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Articles : Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress – An in-depth live review

By on June 29, 2017

Wednesday, September 8th 2010 – the day Mike Portnoy shocked his band mates and legions of fans around the world by announcing that he was leaving Dream Theater. Portnoy parted ways with his long time friends and bandmates after 25 years, citing immense fatigue  on both personal and professional levels and a desire to sew his musical oats elsewhere.

True to his word in the ~6.5 years since leaving Dream Theater Mike Portnoy has played with more bands and musicians than I could possibly name. Highlights of his Post-DT work include The Winery Dogs (Power Trio with Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan), progressive rock super group Flying Colours,  and continued works with Neil Morse and Transatlantic. As good as these projects are, most of his fans would love to see a Mike Portnoy/Dream Theater reunion one day. This looks unlikely in the short term as Dream Theater seem more than happy to continue with Mike Mangini behind the kit.

The 12 Step Suite is a collection of 5 songs released over 5 consecutive Dream Theater albums – The Glass Prison, This Dying Soul, The Root Of All Evil, Repentance, and The Shattered Fortress . The ‘12 steps’ which are the foundation of the lyrical content for these songs are the 12 Steps used by alcoholics to face  and overcome their addiction.  Mike Portnoy’s own struggles with alcohol are well publicised and his contribution to these songs from a lyrical and conceptual standpoint is unquestionable.

Mike Portnoy turned 50 this year and as part of his birthday celebrations he came up with the idea to treat himself and his fans by playing the 12 Step Suite from start to finish – something he always intended but never managed to do during his time with Dream Theater. Portnoy’s idea was initially conceived as a ‘one off’ event. For the occasion he assembled The Shattered Fortress –  5/6th of UK progressive group Haken plus Eric Gillette on lead guitar. Haken are the preeminent Progressive act of this decade and  Gillette  is as close as you’ll come to a clone of John Petrucci – there is no question they are up to the task.  In some regards the legitimacy of Portnoy’s selection of bandmates mirrors the calibre of decision made by Dream Theater when they enlisted Mike Mangini to fill the massive void left by the departing Portnoy many years ago.

Since the original ‘one off’ performance of the 12 Step Suite  Portnoy has seen demand for the spectacle grow, and grow,  to the point that he is now committed something reminiscent of a fully fledged world tour. Whilst Portnoy is clearly looking forward to revisiting and celebrating the Dream Theater chapter of his career he is equally keen to distance himself from the likes of Geoff Tate or to a lesser extent Roger Waters – musicians who continue to  be defined by their past bands.  Portnoy has been adamant that this tour is limited to dates in 2017  only – in simple terms, unless Dream Theater and Portnoy happen to reunite down the track this tour will be the only opportunity for fans to see Mike Portnoy play a full set of Dream Theater material live. An opportunity too good to pass up for a die hard fan like myself.

Koko is 1400 capacity venue in Camden. Sure it’s less than half of the size of the Hammersmith Apollo (where Dream Theater recently played on their Images and Words and Beyond tour), but upon reflection I’m impressed that Mike Portnoy is able to book venues of this sort of capacity on his name alone.  There’s no doubt that the chance to see the 12 Step Suite played from start to finish (something that even Dream Theater have never done before) is a key selling point but there’s something more to the appeal of these shows. I’m not sure that I’d go and see Kevin Moore play Images and Words or Awake for ~£40.00 a head regardless of who he had in his accompanying band. Equally I’d probably pass on seeing Martin Lopez (another one of my favourite drummers)  play Blackwater Park with anyone other than Opeth. Perhaps here in lies the reason that Portnoy leaving Dream Theater was such a big deal for fans of this style of music – Over and above his proficiency behind the skins Portnoy has a charisma and presence  which is practically unrivalled, especially in the drum world.

But enough of the scene setting, and onto the night itself;

Mike Portnoy hand picked Next To None to open up proceedings for this tour – we’ve got a family affair on our hands from the get go –  Mike’s teenage son Max handles drums in Next to None and Mike’s Wife and Daughter were manning the merch stand! Next To None delivered a high energy set which for the most part held the attention of the building crowd.  These guys are noticeably  young, but their individual talents on their instruments belie their age.   Ryland Holland is a certified shredder on guitar and Max Portnoy’s drumming is a standout feature of the bands sound. The material in the set was predominantly selected from their upcoming sophomore album Phases, due out July 7th.  Their new material is quite markedly different to their debut – showcasing a  strong metalcore/djent influence, alongside material which is clearly intended to appeal to fans of Portnoy Snr. Allowing myself to be a critic for a moment –  the marked change in styles in such a short time makes me question whether  major labels and the big stage is the best place for such a young band to be developing  their sound and chops.  I have no doubt that there is still a lot of development and improvement left in these guys before they find their ‘true’ sound. With that said I’m sure Next to None are one to keep an eye on over the coming years.

As Next To None’s equipment was cleared off the stage there was a sense of nervous anticipation around the venue. Sure, you could bet your life that a good portion of the set would entail the 12 Step Suite but you just knew Portnoy would have some tricks up his sleeve for the rest of the set.

