Metal and Its Byproducts : Queensryche Upgrades the Machinery Without Undergoing a Retrofit or Total Conversion
When is going to a heavy-metal concert like having a big Sunday brunch?
When it’s halfway through 1997 and nobody except Metallica really knows what heavy metal means anymore (and purists would even dispute that), and the band playing is Queensryche (which always seemed like an exception to the heavy-metal rules), and its set is a two-hour banquet table laden with a little of this and a little of that, some of it identifiably heavy and metal and some not.
The half-capacity house at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Wednesday wasn’t choosy, heartily wolfing down most of what the veteran band from Bellevue, Wash., laid out.
Want a thick slab of bacon? Help yourself to a shout-along pounder, a couple of which were culled from the band’s mid-'80s infancy.
An airy souffle more to your taste? Spoon down some “Silent Lucidity,” the gauzy prog-rockish ballad that was a big hit six years ago on MTV.
Got a sweet tooth? “Another Rainy Night (Without You)” was one of several pastries whipped from the same dough as any number of empty-calorie confections by Bon Jovi, Poison or Def Leppard.
Nutrition-minded? About a quarter of the concert was given over to “Operation: Mindcrime,” an operatic-metal concept album from 1988. It’s concerned with revolutionary politics, sociopathic conspiracies and the degradations of street life, with a plot patterned loosely after “The Manchurian Candidate.” The album cemented Queensryche’s reputation for playing metal for the mind, as opposed to the groin.
As for our chefs’ latest concoction, they saved room on the smorgasbord for a hunk of their new album, “Hear in the Now Frontier.” It isn’t a heavy-metal record at all, but a typically late-'90s melange of flavors, including hard rock, pop and psychedelia.
Queensryche didn’t play “All I Want,” the song that sounds as if it could have been done by a neo-Beatles band such as the Posies or Jellyfish. But other new numbers at least found singer Geoff Tate ditching the sometimes wearisome chesty, operatic metal singer’s vibrato--inherited from Ian Gillan and Ronnie James Dio--in favor of a theatrical but less-affected voice. Certain bits recalled Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson in his prime.
Thematically, “Hear in the Now Frontier” makes more sense and holds together better than “Mindcrime,” in which the story has more stitches patching it together than Frankenstein’s monster.
“New Frontier” doesn’t tell a story, but it is a catchy and cogent sequence. The main writers, Tate and guitarist Chris DeGarmo, trace the ups and downs of sensitive modern guys trying to keep their spirits up in unfocused times that bring an overload of disillusioning reality.
Tate didn’t cuss like a metal dude, instead greeting the crowd with cheery enthusiasm, if not spontaneity. In his slicked, wavy hair, baggy black suit and checked shirt, he looked more like Tom Jones than a heavy-metal front man. Instead of glowering like a metal hero, he seemed to enjoy himself, and instead of strutting like an oversexed rooster, he whirled about without forced foppishness.
Queensryche played with muscle and proficiency--which you’d expect from a band that has been together 15 years without a lineup change. It had as much enthusiasm for its old-line metal material as for the newfangled hard-edged pop-rock of “New Frontier.”
But there’s a certain characterlessness to the band’s overall stage bearing and to most of its musical approaches. The more generically metal-sounding Queensryche albums, “Mindcrime” and “Empire,” a multi-platinum pop-metal offering from 1990, have sold the best. “New Frontier” and the 1994 release “Promised Land” broke with metal formulas and sales have suffered.
But maybe that’s partly a function of being identified as a heavy-metal band in the post-grunge ‘90s. Queensryche’s crowd of perhaps 7,000 included few fans under age 25.
“The center cannot hold” was William Butler Yeats’ famous line envisioning a crumbling order of things at the end of this millennium. If he was talking about heavy metal, he had it about right.