MIKE PORTNOY Says It Would Be 'Nice' If DREAM THEATER Could Bring Back 'Crazy' Setlist Ideas For Upcoming Shows

February 28, 2024

In a January 29, 2024 interview with the "Pure Saturation" radio show, drummer Mike Portnoy was asked if he will go back to preparing a different setlists for every DREAM THEATER concert now that he is once again playing with the band or if he will "kind of have to just see how it is for a little bit" before taking the reins in that department. He responded (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "You pretty much nailed it right there. Back in the day, that was all my department and the guys were always so cool to give me free rein to — whatever my imagination could think up for the setlist, they went with it. If I said, 'Hey, I wanna cover a QUEEN song tonight,' we would do it. There was never any argument or resistance. So for all those years, the setlists and doing these crazy, unique ideas and shows, that was always my baby and something that I just really, really loved for the band, and I think the fans really liked it and appreciated it too. After I left DREAM THEATER, for the last 13 years or so, from my understanding — I haven't followed it too closely — but from my understanding, they've been more doing static setlists and things like that. So in answer to your question, is it gonna be like the way it used to be? Like you just said at the end of your question, I think I need to just get in and get comfortable first and see where we are at this point in 2024. We're older. It's been a lot of time apart. So I think there'll probably be a process of just getting comfortable and everybody finding their place in the new chemistry. And that being said, I would have no problem with the static setlist for a little while, because it's been so long for me, I've been gone for so long, and there's gonna be a whole new generation of fans coming to these shows that never saw the band with me in it. So even if we went out for this first world tour with a static setlist of doing all the classics, it's been so long for me that each and every night is going to be special and exciting within itself."

Portnoy continued: "For me, changing the setlist for all those years with DREAM THEATER, a lot of it was a reaction to me kind of — I don't wanna say 'get bored', but you get a little complacent playing the same songs over and over and over and over. So I would switch it up a lot, not only for the fans, but for ourselves to keep it fresh. But now, coming back after 13 years, it's gonna be fresh every night for me. So that in itself will be exciting. But all that being said, I think the band really does want to interject those kinds of things back into the live show. They have expressed to me that they kind of have been missing it and that they kind of want me to take the reins with the setlist and with the ideas of crazy sets and crazy shows and unique things. It seems to me — I mean, [DREAM THEATER guitarist] John Petrucci and I talked about it briefly. I think he really wants me to take those reins again. So fingers crossed that it will evolve naturally and organically to get to that point soon enough, because it really is such a unique thing, and I know a lot of the DREAM THEATER fans have missed it in the last decade or so, so it would be nice to interject it back in."

When interviewer Kevin Cassels said he felt like Portnoy's DREAM THEATER bandmates wanted Mike to take charge in those departments, the drummer replied: "I think there's a lot of areas where they're probably very happy with the way they function now, so those would be the areas that I have to be a team player on and take a step back and realize that I'm not running the show like I used to. So I have to respect that. But I think there are other areas where I think they definitely have expressed missing my input in a lot of other areas. And those would be the areas that, if they want me to take the reins, then I will happily do so. But I need to be respectful of the time that I've been away, and I don't wanna step on their toes. But it's exciting — no matter which way you slice it, it's exciting and I can't wait to get back on stage."

Asked what songs he is particularly excited about playing with DREAM THEATER on his eventual first tour back with the band in more than 13 years, Portnoy said: "I'm looking forward to playing anything with them, because I haven't played with them in 13 years. We start work on a new album in about two weeks, and we're going in with a clean slate. That's the way we always — at least in my day in the band — that's the way we always made records towards the end. So many of our albums were written in the studio with a clean, blank canvas to work with, and we just bounce ideas off of each other and build from scratch. So, yeah, that's how we're gonna do this next record.

"And as excited as I am to make a new record and write new music with the guys, personally, the thing I'm most excited about is getting on the road and playing shows," he explained. "That's, to me, the more fulfilling outlet. I love being able to play to an audience and feel their energy and their excitement. And I know the energy and excitement from the fans at these shows are just gonna be electric. I can't even imagine what the vibes are gonna be like. I felt a little bit of it when John Petrucci and I did his solo tour about a year and a half ago. You could really feel the energy and excitement in the room, and we were seeing grown men crying every night, just at me and John just being up there together. But now, to have the five of us up there together and to be playing these classic songs that are such a part of our history, and, like I mentioned earlier, there's gonna be a whole new generation of people, younger people, that never saw this lineup together. So, to me, that's what I'm most excited about, is getting on stage and playing for the fans."

Portnoy co-founded DREAM THEATER in 1985 with 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.

Portnoy previously talked about his return to DREAM THEATER last December in an interview with Drumeo. Regarding how he ended up back in the band, Portnoy said: "It's been 13 years, and I think time heals all wounds, as the expression goes. It's been many, many years now of kind of rekindling my relationships with the guys, starting with John Petrucci… Maybe five, six, seven years ago or so, we just reconnected. Our families — his wife and my wife were in a band together even before we knew our wives. Our kids have grown up together. My daughter and John Petrucci's daughter shared an apartment together in New York for the last five years. So the families were still close. So John and I inevitably reconnected on a personal level. And I guess it really started to gain some traction during COVID lockdown because I couldn't tour and DREAM THEATER couldn't tour, so John decided he wanted to do a solo album and he asked me to play on it. So that was the first step, I guess, in this direction. So I played on John's solo album. And then a few months later, we did an LTE [LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT] album with, with JohnandJordan [Rudess, DREAM THEATER keyboardist]. So that brought three of us back together. And then the following year I ended up doing John's solo tour, and our wives' band were opening for us. So we had the wives out with us. So it just seemed like it was all starting to come together on a personal level and then the musical level as well. And then I think the final piece was me reconnecting with [DREAM THEATER singer] James LaBrie 'cause James and I hadn't spoken for over a decade."

