DREAM THEATER's JAMES LABRIE Says MIKE PORTNOY Is In Charge Of Tour Setlists Again: 'He's Done A Terrific Job'

June 18, 2024

In a new interview with Brazilian music journalist Igor Miranda, DREAM THEATER singer James LaBrie spoke about the progressive music titans' upcoming "40th Anniversary Tour 2024 - 2025". The trek — presented as "An Evening With Dream Theater" — is the first outing since drummer Mike Portnoy's return to the band last October. The European leg of DREAM THEATER's "40th Anniversary Tour 2024 - 2025" consists of stops in 23 cities and kicks off on October 20 and runs through November 24. Asked if there has been any discussion about the setlist for the upcoming tour, James said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Well, absolutely. And just so you know, we let Mike Portnoy take over the setlist again. So he's back to creating the setlist and he's doing, like we were almost positive he would, he's done a terrific job. I mean, the setlist he put together… And the thing is with Mike, he was saying, 'Hey, guys, if there's a song you don't wanna do, let me know. If there's songs that you really wanna do, let me know.' And so there's some very strong and cool communication going on. But yeah, he's glad to be putting the setlist together."

LaBrie continued: "I can't reveal what the setlist will be, but I can tell you that it's amazing. And I can't imagine any fan walking out of the venue and going, 'Oh, shit, man, I wanted them to play this' or 'I wanted them to play that.' This setlist really touches on so many grandiose moments in the band, so it's really like a power-punch setlist, and it's really gonna be exciting to see the fans and then to start hearing the conversations once we're actually playing it live. But now we're stoked. It's gonna be a great, great evening, amazing production. And, yeah, it's gonna be awesome."

Regarding how the reunion with Portnoy came about, LaBrie said: "Well, it was something that was slowly… We could kind of see the signs in a way, although at the time, you're not really paying much attention to it. But now we can kind of reflect back and go, 'Yeah, I guess that opened a door of maybe some dialogue that would lead to the next thing.' Being like, if Mike got together with [DREAM THEATER guitarist] John Petrucci and [DREAM THEATER keyboardist] Jordan [Rudess] and did an LTE [LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT] album. I mean, that's one thing that opened one door there. And then Mike got together with John Petrucci and did [Petrucci's] last solo album. And then he did his first solo tour. So this kind of starts happening. Then Mike and I made amends a few years ago when DREAM THEATER was playing in New York at the Beacon Theater, and then Mike came out. And it was the first time that him and I had seen each other in — holy shit — probably 12 years at that time, at that point. So that was another thing that kind of led to…

"I think way in the back of our head, at the time were we thinking, 'Oh, yeah, it's inevitable. We're gonna get back together and put the original lineup back together'? I don't think any of us were thinking that, but I think there's probably always a little iota of that sense that it could possibly happen," James added. "And I think with us, one thing just kept leading to the other, and eventually, when we were done [with] the last world tour, we kind of… 'A View From The Top Of The World', when we finished that [tour in support of that album] and wrapped it up [in] July of '23, we kind of knew at that point that we just wanted to kind of reflect on everything and take a reading of where we were in our career. what was it that we wanted to achieve. And then the whole Mike Portnoy thing kind of started to become more a reality, where it was just kind of, like, 'Hey, you know what, guys? We're at this point in our life and career, if we're gonna do something like this, maybe now is the time that we should be considering.' But like I said, it was several things that just started to materialize, little things that grew into a little bit bigger things. And it just kind of evolves from there and it mushrooms into what was undeniable to us at some point in time where we went, 'Hey, let's do this. This makes perfect sense.' And no diss to… [Now-former DREAM THEATER drummer] Mike Mangini's an amazing, incredible fricking musician, drummer, and the albums he did with us we're all extremely proud of; they're great albums. But now here we are in this chapter, back with the original drummer and our 40th-anniversary world tour coming up. So it's huge. It's gonna be big. It's gonna be big."

LaBrie also talked about the progress of the recording sessions for DREAM THEATER's sixteenth studio album. The upcoming effort will mark the progressive metal legends' first LP with Portnoy in 15 years. James said: "Right now, keyboards are being recorded, as you and I speak. So, yeah, it's basically, record keyboards and then vocals. And then it has to be mixed and mastered and all that stuff. And then, obviously, the artwork and everything that goes along with any given new album, that also has to be put into the works, and it's being discussed and so on and so forth. So, yeah, there's a lot going on, and like any given album when you record it, there's a process. And, yeah, it's moving along and it's coming along amazingly. So, we're pretty stoked."

As for the musical direction of the new DREAM THEATER material, James said: "You know what? I would really like to save that for when we start interviewing for the new album. I'll just tell you this: I'll say, quite simply, we couldn't be happier with where it is because it's the album that we wanted to write. It's the album that we wanted to create, and we nailed it. It's everything that we wanted to achieve and more. So, what can I tell you? We're ecstatic. We're so, so happy about it. And that's really the best place to be. When you're creating something like a reunion album, you want it to be absolutely incredible. So we're stoked. Absolutely."

Portnoy co-founded DREAM THEATER in 1985 with guitarist John Petrucci and bassist John Myung. Mike played on 10 DREAM THEATER albums over a 20-year period, from 1989's "When Dream And Day Unite" through 2009's "Black Clouds & Silver Linings", before exiting the group in 2010.

Mike Mangini joined DREAM THEATER in late 2010 through a widely publicized audition following the departure of Portnoy. Mangini beat out six other of the world's top drummers — Marco Minnemann, Virgil Donati, Aquiles Priester, Thomas Lang, Peter Wildoer and Derek Roddy — for the gig, a three-day process that was filmed for a documentary-style reality show called "The Spirit Carries On".

In April, Portnoy was asked by Rolling Stone magazine if he was surprised when he was invited back into the band. He said: "Before the Covid pandemic, if you had asked me or any of these guys, 'Was a reunion in the cards?' I probably would've said I doubted that it could happen. I think if the lockdown hadn't happened, you guys probably would've been on tour, and I would've been on tour with one of my 48 bands. But once we were all locked down, John asked me to play on his solo album. Then, from there, Jordan, John, and myself did the LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT album. And then I did John's tour. So there were just these series of events of reconnecting us — not only on a musical level but also on a personal level for many years prior to that.

"All of our families are friends," he continued. "And my daughter and John's daughter shared an apartment together for many, many years. And John Myung lives right down the block from me, and his wife's at my house every night. There was just a series of events both personally and musically that started to feel like, 'Well, maybe this really is in the cards. Maybe this is the right time.'"

Asked if they see this reunion as healing a fractured band, Portnoy said: "I don't want to be over-philosophical about it, but as we're all getting older. Here we are in our 50s and 60s. You start to think of the reality of, 'How much time do we have left?' I would hate it if this were to become a Roger Waters-PINK FLOYD or Peter Gabriel-with-GENESIS situation where the fans want it, but it never happens."

Petrucci added: "When Mike left the band, it was traumatic for all of us. We had to figure out how we were going to move our career forward. And those years that went by, they were also healing years because you don't just have something like that happen, and all of a sudden, you're all best buddies a week later. There's some trauma there that had to heal. Thirteen years was enough time for that to happen and be, like, 'Hey, you know what, man? We love each other like we're brothers.'"

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