I hope I can contribute something here...but being in a Dream Theater tribute band and having read some of these posts, I have to agree here and there with both sides. The Portnoy fans who praise Portnoy as the new God of drumming, as well as the Drummers who are just not impressed with Portnoy at all.
You might think that because I'm in a DT tribute band I'm going to say that Portnoy is the greatest Drummer out there...but that's actually not the case. I have to say that "bfdrum86" is for the most part correct. A good understanding of drum theory, with some good chops will definitely allow you to play even some of the more difficult DT stuff. Believe it or not, I learned Dance of Eternity in my car while driving, just listening to it and counting, but perfected it by practicing behind the kit. What makes this stuff so difficult is not necessarily the difficulty of what is being played, but remembering everything that needs to be played. Now having said that, I will say that there a few parts that I have found difficult to play, but not necessarily because they are technically superior. To me it's more of a brain thing, my brain is obviously wired differently than Mike’s brain, and there are things that my brain will take longer to absorb. However, whenever I’ve encountered this, it has never been anything that a few days of good practice can’t fix. It’s just a matter of getting my brain and my body used to what needs to be played. But isn’t that the case with all of us…Practice is the bottom line if you want to learn anything!
So, No! Mike is not the greatest drummer out there or that has ever lived etc… I’m sorry to disappoint all the fans who think so. But Mike IS however a great drummer and he is Dream Theater incarnate! This is why I respect him as a drummer and a musician. Without him Dream Theater wouldn’t be what it is today, and who knows, maybe the same thing can be said about Prog Rock. I heard some complaints when he was added to the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame. Some argued he wasn’t a good enough drummer and threw out names like Donati and Lang, I think this was a poor excuse…what about Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr? If someone told me Mike has better chops than Charlie and Ringo, I would have to agree. However, it’s their contribution to drumming and music in general that makes them so special and worthy of respect from all of us.
Anyway, just my 2 cents on this whole Portnoy love/hate thing!
For the curious...