He continued: "I went to see DREAM THEATER play in New York, I guess around 2022, and that was my first time seeing James in over a decade. And literally, I'm not exaggerating, within five seconds of seeing each other, it was hugs, kisses and it was like any of the drama and bullshit that happened during all of those years of the split, it just melted away immediately. And with James and I buddying up again, it kind of just… it began to seem like an inevitability. It wasn't ever, I don't think, in either of our plans to eventually reunite. In fact, if you would have asked me this five years ago, I probably wouldn't have put money on it. But with the developments of everything I just laid out for you, then it started to really feel like, well, maybe this is inevitable. It just seems like we're in the right place and the right time at this stages of our lives. All those years of DREAM THEATER, we were in our twenties and thirties and forties. And now here we are, most of us in our fifties and some of the members in their sixties, and it just seems like life is too short to not be with the people you love and play the music that is part of your life and your heart and soul. So, yeah, here we are."

 Portnoy went on to say that he had no hard feelings for now-ex-DREAM THEATER drummer Mike Mangini, who has been publicly very supportive of Portnoy's return to the band.

"It was nice to see something like this happen with taking the high road and class and grace and dignity and not a war of words and drama and B.S.," Portnoy said. "This was really handled so well, and I have to give Mike Manginiall the credit in the world for that, 'cause it's not easy being replaced. I can't imagine. He handled it really well, and I guess the things he said were so classy. So, yeah, I was really glad to see how well he took it. 'Cause I was a little concerned about that. But it couldn't have come off any better."

Portnoy noted that he had been "friends with [Mangini] before he even knew any of the guys in DREAM THEATER. He and I were friends in the '90s when he was still playing in EXTREME and stuff like that and we would do clinics together and stuff," he said. "So, yeah, he's an old friend. And I could never get mad at the guy for taking the gig. I mean, how could you not? It was a great opportunity and a great gig. So, yeah, it was nice when all those resentments and all that stuff melted away, because it was a tough couple of years in the start of the split."

As for Portnoy's role during DREAM THEATER's new era, the drummer said: "I think that was the one discussion that John Petrucci and I had. We still to this point even haven't talked about business or money or finances or any of that. It was all about, okay, we know we love each other. We know we wanna play together again. But what is the new dynamic gonna be? Because for all those first 25 years, John and I produced the albums together. We kind of led the band together. I was handling the bulk of the responsibilities and decisions making and things like that. And so when I left the band, I was very much a control freak. And then now the last 13 years or so, obviously they've had to re-design their inner structure and how they function, how they work. I think John produces the albums himself now. So it remains to be seen how the 'new old' DREAM THEATER will function. But I think we're all older and wiser."

He continued: "When I left the band 13 years ago, I was a control freak — absolutely. I'll be the first to admit it. And I think as time has gone on, I've loosened up on all that. All the bands I've done over the last 13 years, I've had to learn how to compromise, how to collaborate, how to let go of things. I've even had these hired-gun gigs with TWISTED [SISTER] and AVENGED [SEVENFOLD] where I just play drums. So, we're just gonna have to find our feet in the new dynamic. I think there will be many areas that I hope I could regain some control, like writing the setlists, it was always a big one for me. But then there's other areas that I'm more than happy to step away and not even be involved with. I'd be happy to not write any lyrics again, which is what I used to always write a lot of lyrics back in the day. But I'd be fine with not doing that. It's a lot of things — designing the artwork or the merchandise. You've gotta pick your battles, and I guess we'll find our feet and see where everybody kind of fits into the structure of the new dynamic."

Portnoy attended DREAM THEATER's concert in March 2022 at Beacon Theatre in New York City. It was the first time he witnessed his then-former bandmates perform live since his exit from the iconic progressive metal outfit 13 years ago.

Mangini joined DREAM THEATER in late 2010 through a widely publicized audition following the departure of Portnoy, who co-founded DREAM THEATER 39 years ago. 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".

Photo credit: Travis Shinn

Here is our interview with the latest member of the Umphrey's McGee family....Mr. Mike Portnoy!! Mike discusses his performance with UM in Chicago on 12/29/23, opens up about the influence Phish has had on his band Dream Theater, and talks Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Yes & more!


The next episode of Pure Saturation airs SATURDAY 3/30 AT 10 PM EST on free, listener-supported JEMP Radio featuring 2 1/2 of Umphrey's McGee music!! You can catch the replay of last week's episode this WEDNESDAY 2/28 at 9 AM.

Intro/Outro & sound editing by Anthony Cassels (@Anthonypros881 on YouTube)


Posted by Pure Saturation on Monday, February 26, 2024

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