Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
For a considerable period in the late 80s and into the 90s Washington-born progressive metal outfit Queensrÿche could do absolutely no wrong. Considered amongst the leaders, alongside the likes of Dream Theatre and Fates Warning, of this sub-genre the band received award after award. Grammy nominations landed for both the multi-platinum ‘Empire’ and the ground-breaking ‘Operation Mindcrime’. The latter considered one of the most highly regarded of heavy metal concept albums and the very reason we are gathered here, on a rather sultry mid-June evening, at Newport’s Neon venue.
Formerly the Newport Odeon Theatre, dating back to 1938, situated on the eastern side of the Usk, the river that divides the city on its passage to the Bristol Channel, its striking art-deco styled exterior is a wonderful evocation of the distinctive architectural 1930s Odeon style.
Nestling alongside the railway lines, at a point where the South Wales mainline, from London’s Paddington, meets the Welsh Marches line that trundles southwards from Shrewsbury, The Neon (Newport Entertains Our Nation apparently) took ownership of the former cinema in 2015 and opened a year later. Its cavernous interior is well suited for live rock performances and is comfortably full by the time Geoff Tate and his band take to the stage to celebrate the 35th anniversary of ‘Operation Mindcrime’.
South Wales’ supremo rock promotors Big Day Pro Live have, in conjunction with agents SD Entertainments, this evening put together a tantalising lineup with three fine examples hand-picked from the bountiful current harvest of grassroots rock.
Taking the baton on this evening’s initial stretch are Swansea teenage quartet Zac and The New Men. These lads have been gathering good traction over the last couple of years with a raft of singles (ten at last count!) and a high work ethos. They grabbed our attention about a year ago with their modern take upon the steely, blues-edged tones beloved of the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix.
They possess a clear identity but are far from afraid to add in the likes of Blackberry Smoke and Royal Blood into the mix. This is far, far from a retro-powered instead we are grabbed by the scruff of the neck and are hurtled face-first into the crisp wailing of ‘Birdcage’. Exuding a rapidly maturing confidence the Swansea outfit deliver an electrifying version of Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’.
With their debut lp ‘Reinvent Me’ garnering hugely positive reviews across the board theirs is a reputation broadening across the country. Latest single ‘That’s OK’ brings in an echoing, hauntingly melodic reminiscent of early Radiohead in part alongside the captivating aura of the slickly despatched title track. Ramping up things as the set progresses ‘Atom Bomb’, slick yet somehow raw, explodes.
Winding up with the cloud-based roar of ‘Off To The Moon’ and the riffadellic ‘Begging For More’ Z&TNM demonstrate they’re more than happy to mix it up in the live arena. The former having only been played live once before Zac informs. With masterful control of elemental and sonic forces a potent incantation is woven with a greatly receptive being drawn in. The Neon gathering, resplendent, is engaged and gives a loud indication of their pleasure. Big things beckon!
To their absolute credit promoters Big Day Pro Live have eschewed from the tour standard three band billing and thus we are treated to two of the finest new bands emerging from the uberous hard rocking region of South Wales. Second upon the baton, in complete contrast to the sleek tones of Z&TNM, are the strongarm doom-bearing tentacles of the mythical deep monster otherwise known as King Kraken.
This evening the briny depths have been swapped for the tidal reaches of the Usk. The Kraken is down a man but to their complete credit this isn’t mentioned, not once, and is not dwelt upon in the slightest. The quartet do themselves total credit with their ‘show must go forth’ approach; it’s how things should be done and precisely how the unavoidably detained party would wish it to be. Those new to the Kraken are probably quite unaware that this is normally a five-piece.
Raging vocalist Mark Donaghue, kilted and booted, raises a clenched fist and encourages the crowd with a rousing battle cry. Tentacles, flash multi-coloured, menace either side of the stage as the imposing ‘Veins’ turns the throttle fully back; tyres smoking off the line. The rampage continues apace as we’re instructed, firmly, to make way for the ‘Green Terror’. Remain in its path at your peril of this horn-raising signature track whose powerage imbibes the call of the Kraken itself.
‘Chaos Engine’ roars in defiance, the storm threatens with the tortured souls of the basement-dwelling heinous monstrosities. “There’s nowhere left to hide” clamours Donoghue, darkened tones beyond even the worst of Sabbath’s nightmares, “kneel before the saviour!”
