John Petrucci Concert Review Celebrity Theater Phoenix AZ 11-02-22
John Petrucci Concert Review Celebrity Theater Phoenix AZ 11-02-22-Review and Photos By Roc Boyum
The power prog trio of John Petrucci-guitar, Dave LaRue-bass and drummer Mike Portnoy gave the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, AZ a mind blowing, dazzling display of impressive music with unparalleled musicianship that will not soon be forgotten. A unique element to this particular show is that the Celebrity Theater stage is a full circle that the band split into a half circle – which on this night, made for an awesome viewing perspective from every angle of the available seating.
The show opened with the powerhouse all female band Meanstreak who are cited as being one of the first ever all female thrash metal bands. The band’s music is more of a combination of thrash metal, straight up metal and progressive metal rather than pure thrash. This is a band that was mostly active from 1985 to 1994 and like many thrash metal bands in the 1990’s, they took a hiatus with the emergence of grunge and alternative metal. The band has finally returned to the stage once again to unleash their thirty plus years of experience of making music and of hitting audiences with their aggressive style of progressive power thrash music.
Meanstreak are: Bettina France-Vocals, Martens Myung-Bass, Yael Rallis-Drums, Marlene Portnoy-Guitar and Rena Sands-Guitar – they have one studio LP, Roadkill, to their credit and they have reunited to deliver their brand of thrash once again. The band had a genuine appearance of enjoying their return to the stage as the two guitarists, Sands and Portnoy interacted with each other while trading off ripping solos and playing duo leads. Bassist Myung held everything together while drummer Yael continued to wail away at her drum kit, breaking numerous sticks and needing roadie assistance from time to time as she continued to rattle a number of drum hardware components loose with her aggressive style of thrashing throughout the set. Singer France engaged the audience while belting out her vocals and prancing across the length of the stage throughout their show.
Although thrash isn’t the obvious match-up you’d think of to be paird with a show like Petrucci – these girls held their own and got the audience fired up and ready for the musicial onslaught that was coming up next.
It has been a long time coming for guitar shred fans to witness the first solo tour by John Petrucci to showcase his two studio solo LPs; the 2005 release, Suspended Animation and the 2020 release, Terminal Velocity. Petrucci brought with him two incredible musicians, Dave LaRue on bass and Mike Portnoy on drums; both of them where equally stunning and both musicians played on the Terminal Velocity LP, which helped to catapult the musical prowess that it took to convey Petrucci’s music with the kind of kick ass precision and technical virtuosity that this music demands. This tour also marks the first time in twelve years that fans were able to enjoy the reunion of Petrucci and Portnoy on stage together again, since Portnoy’s departure from Dream Theater. The band hit the Celebrity Theater stage with a tour de force performance that shook the intimate Celebrity Theather and astonished the crowd as they were thrust into a night of unapparelled progressive rock musicianship and musical expertise that blew the minds of all who were in attendance.
Anyone who knows the guitar works of John Petrucci from his work with Dream Theater are well aware of his stunning guitar playing. For those who haven’t gone further down the virtuoso performance guitar rabbit hole to follow Petrucci on his solo works, you have missed out on some of the most incredible recorded guitar work by anyone ever, and a side of Petrucci that explores and expands on his insane guitar prowess and songwriting abilities. Many fans like myself have been waiting some seventeen years for a solo tour from Petrucci and this tour was definitely well worth the wait.
The stage setup for this tour is streamlined and minimalistic which delivers an exact and articulated sound that is second to none. A special shout out to the Celebrity Theater and the sound crew for delivering a sound that was so beautifully carved out, that had each instrument crystal clear and perfectly balanced within the mix. The lighting was also simple, showcasing just the right mood for each band member as needed and left all the flash of pyrotechnics to the musicians themselves -who were a non-stop explosion of musical brilliance.
The show featured seven songs from the Terminal Velocity LP with; “Terminal Velocity, ” The Happy Song,” “The Oddfather,” “Gemini,” “Out of the Blue,” “Snake in My Boot,” and “Temple of Circadia.” The other four songs of course were from the Suspended Animation LP. It’s one thing to record an LP with the potential to do multiple takes to get that perfect take – but to do a ninety minute plus show to perfection, which is essentially one take, that’s a whole different level; and these guys nailed everything with insane precision while hardly breaking a sweat.
Opening their set with “Terminal Velocity” set the bar high with it’s intricate guitar work, driving rhythms, and singable melodies that stick in your head from your first listen. This song is a workout from beginning to end with LaRue and Portnoy holding down the rhythms and locking in on ridiculous breaks, while Petrucci unleashes guitar lines and solos that seemingly defy human abilities. It’s like he was channeling his inner guitar guru and connected with the universe on a cosmic level; absolutely mind blowing!
“The Happy Song” is exactly that! The guitar lines and melodies are so up and make you feel so damn good, it’s no wonder that upon the song’s conclusion, Petrucci commented; If your not happy after that, I can’t help you!
In contrast, “Jaws of Life” is a bit more jagged and aggressive with it’s odd time chunking rhythms and guitar solo lines that go from sustained bending whole notes to a barrage and flurry of notes that are simply mind numbing in their speed and excellence.
