PHOTOS — Dream Theater w/ Devin Townsend, & Animals As Leaders at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater 2023

Dream Theater w/ Devin Townsend, & Animals As Leaders • June 21, 2023 • Ruth Eckerd Hall — Orlando, FL • Photos by Randy Cook —


Dream Theater | June 21, 2023 | Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater FL

Progressive metal titans Dream Theater brought their “Dreamsonic” Tour to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, FL., on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. Opening the show would be axe man extraordinaire Devin Townsend and the instrumental trio, Animals as Leaders. Any show that I have ever seen at this venue over the years has had superior sound, so this night of staggering musical talent and virtuosity on display in this lineup was sure to be a night of epic musical proportions. This was only the fourth stop on the announced twenty nine city tour which continues through the end of July.

Of the tour, Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci said: “We are all so incredibly excited to present Dream Theater’s very own prog-metal music festival, ‘Dreamsonic 2023’! The lineup…is going to be absolutely epic! ‘Dreamsonic’ promises to be a reoccurring musical event that will deliver history-making nights of amazing music for many years to come! You’re not going to want to miss this one!”

Opening the show was Animals as Leaders. I went into this show knowing only that the band is an instrumental progressive metal trio and from what I read have no current bass player. I tried to picture ahead of time how interesting that will sound, but from the comments of my friends before the show this was a band not to be missed. I found their music to be complex, intricate and very technical. They produced an interesting sound and visually, it was amazing to see the impressive skill on display between the two guitarists, blending and trading off between rhythm and melodies which really emphasized the band’s technicality. I wish the lighting had been a little better for their nine song set, well, at least the first part of the show while I was behind the lens, but I will for sure be digging back through their discography after seeing them live.

After a short intermission, Devin Townsend hit the stage and this was my second time seeing him perform live. I came out of this show more mesmerized than the first time I had the opportunity to see him play. I have previously read about the skills he possesses in with those magical hands of his. Exceptional, fantastic, incredible, marvelous, phenomenal, and remarkable are all words that I have seen try to describe his talent. My fifteen minutes behind the lens went by in the blink of an eye and by the time I made my way to my seat, Hevy Devy (a nickname of his) was asking the crowd if we were ready for a nine minute long heavy song, and based on the crowd’s reaction Devy replied “…we aim to please”. He has such a diverse playing style and his band incorporates facets of multiple musical styles into the complex song arrangements. The man can shred your ears off with the crunchiest of riffs and then the next part of the song is a melodic emotional journey within your own mind. His hand and facial expressions as he is interacting with the crowd and the rest of his band are a treat to watch. Whether he is playing heavy riffs or delicately crafting beautiful melodies, his technical prowess is evident in every note played. One other thing to note is that over the years I keep reading about fans asking him to bring back his Strapping Young Lad band – sounds like that is a discography that I NEED to check out! The band played their last song wearing some really cool oversize foam cowboy hats and after a masterful eight song set the audience responded with a standing ovation.

After another intermission, it was time for the main event of the evening. Dream Theater is one of the most influential bands in the history of the prog-rock genre. To a rousing roar from the crowd the band takes the stage and launches into their newest single ‘The Alien’. From the very first notes of their performance it was obvious to me that their set is would be more of their showmanship of the intricate mastery and technicality of the music being played more than a stage show. This was my first time seeing Dream Theater and once my time doing photos came to an end and I made my way to my seat, lead singer James LaBrie was cracking jokes in between songs about how “…with this being a Dream Theater show, we attract foxy dudes.”, alluding to how the demographics of this show were skewed highly to the middle aged male side.

 only noticed after the fact looking through my photos how John Myung’s bass is actually six stringed. Wow, this band gets more musically fascinating the further down their rabbit hole I go. Once I had made it to my seat, in the crowd I noticed people air drumming along with drummer Mike Mangini as he set the mood, groove, and tempo for each song and lead the band through the various time signature changes. Their music is a literal journey through the realms of progressive metal and rock. It just blends together seamlessly switching from the crunchy heavy riffs that I love so much, to intricate melodies. As the set list progressed I do not want to say I surprised myself by recognizing more of their music than I expected. More like an, oh, Dream Theater sings this moment?

After talking to my friend Sima who I chatted with at the show, and reading some of the negative comments in the Dream Theater subreddit after the show, I wondered if possibly I was at a completely different show. Maybe it was my unfamiliarity with the band but I had a much better experience than quite a few number of people did. Sima said for this being at least his tenth Dream Theater show, it was his least favorite. He, and Reddit, seemed to suggest that lead singer James LaBrie was exceptionally pitchy this evening. Sima also mentioned how he thought the sound was off with John Myung’s bass hardly audible. Sima and I both noticed how the crowd seemed to thin out some after the band played “Pull me Under”. For me, I thought the sound mix was spot on, with and without my ear protection in. I could hear Guitarist John Petrucci wailing away then trading off with keyboardist Jordan Rudess for his spotlight shining sections. I really enjoyed how the keyboard was on its own platform that not only spun around but tilted up to maybe a seventy degree angle. From the various vantage points I had of him it added an interesting aspect not only to my photos but as I was trying to take everything in once I got into my seat.

There was absolutely great lighting for Dream Theater, especially once I had a straight on view, I would so have loved to be able to get some photos from my seat, but rules are rules and I would like to still photo shows there in the future so the camera stays put away and the couple of cell phone photos I took just do not do justice to the visuals in front of me. I just sat back and enjoyed taking in some exceptional music. The entire evening was a walk through various time signature changes. I thought it was a great show, sounded awesome as always in that venue and getting to see friends at a show always make the experience that much more fun.

See the remaining Dreamsonic tour dates here:

Dream Theater Setlist:
The Alien
Sleeping Giant
Caught in a Web
Answering the Call
Solitary Shell
About to Crash (Reprise)
Losing Time / Grand Finale
Pull Me Under
The Count of Tuscany
Act II: Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On

Dream Theater Live Review by Randy Cook /// @horns_raised




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