The Vic Theater, Chicago, IL • November 17, 2001

It’s perplexing how Queensrÿche could perform 1988’s concept album, the masterful Operation: Mindcrime, without incorporating the title track. But the band’s track record attests to its unpredictability.

A slightly pudgier Geoff Tate announced from the stage that the quintet had recently celebrated a career that spans 20 years — one year for each million albums Queensrÿche has sold. For the occasion, the band has been touring in support of the live CD Live Evolution sans original guitarist Chris DeGarmo, who quit three years ago, then later joined Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s band. Since then, Kelly Gray has admirably slung axe in his place.

The stage was just small enough to drink the sweat from Tate’s brow, yet big enough that Sister Mary might’ve visited upon it for a duet had the band performed “Suite Sister Mary.” Still, the nonperformance of roughly half of Mindcrime‘s 15 vignettes from the set and the segue of “Speak” midway into “Electric Requiem” then its clever subsequent reprisal at the point of deviation wasn’t enough to the wane crowd’s fervor, which matched that of an arena (Rosemont Horizon, circa 1991) as the band performed its first of two sold-out shows.

“I love watching you sing our songs,” Tate joked, closing his eyes and mouthing exaggeratedly a few silent nondescript words as he mocked lovingly the lip syncing crowd.

From the days of cheesy low-budget videos (“Queen of the Reich”) to the band’s indulgence in Anne Rice novels (“Walk in the Shadows”) to Tate’s dedication of “Jet City Women” to his then-stewardess wife to the defection of a founding band member to Q2K (“Liquid Sky”), at times, reminiscing was a little awkward without DeGarmo as Gray and Michael Wilton wrestled with lead guitar parts that were distinctly DeGarmo’s (i.e., “Silent Lucidity,” “Breaking The Silence,” and “Eyes of a Stranger”). Accordingly, Tate yanked the air guitar-playing, Bic lighter-toting crowd back into nostalgia by hitting many of the high notes Maestro David Kyle has helped him perfect with Bruce Dickinson precision.

Although “Take Hold of the Flame” was a little disappointing in that it never did swell to its vibrato-infused melodrama, “Queen of the Reich” was a pleasant yet gut-wrenching surprise in which I bathed orgasmically while cautiously waiting for Tate’s voice to crack. But it didn’t.

Much of Queensrÿche’s music has been peppered with endless comparisons to Pink Floyd (and my own personal comparison to Wagner, had he chosen the metal genre); defined by the fact that they are one of the first and few progressive metal bands who can be knighted as such without worry of being a screaming cliché; and earmarked by Tate’s operatic vocal delivery. Critics acquiesced in the early ’90s that he must have made a pact with the devil, which allowed him to do a relentless arena tour performing Operation: Mindcrime in its entirety without faltering.

During “Eyes of a Stranger,” Nikki asks, “Why am I here, and for how long?

The same question could be posed from the band. So far, Tate surmised that Queensrÿche endures because the band has an “open-minded and giving audience.”

No one can predict for sure whether the band has another 20 years. It’s notable that the members didn’t crumble when principal songwriter DeGarmo left the fold. The departure of Scott Rockenfield, whose skin bashing has made him almost as identifiable as an Alex Van Halen, would bring about the Queensrÿche death knell moreso.

But if longevity has anything to do with being master craftsmen, the fate of Queensrÿche in the pantheon of progressive metal gods is sealed.

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