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February 2, 2020
New Songs Highlight Impressive Set By Queensryche in Sacramento
By Brian Heaton
I was at a tipping point with Queensryche six years ago. After numerous lineup changes, I felt the band had become a caricature of itself and didn't adequately support its new music, so I quit going to see them live.
But on a whim, I decided to take in Queensryche's show on February 1, 2020, at the Ace of Spades, in Sacramento, Calif. And by the time the band's 17-song, 90-minute gig was done, this one-man jury found the Seattle-based quintet guilty of being a relevant, contemporary progressive metal band again.
Almost one-quarter of Queensryche's set consisted of tunes from its highly regarded 2019 album, The Verdict. Fans were treated to "Man the Machine," "Bent," "Dark Reverie," and "Light-years." While most bands that have been around for almost 40 years typically see their fans head for the bathroom when they play new material, Queensryche's audience reacted decidedly positive to the new cuts. Looking around, people were dialed-in, singing along, and headbanging to the groove.
For the first time since singer Todd La Torre joined Queensryche in 2012 (replacing original vocalist Geoff Tate), it felt like Queensryche has found its own identity, carving out a stylistic niche that sets this era apart from the long shadow of its past. Sure, the band still plays all their hits from the 1980s and 1990s, and the roar from the crowd is noticeable when they do. But listening tonight, instead of the new songs feeling out of place, it felt like "Jet City Woman" and "Silent Lucidity" were the oddballs among the group.
Surprises on the night included deep cuts "Resistance" (from 1990's Empire) and "No Sanctuary" (from 1984's The Warning). Both songs had never been performed by this lineup of Queensryche, which including La Torre, also features Casey Grillo (who replaced drummer Scott Rockenfield), Parker Lundgren (who joined the band in 2009, and is the longest-tenured replacement for original guitarist Chris DeGarmo), and remaining original members Michael Wilton (guitar) and Eddie Jackson (bass). Other standouts in the set included the opener, "Prophecy," a rousing rendition of Queensryche's namesake song, "Queen of the Reich," and the artificial intelligence/technology themed classic "Screaming in Digital," from 1986's Rage for Order.
Always under the microscope, La Torre handled the vocal acrobatics of Queensryche well, even with the show being the band's fifth in a row. It's still uncanny how parts of his voice so closely resemble Tate's. But after almost eight years in the band, its nice to see he's made the songs his own, instead of trying to stick to the template established by his predecessor. La Torre hit many of the signature high notes, but injected a lot of grit into them, and picked some appropriate spots for some growls, to give the tunes a tougher feel.
The biggest eye-opener was how Queensryche sounded with Grillo on drums. He played well, but it was odd hearing different fills. He was faithful when he needed to be, but drummers all have their own unique feel and cadence. I felt Grillo brought a more metal and heavy-handed approach to the band's songs. Admittedly, I missed the Neal Peart-influenced swing in Rockenfield's playing, but Grillo has helped further define the more modern sound of Queensryche.
Some of the online chatter about Queensryche I read prior to the show suggested that their on-stage movement was non-existent. In Sacramento, that couldn't be further from the truth. On a small club stage with little space to roam, both Wilton and Lundgren had risers they continually stood up on during solos, and Grillo continually swung his hair around and twirled his drumsticks like a true showman. La Torre was engaging, and threw some signature lines to the crowd. If there was one guy who was subdued, it was Jackson, but cramped in next to Lundgren and with multiple backing vocal responsibilities, it was understandable.
Looking at the show critically, one major complaint is the length of concert. At 90 minutes, it seems awfully short for a band of Queensryche's history and caliber. Even La Torre noted when talking to the crowd that the setlist is always difficult for them to figure out, given the sheer number of songs in the band's catalog (approaching 200). Adding just 15 more minutes to the set time would help tremendously, enabling the band to play another two or three tunes.
Overall, I came away extremely impressed by Queensryche's dedication to their new songs, and the conviction in which they were delivered. While it may have taken some time, the band has finally embraced who they are, instead of trying to rebuild an empire that should have been left behind long ago.