March 5, 2020
The Tale of the Tape – Comparing the Latest Tours of Queensryche and Geoff Tate
By Gregory Twachtman
It is a great time to be a fan of the music of Queensryche, especially if sides were not taken following the band’s split back in 2012. An eight-day span provided me an opportunity to see both Queensryche and Geoff Tate perform on their respective tours.
First up was the Queensryche, on Feb. 20, at Baltimore Soundstage. I have had plenty of experience with this version of the band, as it was my 13th time seeing them with singer Todd La Torre. And 13 turned out in some ways to be a lucky number, as it was the first time in quite a while that I walked out of a Queensryche show feeling invigorated from the performance since their 2013 Return to History tour. This show reminded me why I was fan of this music, despite the numerous critiques that I had throughout the performance.
Music-wise, it is hard to argue with this lineup. Original members Michael Wilton (guitar) and Eddie Jackson (bass) still provide that foundation of sound that the band is known for, and latecomer Parker Lundgren (guitar) remains the best replacement the band has had for Chris DeGarmo. Lundgren has worked hard to capture the essence and sound of the former guitarist and his work has paid off. The trio of Jackson, Lundgren, and Wilton captures that familiar sound, the harmonized guitars, bottom end, and overall musicality that made Queensryche stand out from its peers in the 1980s and beyond. When that trio is on, it is hard to argue with what is coming off that stage and on this night, all three brought back some missing nostalgia as well as a taste of where the band is now with the four songs from Queensryche’s latest album, The Verdict, spread through the 18-song, 92-minute set.
What helped this set (and it could have contributed to why this show stood out in ways previous gigs haven’t after the aforementioned Return To History tour) is that Queensryche dug into the catalog to dust off some tracks this lineup has not played yet, including “No Sanctuary” from The Warning and “Resistance” from Empire, as well as resurrecting “Prophecy,” a demo that was kicking around from the band’s primordial stage, but formally recorded in the studio during the 1986 Rage for Order sessions, and subsequently added to reissues of the Queensryche EP.
If there was one complaint about the set, it is that newer material from the band remains shamefully underrepresented. I would love to see Queensryche make a bold statement and put seven or eight songs from the La Torre era of the band in the setlist every night. As it is, this leg of Queensryche’s tour in support of The Verdict decreased the number of tracks from the three albums with La Torre from six to four, although they did debut two more tracks from The Verdict this time around, so at least they are mixing things up. But there is enough good material on the three albums with La Torre at the helm to justify putting more of it in the setlist. Combine that with some more rarities (as was done for this leg) and you have the potential for an even more memorable show.
The easiest way to get more exposure for the newer material would be to lengthen the time Queensryche plays on stage, but given the wear that was evident in La Torre’s vocals by the time the encore started, it is understandable why this iteration of the band keeps the shows to around 90 minutes total from the first note of the opener to the final note of the encore. La Torre’s vocals were noticeably off on “No Sanctuary,” which had recently been moved to start the four-song encore from its original slot closer to the middle of the main set, a move that should never have happened. The quiet opening of the song revealed how shredded his vocals had become after a night of powering though the challenging vocals and puts into focus why I have never seen this version of the group on stage for more than 90 or so minutes. And that is a true shame, particularly given the wealth of great material, past and present, that Queensryche has to offer, that La Torre simply may not be capable of putting on a longer set for a sustained tour cycle.
As challenging as it has been for La Torre to emerge from Tate’s shadow (especially when thinking back to when the band was really firing on all cylinders), the arguably more difficult shoes to step into is Casey Grillo taking over on drums for Scott Rockenfield. Admittedly, Grillo has improved over his time with the band, but there is a lot of nuance to Rockenfield’s playing that you don’t really think about until he is not there. It was never about flash, but more about subtlety, and that is hard to capture. At times Grillo comes really close, but other times, the presence of Rockenfield is just missed. “Resistance” stood out where Grillo was not capturing the nuance.
