Review by Paddy Gallagher for MPM
The October Bank Holiday Weekend 2023 saw a busy line up of gigs in Belfast but the first one on my radar was the return of one of the iconic voices of Heavy Metal bringing a setlist celebrating the 35th Anniversary of Queensrÿche’s “Operation: Mindcrime”, an album that figures highly in many esteems and is one of the quintessential Prog Metal concept albums of all time and deservedly spoke of in the same breath as Dream Theater’s “Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory”, Iron Maiden’s “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”, Fates Warning “A Pleasant Shade of Gray”, King Diamond’s “Abigail” or Ayreon’s “The Human Equation”.
The venue tonight is the recently rebuilt Mandela Hall, part of the QUB Student’s Union complex. Initially opened in 1967 and hosting a fine list of artists including Joe Satriani and Coheed & Cambria (specifically mentioned here due to them suiting tonight’s crowd of Prog Metal aficionados), it reopened in 2022, and must now be considered one of Belfast’s finest venues. A 1000 capacity with a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system with a respectable sized stage that allows Geoff and his team plenty of space to show off their stagecraft.
Maybe it’s my lack of familiarity with this area of town, but after eventually finding a parking space and walking the short distance to the venue the band was blasting out the start of “Revolution Calling” as we entered the hall. What is obvious immediately is Geoff’s experience on stage as he uses the length and breadth of the stage to great effect.
Also, that voice!! For a man hitting mid 60’s soon he can still hit those notes like it’s 1988. Is this a great advert for red wine and Guinness and its effects on vocal cords then regular visits to a vineyard should be prescribed for all vocalists. Magnificent!
The venue is well packed, maybe not to capacity but definitely at least 80% full. A common phrase throughout the night being how Operation: Mindcrime figures very highly on many attendees’ favourite albums list. And it’s easy to see why.
The quality of the songs and the influence they had on many through the years stands testament to the craft of the those who wrote and recorded and tonight to those playing the music on stage, a multi-national ensemble consisting of Irish, Scottish, French, and American.
The title track followed by “Speak” and “Spreading The Disease” are faithfully reproduced with Geoff getting into character as the story of a drug addict, Nikki, a pawn in a series of political assassinations after manipulation by Dr X is told. The story continues with our main character’s realisation of the Dr X’s true agenda in “The Mission” before the arrival on stage of Angel who follows in the footsteps of the legendary Pamela Moore playing the character of teenage prostitute turned nun, Mary, a strong vocal performance complimenting Geoff’s in the duet parts of “Suite Sister Mary”.
The remarkable enduring properties of this album very much evident in the crowd singing along, in some cases with eyes shut absorbing the story and perhaps reliving a time in life where these songs meant so much to them.
The band consists of a variety of nationalities including Scotland’s Jack Ross on bass who has been with Geoff in previous live incarnations of the band aptly named Operation: Mindcrime and Cincinnati’s Danny Laverde on drums both providing the backbone of tonight’s proceedings. Kilkenny Ireland’s James Brown shares lead guitar duties with France’s Amaury Altmayer both doing a fine job replicating Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton’s twin guitar work on the album.
“The Needle Lies” follows before Mary is found dead in “Electric Requiem”. As Nikki continues in a downward spiral not knowing if he did indeed kill Mary, the intense story is portrayed vividly on stage with Geoff’s contortions and character portrayal. “Breaking The Silence” follows Nikki through the streets before he is arrested “I Don’t Believe in Love” and culminates in the present day with Nikki unable to recognise himself in a mirror “Eyes of a Stranger”. The house erupts now in roars of approval and applause as the tragic story is finished and smiling faces abound both on and off stage.
You would think after all that a wee break would be called for, but without much of a gap the opening iconic riffs of “Empire” herald more classics including “Jet City Woman”, “Take Hold of The Flame” and the beautiful “Silent Lucidity” before a surprise rendition of “Queen of the Reich” closed proceedings.
A fantastic night of emotions for those in attendance as the strength of the music presented so skilfully by those on stage took us all on a journey through time to our individual memories of what was happening in our lives and what the album “Operation: Mindcrime” means to us all.
To sum up, many I spoke to as we filed out of the hall in a none too hurried fashion trying to delay emerging into the wet, cold, and dark Belfast night stated that tonight ranks in their Top 5 of gigs attended!
Geoff still has that voice in all its glory, not depleted by the natural aging process and he has surrounded himself with a team of musicians who clearly enjoy the music they are playing.
It’s hard to beat the classics and it’s easy to see how Geoff Tate figures so prominently in the story of the Progressive Metal genre.
Photography by Paul Verner for MPM