The audience is hooked and appear to have taken the Kraken to their collective heart. The selection of the numbers with titanium riffage coursing through them continues with ‘Bastard Liar’ blending Slayer and Sabbath in an environment devoid of even meagre taints of light. Hurtling, uncompromisingly, through the buffers the out-of-control express that is ‘War Machine’ whips up a fiery maelstrom.
Heavy-duty haulage cuts a doom-laden groove in ‘Freak’ as its metallic stampede sparks across the atramentous plains. A spinetingling half hour ends with towering cumulonimbus incus dissipating its intense vitalities. A second acknowledgement of the depth of quality and breadth of variety the Welsh rock / metal scene possesses, currently, has been served.
The main support for the 35th anniversary tour is London-based Swiss hard rockers Daxx & Roxanne. Hailing from, as vocalist and bassist Cedric Pfister states, “the land of beautiful mountains, chocolate and watches.” These hellraising 24 carat bonafide party animals not only gatecrash with a cheeky grin but will drive right into your soul with hooky riffs and an uncontrollable contagion.
With a caterwauling wail from the depths Cedric dives atop the meaty opening powering of ‘Sugar Rush’; his colleagues Luca Senaldi (drums), Cal Wyman (lead guitar) and Simon Golaz (rhythm guitar and harmonica) are unwavering in their glucose-fuelled onslaught. Golaz’s freight train harmonica gives us a ride back to the delights of Bob Young (Status Quo) and Canvey Island’s finest Lee Brilleaux (Dr. Feelgood). The nitrous fuelled combination of AC/DC and ZZ Top, along with all points between, sets the bar upon high.
Starting with a peek into eponymous second album Daxx and Roxanne continue with their focus lasered in that direction with the rollicking rhythms of wild child pouting of ‘Strange Woman’. Steeped in the rootsy essence beloved of John Lee Hooker and tricked up with that feelgood AC/DC barb ‘Get To It’ journeys up the highway towards that crossroad. The one Robert Johnson signed on the dotted line at; a cowled figure awaits. Aloft on Luca’s bass drum Cal shreds a mighty lick.
Dirty and sleazy ‘Without You’ takes it right down before sweeping all before away with a raucous explosion. D&R are right in the groove and feel it’s the perfect time to test out some new material. The growling beast ‘Grind’ is first up and followed by the heads down boogie that is transmitted fierily from the furnace that is ‘Faceless’; things bode well based upon these tracks. Wasn’t really in doubt if I’m honest.
Out of control it’s either crash and burn or the ‘Fast Lane’; it’s a full-on riot with Cal taking over on the drum stool whilst Luca steps out to ‘conduct’ the crowd. The lofty momentum builds further with hi-jumping antics, making the most of the sizeable stage before Cedric exclaims “You absolutely beautiful people!” There’s ‘Good Vibes’ aplenty with this Kiss-fringed set-closer raising temperatures further! If there’s any justice about then these guys have ticked the boxes to ensure progression to bigger, and better, things.
From the opening spoken tones of ‘I Remember Now’ I, along with a huge percentage of the several hundred gathered in the Neon, am transported back to ’88. “I remember how it started” states the voice. For me it was this very album released 35 years ago that started it all for me. Alongside the likes of ‘The Wall’, ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’ and ‘Quadrophenia’ it ranks alongside the very best of conceptual rock albums.
Former Queensryche vocalist Geoff Tate is most understandably keen to ensure that this flame burns brightly. Sadly, Tate’s time in Queensryche came to a bitter end, in 2012, amidst bitter tensions. However, as the band assemble one by one, including drummer Danny Laverde holding a lit mobile aloft, this is far from the forefront of the collective minds. We are taken back to that first time we clutched our copy of ‘Operation Mindcrime’ in our hands.
Lying on a hospital bed one-time heroin addict Nikki awakes, Dr. X, the man with the cure, recruits to the dedications of revolution. The band surge forth lay waste with the slick ‘Anarchy-X’ searing into the ether. Fantastical prog-metal is despatched in majesty. With whispering initial echoes of The Who’s ‘Real Me’ the lean lines of Geoff Tate step forward into ‘Revolution Calling’, the packed venue returns the chorus with interest.
