Queensrÿche at Harrah’s South Shore Room on Saturday
It’s appropriate that the frontman of the band that brought back the concept album prefers describing what he does as art and communication rather than tight-fitting labels like “metal” or “prog.”
“I’d never label myself. That’s for other people to do,” Geoff Tate said. “I’d just be very comfortable with the Queensrÿche label.”
That label covers a lot of ground: Not only does it refer to a band that was blending elements of progressive rock and metal in the 1980s and early ’90s, it also evokes concept albums and hard-rock operas that preceded the likes of “American Idiot” or Coheed & Cambria by at least a decade.
“What we try to do live is we try to communicate the idea of what the song is about at any given time,” Tate said. “Songs are about communication, and they’re the musician’s point of view on an experience they’ve had. I try to take that experience and describe it in a way they can relate to.”
While Queensrÿche reached its commercial peak with “Empire” in 1990, “Operation: Mindcrime” in 1988 and its 2004 sequel stand out as examples of alternative storytelling. Both albums revolve around the same set of characters in two different stories: According to Wikipedia, the original revolved around a junkie torn over how an underground movement manipulated him into performing assassinations and his love of Mary, a reformed hooker-turned-nun who gets in the way. “Operation Mindcrime II” picks up the story years later with vocalist Pamela Moore reprising her role as Mary and Ronnie James Dio voicing the villain Dr. X.
Tate considers “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Tommy” instrumental influences on the “Mindcrime” cycle.
“That was very instrumental in our musical development,” Tate said. He called those influences fantastic and said a lot of thought must have gone into them, as well as newer concept albums.
“I think, yeah, every generation should have an artist or a group of artists that explore that medium. That’s great, and hats off to them for creating that, or pursuing it.”
Like its ancestors, the two “Mindcrime” albums developed into elaborate live shows. “Live, you can present it in such a way it really connects with people,” Tate said. “It just gives them a lot to think about. It’s sort of similar to a play, really.”
“Mindcrime at the Moore” captures Queensrÿche performing its second opus in its entirety at the Moore Theater in the band’s hometown of Seattle ” with special guests including the entire Seahawks drumline. After Saturday’s show at Harrah’s, the band will return to Europe, where it will present both parts of “Operation: Mindcrime” in their entirety.
Queensrÿche followed “Mindcrime at the Moore” with “Sign of the Times,” a best-of collection, and most recently, “Take Cover,” a collection of songs originally by other artists. The band is returning to the road after spending a lot of time in the studio working on a new story album, likely due out in February. While fans aren’t likely to hear any of the new song cycle Saturday, Tate said Queensrÿche ranges all over its catalogue.
“It really just depends on what we’re doing at the time,” he said. “I like pretty much playing everything we do. It’s all kind of part of our history, so it’s fun going back to our beginnings, and it’s also fun playing something new that you just created.”
Tate urged concertgoers to come to Harrah’s with an open mind. Sometimes the band introduces the story to grab the audience’s attention, and sometimes it even involves getting in costume and becoming a character.
“It’s strictly a form of communication, and I do a lot of storytelling,” Tate said. “We play around with both quite a bit in our shows.”
Saturday’s show is also a chance to see an icon: a band that’s managed to hold onto its vision for some three decades, through eras when feather metal, grunge and nü metal all ruled.
“There’s not a lot of bands that started nearly 30 years ago still standing,” Tate said.
There are also not a lot of bands ” or people, for that matter, who are exactly how to pronounce the Queensrÿche label ” particularly that “y” with the umlaut on top of it. Those people include Tate himself.
“Well, you don’t,” he said. “We came up with that when we were 16 and we didn’t really know anything about phonics or what the actual purpose of an umlaut was. It just looked really cool.
“But once you learn it, you kind of remember it.”