There might be variations on the spelling and slight changes in utterance, but the sentiment is still universal when it comes to the United States Military and their varied divisions. It was growled more than once during Queensryche’s performance at the Palace Theatre in Stamford, Connecticut during a stop on the group’s current American Soldier Tour. More important than that level of unbridled enthusiasm was the respect that the crowd gave lead singer Geoff Tate as he told the story of how he and the band went about piecing together their ambitious new release.
Three years in the making, American Soldier gives a voice to some of the hundreds of interviews conducted by Tate with veterans ranging from World War II to more recent skirmishes in the Persian Gulf. From there, it was up to Tate, guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield to twist those images and words into a cohesive, emotional montage that could earn the Queensryche stamp of approval.
The performance was divided into three suites, beginning with a huge chunk of 1986’s Rage for Order, much of which had been pushed into the background while reliving the beast that is Operation Mindcrime I & II and a covers album the last few years.
With quite a bit of digital enhancement needed to recreate all the Rage, Jason Ames was brought onboard to handle keyboards, as well as additional guitars and vocals. Whipping through “Neue Regel,” “Screaming in Digital,” “The Whisper,” “Walk in the Shadows” and “Surgical Strike” Tate showed off the pipes that have made him one of the most distinctive voices in rock music. Suave underneath his fedora, Tate paced himself at points where studio recordings have heard him blowing the lid off with his patented shrieks, probably to ensure that he was able to remain pitch-perfect for a song like “I Will Remember.”
Crouched stage left, his straggly hair hiding much of his scowl, Wilton handled most of the solos and leads, while giving way to newest touring member Parker Lundgren from time to time. For Lundgren, this is an extended test to see how well he handles being in close quarters with Tate, his future father-in-law. So far, so good.
I thought he was one of band’s security guards pulling double-duty, but it turns out that A.J. Fratto is the real deal as he reprises his vocals for “Sliver,” the opening track from American Soldier. An intimidating mountain of a man, Fratto stands at attention, gives a firm salute with bulging, tattooed biceps, and then called us to attention, “On your feet!”
A veteran of the armed forces himself of nearly 15 years, Fratto stomped and skulked the stage like a man possessed, eyes wide open waiting to hit his marks (“Welcome to the show!”) and energize the crowd in full-blown fatigues. Usually not one to conform to the fist-pump at shows, I thought it was in my best interest to follow orders in this particular case.
In a rare moment when you could hear a proverbial pin drop, Tate led into “The Killer” by summing up the genesis for the new album and his talks with his own father, a veteran of Vietnam and Korea.
“If I Were King” brought Ames alongside Tate and show off his own vocal chops, reaching heights similar to that of the band’s leader. Even after proving himself on stage, Ames easily slipped away at the meet-n-greet after the show, noting aloud how easy it was to remain inconspicuous and that his disappearing act was something of a nightly occurrence.
If there’s such a thing as a touching moment in a rock show, it came during “Home Again” when Emily Tate, the youngest of Geoff’s five children, joined her dad as they danced and dreamed of a family reunited. Emily, who has taken her schoolwork on the road for a stretch, is getting a first-hand look at the life her father leads and while he too is away from home for long bouts at a time, it pales in comparison to how a child anticipates the return of a parent when the government has taken them far away.
For a quick change-of-pace, immediately after Emily left the stage soft and cuddly was thrust to the side and the video screen lit up with gruesome images of injured soldiers, real blood and guts visions that we only hear about. Mangled body parts that are destined to haunt men and women for the rest of their lives introduced “Unafraid.” Recorded audio provided the bottom line; our freedom has come at a cost of more than 3 ½ million lives on the battlefield.
While battles are waged on foreign soil, the Empire album brings the war at home against drugs back to the forefront. Guitar driven tracks, “Best I Can,” “The Thin Line” and “Jet City Women” keep up the intensity, the former pitting Wilton and Lundgren against each other.
I really haven’t missed it the last few years, but trotting out “Silent Lucidity” was a must if the group was going to take the plunge into this album and give it a full, true representation. Under spotlight Wilton picked on his acoustic guitar, slowing the ragged velocity to which the show had vaulted, and putting the focus back on the group’s only top-10 single.
Bringing this phase to a close was “Is There Anybody Listening?” a not-so-subtle hint at making sure we take something extra away with us from the show, more than just hearing our favorite songs or watching Wilton rip a wild riff or Rockenfield add a fancy fill when given opportunity.
Rockenfield, who later told me with a wide-eyed face that he hoped no one was injured when he tossed his stick into the audience as the house lights went dark, urged the crowd to beg for more and believed he and his mates had two songs left in them.
However, after tearing through an encore of “Empire” and an updated history lesson about how much we spend on a losing war on drugs here at home, Tate gave the band the sign that he was done for the night, leaving Jackson with a surprised look and “Take Hold of the Flame” nothing more than a notation on an otherwise poignant setlist.
More than 17 ½ years removed from her first and only concert, coincidentally a Queensryche show during the Empire tour in 1991, my companion may not have been familiar with all of the songs necessarily, but as far as the sentiment and theme were concerned she definitely envisioned the bigger picture as it went far beyond bombastic drums, soaring guitars and operatic wails. From the overall fan response, the spirit of patriotism was alive and well in, ironically enough, the Constitution State.