Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars
Over the course of their career since forming in 1981, Queensryche have gone from playing large arenas to support huge-selling albums like “Operation: Mindcrime”, “Empire” and “Promised Land” to playing smaller theatres and clubs to promote a roster of spotty and occasionally downright awful releases since the departure of lyricist and guitarist Chris DeGarmo in 1997. Since then, the band has tried various means to attract crowds including a tour in which the set lists were mostly comprised of covers (to support the “Take Cover” album), a massive theatrical stage show that resembled a Broadway musical (the “Operation: Mindcrime II” tour) and even an adults-only cabaret tour that featured go-go dancers, contortionists, drag queens and a dominatrix. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, “Life is like a Queensryche concert. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
So, it was with great trepidation that I walked through the doors of the Orlando stop of their “30th Anniversary” tour – one that, in theory, was also embarked upon to support their most recent studio album “Dedicated to Chaos”. Given that “Chaos” is one of their weakest efforts to date, I very much hoped that the show would be retrospective in nature and cover a variety of their finest songs from the past three decades rather than one that would be dominated by the latest misfire. So, as the houselights dimmed, I crossed my fingers and prayed for the best.
From the now darkened room, two video walls on either side of the stage sprang to life and, underscored by a digitized sea of flames, the covers of every studio album the band had released materialized and faded, the hit albums receiving huge amounts of applause; the misses…well…not so much. After the appearance and disappearance of the “Chaos” cover art, Queensryche blasted into action with the appropriately titled “Get Started”, the opening track from that album. While the song caused me to speculate that the concert might indeed be dominated by the new release, “Started” played quite well live and lead vocalist Geoff Tate immediately established a dominating larger-than-life animated stage presence that would keep the audience in his clutches throughout the entire show. But would it remain “Chaotic”?
Luckily, it didn’t.
Only one other song from “Chaos” was played (“At the Edge”) during which Geoff Tate donned a saxophone and added his own instrumentation to mixed results. The rest of the 19-song set featured the classic songs that fans of the band regard as their greatest – and ones that could easily convert newcomers to do the ‘Ryche thing from there on in.
The show was probably the tightest that I’ve seen the band play since the “Hear in the Now Frontier” tour in 1997, the last that DeGarmo would participate in. Tate’s voice is still in peak form and the core rhythm section since the group’s inception, bassist Eddie Jackson and powerhouse drummer Scott Rockenfield, remains one of the best in the heavy metal genre. Guitarist Michael Wilton has also been a constant, but the post-DeGarmo years have seen him trade licks with three other axemen. The most current, Parker Lundgren, is undeniably the best of the batch and the synergy between the two guitarists rivals that of the band’s banner years.
Because of this, this iteration of the group was able to infuse new life into their staple songs. As could be expected, tracks from “Operation: Mindcrime” and the hugely successful “Empire” dominated the set list. Their 9 other studio albums were represented as well and included classics from early in the band’s career such as “NM 156”, “Screaming in Digital” and even “The Lady Wore Black” and “Queen of the Ryche” from their 1982 self-titled debut EP. The band truly seemed to enjoy this trip down memory lane and their assembled legion of followers reacted with huge enthusiasm as the group dished out mutual favorites.
One can only hope that Queensryche can maintain the level of lucidity and intensity they so readily exhibited at the House of Blues. At their peak, the band brought a level of sophistication and intelligence to heavy metal that hadn’t been seen before and, in so doing, raised the bar so high for the genre that the group itself frequently couldn’t clear it. As Queensryche enters into their fourth decade, the future could be a very bright one for them – as long as they continue to remember how it started.