Fates Warning/Queensryche and Dream Theater Live at the Aragon Ballroom

Chicago IL, July 19th 2003

by Dark Starr

I made my way to the Aragon Ballroom on this summer night expecting a killer show from three great bands, two in the prog metal vein, and one coming from the metallic school of progressive rock. I didn’t exactly get what I was expecting.

First, let me say that the Aragon is a wonderful venue, one of the nicest of its size in Chicago, however, I do have to draw the line at $6 for a beer. In any event, I found a great vantagepoint in the balcony, and checked out Fates Warning, who were playing when I got there. That is a bit of a story in itself in that the band must have hit the stage just as the doors were waiting, although there was a line literally a block and a half long waiting to get in ? poor planning. I take some solace, though, in the fact that I really didn’t miss much. The band’s strong point on records is in the mood that they manage to create by weaving layers of sound. Live this sound is pretty much gone, leaving just a fairly generic metal band. The only highlight was when the drummer came out front and traded vocal lines with their lead singer. That cut was a strong one,
but the rest of the set that I saw was quite weak, and they suffered from poor sound.

Next up was Queensryche. Although Fates Warning has always sounded a bit like Queensryche, Geoff Tate and company certainly proved they were the master, not the student. Their sound was impeccable, and they ran through a strong lineup of tracks from their whole career, including some material from their brilliant new album Tribe. Tate was sporting a Rob Halford look with his shaven head and leather outfit, but it definitely suits him well. This was the third time I had seen the band, and I must say I have not seen a better show from them. They interspersed the live music with great visuals, sometimes weird, sometimes poignant, and everyone seemed to be playing with an intensity and fire that you don’t often find in music these days. It seemed as though Tate’s message was clear, intoning the audience to "Open Your Eyes".

After that killer set I was expecting more fire from Dream Theater. I was disappointed, not gravely disappointed, but disappointed nonetheless. First, whatever Queensryche had going for them in the sound department seemed to be all gone by the time DT hit the stage. Their sound, mostly in the form of James LaBrie’s vocals was at times muffled, other times distorted, and seldom dead on. The band also seems to now bedoing precisely what many critics used to wrongly accuse them of. At several points throughout their show they seemed far more interested in playing as many notes as possible in the given time frame than creating a solid and entertaining soundscape. In the past times I have seen them this was never the case, and it certainly surprised me this time. That said, the set did have its moments, my favorite of which was when they dug out the old Led Zeppelin classic "Since I’ve Been Loving You". They purely smoked that one, and LaBrie’s sound rivaled, and possibly surpassed that of Robert Plant ? and he even seemed to pick up the Plant swagger in his stage performance ? quite cool! The encore was also something to behold with both Queensryche and Dream Theater taking the stage at the same time to run through several songs, including Pink Floyd’s "Comfortably Numb".

So, the final analysis Fates Warning: Disappointing, probably won’t waste my time again, Queensryche: Must see again and again, they always deliver, Dream Theater: I’m going to chalk this one up to a bad night, and try them again later.

Gary "Dark Starr" Hill is the editor of the webzine Music Street Journal