After spending over three decades in the music business, progressive metal titan Dream Theater knows that its complex musical compositions — which have clocked running times exceeding 30 minutes — aren’t an easy sell. So the band long ago established itself as a road warrior, relying on fan loyalty and live performance for sustenance. After weathering the blow of the 2020 pandemic, the quintet resumed touring in February 2022. In April, the act had another highlight with its first Grammy Award win in the best metal performance category, for “The Alien” from its 2021 album A View From the Top of the World.
This June, Dream Theater launched its Dreamsonic tour, a 29-date North American trek featuring a multiact lineup that wraps July 26 in Phoenix. And though Dream Theater has presented its concerts in “an evening with” format longer than even co-founder/guitarist John Petrucci can remember, he promises “something different” on this outing while chatting with Billboard from Hollywood, Fla., where the band played the city’s Hard Rock Live Arena. Rounding out the bill on the inaugural jaunt are djent stylists Animals As Leaders and experimentalist Devin Townsend.
Once Dream Theater finishes Dreamsonic, Petrucci will return to the Sunshine State Aug. 3-6 for the fourth edition of his band camp, John Petrucci’s Guitar Universe. The W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale hosts the four-day stretch of master classes, concerts and jam sessions that boasts an all-star lineup of guitar instructors and encourages musicians from beginners to virtuosos to attend. According to johnpetruccisguitaruniverse.com, “The span of the players in this camp — stylistically, age, gender, nationality — represents a cross-section of the guitar community all in one spot.”
Below, Petrucci discusses the ideation and execution of Dreamsonic, plus future plans for the band and its new “traveling festival.”
What does the band aim to do with Dreamsonic?
What we we’re trying to do is something different from the usual sort of “an evening with” that we do during a normal tour cycle. We wanted to put together our own package that represented a cross-section of different bands in the prog metal genre, under that umbrella, and have it be a traveling, branded tour. In this case, we call it Dreamsonic so that we could bring this back at any time, at any place in the world, and have a different collection of bands.
Since we started, the genre has grown, and prog rock and prog metal have expanded to mean all these different things. So it’s kind of interesting how many bands are out there, but they’re doing slightly different things. And this inaugural run is a prime example of that because Animals As leaders and Devin Townsend and Dream Theater are all considered prog metal bands, but we’re all doing it in a very different way. That’s what this tour is all about.
How long has Dream Theater been doing “an evening with” format?
I’m not sure when we started that. It definitely has been some time now. The last couple of runs that we did, we did stray from that for the first time and took out a single opener on a run we did through Europe and in the U.S. But for the most part, we’ve been doing “an evening with” since I can remember now. There’s a couple reasons [for that]. One is that our fans really appreciate and want to see us in that context because there’s just so much material to dive into. And the second reason is because there’s so much material to dive into. Putting together a three-hour show is easy. There’s so much, and we have so many epics that take up a ton of time. So the challenge becomes, in this circumstance on the Dreamsonic tour, [that] we have to make our set an hour-and-a-half.
Why were Animals As Leaders and Devin Townsend chosen for this first run?
There’s a couple reasons with this type of thing, with all the bands on tour and so many different schedules that every band is in the midst of, whether they be in the studio or touring or doing festivals overseas. You come up with your list of bands that you’d like to see [on the bill], and then the next part is seeing which ones will coincide with the time period you’re looking at. Both Devin and Animals were looking to go out in the summer in the U.S., so that just worked out perfectly.
Are you following the prototype of any particular festival?
You know, I’ve been calling it a festival, but I guess when you imagine a festival, you picture a weekend and there’s many bands over the course of that weekend, and it’s just in one spot … Years ago, we did Dave Mustaine’s Gigantour … It’s in the vein of that, where there’s a bunch of bands and it’s a traveling tour, so I’m not sure what the technical word for it is when it travels like that. So I’m calling it a festival. (Laughs.) A traveling festival.
