Words by Joseph Dipisa-Fiorenza
Photos by Bailey Graham
This was it.
The final ever performance of Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress, and what an absolutely monumental night it was. The Melbourne crowd could not have asked for a better performance from these world class musicians.
Waiting for the band to take the stage was a long but unifying experience, as we all sang through demo versions of classic Dream Theater material that Mike had played a massive part in creating. Shouting at the top of our lungs and waiting for the curtain to part was intensely exciting experience.
The payoff once Mike arrived on the scene (accompanied by five sixths of Haken as well as Eric Gillete) was exhilarating.
Wasting no time at all the band launch into Overture 1928 and Strange Déjà vu. As an audience we follow their lead and the energy level shoots through the roof instantly, which is where it is destined to stay for nearly the entire show.
It’s immediately clear how proficient the band is at each of their respective instruments. With a three-guitar front consisting of Gillete as well as Charlie Griffith and Richard Henshall, it was obvious that there would be no part left un-played from the original source material. Rounded out by fantastic chops of Connor Green on bass and Diego Tejeida on keys, the rich harmonic texture of every now was melting everybody’s mind before vocalist Ross Jennings even sang his first, beautifully nuanced note. He would go on to do perfect justice to the adored vocal lines.
Of course, most importantly we have to note that the mighty Mike Portnoy himself does not seemed to have lost any steam at all since the last time he was regularly performing these songs whilst still with Dream Theater. The man is an absolute work horse, and nothing can stop him or slow him down. Least of all age. By the time the third song of the setlist rolled around, The Mirror, we were all convinced that he hits the drums with more intensity and precision than ever.
In regards to intensity, it was very clear that this was heightened by the fact that this was the very last show of the entire year long world tour. A world tour that saw Portnoy finally getting some closure and being able to perform his 12-Step Suite about recovering from alcoholism and addiction in it’s entirety. Visibly emotional, he told us this himself before cueing Diego to strike the first note of The Glass Prison.
The energy for the next 12 minutes was off the charts. Each member of the band providing perfectly tight playing. Virtuosic enough to make even the most accomplished musician inspired.
The segue from this fan favourite into This Dying Soul (the next song in the suite) caused rapturous cheers and was executed with incredible grace.
By this point the emotions were beginning to run high both on stage and in the audience, as everyone began to realize that this was really it. That after this, there would be no more performances of this progressive metal masterpiece.
When the slow burn build of The Root of All Evil finally started to reverberate through the room, there was cheers, laughter and tears. A heartfelt rendition with many moments of pure ecstasy as the entire room rocked out to the incredible rhythms and huge chordal textures being hurled from the stage.
Eventually, we did get a slight breather. Repentance allowed Mike to take lead vocals and touch every single soul in the room whilst we recharged our batteries for what we knew was coming. The down-tempo tune provided plenty sing along opportunities, including a bridge that somehow most of the audience managed to sing varying perfect harmonies to. A feat that surely only a prog audience could achieve.
The main set closed with a MASSIVE rendition of The Shattered Fortress. Another 12 minutes of pure joy in which the tears flowed, and the cheers were never-ending. The message of these 5 songs was heard loud and clear as we all shouted Mike’s lyrics back at him, prompting an ever-growing smile from him.
The band did not leave the stage for very long, returning to have more fun with us by playing Home and The Dance of Eternity, giving us reason to revel in the crazy solos, maniacal time-signatures and of course the female orgasm noises heard in the bridge of Home.
At this point it’s important to note that whilst the band executed the source material with precision, they must be commended for finding the perfect spots to add their own flair and flavour without impacting the original compositions. It’s a tricky task and they pulled it off with mastery.
As for Mike himself, naturally he made plenty of alterations to the drum parts that he wrote so many years ago. Every single alteration adding something to the performance and ascending it to a higher level.
Finishing the show was the extremely fitting epic, Finally Free. Undoubtedly this will have been one of the most touching live performances of this masterpiece to ever take place.
With messages like “One last time” and “I’m finally free” being especially emphasized by Portnoy, the emotions were hitting an all time high and the perfect night came to a close with a promise as Portnoy stood up behind his kit. A promise of hope for the future… “We’ll meet again my friend, someday soon.”