalhead wearing a Metallica T-shirt, covered in tattoos. I knew Dream Theater would sound huge, but the diversity of the audience pointed to the band's cross-genre appeal.

Set List:

Bridges in the Sky These Walls Build Me Up, Break Me Down Endless Sacrifice Drum Solo The Ytse Jam Outcry The Silent Man Beneath the Surface On The Backs of Angels Through My Words Fatal Tragedy Breaking All Illusions Under a Glass Moon

Critics Notebook:

Last Night: Dream Theater at Mesa Arts Center

Personal Bias: I am a huge fans of drum solos, but hearing their new jam On The Backs of Angels was fantastic and the crowd went nuts.

The Crowd: A sea of hard rock, instrumental lovers, bobbing their heads and fist pumping metal horns. Heard in the Crowd: A guy in his 30s who looked around himself curiously besides exclaiming out loud to no one in particular, "Damn, Mangini is holding up really well!"

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