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Queensrÿche

(25 Sep 2011: Emo's East — Austin, TX)

Some may think of Queensrÿche as a band of the past, but the fact is that the Seattle rockers are still going strong after 30 years. Has it really been 30 years since the maestros of hard rock began their illustrious career? It almost seems like cognitive dissonance, but the jersey shirts the band is selling feature an “81” on the back to indicate it. Hence, the thinking man’s hard rock band is out on the road for their landmark 30th anniversary tour.


After seeming to fade away in the mid-to-late ‘90s, the band has been on a tear for the past decade, proving that quality never goes out of style. The band’s bestselling albums – 1988’s Operation: Mindcrime and 1990’s Empire – are still what define Queensrÿche to many. But from 2000’s Q2K to 2011’s Dedicated to Chaos, Queensrÿche have continued to knock out strong new material to tour behind. Queensrÿche also aren’t like many other ‘80s-era hard rock bands touring merely for a nostalgia buck. Not only does the new stuff rock and sound fresh, the band still operates with four of its five original members.


Virtuoso vocalist Geoff Tate has long been the ringleader for the band and he commands the stage from the beginning, with “Getting Started” (the opening track from the new LP) lighting a fuse to start the show. But powerhouse drummer Scott Rockenfield and bassist Eddie Jackson are the ones who really keep the chemistry surging. Likewise original guitarist Michael Wilton who just keeps riffing, along with newer axe-mate Parker Lundgren.


“I Don’t Believe in Love”, one of the signature tracks from Mindcrime, sends a charge through the crowd as the material from that classic album always does. The heavy groove from Jackson conjures glorious headbanging every time. Most fans would probably prefer to hear more tracks from Mindcrime (only one more would appear in the show), but the band toured behind playing the album in its entirety in 2005, and then again in 2006 playing it as a first set to go with a second set of Operation:Mindcrime II, so no one can say the band hasn’t endeavored to give its fans what they wanted.


But at some point you have to carry on, and the show appropriately hits on songs from throughout the band’s career. It’s only a shame that Mindcrime‘s “Revolution Calling” doesn’t make the cut. The brilliant song was an indictment of everything wrong with society in 1988, and all of those problems still remain, so the song would still be most appropriate in these turbulent times. But the band opts to plays several tracks from 2009’s American Soldier LP instead. These tunes don’t quite ignite the crowd like the more classic material, but they still find Tate and company in fine form. “A Dead Man’s Words” features an eerie vibe with an Eastern melody to fit the wars in the Middle East, with Tate delivering powerful vocals sympathetic to a soldier stuck behind enemy lines.


But soon the band digs all the way into the back catalog for “The Lady Wore Black”, one of the songs from their original 1981 demo. The perennial crowd pleaser brings the vibe back up, and then the hard-hitting “Walk in the Shadows” from 1986’s Rage for Order kicks the show into overdrive. The classic tune features the band’s signature mix of heavy groove, tight riffs and epic vocals that conjure a big crowd sing along. Wilton throws down one of his meltiest solos of the night and there’s no doubt that Queensrÿche remain at the top of their game.


Tate acknowledge’s the band’s impressive longevity when he cites having recorded 12 albums over those 30 years. He then introduces the new “Around the World” (one of the best tracks from the new LP) as a song about how people really are the same all over the world, so let’s come together despite our cosmetic differences in culture. Music is the unifying force and the song’s triumphant vibe is attuned to exactly that sentiment, a most timely message during this era of global insanity.


1990’s smash hit “Silent Lucidity” shines as always, with the audience mesmerized by the Pink Floyd-ian grandeur of the tune. But it’s the hard-hitting “Take Hold of the Flame”, from the band’s debut LP The Warning in 1984, that provides the climactic ending to the set. It’s one of the greatest metal songs of the ‘80s, with a monster groove that foreshadowed the masterpieces to come on Operation:Mindcrime. Rockenfield absolutely crushes the tune on the drums, continuing to stake his place as one of the best drummers in rock, while Tate hits some of his deepest notes.


The crowd is eager for more and the band answers with a big three-song encore from their peak era – “Jet City Woman”, “Empire” and Mindcrime‘s climactic “Eyes of a Stranger”. The catchy melodic rock of “Jet City Woman” is always a crowd pleaser, but it’s “Empire” that really speaks on this night. The song’s biting critique of Uncle Sam’s imperialistic ways resonates as true as ever, at a time when that critique is still needed more than ever. There haven’t been many bands in rock history with the balls to direct such critical venom at the American government, proving once again why Queensrÿche stood out so much during their commercial peak and why they remain so relevant here in 2011.

Rating:

Greg M. Schwartz has covered music and pop culture for PopMatters since 2006. He focuses on events coverage with a preference for guitar-driven rock 'n' roll, but has eclectic tastes for the golden age of sound that is the 21st century music scene. He has a soft spot for music with a socially conscious flavor and is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @gms111, where he's always looking for tips on new bands or under the radar news items.


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