I went to see Geoff Tate’s acoustic tour the other night. He was playing mostly old Queensryche songs that were re-arranged a bit, with a violinist instead of a bassist, two acoustic guitars, and a percussionist. Knowing the setlist ahead of time, I knew there were a handful of songs Queensryche would likely never play again, so I wanted to check it out.
I’m very glad I did. The gig was fun, Tate sounded good, and the re-arrangements were interesting to listen to and performed well. Of note for me personally were the performances of songs from Promised Land (“Out of Mind,” “Bridge”), Hear in the Now Frontier (“Some People Fly,” “Chasing Blue Sky”), and Tribe (“Blood”). Tate also did something from every record Queensryche released from 1983-2011, a song from his Operation: Mindcrime project, and a Dropkick Murphys cover.
Song-wise, my personal highlight surprised the hell out of me -- “Blood.” The violinist added an aggressive solo bit to the end of the song that ratcheted up the energy and quite honestly brought the house down. The song went over well and the band received a nice ovation. But it was the narrative change about the tune’s lyrics that enabled me to enjoy it so much.
This was a bit of storyteller show, so Tate introduced “Blood” by saying “I’m not a political man” (which made me laugh a little) and described his recent travels to a foreign country where he saw how oppressed a group of refugees was, including a child being too afraid to take the coat Tate was offering him. He said that examples of incidents like that helped inspire the song. When “Blood” was released in 2003, however, Tate used the tune to finger-point at President George W. Bush regarding 9-11. So, the pivot Tate made on the tune’s meaning to him now, 14 years later, helped me get into it, despite its origins.
Another highlight was Tate’s cover of “The Fight” from Operation: Mindcrime’s last record, Resurrection. While I didn't really care for the record, I did like this particular song. The acoustic backdrop made the already big chorus resonate even further for me. I recorded videos of the songs I mentioned above, but I regret not capturing “The Fight,” because it was that good.
The show wasn’t all about obscure material, however. Tate made sure to do the fan favorites, performing renditions of Queensryche’s “Walk in the Shadows,” (which opened the show) “Another Rainy Night,” “Silent Lucidity,” “I Don’t Believe in Love,” “Eyes of a Stranger,” "The Lady Wore Black," and “Take Hold of the Flame.” They sounded different, of course, but the songs were performed well.
Tate sounds much better over acoustic instrumentation these days. His voice was powerful and has retained a richness to its tone that still makes it captivating, despite losing a lot of his higher range. And that’s not to say he didn’t display some range – he most certainly did, and picked a few spots to show he can still get higher if he needed to.
I don't want to focus on negatives moving forward, but a comparison is called for when talking about Queensryche-Tate stuff. La Torre has done a fine job with Queensryche, and on the Condition Human tour, really put on what I'd call "professional performances," meaning, he has learned the limitations of his voice and delivers a much more consistent performances each night. He has higher range than Tate these days, and La Torre now picks his spots better. So if you want to see the wails, La Torre makes sure to do them. And he should get a lot of credit for whatever work he's done to be as consistent as he has been over the last year.
Tate, on the other hand, has a much warmer tone, and a fullness to his voice that is just unmistakable. After seeing him now for the first time in eight years, it was very, very clear to my ears how distinct he was with Queensryche, even in the latter years. There's a reason why Tate was so lauded over his career, and it's not just for the high notes. So if you're a Queensryche fan, and aren't stuck in the "no Tate, no QR," or "QR is superior to Tate" mentality, I think both will provide you with some good ear candy, depending on what is being played, and what your expectations are. Go and enjoy.
Getting back to the Tate gig, what stood out to me was how comfortable Tate looked on stage, in comparison to the final few years with Queensryche. He poked fun at the 1980s, at himself, smiled a lot and just seemed to enjoy himself. He even said how much he’s had fun on the current tour. At one point, he sped his voice up so much cracking jokes in-between songs, I could have sworn he was on speed. Ha ha ha. But it was all in good fun. The stories he told about many of the songs were obviously scripted, but there was a looseness to his vibe that was nice to see. All of it contributed to a good performance.
One of those stories stood out, and I’ll be adding it to AnybodyListening.net at some point. He recalled how as a child, his mom (who was a single mother at the time), took Tate to work all the time at a mental facility. While that sort of practice likely wouldn’t be permitted today (for obvious reasons), it provided a good basis for writing “Out of Mind.” He recalled that during the Promised Land sessions, he told Chris DeGarmo about it, and DeGarmo came back the next day with a song fully written, music and lyrics, based on Tate’s observations in that mental facility. He also told a very interesting tale about how the insertion of a harmonica solo in “Chasing Blue Sky” came about, which had the crowd laughing.
Overall, I had a good time. The crowd was very small (the venue is a converted hamburger restaurant), numbering about 70ish at its peak during “Silent Lucidity,” but mostly hovering in the 40s. Capacity for the stage-area portion of the place is probably 200. So, Tate didn’t draw very well at all. But to their credit, Tate and his band didn’t play like it was a tiny audience. It was an energetic performance, and if you’ve been on the fence about seeing Tate again, I’d encourage going, particularly if you like the setlist he's doing. The tour runs through April 15, in Toronto, before picking up again in late August according to his Facebook page.