Queensryche are the benchmark against which any progressive metal band must measure themselves. But they’ve had troubled times. Recent albums have sold poorly and last year, front man Geoff Tate was unceremoniously dumped after a back stage bust up. Tate has predictably pushed out his own album using the band’s name and we currently have two Queensryche’s in circulation. A court order permits both bands to use the moniker until a rights hearing next year. A sad but not uncommon state of affairs.
This was the real Queensryche’s first appearance before a British audience with new vocalist Todd La Torre in harness. So it was good to see the Academy packed to its exposed industrial ceiling pipes. Punters had voted with their feet.
Although the first of a 16 date European tour, there was no evidence of either ring-rustiness or unfamiliarity tonight. The band bounced out of the traps and ripped through a powerful ‘Queen of the Reich’ opening before a few introductions. La Torre looked entirely at home, rapping with the crowd comfortably and working the stage like a natural.
“This is the next chapter in the Queensryche story”, he confided. As if to emphasise that point, we saw a very different ‘Ryche show tonight. The sound was stripped down, lean and hard. ‘Queen of the Reich’, whilst furiously delivered, is not the most ambitious track in their canon, with its Maiden/Priest references. It set the tone. The whole feel was much less progressive and much more metal. A couple of tracks were chucked in from the new album which is also pretty heavy, mean and to the point.
This was billed as the ‘Return To History’ tour. Right enough. Take out the brace of new tracks and the set list was culled entirely from the first four albums and the 1982 EP – the last of which, ‘Empire’ was released 23 years ago. So, more backward than forward looking.
There was a huge doff of the cap to hardcore fans with an exhilarating ‘Prophecy’, and an electric ‘En Force’ from the early days. Four tracks came from ‘The Warning’, scattered liberally through the gig. The crowd lapped it up, pumping fists and screaming back every word.
There was still room for the band to stretch out though and flex their creative instincts. ‘Child of Fire’ saw Michael Wilton take a stroll in the spotlight and ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ off the new platter was set up spectacularly by the instrumental ‘X2’, full of grandeur and pomp, giving way to a fluid, melodic twin lead guitar assault, Wilton and Parker Lundgren combining sumptuously.
The band were at top speed now. ‘The Needle Lies’ was a classic blend of operatic vocals and devastating guitars, powered by Scott Rockenfield’s shattering snare snap and bass drum weave. Brilliant. The climax to ‘Operation Mindcrime’ closed the set proper. ‘My Empty Room’ bled into the magnificent ‘Eyes of a Stranger’ introduced by a haunting ‘tick-tock’ tape loop and featuring a chilling audience riposte of “Why am I here and for how long?”
Todd La Torre was deeply respectful of the audience and its relationship with the band throughout the gig. For my money, he lacks some of the presence, drama and gravitas of Tate in his prime, particularly with some of the band’s more thought-provoking and challenging material. But he is absolutely rock solid with the mainstream vocal delivery. And the former Crimson Glory man certainly won some friends for his sincerity. “Thank you for embracing me tonight”, he gushed during the encore.
The best from ‘Empire’ was saved for the final salvoes, ‘Jet City Woman’ was all guttural riffs underpinning soaring vocal hooks and a massive audience chorus. The gorgeous ‘Silent Lucidity’, almost out of character in tonight’s set, was all the more poignant and delicate because of it. Title track ‘Empire’ was a monstrous, brooding thing full of intensity and foreboding. It ended with a crescendo of white noise and dancing strobes. Then the band were at the edge of the stage taking the plaudits. The bloke next to me was thrilled to catch one of Rockenfield’s drumsticks.
Overall, a really, really good gig. Really good. But not quite excellent. There seemed to be just a hint of theatre and drama missing. A ‘Suite Sister Mary’ or a ‘Della Brown’ might have better balanced the set and rammed home the ‘Ryche’s unique blend of power and progression. Indeed this was a pretty short gig by today’s standards. A couple of extra tracks to diversify the show wouldn’t have hurt.
This is the danger of setting such high benchmarks (for which the band have only themselves to blame!) and no-one in the audience was moaning. Not even the hairy-biker looky-likey next to me who couldn’t clap in time (he should stick to pies). After all, this is a transition phase in the band’s colourful career and the ‘Ryche’s back catalogue is so strong that maybe it’s impossible to be totally happy. Praise be that they are still here at all.
Review by Dave Atkinson
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