Under the wicked incantation of the manic demagogue Nikki is the docile puppet whose strings are pulled by the “mindcrime” hypnotics. ‘Operation Mindcrime’ is dark and urbane; Tate’s sublime vocals show no aging “A hitman for the order” he wailfully projects. The murders, under instruction begin.
It’s one slick segue upon another, a well-oiled machine without doubt. There’s a deft nod in the direction of Iron Maiden within ‘Speak’; Nikki’s stature increases and with it, so his ego inflates paralleling his faithful ‘obedience’ to the mysterious Dr. X.
Raucously ‘Spreading The Disease’ cascades as the mountain river does; Father William, corrupt associate, offers the services of Sister Mary for Nikki’s own end. Ripples of contagion outward from the epicentre spread as cold sparks fire upwards. The jangly guitar-work has the crowd in raptures.
A bell tolls, solitary in the distance, ‘The Mission’, imbibing from the same bottle that Metallica once consumed from, rolls large over the jagged horizon. Via his feelings for Mary the ‘puppet’ of the Mindcrime begins to ponder upon the actual agenda and intentions of his overlord. Mean, moody, magnificent.
Realising the extent of his love for the teenage prostitute reformed nun Nikki can’t further his murder of the Father. Failure to obey and act, the eerie Pink Floyd-esque undertones of ‘Suite Sister Mary’ sees Tate joined by the vocal talents of his daughter Angel. Chaste the inner spirit, tortured souls cry out. It’s a theatrical delivery with Tate’s rasping a delightful contradiction to the heavenly gothic despatch of Angel. Tate powers forth “Memories of my mind” whilst the band rages about him.
Addressing the crowd for the first time Tate welcomes “35 years of Operation Mindcrime. One question. Shall we continue?” Halfway juncture there’s just one loud reply “YES!”
Manically chuckling, evil Dr. X exclaims “You can’t walk away!” as Nikki informs of his intent. The murderous master demonstrates Nikki’s ‘only’ option is a return to where ‘The Needle Lies’, his former addicted life. Tate’s wide-ranging vocals soar as Maiden or Helloween.
In a state of inner confusion Nikki returns to discover Mary’s lifeless corpse. An ‘Electric Requiem’ is the beginning of the path to insanity. The crowd bounce along to the metallic strengths of the engagement of ‘Breaking The Silence’, an interwoven fabric of Whitesnake’s ‘Don’t Break My Heart Again’ prevails for a moment wrapping itself about the spirit of the Scorpions.
Arrested, led into custody Nikki’s unravelling continues. Questions and doubt rage ‘I Don’t Believe In Love’ is tormented and anguished. Rousing of the soul the crowd are on point singing every word. Guitarists James Brown and Amaury Altmayer join forces for sumptuous twin lead as the flower blossoms.
With bluesy Metallica strains instrumental ‘Waiting For 22’ takes by the hand into the confines of Nikki’s psychiatric ward. A clock passes time with a loud ticking, Tate reappears “Empty room today.” Retracing paths within his mind Nikki discovers his last moments with his love in ‘My Empty Room’. The cerebral banshees unabated scream in torment.
So, in the black of tearful optics, we arrive at journey’s end. No longer recognising his reflection Nikki stares through ‘Eyes Of Stranger’. Twin lead six-stringing, the choirs of the anguished are met with rapture. It’s a stunning finale, catastrophic kaleidoscope that finally relents as the tale is told in entirety.
Tate and his band are not done as they return for a further quintet of classic Queensryche. Gaining traction with the epic aura of the spellbinding ‘Silent Lucidity’. Tate enjoys the moment savouring the crowd singing ‘Empire’. Timeless and regal there is no thought of three decades that have elapsed since.
With a slice of UFO and Scorpions ‘Jet City Woman’ set pulses racing as does ‘Take Hold Of The Flame’ lifted in from ‘The Warning’. The speed metal rapidly accelerates in the set-closer ‘Queen Of The Reich’ as the 40th anniversary of the debut self-titled EP is acknowledged in silent brevity. Tate has, with a talented cast, paid the ultimate respect to some of his finest work in Queensryche. Here’s to many more anniversaries!
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM