Queensryche reigns at House of Blues

Greg Schwartz

Rock band Queensryche brought their groundbreaking 1988 concept album Operation Mindcrime to House of Blues.

Credit: Beth Rankin

A sell-out crowd at House of Blues in Cleveland received a long-awaited treat Sunday when hard-rock maestros Queensryche delivered a truly stunning show. For the first time in 15 years, the band is playing their conceptual masterpiece — 1988’s Operation Mindcrime — in its entirety, in an enhanced theatrical production.

The Seattle Sound stormed the nation in the early ‘90s, but it was Queensryche that first made waves out of the Emerald City in the mid-80s. Queensryche’s superb musicianship and impeccable sense of dynamics have always put them a cut above the rest. Vocalist Geoff Tate’s incredible range — in both his voice and lyrics — makes Queensryche one of a kind. This is why the band is still going strong after 20 years.

The band tore through a 50-minute first set that included songs from throughout their career and sounded great doing it. But it was merely a warm-up for the main event.

One of the most ambitious concept albums ever recorded, Mindcrime’s original release was a revelation to youth of the day. At a time when most bands focused on little besides rowdy debauchery, Mindcrime was a stinging indictment of everything that ails modern society.

It is the story of young Nikki, who gets more than he bargained for in a Faustian deal with the mysterious Dr. X, who hooks Nikki on heroin to recruit and brainwash him more easily into assassinating corrupt politicians for an underground revolution.

Nikki also falls in love with Mary, a former street whore turned nun. Nikki’s life is shattered when he is ordered to kill Mary because she knows too much. Nikki refuses and is soon framed for her murder. The album ends with Nikki being incarcerated in a criminal psychiatric ward.

While it contains an undeniably dark undercurrent, the album stands as arguably the most inspiring call to revolution ever recorded in musical form. And despite the fact that it was released 17 years ago, Mindcrime’s relevance only continues to grow. The band pulled out all the stops in bringing Mindcrime to life again.

A local DJ was touting upcoming shows when a young man stormed across the stage with a bullhorn shouting about revolution and fighting the corrupt system. The lights went down and the band soon launched into “Revolution Calling:” “Got no love for politicians/ Or that crazy scene in D.C/ It’s just a power mad town/ But the time is ripe for changes/There’s a growing feeling /That taking a chance on a new kind of vision is due.”

The title track followed as an actor playing Nikki becomes hooked on heroin by a seductive nurse in black leather.

In “Spreading the Disease,” Tate sums up the hypocrisy of modern day America: “Religion and sex are power plays/Manipulate the people for the money they pay Selling skin, selling God/The numbers look the same on their credit cards Politicians say no to drugs /While we pay for wars in South America/Fighting fire with empty words/While the banks get fat/And the poor stay poor/And the rich get rich/And the cops get paid /To look away/As the one percent rules America.”

Vocalist Pamela Moore reprised her role from the album as Mary, singing gorgeous harmonies throughout the night, highlighted by her heart-wrenching duet with Tate on “Suite Sister Mary.” After refusing to kill Mary, Nikki goes home and shoots up as the band plays “The Needle Lies,” a damning anti-heroin mosh.

While the album hinted that Nikki was framed for Mary’s murder, fans never knew how she died — until now. Mary appears alone at home and receives a call from Dr. X, who orders her to shoot herself! Mary resists, but X holds some type of mind control over her. Mary can’t help but relent and kills herself in perhaps the most gut-wrenching death in political fiction since The Manchurian Candidate’s Raymond Shaw was similarly ordered to kill his girlfriend. The enraptured crowd literally gasped in shock.

Nikki finds Mary and sets her aflame on a pyre before leaving in despair. Metal masterpieces “Breaking the Silence” and “I Don’t Believe in Love” express Nikki’s anguish and brought the house down as the band was also aflame. Doctors and police then wrapped Tate in a straight-jacket from which he sang the finale, “Eyes of a Stranger,” as Nikki realizes his dark fate — imprisonment, framed, alone.

Fans now wait with baited-breath — following this tour, Queensryche will go into the studio to record the long-awaited Mindcrime sequel to be released later this year. Viva la revolucion!

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Greg Schwartz at [email protected]