It's not often that someone of Geoff Tate's stature plays a three hundred capacity venue and strips down his band to play an acoustic set but that's what this giant of rock music has chosen to do with a sixteen date European tour.
Tate, along with his six-piece band, were advertising the gigs as "very special nights of storytelling and acoustic songs spanning his thirty-five year career". They promised tracks from seventeen (count 'em) different albums, including material from Queensrÿche classics like 'Rage For Order', 'Empire' and, of course, 'Operation: Mindcrime' as well as songs from the new Operation: Mindcrime album, 'Resurrection' ("reviewed here), all done in an up-close-and-personal, intimate setting.
For me, there was a huge expectation as I've only ever seen Tate from a distance in large venues, and I was interested to see how he would adjust to a smaller capacity venue. I'd heard good things of the London show two nights previously so wasn't overtly worried, after all, Tate still does possess one of the finest voices in rock music, right?
As the MetalTalk team arrived at The Cathouse, we were lucky enough to be treated to the soundcheck of 'Walk In The Shadows', from the 1986 Queensrÿche album 'Rage For Order', that showed Tate's voice is still strong.
A little later than planned, Tate's band, consisting mainly of some young Irish players from a group called The Band Anna with whom Tate has worked with before, along with Operation: Mindcrime bandmate, guitarist Scott Moughton who led the way, finally made it on stage and the air of anticipation was tangible. It wasn't long before the main man made his enigmatic entrance onto the stage during the intro to the first number, 'Walk In The Shadows', to a huge ovation from the audience.
Tate explained, he would play some "old tracks you may recognise and some new songs that hopefully you'll like!" but he need not have worried about this song selection as he had the audience in the palm of his hand from the first verse to the very last guitar note.
There was a sole new track played during the set, 'The Fight', which is from 'Resurrection', and as Tate explained was written about how different we all are. Despite the somewhat downbeat nature of the song it actually was a fairly upbeat rendition of the track and positive proof that he's lost none of his song-writing skills. Presented at one point in the set with a shot of good quality Scotch whisky, Tate joked that he would politely sip it despite shouts of "down the hatch" and "down in one" from the audience.
There were a couple of hidden gems in the shape of 'Blood' from Queensrÿche's 2003 'Tribe' album and 'Hundred Mile Stare' from 2009s 'American Soldier' album. As Tate explained, the former song was actually written as a letter he was going to send to George W Bush ("Y'know, the President of the United States," he explained before adding that he never got to send the letter because Bush was out of office "real quickly" so he turned it into a song instead.
Let's be honest here, I'm not a fan of 'Tribe' in any way, but this song makes me think that maybe I should give it another listen as it was a really good number. Maybe the stripped down feel suited it better than the original version but it didn't take me long to warm to it. Certainly violinist Ryan Parsons and Moughton seemed to enjoy it as they had a good musical duel halfway through while Tate really put his heart and soul into the performance.
Of course there were more than enough classic Queensrÿche songs played, even for the most ardent fan. From the 1994 'Promised Land' album came 'Out Of Mind' which was co-written by Queensrÿche guitarist Chris DeGarmo after a conversation he had with Tate about growing up. Tate's mother, he told us, used to take him to her work sometimes which was in a mental institution, and this acoustic version simply shines through with Moughton really doing the songs intricate guitar solo justice.
From that album's successor, 1997s 'Hear In The Now Frontier', came 'Some People Fly' which has always been a standout track for me. The debut performance of this track in Glasgow, as the band didn't tour Europe to support the release, was well worth waiting for. The simple stripped down version highlights just what an under-rated classic this song is. For me, and many others in the audience it seems, that it worth the admission price alone to hear this song live.
The classic 'Empire' album had three tracks – the most from any album, and rightly so – including 'Another Rainy Night (Without You)' early in the set whilst the band (with the exception of Moughton) still seemed to be finding their feet. 'Jet City Woman' had a totally different feel to it as it was devoid of the booming bass guitar intro and instead relied on Parsons and cellist James McInerney who added a different dimension. The crowd were singing louder than Tate during the first chorus so he was more than happy to defer the second chorus to them, giving him time to enjoy the moment.
Of course, the ubiquitous 'Silent Lucidity' took pride of place in the middle of the set as opposed to being held over until the finale, and the audience were in raptures, as well as full voice, throughout this undeniable classic.
Tate took time to explain that when the now revered 'Operation: Mindcrime' album was first released, no-one was buying it. This now platinum selling classic album was laying on record shop shelves around the world and the record company were prepared to write it off, apparently. Even after Queensrÿche had toured, "supporting Def Leppard, Metallica, Metallica... Metallica," joked Tate, it still wasn't selling well. Enter a veteran music business executive for the then brand-new MTV, named Abbey Konowitch, Tate explained, who called up Queensrÿche's management company and told them that he "loved" the album and if they made a music video, then MTV would "play it every day", so the band did, and the rest is history, as they say.
Two tracks from the album followed, 'I Don't Believe In Love' and then the album closer 'Eyes Of A Stranger', both of which deserved the huge ovation they were afforded. These songs still sound good even with the power of the electric guitars removed and Moughton did especially well with the guitar solos. The only downside was the somewhat erratic behaviour of Mandolin player Steven Hamilton as he wandered around the stage trying to amuse himself, interacting with other band members and sound engineer (and current Operation: Mindcrime guitarist) Kelly Gray, which soon began to get very distracting.
Two songs that needed absolutely no introduction were 'Take Hold Of The Flame' (with Tate stopping the track during the intro to take a sip of the whisky he was passed earlier on) and 'The Lady Wore Black', well worn early classic Queensrÿche songs with Tate confirming that the latter was "the first song we ever wrote together as a group", and the reaction from the audience told its own story.
As the evening came to a close there was no pretence of going off stage and back on again for an encore as the band stayed on stage, much to the delight of the audience. Another lesser known track, 'All Around The World' taken from 2011s 'Dedicated To Chaos' opus, may have seemed like a strange choice but it received a good reaction from the audience with it's positive message of 'All You Need Is Love'.
A classy end to an outstanding performance and speaking to some of the other punters in the bar afterwards, those who weren't there missed an absolutely classic evening's entertainment. I've been to over fifty gigs in 2016 and this was my last gig of the year and my God, what an incredible high point to end on. Nothing was out of place here, and there was nothing really to moan about – a supreme performance from a vocalist very much at the top of his game, cherry-picking some obvious hits and some less obvious classic album tracks from a career that isn't over, not by a long way!
Geoff Tate setlist:
Walk In The Shadows
Another Rainy Night (Without You)
Some People Fly
Jet City Woman
Chasing Blue Sky
Until There Was You
Out Of Mind
Take Hold Of The Flame
The Lady Wore Black
Hundred Mile Stare
I Don't Believe In Love
Eyes Of A Stranger
Around The World
Geoff Tate's band are:
Geoff Tate – Vocals
Scott Moughton – Guitar
Casey Jones – Guitar
Steven Hamilton – Mandolin
James McInerney – Cello/Guitar
Ryan Parsons – Violin
Nathan Daly – Percussion