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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Queensryche: Slick, Anonymous

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It’s almost become a cliche by this point to say that everything about the Seattle heavy-metal band Queensryche is great except its music: its progressive politics; its carefully conceived stage show; the generally non-racist, non-sexist, non-macho nature of its songs.

On paper, its lyrics are far more literate, if generally less memorable, than those of, say, Metallica or even Guns N’ Roses, and deal as much with geopolitics as they do with romantic love.

The band’s innovative, fractured-narrative approach to the videos for its “Operation: Mindcrime” concept album a couple of years ago inspired a lot of the best stuff you’ve seen on MTV lately. Its current “Operation: Live-crime” shows--based on a pip of a conspiracy-theory fantasy--are the most elaborate in rock right now.

And it has certainly become one of the most popular rock bands in the country--in this worst year for the concert business in recent memory, Queensryche has been filling arenas around the world, including the Long Beach Arena for three scheduled nights over the weekend. The band’s last album, “Empire,” sold well enough this year to put it up there on the Billboard year-end Top 10 chart, sandwiched right between Madonna and Whitney Houston.

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But at the Long Beach Arena on Friday, Queensryche’s music tended toward the kind of slick, anonymous, pounding, square rock ‘n’ roll that rocked smoke-filled vans in the ‘70s and will no doubt keep doing well into the next century--droning, one-note bass lines, by-the-numbers twin-guitar leads, singer Geoff Tate’s generic metal-screech and all. And no quantity of laser squiggles or multi-screen video gymnastics could hide that.

Theatrical rock is at best a bastard form, compromising the passion and anarchy that marks the best rock ‘n’ roll for something that by design has to be pretty much the same every night--and the best theatrical rock performers have been extremely charismatic. When an essentially uncharismatic Queensryche takes the stage while films are shown and strobes are flashed, the spectacle overwhelms the music and the narrative thrust is lost.

At Long Beach, the “Livecrime” show brought to mind not so much Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” shows as it did the “Paradise Theatre” shows of Styx--yawning monsters that helped to mark the end of the dinosaur era in arena rock.

Opener Warrior Soul was more a new-style band, playing by the rules of commercial hard rock and making them creepy. Guitars oscillate in octaves, songs have choruses and hooks, but many of the songs have only one or two notes in them and vocal melodies that float into and out of their relationship with the drone in a way more akin to Jane’s Addiction than to Rush.

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There are progressive politics here too. The audience booed Warrior Soul--when it paid attention to them at all--but the band’s sort of David Lynch version of the rock-concert ritual actually worked better on the Long Beach Arena’s huge stage than it did at tiny English Acid a few months ago.


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