February 8, 2008

Concert Review: Queensryche w/ Don Dokken - February 6, 2008

The 2008 concert season got off to a bit of a late start, much like the end of the 2007 season. For the first time in a nearly a decade, I went almost two months without going to a concert. I must be getting old. Still, there is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush you can get from an electrified crowd. You enter the club, or wherever you prefer your live tunes, and you can feel the buzz in the air. No matter who your day went, live music with a rocking band can turn the entire day around. This night was one of those times. How can you go wrong with Queensryche? It would be difficult too. Sure, the band could always be better, but that does not, and should not, take away from a good performance. Tonight was a good performance.

The show was a sell out. People were crammed inside the club elbow to elbow with barely enough room to lift your beer, that is, if you were lucky enough to make it to the bar. Despite the cramped quarters, there was a feeling of excitement, particularly by me. You see, I was lucky enough to score one of the last available tickets (blame it on my constant procrastination), and this was my first experience with Queensryche, live and in the flesh. I have been a fan of the band since I first heard Empire way back in 1990 (yes, I know I was little late to the party). Anyway, I never had the opportunity to see the live show until now. Of course, it is not all of the original members and they are not exactly in their prime.

Before we could get to the 'ryche there was one other performer to get through prior to their big entrance.

The time was 8:15 and Don Dokken took to the stage, wine glass in hand and acoustic guitar in tow. He was not alone; joining him on a twelve-string acoustic was Kelly Keeling. I'd never heard of him before, but a quick look at his credits finds a player who has performed on albums with Alice Cooper, John Norum, Michael Schenker Group, Trans Siberian Orchestra, and, of course, Dokken.

Anyway, the two went on to perform a 35 minute set of Dokken classics, separated by interludes of Don cracking wise. The jokes even started before they began playing. His target? Bret Michaels and Rock of Love. Don claimed to be able to find better looking women at the grocery store. He also said that one of his reasons for doing the tour was to see Queensryche every night for free! Not a bad deal if you ask me.

What made the performance so good, besides my familiarity with the music, is that they were not trying to be good; they were just having fun. Well, that and the arrangements sounded pretty good, more fun than the acoustic versions that appeared on Dokken's One Live Night album. They were up there, warts and all, playing songs and having a good ol' time. At one point, I am not sure which song it was, but Kelly messed up the solo, saying he can't play it on a twelve string. So, he made Don play one, and it didn't sound half bad.

With the limited playing time they had, they were not able to play all that many songs. I am going to try and remember them, please forgive me if I forget one or two and screw up the order. Here goes:
1. Into the Fire
2. Just Got Lucky
3. Breaking the Chains
4. Alone Again
5. It's Not Love
6. In My Dreams

With Don Dokken out of the way, it was time. It was time to put away the acoustic guitars and plug in for some power! The stage was cleared and the tarps covering the drum kit were removed, revealing one seriously cool looking kit, complete with chains hanging from the cymbal rack. Short risers led up each side of the kit, while there were stacks of lights lining the back wall. Yes, the electricity was growing.

9:15, the tour manager took the microphone, introduced the band and there they were. Queensryche, live and in the flesh, no intro music, no pomp and circumstance, just them. The set kicked off with "Burning Man." I loved nearly every moment of the set, even getting a bird's eye view of the setlist from my vantage point right behind the soundboard. While it was great getting a sneak peek into what was to come, it also led to some major disappointment, which I will get to in a moment.

After the first couple of songs, Geoff took a moment to talk about being quizzed about the last time he played The Chance (in Poughkeepsie, NY). It seems those doing the asking were counting on his memory having faded, but he did have the answer. He doesn't remember the exact day, but it was 1983 during their first national tour. They were the support act for Twisted Sister (New York locals!). Could you imagine these two on the same bill? Must have been a wild show.

The show went on, loud and proud. Geoff Tate led the charge through the setlist, sounding good, although it was apperent he has lost a step or two in his vocal power (to be expected after over a quarter century on the scene). He also admitted partway through that he was being hampered by illness; it was affecting his chest and the setlist. The guitars from Michael Wilton and Mike Stone (who I swear looks like Vanilla Ice, post rap era) sounded strong. Their interplay was tight with perfect timing. Eddie Jackson remained out of sight for the most part, in the shadows at the top of the left hand drum riser, keeping solid bass rhtyhms going. In the middle of it all was Scott Rockenfield, bashing those drums like there was no tomorrow, he sounded great. Together, they got better the further into the night they went, sick or not, and the crowd was into every moment.

Being this tour is in support of their latest release, No Cover, they did play one song off the cover collection, Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine." I found it to be mediocre at best. This seems to be the perfect material for them, but there was something that sounded a little weird to it, not to mention Geoff playing sax.

The show really kicked into gear once they reach "Bridge." There is something about that song that gets to me. Then " Gonna Get Close to You" sounded really good. I think the biggest surprise was the inclusion of "Real World," a song I've always liked, but don't believe has appeared on a Queensryche album. The song originally appeared on the soundtrack for the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Last Action Hero, I recommend that soundtrack it is very good.

The set built to a crescendo as they reached the "Jet City Woman" - "Eyes of a Stranger" combination. These are two fan favorites (me included), and as those songs poured off the stage, you could almost see the sparks jumping through the audience. Man, it was fantastic. Then the encore: "Empire." I remember singing along to that oh so many years ago.

Now, the I have the upsetting piece of business to discuss the disappointments of the night. I am sure it is primarily due to the fact of Geoff being sick, but as I looked at the setlist I saw a good number of songs being skipped, songs I would have really wanted to here. Now, much like the Dokken songs, I am going to try and remember which ones were skipped: "The Lady Wore Black," "I Dream in Infrared," "Neon Knights," "I Don't Believe in Love," "Walk in the Shadows," "Another Rainy Night (Without You)," plus "Take Hold of the Flame" was left off the encore. I hope I remembered those right, I have a feeling I may have added a wishful thinking or two based on my faulty memory bank.

My other concern lies with the use of piped in sound. Some I can understand, keyboard parts and programmed drums, but it was the background vocals that bugged me. It sounded weird, particularly when there were processed vocals, it sounded a bit weird, as if Geoff wasn't actually singing those parts. This was particularly noticeable during "Empire." Far be it for me to accuse of lipsynching (I'm not). The layering just looked a little off.

Overall, this was a great night of music, from the fun, loose performance of Don Dokken to the much more focused and strong Queensryche presence, I would not give it up for anything. Make sure you get out there and see them if you have the chance.

Setlist (may be a bit off, but I think this is about right):
01. Burning Man
02. NM 156
03. Screaming In Digital
04. Welcome To The Machine
05. I'm American
06. Hostage
07. Bridge
08. The Killing Words
09. Gonna Get Close To You
10. Real World
11. Anybody Listening
12. Jet City Woman
13. Eyes Of A Stranger
14. Empire


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