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San Antonians, Aztec Theatre beneficiaries of latest visit by Tate's Queensryche

A view of Geoff Tate's Queensryche from the second of three levels at the renovated Aztec Theatre.
A view of Geoff Tate's Queensryche from the second of three levels at the renovated Aztec Theatre.
JAY NANDA / San Antonio Metal Music Examiner

Death, taxes . . . and an annual San Antonio concert by the voice of Queensryche.

Geoff Tate, the voice of Queensryche, celebrated the 25th anniversary of 1988 breakthrough concept album Operation: Mindcrime by playing it in its entirety in San Antonio for the second time in 11 months.
JAY NANDA / San Antonio Metal Music Examiner

Geoff Tate's Queensryche did it again Friday night, continuing the frontman's appearances in the Alamo City dating back to 1983, which he recalled with a brief account about opening a sold-out gig for Quiet Riot. And while Tate celebrated the 25th anniversary of 1988 iconic concept album Operation: Mindcrime by playing it in its entirety for the second time here in the past 11 months, this show made history of sorts.

It was Queensryche's first gig in the renovated Aztec Theatre downtown.

Having celebrated Queensryche's 30th anniversary in September 2011 at the Majestic Theatre a couple of stones' throws from the Aztec, and having played solo shows in 2012 at the Empire Theatre and outside at Backstage Live, Tate and his newer bandmates relished the enthusiastic reaction of the estimated 1,000-plus fans who watched from the theater's three levels and those who stayed for the meet-and-greet.

Two of those band members were different from the Fiestas Fantasias celebration of Mindcrime last April at HemisFair Park (SAMME coverage here). Former Whitesnake drummer Brian Tichy replaced Simon Wright this time, though Wright was behind the kit at Backstage Live on Feb. 13 for Dio Disciples. Replacing bassist Rudy Sarzo was Austin native John Moyer of Disturbed and Adrenaline Mob (see slideshow, top left).

Friday's setlist was an exact duplication of last year's show. In addition to the Mindcrime CD, the four encores came from Queensryche's biggest-selling album, 1990's Empire: Silent Lucidity (or Silence In Tennessee, as Tate joked while recounting a story told to him by a fan), Best I Can, Jet City Woman and Empire.

One thing has become evident the past several years regarding San Antonians who attend Queensryche shows: they never tire of hearing Tate sing the same 1988 and 1990 songs. That much was apparent during the 30th anniversary show when songs from every Queensryche album were represented (SAMME coverage here). It was evident during Tate's solo show Thanksgiving Eve in 2012 (coverage here). And it was blatantly evident Friday, as fans drank and whooped it up with the inclusion of every classic hit.

If you consider yourself a true or diehard Queensryche fan who saw last April's show, you'd probably prefer a set that mixed in more variety this time around and would include at least something from Tate's 2013 album Frequency Unknown. But for the second consecutive visit, nary a mention of that album was made to the crowd, let alone a song from it being played. The second of four encores would have been an ideal slot to hear just one new tune. The SAMME asked Tate after the concert if he had plans to tour under the latest record in the near future, and he said the band would do so beginning in May.

Playing the entire Mindcrime CD for the second consecutive visit served more than just the crowd, however. This time around, it demonstrated that the group has become tighter playing those songs since last April. Guitarists Kelly Gray and Robert Sarzo, along with keyboardist Randy Gane, joined Tate in playing both shows, and the four of them were undeniably more cohesive this time around. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise given that Gane and Gray have a somewhat extensive history playing with Tate.

In addition to Tichy and Moyer, Tate brought along a different Sister Mary. Sass Jordan played the role of "Suite Sister Mary" in the 10-minute duet with Tate, having replaced Queen tribute singer Nina Noir from last year. Jordan, who was born in Birmingham, England, told the SAMME she was jealous of the SAMME and friends for living in San Antonio. Each of the band members, as well as Jordan, were gracious during the meet-and-greet, though the Aztec's security tried to hurry the line of fans despite the fact the middle of the venue had turned into a Friday night dance party and didn't appear to be in danger of closing at 11:30 p.m. or midnight.

The re-opening of the Aztec Theatre, which debuted its concert season in February and originally opened in 1926, is a victory for San Antonio concertgoers. Its renaissance of sorts, too, puts other concert venues on high alert.

The Aztec's 1,200 capacity is equal to Backstage Live's without the darkness or poles that interfere with certain vantage points. It's also nestled in the heart of downtown, around the bend from the River Walk and the city's hubbub of nightlife. More shows at the Aztec would help negate the perplexing and constant wonderment as to why the 2,000-seat and equally impressive and historic Majestic Theatre doesn't stage more concerts, for example, while threatening to be a thorn in Backstage Live's future when it comes to bringing acts to town. From a fan's standpoint, naturally, the more venues in play, the better.

One thing Backstage Live shouldn't have to worry about in regards to the Aztec is that while more than 90 percent of BSL's acts are hard rock and metal bands, the Aztec is intent on having more diverse bookings. Thus far, the theatre has hosted acts ranging from Eddie Money to the upcoming pairing of Los Lobos and Robert Cray. Along the hard-rock spectrum, Buckcherry is scheduled for April 18, while Black Star Riders -- essentially the new Thin Lizzy -- is slated for May 1.

When it comes to atmosphere, overall attractiveness of venue and sound quality, the renovated Aztec has demonstrated in a very short time that it is headed toward being a major player in the San Antonio concert scene.

Tate certainly had something to do with that sound quality. For a man who's been singing 30-plus years, he continues to be a solid performer and vocalist. While other singers from the '80s have shot their voices to hell with cigarettes or simply wound down thanks to Father Time, Tate can hardly be accused of losing much, if anything. Having weathered his dismissal by his former original bandmates shortly after a 2012 Rocklahoma concert, Tate appears to have completed the "trial" stage, if you will, of playing with his newest members. This time, the camaraderie within the group, plus the playing of the Mindcrime and Empire songs, was markedly improved from 2013 -- from the solid rhythm section of newcomers Moyer and Tichy to the Tate veterans of Robert Sarzo, Gane and Gray.

The SAMME woke up Friday morning in Boston; thus, the performance of opening act Hurricane was missed. Robert Sarzo pulled double duty with both bands and afterward shared with the SAMME that Hurricane's latest singer is Jason Ames, who joined Tate on vocals for a couple of songs during the 30th anniversary show at the Majestic. Hurricane, of course, enjoyed a brief run of popularity in the late '80s when Kelly Hansen, currently fronting Foreigner, was the vocalist.

The SAMME may be in the San Antonio minority by saying this -- especially given that it's safe to say you can't be a Queensryche fan without loving Operation: Mindcrime and Empire. But here's hoping Tate and Co.'s next visit will return to an all-encompassing setlist of Queensryche's brilliant 30-year catalog. Cabaret style or not, original bandmates or not, it's the songs that matter, and Tate has plenty of strong material to be heard outside of those two popular albums.

That being said, the voice of Queensryche has and will continue to be the driving force behind this rendition of the group's material. Neither the existence of two factions of the band, nor traditionalist San Antonio fans wanting to hear the same two albums every time, nor changes in venues can take that away.

And that should benefit all who claim to like Queensryche's music.

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