Reactions to Geoff Tate’s decision to pair Queensrÿche’s ominous 1986 release “Rage For Order” with its more commercially accessible 1990 smash “Empire” all in one evening differ depending on the source. Some fans with whom I spoke were prepared to revel in the intricacies of “Surgical Strike” and “Neue Regel,” while others couldn’t wait to hear “Silent Lucidity” performed just as they remembered. The one thing everyone inside Town Ballroom this past Sunday could agree on, however, is that Tate and his band captured the essence of both records beautifully.
Vocally, Tate sounded as sharp and committed as ever, which shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone familiar with his work since exiting the band in 2012. He’s considered one of the greatest hard rock/metal vocalists of all time for a reason and seeing him in such an intimate venue afforded the audience an opportunity to experience a master at work. His takes on “I Dream in Infrared” and “I Will Remember” were fraught with emotion from the opening notes, and his stories regarding the inspiration behind many of the album’s deep cuts provided casual listeners with context in the event that they were hearing them for the very first time.
Because dual guitar harmonies were a hallmark of the Queensrÿche sound, it was critical that the musicians Tate surrounded himself with were up to the task. Guitarists Scott Moughton and Kieran Robertson formed a killer tandem whose strength lied in the ability of both parties to trade licks with ease. They nailed the staccato rhythms and overall heaviness of the material so soundly that it was easy to see why a 15 minute intermission was needed before they returned to tackle “Empire.”
When I interviewed Tate in the days leading up to the show, he noted that the contrast of dark and light was what intrigued him most about this pairing, and, after seeing it for myself, I couldn’t agree more. The mindset one needs to be in when delivering songs about government intrusion, tracking devices, and the dangers of artificial intelligence would have to be quite different than the one required to summon the energetic vibe of “Best I Can,” “The Thin Line,” and “Another Rainy Night (Without You),” but the shift didn’t just occur on stage.
The whole crowd felt re-energized coming out of the break, as evidenced by the deafening singalong that accompanied both “Jet City Woman” and “Empire.” Sure, the universal familiarity of these songs was nice to see, but a dramatic rendering of “Della Brown” and one of the finest versions of “Anybody Listening?” I’ve ever heard stood tall as the peaks of the second set. On “Anybody Listening?” especially, Tate’s soaring lead was bolstered by backing vocals that were as strong as anything you’ll hear on the original recording.
An encore of “Last Time in Paris” and “Eyes of a Stranger” brought the house down one final time before the band called it a night, but the echoes of this show lingered long after the lights went up. Tate returned to Western New York for the first time in three years and gave one of the finest performances we’ve seen in 2020 thus far.