“The Oddfather” is just a beast of a song for everyone in the band as it moves between, driving rhythms that gives way to grandiouse and open half time sections that are followed by some crazy march syncopations that each member works together in tandem synchronicity until the ridiculous finger-tapping section by Petrucci, mid-way through the song. The song ends with Portnoy blasting out a blistering 1/16th note double peddal groove while LaRue and Petrucci lock in, note for note on a shredding run up the guitar neck that charges forward until it’s abrupt ending, like a speeding bullet that hits a 10 ton block of steel and just stops dead in it’s tracks; brilliant!
Gemini featured LaRue on his five-string bass with a killer solo over a samba vibe groove that had everybody rockin’ to the pulsating and swaying rhythms.
When you hear the name Petrucci, blues isn’t the first thing that comes to mind but after you hear “Out of the Blue” from Terminal Velocity, that could surely change. The song showcases the soulfull side of Petrucci’s playing and proving that any style he plays, he’s an absolute master of that style; no surprise really. LaRue also gave a real tasty bass solo in the middle of the song and Petrucci finished it off strong with his signature style shredding over a blues vibe; how cool is that? Super FN damn cool for sure!
“Tunnel Vision” is another song of blistering guitar work for sure that included a section towards the song’s end, where Petrucci and LaRue, laid down a nasty staccato style rhythm while Portnoy soloed over their jagged 4/4-time groove. Portnoy’s solo was more than just blistering chops that assaulted every piece of drum gear on stage, he took his solo phrasing in and out of the bar line. That is to say, that within the confines of the 4/4 time groove, he would often finish his phrasing over into the next bar on the down beats or up beats of two or three in the next bar. This made for some much longer, interesting and more exciting drum solo phrases, which definitely kept everyone on their toes. This type of solo phrasing can be challenging for the other members to hold down the time, but of course, Petrucci and LaRue simply had a blast locking in while they watched a master at work with his insane chops and beautiful musical expressions; great fun for everyone – the audience and the musicians!
“Damage Control” is a nine minute plus song that goes through many different moods and tempo changes throughout the song with a blistering section that has Petrucci and LaRue joining together at the front of the stage for a serious shredding party while Portnoy churns out a charging groove that is a rhythmic undercurrent. The two guitar players lock in, playing some blistering runs together note for note that is especially mind blowing considering that LaRue is on a five-string bass and matching Petrucci’s blistering speed which is no easy task on any instrument. Just for good measure, LaRue throws in a mini solo in “Damage Control” in between his brilliant accompaniment to Petrucci throughout the song.
Petrucci introduced “Snake in My Boot” from Terminal Velocity by stating that this song is kind of like “We Will Rock You” disguised as a prog song but written with audience participation in mind. Petrucci then asked Portnoy to express the rhythm to the audience for their participation in the song. While Portnoy hammered out a steady four beat rhythm on his bass drum for reference, he then showed the audience that their participation would be simple hand clapping. Holding his sticks high in the air, he demonstrated that the first clap is on beat 3 of the first measure and then followed by two claps-on the & of 2 and the downbeat of 3 in the next measure; simple right? Not exactly, even though that 4/4-time signature is continued throughout the song, the musical phrasing will most likely get you lost somewhere down the line for sure. Hey, it was a lot of fun to try and hang in there none the less!
The band finished the regular set with “Temple of Circadia” and an encore of the Celtic themed “Glasgow Kiss.” “Temple of Circadia” is another brilliant track from Terminal Velocity that contains some amazing odd time turnarounds and an majestic open air section in the middle of the song that goes from beautifully sustained guitar notes into some mind altering guitar runs. One wouldn’t think that these runs are humanly possible, that is unless you witnessed them for yourself. But of course, this is what Petrucci does for just another day in the office of a mind blowing guitar player.
“Glasgow Kiss” from Petrucci’s Suspended Animation LP made for a perfect end to an incredible concert with a song that makes you want to grab a beer and dance with your friends or just sit back and enjoy the grandiose and lofty melodies of the song; most people in the audience opted to dance and sway to the awesome Celtic style groove. Upon the song’s conclusion, Petrucci was throwing picks out to the audience and finally all three members joined together for the finale bow in front of a standing ovation from the audience.
I highly recommend catching this show live, whatever it takes for you to get to one of the shows left on this tour that concludes in New York on November 20th. I would also say that it’s a prerequisite that you get Petrucci’s studio LPs first before attending the show, in order to fully absorb everything that will be coming at you live. One may think that a night of guitar noodling might be too much to take-in but let me tell you this; Petrucci’s playing is mesmerizing and engaging and the accompaniment of LaRue and Portnoy make this an incredible experience. Don’t be fooled by how easy these guys make things look, this is as challenging as anything that anyone can throw out there and their ease of playing and fun interaction throughout the show only serves to make this a show that will leave you wanting more! Yes, I said, more guitar please…this is brilliance that you just can’t get enough of.
Now that we’ve had a taste of his solo works live, and Petrucci himself has finally fulfilled a long awaited dream of playing these solo works live; we hope he won’t hesitate in taking this incredible show back out to share with the world again soon.
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