It’s early days, but do you hope to expand the lineup in the future?
Yeah, definitely. This is the type of thing where we can embark on this at any point, whether it be [for] an album touring cycle or whether it be during some downtime or whatever. This is the inaugural run; we decided to do it in the U.S., but we could really bring this anywhere: Europe, Asia, South America. And as far as the lineup, I think the beauty of this is that, again, there are so many bands that we know of … some that have been around for a while, some that are super young, that are doing this type of thing in their own way, and that’s the beauty of it. We can put together endless combinations of groups that would present a great, entertaining, really cool show packed with music, but still be diverse and different enough in the style of the bands.
Is it more difficult to launch an endeavor like this in this tough economy than when you typically go on the road?
Well, everything is more difficult now, just across the board, so I guess the short answer is yes. But everybody is experiencing the same thing, so it’s something that you navigate the best that you could. And we’re cognizant as well [about] what is happening in the economy and how many tours are out post-COVID-19 shutdown. We’re conscious of ticket prices and trying to make these events not too crazy and somewhat affordable. All the challenges that are out there, with venues and gas prices and equipment and rentals and trucks and crew — I mean, every band is facing the same thing, so you just sort of deal with it and you have a team together, hopefully, that knows how to manage and negotiate these things in the best way that you can, which we do. We have a very, very strong team.
Do you have any dates on the books for Dreamsonic once the tour is done?
No, this will be the end of the tour cycle for us. We’ve been touring for quite a while now in support of A View From the Top of the World, which is the latest Dream Theater record … Dreamsonic will actually be the last touring that we’ll do for 2023, and at some point, we’ll move on to working on a new record.
Do you anticipate doing Dreamsonic annually, or will it go out when it feels right?
I think it’s when we feel it’s the right time to do it. Annually is a little tough because sometimes we’re in the studio a certain year, or we’re back to “an evening with” and supporting the record in that format. So I think this is going to be the type of thing that when the timing feels right, then we’ll do it. But I think the important thing with the inaugural run was really getting all the infrastructure and everything in place, and building and establishing a brand so it’s something we could take out in the future. And hopefully, when people hear that name, Dreamsonic, they’ll know it’s going to be a showcase of some of the best prog metal in the world.
At the end of the night, do members from all three bands do any type of jam together?
Yes, we do, actually. I look forward to it every night for the encore. We play the song “The Spirit Carries On” from [1999’s Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory] album, which is such a Dream Theater fan favorite. It’s such a great moment in the show regardless, but we kick it up a notch by having Devin and a couple of guys from his band, and [Tosin] Abasi comes out from Animals. Everyone’s standing up smiling, crying, singing and it just creates this great [moment of] camaraderie. That’s been something that we’re all really enjoying so much.
Anything else that you care to add?
This isn’t so much a Dream Theater thing, it’s more of a me thing that I’m really looking forward to. At the end of this tour, about a week later, I host a guitar camp. It’s called John Petrucci’s Guitar Universe.
[This year’s lineup includes] Tosin Abasi from Animals. Fredrik Akesson, who’s the guitar player in Opeth. Lari Basilio, she’s a Brazilian guitar player, kind plays more of a fusion style. Ola Englund, who’s a Swedish sort of YouTuber guy. Guthrie Govan, who is just one of the craziest and most amazing guitar players on the planet. Tim Henson and Scott LePage, they’re in a band called Polyphia, which is another band that would be under that prog flag that would be great on a Dreamsonic tour. Aaron Marshall is in a band called Intervals. My wife, Rena Petrucci, she’s in a band called Mainstreak, and she’s a guest artist. Plini, who’s from Australia, writes some incredible instrumental music. Jason Richardson, another shredder. Joscho Stephan, who’s a gypsy-jazz guy from Germany, and then Zakk Wylde, who of course, we all know. I think there’s only 10 slots left. So I don’t know when this [article] is going to come out, but if people are interested, they better act on it. (Laughs.)