It could be the most acrimonious split in rock since David Lee Roth first left Van Halen in 1984.
Having parted ways with Queensryche in 2012, singer Geoff Tate continued recording under said moniker with a cadre of all-star musicians. Several musicians appearing on the resulting Frequency Unknown figure in Tate’s new touring super-group, which is now making rounds in celebration the 25th anniversary of Queensryche’s classic Operation: Mindcrime album.
Meanwhile, Tate’s ex-band mates—Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockerfield, and Michael Wilton—are also conducting business under the Queensryche banner, having tapped a replacement vocalist for their new disc.
A court will decide who gets permanent dibs on the name sometime this fall.
Whatever the outcome, it’s undeniable that the German-born Tate has been both the voice and face of Queensryche for three decades—a charismatic, four-octave powerhouse who helped steer the Seattle-based quintet to glory at the dawn of the nineties. His former colleagues may have written the music behind such chart hits as “Silent Lucidity” and “Jet City Woman,” but its Tate’s pipes and profile listeners still recall from heavy radio and MTV rotation.
The “classic” Queensryche rocked House of Blues Cleveland twice between 2009-2012, in support of the albums American Soldier and Dedicated to Chaos. Tate’s revamped ensemble debuted here Monday, faithfully recreating the whole of Mindcrime for an enthusiastic Father’s Day crowd. Guitarists Kelly Gray and Robert Sarzo delivered note-perfect renditions of classic cuts like “Speak” and “Spreading the Disease” as drummer Brian Tichy (replacing Simon Wright) throttled away behind his Natale drums. Robert’s famous bassist brother Rudy (Whitesnake, Quiet Riot) pinned the low end while keyboardist Randy Gane layered the mix from a rostrum alongside Tichy.
Tate’s vocals matched his biceps—muscular as ever—and his ace lineup ensured the material held up under close inspection. The band’s wardrobe was predominantly black, with the fleet-fingered musicians complimenting Tate’s GQ biker attire from hat-to-boots. Gray (Myth) and Sarzo (Hurricane) traded guitar riffs and solos throughout the set, neither lingering anywhere on stage for too long, both playfully jockeying for position on stage as the burly Tate commanded the microphone between them. Sarzo’s older brother Rudy thrummed bass upside down, on his knees, over his head, and—at one point—over Gane’s head.
Melding heavy metal with progressive rock, Mindcrime was a concept album unlike any other upon its 1988 release, a musical opera that touched on the post-Cold War paranoia of the time and revisited themes of oppression and manipulation explored in literature by the likes of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. Together, songs chronicle the tragic tale of Nikki, a heroin addict brainwashed into becoming a political assassin by the diabolical Dr. X. The antihero struggles against his programming—but the villain provides his daily fix. Nikki’s sole salvation comes in the person of Sister Mary, a nun-turned-slave who gets caught in the crossfire.
Commencing with “I Remember Now / Anarchy X” and “Revolution Calling,” Tate led the band through its paces, spinning Nikki’s story at high volume—and with renewed theatricality. Canned voice tracks were queued at precise moments and sirens blared menacingly, underscoring the plight of the drug-addled fugitive. Tichy aroused the audience with a ten-minute drum solo, chucking his spent sticks into the throng before piloting the pack through “Spreading the Disease” and “The Mission.”
Blues singer Sass Jordan—who opened earlier—played the role of the titular nun on the dramatic “Suite Sister Mary” and embraced Tate’s tormented protagonist, juxtaposing his black jeans and top with a resplendent white blouse. The second act saw the band barrel through “The Needle Lies,” “Breaking the Silence,” and “I Don’t Believe in Love.” Fittingly, Tate ditched his sunglasses for the climax (and Mindcrime conclusion), “Eyes of a Stranger.”
The gang returned for an encore that had the goateed singer waxing nostalgic about Mindcrime, which he plans to convert into a novella and / or play.
“You’re 20, then 40, then 60—and then you’re dead!” pondered Tate.
“But I know what I’m gonna do with the rest of my life. I’m gonna rock!”
Sarzo tickled an acoustic guitar on torch ballad “Silent Lucidity,” on which the crowd handled the ahh-ahh pre-chorus while flicking their Bics. Tate and co. cranked it up again on Empire epics “Best I Can” and “Jet City Woman,” drawing the night’s most boisterous response. Now sporting a star-spangled vest, Rudy battered his bass anew on “I’m American” (from 2006’s Operation: Mindcrime II). The title track to Queensryche’s triple-platinum smash 1990 album wrapped things up nicely—and with ten successive blasts of noise from Tichy and the guitarists counted out before the final bow.
Acoustic-based duo Something Unto Nothing (aka SUN) warmed the house with a half hour of fiery, foot-stomping blues. Blonde chanteuse Sass Jordan belted a la Janis Joplin / Melissa Etheridge on tunes from her recent disc, From Dusk Til Dawn, as Brian Tichy (pulling a double-shift) simultaneously strummed guitar and kept beat on a kick drum. Tichy jangled a 12-string on “Long Way Home,” whose full, shimmery sound harkened the swamp groove of Led Zeppelin’s “Gallow’s Pole.” Jordan dazzled with a stripped-down cover of Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
The Voodoos fulfilled middle-slot duty with a batch of alternative rock from their eponymous release. Shaggy-headed singer Mark Daly wailed on “Nowhere to Run,” “Black Walls,” and “Away From You” as guitarists Nick Greatrex and Oisin Hennessey noodled on Gibson SGs and Les Pauls. Bassist Mick Bogan cemented the grooves with drummer Fion Hennessey, who manned a Pork Pie Percussion kit. Hailing from Cork, Ireland, this dynamic five-piece is worth keeping tabs on.