|Mike Portnoy invited Jordan Rudess (keyboard) and progressive rock icon Tony Levin (bass, Chapman Stick) of King Crimson and Peter Gabriel's band to join him. In his instructional video "Liquid Drum Theater", Portnoy said that his first choice for the guitar was Dimebag Darrell, but he was unable to join because of conflicting schedules. Two other primary choices, Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Kansas, Deep Purple) and Jim Matheos (Fates Warning) were also unavailable. Portnoy then turned to fellow Dream Theater member John Petrucci to fill the position (despite initially wanting to keep the project completely separate from Dream Theater). The combo was formed as a side project to Dream Theater in 1997. Some theorise that Rudess was asked to join Dream Theater largely because of the success of Liquid Tension Experiment. He had already declined a previous offer to join in 1994 and instead became a member of the Dixie Dregs, known for complex, "Southern fusion" instrumental music.
Liquid Tension Experiment released two albums, Liquid Tension Experiment (1998) and Liquid Tension Experiment 2 (1999) on Magna Carta Records. They also played a few live shows in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Mike Portnoy has previously stated in numerous interviews (and on his web site FAQ) that there would not be a third LTE album, as 3/4 of the band is in the current Dream Theater line-up and the material would be too similar; yet there can always be live shows with the same line-up. In 2007 however, he said that a third release is possible, but that his problems with the Magna Carta label are more of an obstacle than getting the band members together to record. A situation that to do with the company that released the Liquid Drum Theater VHS tape using video footage of Liquid Tension Experiment in the studio without getting the required permission of Magna Carta. Mike Portnoy came back to Magna Carta in 2007 to release the Liquid Trio Experiment's "Spontaneous Combustion" Sessions.
Several songs and riffs from the project have been incorporated into Dream Theater's live performances, such as "Instrumedley" from Live at Budokan.
On October 4, 2007, it was announced that LTE would headline NEARfest 2008 in June. On March 29, 2008, six Liquid Tension Experiment tour dates in June 2008 were announced to celebrate the bands 10 year anniversary as well to create a "whole new musical experiment".
Liquid Tension Experiment released a multi-disc boxed set of tour highlights from their 2008 tour, including complete shows from New York and Los Angeles on DVD and CD (the L.A. show also on Blu-Ray), the Liquid Trio Experiment 2 recording from Chicago (q.v. below), and a disc of improvisations from other shows on the tour. The New York and Los Angeles shows were also released separately on CD or DVD, all through Dream Theater's website.
Liquid Trio Experiment
During the recording sessions for their second album, John Petrucci had to leave due to his wife's going into premature labor. During that period, the remaining members, who still had studio time booked, continued to write music in improvisation. On October 23, 2007, a compilation of jams from those sessions was released under the name of Liquid Trio Experiment. The album, called Spontaneous Combustion, was recorded from Mike Portnoy's DATs of the sessions because the original master tapes disappeared before the mixing stage. A few songs from Liquid Tension Experiment 2 were spawned from these jam sessions, including "914", "Chewbacca", and "Liquid Dreams".
Liquid Trio Experiment 2
The second incarnation of Liquid Trio Experiment happened unexpectedly while playing a concert in Chicago, IL on June 25, 2008. In the beginning of their set, Jordan Rudess' keyboard started playing half steps every fourth key. At the end of playing Universal Mind, he went off stage to talk to the tech crew to see if it could be fixed. In the meantime, the other three musicians on stage continued to play, improvising for what turned out to be the rest of the concert. Rudess was on the phone with Roland for most of the time, and finally realized the keyboard was unfixable in that time, so he came onstage and took Petrucci's guitar to jam with the band. Petrucci took Levin's bass, and Levin joined in on Chapman Stick. Toward the end of the show, Charlie Benante from the band Anthrax came and played drums while Portnoy played bass. This entire improvised concert was released in 2009 as When the Keyboard Breaks: Live in Chicago.