What happens when a band loses a key member? – Part 3


Back in the Fall of 2010, the world shifted on its axis. You may have felt the jolt when Mike Portnoy announced his departure from Dream Theater. Was it ‘the end’ or just the opportunity for a new beginning? OR – just bide your time….

So who reckons a drummer is the key member of a band? There almost as many drummer jokes doing the rounds as there are banjo jokes. A favorite might be the one about the difference between a drummer and a foot spa – one bucks up the feet…..

However, moving swiftly on, no-one, NO-ONE could DARE say that Mike Portnoy was just a drummer. His departure from Dream Theater in 2010 when his request to take a break was denied by the band only for him to quit (see Rich Wilson’s Lifting Shadows biography for an accurate account) sent shock waves through the music world. A total shock as Portnoy was indeed the driving force behind Dream Theater and the fact that the band would go on without him was an indication that no one is bigger than the team. The days when his OCD would dictate the need to have control over almost everything the band did from the merch to the setlist counted for nothing when it came to future plans.

Having made the decision and then had second thoughts, asking the band to change their minds and being turned down is quite some move. First of all from MP himself, admitting to being ‘wrong’ and having the balls to ask to be forgiven (after all, as we emphasised, DT was very much ‘his’ baby). But also, maybe the bigger, certainly more of them, were the balls of the band who’d appointed Mike Mangini via a very public auction procedure and stood as a united front and were ready to take their chances as the new Dream Theater.

So did it work? Dream Theater were in a position of strength in terms of album sales and their pulling power as a touring unit. However, some might have viewed their latter era Portnoy albums as treading water a tad. Systematic Chaos and Black Clouds & Silver Lings (a portent maybe – given hindsight?) had their moments but not maybe as consistently good as Scenes From A Memory or Octavarium. Along with the latter two, Images & Words was a genre-defining record (their Close to The Edge?) so maybe a time to take a breather was in order. Or so MP thought as the band wasn’t having it.

And so to the post MP era – DT without MP – their first post-Portnoy album, A Dramatic Turn Of Events (allegedly NOT related to the dramatic turn of events) was quite a decent one. Jordan Blum in his Dream Theater On Track book, certainly rates it, although the follow ups have been patchy. 2013’s self-titled album rates low and Distance Over Time sitting at a comfortable mid-table point. The Astonishing remains a love/mainly hate choice, some ranking the meisterwork very high although many were considerably less impressed.

MP’s replacement, Mike Mangini was under no illusions about the size of the boots he was filling but remained very much his own man, quietly dignified and to be fair, an immense drummer, both on record and onstage. Having seen DT play on four occasions in their newest guise, the most recent View From The Top Of The World tour saw a stage show toned down, particularly the Mangini kit where less might have been more. The choice of moving back to mainly seated theatres and the ticket pricing structure also saw quite a few empty seats/rows/blocks at the Manchester gig so maybe the fans were voting with their hard-earned.

Portnoy was always a drummer who’s hyperactive enough to be constantly touring and playing music with someone – Transatlantic and Neal Morse satisfying his Prog side while he currently scratches the heavier itch with Sons Of Apollo and The Winery Dogs – he’s has been playing again with John Petrucci on the latter’s recent solo album and tour. You can almost see the door being gently eased open. Whether or not he’ll play in Dream Theater again in some capacity…it might be very unfair to Mike Mangini, who’s fitted in and driven the band forward over the past thirteen years, but with DT being a spiritual home for Portnoy and with time catching up with us all, never say never.


And that was where we left off until the dramatic turn of events a week or so ago. The ‘never say never’ seems most prophetic and events have turned out as many might have predicted. It was only a matter of time right? Maybe even written into Mike Mangini’s contract – a sort of pre-nup agreement, just in case MP should want to return and the band and management willing. Posts on social media have probably endeared Mangini to the fans more than when he was actually in the band with the dignified way he’s handled his position., possibly suggesting that our latter supposition may have some legs. Certainly in terms of ‘drummers leaving/being replaced/sacked by bands’ (Jay Weinberg/Slipknot also recently in the news) the intelligent and heartfelt responses have been illuminating.

And there goes the answer to the question – what happens when a key member leaves? Option (a) is that you replace them with an alternative or (b) is that you get a replacement on an unwritten temporary basis and await the return of said key member. Ask Jon Anderson and Bruce Dickinson…now there’s an idea for the next installment…

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