But at the end of this show, none of the critiques mattered. What mattered was the music, and the whole was absolutely greater than the sum of its parts. The music reached me. It was a good feeling walking out for the first time in a long time and not thinking I had been at the show more out of habit than anything else. Queensryche put on an energized performance and the crowd responded in kind, for both the classic and current material. For one night, the memories of past conflicts and the ensuing split among the fans was a distant memory and the music was striking all the right chords. Considering I was going to pass on this tour leg until I saw the setlist, I was pleasantly surprised at how the show hit me and I am glad I went.
Eight days later, on Feb. 28, at Stereo Garden in Patchogue, N.Y., Geoff Tate took the stage to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Queensryche’s landmark Empire album. With some of the euphoria of Queensryche’s performance still lingering, the anticipation for Tate’s show was heightened. And it did not disappoint.
Tate started things off with a complete airing of Queensryche’s 1986 album Rage for Order. Thematically, and in some ways, sonically, an album that was well ahead of its time, Rage for Order has held up well and Tate’s assembled musicians did the record justice. Sure, it is noticeable that they are not Queensryche, especially after seeing Wilton, Jackson and, to a lesser extent, Lundgren, about a week earlier, but they did hold their own. But Tate’s band gets a pass in some ways because they are not playing under the “Queensryche” banner (unlike the band Tate assembled under that banner for his 2013 tour, which failed to meet that high standard the name confers).
The biggest thing missing from the music during the Rage for Order set was the keyboards. Again, like the nuance of Grillo’s playing, you don’t realize what role it plays in the music until it is not present. Its absence was noticeable and as the tour continues on, Tate should at least consider bringing a keyboardist to fill out the sound during that portion of the set, instead of piping in the parts.
Musically, the Empire set (and the two-song encore of Empire-era track “Last Time In Paris,” which first appeared on the soundtrack to the film “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane,” and the Operation: Mindcrime closer, “Eyes of A Stranger”) held the same “good enough but lacking that unique quality that made Queensryche special” aspect that the Rage for Order set had. Vocally, Geoff Tate brought it. Sure, his 60-year-old self lacks some of the range and sustain that his younger self had, but there is still that smoothness of delivery that his replacement in Queensryche simply lacks. And while the range may not be all there (a few attempts aside that, surprisingly, were not cringe-inducing), the tone absolutely is, and there is no mistaking the voice that made those classic albums is still capable of delivering a performance worthy of the music (something that could not be said on the previously mentioned 2013 trek supporting the ill-fated Frequency Unknown release following the split).
A Split Decision
The Tate show was equally energizing as the Queensryche one, and Tate’s band played with vigor. It was clear that everyone was having fun on that stage, a quality not lost on the crowd, who sang right along with all the popular tunes and provided raucous feedback throughout the night. The show was not perfect by any stretch, but like Queensryche before it, the net result was the same, a show where the whole was simply greater than the sum of its parts. The music is timeless, and the band was up to the task to do it justice. And the familiar tones and much improved vocal performance gave it the push over the top to make it a memorable night of classic Queensryche.
And thinking about the two shows, one can’t help but think, while fans can get the best of both worlds with the current and classic material through each touring entity, how much more they could get if both acts could put egos and animosities aside and collaborate in a way similar to Helloween is currently doing. The German power metal outfit reunited with vocalist Michael Kiske and guitarist Kai Hansen but also retained long-tenured singer Andi Deris and the rest of the band.
If Queensryche and Tate combined resources, it would be the ultimate “win” for Queensryche fans, especially those who never took sides and support both acts. It would allow for both a greater exposure of the newer La Torre-led material as his time on a longer concert would be more geared toward those three albums, while at the same time allowing the classic material to be heard with the better band and the voice associated with it. There are a ton of reasons why this would probably never come to pass, and if it means two touring acts providing Queensryche fans with great live shows, it is a worthwhile consolation prize.
Gregory Twachtman is a contributor to AnybodyListening.net, and has been a journalist for more than two decades. He's been a Queensryche fan since 1988.