June 5th 2003
Astoria, London, UK

By Tom De Val

When Queensryche last played in the UK, in 2000, I must admit I wasn't inclined to go along and see them, mainly because I wasn't keen on the band's album of that time, Q2K. However, I was told by others that the gigs were excellent, so when this one-off UK show was announced I snapped up a ticket - and was further buoyed by the news that Chris De Garmo was back in the band.

This latter news has proved not really to be the case - De Garmo merely appears to have guested on the band's forthcoming Tribe album, and is in any case certainly absent tonight - unless he's shaved his head, shrunk, grown a nu-metallish goatee and taken to wearing red-tinted shades (the get-up of the second guitarist tonight). Mind you, anything's possible - 'Ryche singer Geoff Tate has shaved his head himself, and combined with his (and indeed the whole band's) all-black dress code this makes him look somewhat menacing. It's also notable that the stage set is a very simple affair, a far cry from some of the lavish sets the band have had in the past.

The band take something of a risk by pounding straight into a new track, Open, from Tribe - especially as said album is still yet to be released yet. This is a decent enough rocker, with a catchy chorus, yet appears to signify a continuation on the hard rock/ grunge road they were heading down on Q2K rather than a return to the progressive/ symphonic metal of Operation: Mindcrime which many of the band's fans (myself included) obviously crave for. Nonetheless the track goes down well, no doubt due to the fact that the hysteria from the packed crowd which greeted the band's arrival had yet to dissipate. The choice of the rather weak Promised Land track My Global Mind to follow was rather strange however, and Queensryche were in danger of losing any momentum almost immediately. Thankfully the next track is Jet City Woman which certainly spurs on the crowd, who join in gustily for the anthemic chorus. I also enjoyed the next couple of tracks, a double whammy of I Am I and Damaged from The Promised Land. I love these dark, brooding songs, but it would seem I'm in the minority - whilst the diehards at the front cheer along everything, the majority of the crowd are unmoved. The middle of the set sees the band somewhat bogged down with more recent, mediocre material - an aggressive (and rather tuneless) new track, plus no less than three selections from Q2K - Right Side of My Mind, Sacred Ground and Breakdown. Although these aren't exactly my favourite tracks, I would say in the band's favour that they are performed well and gain something in the live arena - particularly Sacred Ground which has a heavy percussive thrust and sees drummer Scott Rockenfield accessing every part of his customarily massive drum-kit. During this onslaught of recent material, 'Ryche do throw the odd bone for the faithful - The Needle Lies, Empire and of course the lighter-waving ballad Silent Lucidity (given fantastic sing-along treatment by the crowd here) - but its not until the foreboding introductory pieces of I Remember Now and Anarchy X that set the scene for that familiar twin lead intro to Revolution Calling, when the spark's really start to fly. What follows is a Queensryche's fan's nirvana - a 20-odd minute segment of some of the most memorable parts from Operation: Mindcrime - Revolution…, Speak, Spreading The Disease, The Mission, and ending the show proper with a fantastic Eyes Of A Stranger. By this time the crowd is ecstatic, and no wonder - this material forms part of one of the greatest prog-metal opuses of all time, and if performed with gusto and skill, as here, this is a 'can't lose' situation .
Sadly, once again the band drop the ball again for the encores, opening with two unheard (and to my ears unimpressive) new tracks - with the second, Desert Dance sounding particularly weak. Thankfully, they end on a high note with a fantastic run through Best I Can, although I would have said this would have made a better opening track - perhaps Queen Of The Ryche or another oldie would have been a better finale.

Overall then, I had mixed feelings about this show - shared by friends and fans I talked to in the pub after the show. There's no doubt that this was a good, sometimes great, gig, with the band fired up and putting in their all - particularly Geoff Tate, who certainly showed any doubters that his voice is still in fine shape. The problem is with the lacklustre recent material, which in my opinion simply can't hold a candle to the band's classic late 80's/ early 90's output. I know it's too early to judge the new album on a few live tracks, but with the exception of 'Open', with its naggingly catchy chorus, nothing else from it made any impression, and certainly this is no return to the trademark Queensryche sound. The danger - and for many now the reality - is that Queensyche are becoming one of those bands whom people go and see to hear the 'old stuff' without giving a damn for anything they've created recently - and that, in my opinion, is bad news.


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