It was the first of a number of tracks during which guitarist John Petrucci simply mesmerised, with a guitar tone to turn many a professional player green with envy, and a style and technique that veered from achingly melodic, to defiantly on-point and outright aggressive.
Following with 1994 classic ‘6:00’ from the ‘Awake’ album, the modest midweek crowd were clearly enjoying themselves from the off, from the locals to those who had flown in from other countries especially for opening night.
Greeting the audience, singer James LaBrie acknowledged their 2002 show just down the road at Dublin’s Vicar Street venue, saying; “Belfast, we are so sorry that it took us twenty years to get back into this region. We were fucking lost! Despite the bullshit that's going on in the world, we're going to have ourselves an amazing evening”.
Going on to reference his own Irish heritage, the frontman proudly announced; “I gotta say, I'm from the McCarthys and the McGreevey’s!”, before the band launched into ‘Awaken the Master’.
It’s was with the arrival of 2003 favourite ‘Endless Sacriifice’ however, that the atmosphere really lifted. Greeted with a huge cheer, the incredible playoff between Petrucci and keyboard player Jordan Rudess climaxed with the latter joining the band on the lip of the stage with his custom keytar.
With a stunning production that made muse of drapes, an animated screen, impressive lightshow and an exceptionally minimalist, uncluttered stage, the show was a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. Employed liberally throughout, the animated visuals came into their own particularly with the Mayan-themed, dragons and castles imagery of ‘Bridges in the Sky’, and later, the evocative landscapes of the closing ‘The Count of Tuscany’.
With the evening coming to a close, LaBrie took the opportunity to confess that his knowledge of the city of Belfast was somewhat limited. “You know that I didn't know until we landed in Belfast that you built the Titanic here?”, he confessed, adding incredulously; “And you shot Game of Thrones?!”, to a knowing cheer.
It was the closing encore of ‘The Count of Tuscany’ however that rightfully raised the roof, and the atmosphere in the SSE Arena. A sprawling twenty-minute epic, with time changes, defined movements, and everything that Dream Theater are famed for, the suite proved the perfect way to end the evening.
Taking their bows, the band thanked the crowd for sticking with them despite their prolonged absence from these shores.
Check out our gallery from the show below. All shots by Warren Blair.
Dream Theater continue the UK run of their ‘Top of the World’ tour with dates in Newcastle and Wembley on 21st and 23rd April 2022. For tickets, click here.