The house lights dimmed, the theme from Psycho played over the PA – The crowd erupted at the site of Mike making his way to his enormous drum kit.

The Set started with Overture 1928 and Strange Déjà vu from Dream Theater’s classic concept album Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes from a Memory. What a way to start a show. The crowd were in in full voice and Portnoy had them eating out of his hands –  literally whipping them into action with every raised stick or gesture from behind the drum riser.  From the very first song it was clear that the band assembled for these shows were very comfortable playing together. The beauty of basically grabbing Haken, a band at the top of their game,  and adding Portnoy and Gillette to the fold is that the majority of the band already have an established chemistry.

Next up was The Mirror taken from Dream Theater’s 3rd album AwakeThe Mirror is a brilliant song and the band played it flawlessly. Portnoy was grinning from ear to ear, interacting with fans wherever possible and nailed his parts as you would expect. I must admit that the current incarnation of Dream Theater does miss his showmanship behind the skins –  everything he does is so visual – the way he slaps the side of his head while navigating through complex rhythms, and bounces/catches his sticks makes is hard to notice there is anyone else on the stage at times.

Portnoy briefly left the drum riser to talk to the audience. He spoke of his passion for playing these songs after 6.5 years. On night one of this tour it was clear to see what revisiting these songs meant to him. Mike added to the occasion by noting that Dream Theater’s first ever show outside the US was in London, making it the ideal city to commence proceedings.

It was time for the  centrepiece of the show –  the 12 set Suite.

Playing these songs is a herculean undertaking and despite some minor technical issues and a couple of opening night glitches the band delivered the tunes very well indeed. The songs sounded particularly beefy with 3 guitars playing the parts. Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall essentially played rhythm guitar for most of the night, with Eric Gillette doing the finest impression of John Petrucci that you’re ever likely to see. Gillette handed lead vocals for The Root of All Evil  too, showcasing what a well rounded talent he is. Portnoy himself took the vocals on Repentance and Ross Jennings rejoined the band for The Shattered Fortress. I really like Ross Jennings’ vocals and he delivered a commanding vocal performance all night long- staying very true to the recorded melodies. Diego Tejeida’s keyboard work was really impressive too – Jordan Rudess is a prodigious talent on keys but Diego did a mighty fine job at replicating his intricate parts.

After the 12 step Suite the band left the stage. As good as it was, the best was yet to come.

The Encore consisted of 3 more fan favourites from Scenes from a Memory . Home, The Dance of Eternity and Finally Free. Each song was met with unprecedented applause form the crowd. Hearing Home live after so many years of wanting to see it in the Dream Theater set was a real treat. The ever complex Dance of Eternity was played very well – not an easy task, especially with an additional 2 musicians added into the fold, but Portnoy held the band together with a commanding rendition – there’s no question he still has the chops. Connor Green’s version of John Myung’s bass solo was a highlight.

Finally Free was an uplifting and symbolic way to close out the night –  ‘We’ll Meet again my Friend, someday soon’. The band flirted with the opening lines of A Fortune In Lies (The Iconic first notes from When Dream and Day Unite) before putting down their instruments and bowing to the rapturous applause of the audience.

I must admit I was apprehensive going into  the Shattered Fortress show. Could ‘Portnoy and Friends’  pull off a full Dream Theater set convincingly on the first show if the tour? More importantly, would the show celebrate Mike Portnoy’s time in Dream Theater or would it serve to make me more conflicted about a situation that Portnoy himself created some 6.5 years ago?!  As it turns out, The Shattered Fortress did both!  It was an absolutely fantastic show –  one of the most memorable I’ve been to and clearly an emotional night for Mike. However you just couldn’t help but leave with a sense of melancholy about the whole situation. Whilst I love Mike Mangini’s playing there is no doubt that there is something special about  Mike Portnoy and what he contributes to Dream Theater – The turnout and reception last night demonstrated this in spades.

The Setlist was a fantastic. It wasn’t lost on me that Mike has not only picked some of his personal favourites, but he has been respectful to Dream Theater by avoiding the Images and Words album, given that their current tour sees this album played in it’s entirety. From that perspective fans of Dream Theater and Mike Portnoy have a fantastic opportunity to get out and see both shows this year without the need for comparison or competition.

Whilst Dream Theater fans will always dream of a fairy tale reunion, getting to see Mike on The Shattered Fortress tour  is a fantastic opportunity to watch the much loved figure play through a collection of significant DT songs. Seize the day and see show while you can because unless Mike or Dream Theater have a change of heart these shows in 2017 will be your only remaining opportunity.

Make sure to catch Mike Portnoy in Australia this November. Grab your tickets from Metropolis Touring.

Thursday 16th November – Auckland – The Studio
Saturday 18th November – Brisbane – The Tivoli
Monday 20th November – Perth – Astor Theatre
Wednesday 22nd November – Adelaide – The Gov
Friday 24th November – Sydney – Metro Theatre
Saturday 25th November – Melbourne – The Croxton

About

Chris is a long time metal enthusiast and advocate for Australian heavy music scene. Chris grew up in Perth, Western Australia and is a past member of modern melodeath act Let's Kill Uncle. Currently residing in London, UK.