“A young man now in a private chair
I’ve seen the world through a bitter stare
But my dream is still alive
I’m going to be the best I can”
Few opening tracks seared my prepubescent consciousness more than Queensrÿche’s “Best I Can,” the five-minute, 34-second declaration of independence that served as a narrative point of entry to their triple-platinum 1990 album “Empire.” Everything from Chris DeGarmo’s evocative keyboard intro to Geoff Tate’s vocal firestorm hooked me from the moment my parents popped the cassette into our 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix.
You don’t forget moments like that and you don’t forget albums like “Empire.”
I remember reading a review from Entertainment Weekly that attempted to proselytize by noting the dire nature of the lyrics and referring to the band members as “relentless killjoys,” but all it did for me was calcify the disconnect between myself and the trend-hopping mainstream music publications of the era. The world is a scary place and criticizing the band for tackling issues such as poverty, homelessness, and drug trafficking within a progressive metal context makes about as much sense as Trump taking sole credit for the present-day economy.
I caught up with Geoff Tate this week to discuss the album and why Sunday’s show inside Town Ballroom should go a long way towards re-establishing its legacy. If you’ve been on the fence about going, take $60 out of your income tax return and make it happen.
MNOD: Given how long and successful the run with “Operation: Mindcrime” was, what was the band’s mindset going into the “Empire” sessions?
GT: We wanted to do something different. It had always been our practice to do a story or a concept, but this album was a way to balance our thoughts and write more standalone songs. I remember talking a lot about stripping back the production and simplifying things, which we did, but we also experimented in ways we hadn’t before.
MNOD: How well do you think it holds up today?
GT: I’m enjoying playing the entire thing live, because there a few of the songs that I’ve never played live before. It’s interesting, because I get to revisit them and immerse myself in the experience. It certainly holds up for me.
MNOD: “Della Brown” has always been the song that stood out to me. What was the inspiration behind that character?
GT: There was a homeless woman who lived near me and I would see her every day. I knew her somewhat. The song was inspired by her life and what could’ve happened to lead her to that point.
MNOD: The band also played an MTV Unplugged show as part of the “Building Empires” tour. What are your memories of that experience?
GT: That was a fun presentation. We rehearsed in a big barn in the middle of a field for a few days and the MTV special really stood out, because it was lighthearted and we were able to rework the material for an acoustic setting. It was a cool show.
MNOD: You’ll also be playing “Rage For Order” in its entirety at this show. How did you decide that the pairing would work?
GT: I’ve always wanted to play the whole thing live. It’s a bucket list thing for me. The contrast between the dark and the light really interests me, because Rage is a darker album and Empire is a little more upbeat and lighter in mood. I have to warm up a lot, though, because the songs on Rage are sung in a higher register while Empire is more mid-range and lower register.
MNOD: 2020 also marks the 40th anniversary of you and the rest of the guys from Queensrÿche initially joining together as The Mob. What were your expectations for the band at the time?
GT: Not too high, really. I’ve never been one for expectations, because I prefer to be pleasantly surprised. Our first Queensrÿche EP got a lot of attention and then our ensuing success allowed us to move into a different financial bracket, so we all just kind of threw our hat in the ring.
MNOD: Are there any differences that you notice between playing with the guys from Queensÿche and the band you currently have in place?
GT: The guys I’m playing with now are so enthusiastic. They’re young and energetic and they love playing live. It’s nice to surround yourself with people who care about presenting the music exactly the way people remember it and want to hear it. They have a respect for the music and it makes me happy to see that.
MNOD: Would you consider a reunion with Queensrÿche down the road?
GT: I’m very happy doing what I’m doing now and I really don’t have any desire to jump in that boat. I don’t need to. I would never say never, but it’s unlikely. The current lineup they have is just the original bass player and guitarist now that drummer Scott Rockenfield is no longer with them. If (original guitarist) Chris (DeGarmo) and Scott called me up, I would definitely listen, but Chris has been disconnected from that lifestyle for a long time now. Although, we do still talk occasionally.
MNOD: We last spoke in 2012 when your solo album, “Kings and Thieves,” was about to be released. Have you considered a follow-up in the future?
GT: I have a lot of material ready, but I’m not sure what the best way to release anything is in 2020. I have a lot of options, so I’m still in the research mode to find the best fit for me.
Geoff Tate plays both “Rage For Order” and “Empire” in their entirety on Feb. 23 at Town Ballroom.
Tickets are $30 and showtime is 7:00 p.m.