I'd never heard of Queensyrche; they didn't get much, if any, airplay on the radio stations I listened to. I wasn't particularly impressed by the band Whitesnake, and I didn't feel any need to go hunt some music by Queensyche down on the recommendation of a few net acquaintinces. But the name stuck in my head; I did kinda want to hear what it was they enjoyed so much.
Nine years later, I moved to Emerald City to join Lt.Warhound, and he had an extensive collection of Queensryche -- much of it originally purchased on tape or vinyl, and later bought again on CD. I finally got a chance to listen to the band, and found I quite liked their music.
A few weeks ago, I heard a radio ad announcing that Queensryche was stopping in my city on their current tour. The ad described their performance: "Act I will be favorites from across all their albums, while in Act II Queensryche will perform, in its entirety, Operation: Mindcrime."
Oh, wow, I thought. That would be so cool.
Operation: Mindcrime is, like Pink Floyd's The Wall or The Who's Tommy, a kind of rock opera. It is set in a grim, dark American city -- a sort of generic NYC -- and opens with a diatribe against politicians, corporations, and organized religion alike. The first song is "Revolution Calling", and is a call to rise up in rebellion against all these forces of oppression. The narrator is a petty criminal who has found a cause in The Order, led by Dr. X: "The man with the cure".
"The cure", as becomes clear over the course of the remaining album, is at least as bad if not worse than the disease. The phrase "mindcrime" specifically refers to what Dr. X does to his followers -- a combination, one gathers, of drug addiction, hypnosis, and conditioning. The narrator becomes a hitman for the Order, assassinating influential people throughout the city. He has one friend, also involved with the Order: a runaway-turned-hooker-turned-nun (and now sexually abused by her priest; bear in mind this album rails against religion, too): Sister Mary.
Eventually, Dr. X orders the narrator to kill Mary. It's not clear from the album whether he does or whether he lets Mary go, and she escapes from the Order. In either case, the narrator descends into depression and madness, and eventually winds up in an asylum.
Despite portraying a view of human nature and society almost entirely alien to my own, this is my favorite Queensryche album. It's raw and powerful in its anger and violence, in its longing to make a change -- yet essential inability to make a substantial change, to improve anything.
So I was intrigued by the possibility of seeing it performed live in its entirety. I talked to Lut, who'd also heard about it, and we decided to get tickets. Tehy were playing at a fairly small venue in town, with 1700 seats. The show started at 8PM, and all tickets were general admission. I suggested we bring books and go at 5PM to try to get good seats. Lut checked the webpage and found that the doors opened at 7PM; he didn't want to get there any earlier than that. Fair 'nuf.
We pulled up to the intersection before the theatre at about 7:05. A small group of people milled around near the entrance on the corner.
We turned the corner. The small group that we'd been able to see from the intersection turned out to be the start of a line that stretched down the block.
All the way down the block. And then around the corner.
By the time we found a parking space and got back, the line stretched halfway down the south side of the block. Although it was probably 7:20PM by now, there was little indication that they were letting people in. We waited in a mob of good-natured Queensryche fans.
As the line finally started to move and we came around the corner Lut noticed something that we'd never noticed before, even though we used to live in this area: there is parking on top of the buildings in the plaza north of the theater. No, those aren't parking garages: it's a grocery store and some other small shops that just happen to have parking spots on the roofs. Heh. Cool.
Fans were parking on the roof and staring in fascination at the line across the street from them. A couple of people were visible using cellphones, and one of the people beside us predicted his conversation. "I just got to the theater. Dude, that's a lot of people! I dunno if I wanna go down there."
We heard a lot aghast exclamation from people approaching the corner as they walked to the end of the line: "Agh! It goes around the corner?!"
But the best conversation was shouted between two strangers, one in line near us, and one on the rooftop. "Hey, save me a spot!" the roof guy yelled.
"How much money do you got?" he yelled back.
"Uh ... I don't have any money. I got beer!"
"Woo, beer," was the kind of repsonse from several other people in line. But the one shouting responded with, "What kind of beer?"
A pause. "Free beer!"
"Best kind!" said a few others, but the main speaker was considering this offer.
The man on the roof added, "We'll be the guys in black t-shirts; look for us inside!"
As it neared eight o'clock, the line started moving faster as they opened an set of doors and ticket takers. By eight, Lut and I had found seats -- in the highest tier, but at the front of the section so they had a good view of the stage. But there were probably still four hundred or more people waiting to get in. Needless to say, the concert started late. Lut and I tried to read by the dim light in the theatre. I'd actually brought a flashlight, entirely by chance -- it was the "quarterly gift" from Toddler Bank and I'd put it in coat pocket on Wednesday night and forgotten about it. But Lut happened to know that the venue rules prohibited flashlights so I didn't want to use it.
