Monday, 29 August 2016

Queensrÿche - London Review

It does not seem that long ago that I last saw Queensrÿche live. Since regrouping with current frontman Todd La Torre in 2012, Queensrÿche have been touring a lot. There have been three UK tours in that time too, and I have been at every one. Last year the band, along with Armored Saint and Death Angel, rocked the Electric Ballroom in Camden on the eve of Bloodstock Open Air, which was a great start to the weekend of music for me, but this year the band return to the slightly smaller O2 Academy in Islington for a show at the back end of August this time. It seems a shame the band have gone for a smaller venue this time, as there was a big crowd in the Electric Ballroom last year, but I suppose the overall bill was a greater draw than just Queensrÿche on their own. That being said, the Islington Academy seems to the be the go-to venue for metal bands that are not massive these days, and the atmosphere and sound there is always pretty good. Being a Sunday, the door time was quite early (6pm) so it took a while for the crowd to grow. The first support band were playing to a pretty small crowd, which was a shame, but by the time Queensrÿche hit the stage the place was full.

Before that however the crowd were treated to two genuinely great support slots, with the first coming from Italian progressive rock band Methodica. They were definitely more a rock band than a metal band, despite a few heavier sections throughout, and their music was more atmospheric than riff-based, with Marco Baschera's keyboards playing a big role. In placed they reminded me a bit of Circus Maximus, but there are really no other bands I can compare them to. They certainly have their own sound, and write successful prog songs without ever really descending into showboating. Frontman Massimo Piubelli has a great voice too, slightly lower than average, but his emotional delivery is a little reminiscent to Steve Hogarth's early work with Marillion. They only played for a round half an hour, but they made a really strong impression on me throughout the whole of their set. They seemed to go down well with the crowd, and their merch table was pretty busy after their set. I bought a copy of their latest album The Wisdom of Silence, which the band all signed, and I look forward to giving this a proper listen at some point over the next few days.

Up next was Archer Nation (although sometimes they seem to just be called Archer, so that's confusing!) from California. Where Methodica were laid back and atmospheric, Archer Nation were in your face and heavy. While they were fast, I would not call them a thrash band (despite an excellent cover of Megadeth's Tornado of Souls turning up half way through their set) as they had too many traits of classic heavy metal for that. For a three-piece they made a racket, and Dylan Rose (vocals/guitar) churned out so many great riffs and solos it was like his life depended on it. He was a pretty strong singer too, with plenty of grit but still with the knack for a strong melody. Their entire set was like a whirlwind, with each song being played at breakneck speed. The aforementioned cover of Tornado of Souls of course stood out simply as it was the only song I knew, and Rose nailed Marty Friedman's complex solo, but it did not overshadow their own excellent songs. Unfortunately, after buying Methodica's album, I had no more cash on me so I could not buy a copy of Archer Nation's album. I have already ordered one online however, so look forward to giving it a play when it turns up!

After seeing two such great an varied support slots, which is a testament to Queensrÿche's own diversity that two such different acts do not feel a mismatch on the same bill, it was almost easy to forget that I was really here to see one of my very favourite bands. As soon as the band stepped onto the stage however, this was no longer a worry and the band performed a passionate set with songs from throughout their career. They ripped straight into Guardian from their latest album, and the anthemic chorus saw lots of fist pumping and singing from those around me. The vast majority of the set from their glory days however, with quite a few different songs from those played on their last couple of UK tours. Operation: Mindcrime was a great follow-up to Guardian, with a similar anthemic vibe, before those instantly recognisable keyboards heralded the start of Best I Can which saw the most audience participation yet. La Torre, now four years into his role as Queensrÿche frontman, sounds even more comfortable and confident in the role now. He injects a little more of his own vocal styles into the songs, sounding rawer and rougher than Geoff Tate in places, but it works and helps to give the band a heavier sound. Parker Lundgren (guitar/vocals) seems to take on more of the guitar solos too now, especially on those songs I had not heard the band do before. It is good that him and founding member Michael Wilton (guitar) are splitting lead duties a little more evenly now, as Lundgren is a great player and deserves to show off sometimes! The set took a bit of a darker turn then with the groovy Damaged, which saw Scott Rockenfield (drums) lay down one of the best drum grooves this side of Jeff Porcaro, and the synthy The Killing Words which has another great chorus for the fans to sink their teeth into.

The ballad Silent Lucidity came about half way through as a nice change of pace, before Empire hit hard. One of the best songs from the band's latest album was also played. Eddie Jackson's (bass guitar/vocals) Eye9 is so typically Queensrÿche it could have sat happily on 1986's Rage for Order and deserves it's place in this set. I did find it strange that only two songs from last year's excellent Condition Hüman were played however. I shall digress a little here to make a slight complaint about the set. I know that Queensrÿche have never featured much new material in their sets since hiring La Torre, but this is the Condition Hüman tour after all! A couple more songs from that would have been great, and would have taken the set to around the 90 minute mark. 75 minutes is short for a headline act these days, and throwing in a couple more new songs would have made it that bit longer. I know both Arrow of Time and Bulletproof have been played live in the past, so they would not even have to really rehearse anything else! Anyway, that complaint aside, the show was fantastic so I shall get back to it! Queen of the Reich sounds as good as ever live, and La Torre really nails that opening scream that defines the song. I imagine this song will now be played at every Queensrÿche show until they split up! Jet City Woman and Take Hold of the Flame brought the main set to an end, and the crowd were baying for more. They got two more, starting with the industrial-tinged Screaming in Digital with those abrasive 1980s synth sounds and Jackson proved himself to be a great singer duetting with La Torre in the chorus. The show ended with the bona fide classic Eyes of a Stranger and brought a huge cheer as it came to a close. The setlist was:

Guardian
Operation: Mindcrime
Best I Can
Damaged
The Killing Words
The Mission
Silent Lucidity
Empire
Eye9
Queen of the Reich
Jet City Woman
Take Hold of the Flame
-
Screaming in Digital
Eyes of a Stranger

My complaint about the length and inclusion of new songs aside, this was a truly masterful live display from one of the best progressive metal bands ever. It seems silly to even complain at all when the set and performance was as good as it was, but I generally wish bands would play more new material and have confidence in what they are doing now as well as their legacy! I am sure Queensrÿche will be back to the UK again soon, and I will be first in line for tickets as always! It was also great to see two fantastic unknown support acts too, that really is a rarity!

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