Classic Rock August 2003
Ryche 'n' roll suicide?
Passionless and well past their sell-by date, the Seattle dysfunctionalists commit yet more water-treading mindcimes (sic) against their long suffering fans.
Sometimes it's all about the spark. Whether a band are promoting their finest album of a glittering career or paying lip service to a complete duffer, an audience usually twigs if their hearts aren't in what they're doing.
For longer than most of us can remember, Queensryche have been treading water. Painted into a corner by the success of their 'Operation:Mindcrime' ('88) and 'Empire' ('90) albums, since then they've released either what fans don't want to hear from them (eg the acoustic-flavoured 'Promised land') or just plain tat ('Hear in the now frontier' and the execrable 'Q2K').
There has also been considerable internal dissent about Queensryche's lack of direction: guitarist Michael Wilton said: "I love the band's hard, aggressive music, but those days are dwindling"; vocalist Geoff Tate even confessed that the group do their talking through "business managers and lawyers" these days.
"We're still dysfunctional people," Tate told me on the afternoon of this show. Indeed, the Seattle band entered therapy to expunge the tension that had developed between them over the previous 22 years. They maintain that a brace of external and solo projects helped them to clear away the clutter and remind them how to make a Queensryche record again, promising darker, heavier and better things with their latest album.
To that end, long-departed guitarist Chris DeGarmo even plays on and co-wrote several tracks. 'Tribe' starts well enough, and certainly represents a step up from'Q2K', but it's not exactly the masterpiece that most of us had been hoping for (read: it sounds nothing at all like 'Operation:Mindcrime').
The audience jamming the Astoria were here under the misapprehension that DeGarmo was once again playing with Queensryche – an announcement of that nature had been made, though the errant guitarist unfortunately changed his mind due to scheduling problems – hoping to witness some kind of last-ditch resurrection. Sadly, all they got was a well-balanced, musically proficient but unfulfilling set from a seemingly passionless band that now seems to be well past its sell-by date.
Opening with a song from 'Tribe' – admittedly one of its best – wasn't exactly the most auspicious start Queensryche could have made, and for reasons best known to themselves they elected to follow it 'My global mind', one of three songs from 'Promised land' that peppered the first half-dozen numbers. Fortunately, sprinkled among them were the debut album's 'NM-156', which still offers rabbit-like jabs to the rib cage, and 'Screaming in digital', a choice song from the group's controversial 'Rage for order' album.
The now shaven-headed Tate is still capable of squealing with his usual fervour, and for an unknown quantity new guitarist Mike Stone acquitted himself with honour in the vacated DeGarmo/Kelly Gray hotseat. But something was wrong. After the sublime 'Empire' and a teasing delve into '...Mindcrime' via 'The needle lies', the band pushed the self-destruct button: a bizarre mid-set slump with a batch of songs from 'Q2K' and '...Now frontier' that not even the likes of 'Silent lucidity', 'Revolution calling' and the usually euphoric 'Eyes of a stranger' could quite shake off.
Let's make one thing abundantly clear: even on an off-day Queensryche remain a formidable force in the realm of power metal. Their innovation is impossible to ignore, and one must also perversely admire the way they have doggedly refused to retread old ground. For better or worse, though, the Queensryche of this evening bore little relation to the majestic band that strode these very boards – and those at the Town & Country Club and Royal Albert Hall – with such class and assurance – so many moons ago.