At around 8:30 or so, the concert began.
There was no opening act; Lut described it as "Queensryche opening for Queensryche". This proved to be eeriely appropriate. Opening acts are usually rather dull compared to the main band, and Act One of this concert was not much compared to Act Two.
The first part was surprisingly short; they only performed six different songs. Despite having listened to several Queensryche albums, I didn't recognize half of them. Lut said that's because three of them were from the same album, "Empire", which he only has in rather degraded tape form and which I've only listened to a couple of times. Another one was brand new. Lut was disappointed that so many of their albums weren't featured at all.
But they did close the act with "Silent Lucidity", the only song from "Empire"that I know well enough to recognize, and arguably Queensryche's most commercially successful song. It's the only one that I can remember hearing on the radio from time to time. An eeriely gentle and melodic piece, especially in contrast to most of their hard rock style.
The sound quality in the theater wasn't nearly up to rock concert standards, although the acoustics might have been better lower down. By rock concert standards, it was fairly quiet, meaning "not quite deafening" and "can't always feel the vibrations of the bass through the floor".
After a break of twenty-thirty minutes, during which I risked the confiscation of my flashlight to read, Act Two began.
It opened with a promoter, who told the audience about Queensryche's upcoming album, and other acts coming to the the theater. He was interrupted by a man bursting onto the stage with a megaphone, who shouted profanities while urging the audience to anarchy. "Don't you know what they're doing to you?!"
Another couple of peolpe quickly emerged to tackle the megaphone wielder, beating him into submision and dragging him offstage, to encouraging hoots, cheers, and catcalls from the audience. "Yeah! Kick his sorry ass!" one of the people from an especially vocal section behind us shouted.
I don't know if they realized the whole thing was part of the act or not.
Act One had been very simply staged, just the members of the band playing and singing and moving about a bit, and some variety with the lighting, but nothing especially flashy. One thing I noticed was that the lead singer would often walk offstage during non-singing parts, and I wondered if that was intended as a way of forcing the focus onto the rest of the band; lead singers tend to get the vast majority of the attention from the typical fan.
Mindcrime made a lot more use of staging. Various walk-on actors played out parts from the story. The singer for "Sister Mary" played Mary, while the narrator, "Nikki", was alternately played by an actor and by the Queensryche lead singer. A couple of vinyl-clad women made shifts as "nurses" and assistants to Dr. X.
They used the screen behind the stage throughout the second act. It showed video clips -- the first one animated, the rest live action -- from the story, as well as montages of various scenes, closeups of band members, and lyrics from the songs. Sometimes it would be different words flashed at liminal speeds, highlighting the central message of Mindcrime.
One of the most interesting parts, for me, was the performance of "Revolution Calling", the first full song of the act.
They put a lot of power and energy into this work, and the audience responded. Virtually everyone was on their feet, shaking fists and half-singing, half-shouting along with the band. Including me.
"Revolution Calling" is not remotely close to my anthem. I don't favor revolution, and I don't favor violence as a path to change. During it, the montage on the screen showed scenes from the recent presidential campaign, from Iraq, of President Bush, of explosions, of a Kerry/Edwards sign burning, of American flags. The general tone was strongly anti-establishment, and especially anti-Republican.
But even though I voted for President Bush, my enjoyment of the performance and the song was not lessened by that. Perhaps because I knew how the story went for the narrator. A drug addict hitman is not my idea of a trustworthy narrator that I'm supposed to believe.
And yet I strongly suspect that Queensryche considers the anti-Republican theme heartfelt, and that they'd prefer a different group in power. There was no trace of irony in the way they played it, no recognition that Dr. X was no better. Of course, that's the way it should be played; the narrator at this stage believes.
The song has some true resonance with me, as well, especially in this refrain:
I used to trust the media
To tell me the truth, tell us the truth
But now I've seen the payoffs
Everywhere I look
Who do you trust when everyone's a crook?
I can relate to that sense of frustration with the world, the sense that everyone has an agenda and no one can be trusted or taken at face value.
In any case, I had a terrific time at the show and greatly enjoyed it. Woo! It was a blast. The problems with the sound system were clearly just that -- technical difficulties. The band themselves were in good form and played well, with a lot of heart and energy. Good stuff.
I should go buy "Empire" on CD so that I can listen to a high-quality version of "Silent Lucidty" again. Mmm.