Sunday, February 23, 2014

Concert reviews: "The Weekend of Awesomeness"!

Wasn't sure how to start off this entry, so here's a pretty picture of a rainbow!

So it's a few weeks late, but I felt it was time to write a review of what has since been deemed “The Weekend of Awesomeness”! Indeed, it was an awesome weekend, because I got to see two great bands, two nights in a row. The first night, January 24th, was the listening party for the new Within Temptation album, Hydra. Then the following night, January 25th, was my chance to finally see Queensrÿche in concert after 15 years; my first time seeing the band with Todd LaTorre. How can one possibly top a weekend like that? Answer: you can't! So on with the review!!!

Photo courtesy of John Thornburgh

Friday, January 24th:
Within Temptation listening party
(The Joint; Los Angeles, CA)

What a great way to start off the weekend: meeting up with my metal family and my fellow Sonic Cathedral writers is always going to be a good time! My friend Laura and I carpooled to L.A., listening to Within Temptation on the car stereo on the way. We arrived at The Joint at about 6:30, and since we are of drinking age, we are allowed inside the venue, where the bar is open.

Not only do we meet a group of our friends, but we also see Ruud from WT at the bar, meeting with fans. We have a nice time chatting with him for a little while before he eventually leaves to get ready. Throughout the week before the show, the question of whether or not the band will perform an acoustic set has been hanging in the air. When Sharon, Robert, and Ruud all come out on the stage and start doing a sound-check; needless to say that question has been answered! The fact that Nuclear Blast staff requests that no one in the crowd takes pictures or takes video of the acoustic set only heightens anticipation all the more.

At 9 p.m., the doors open for the rest of the fans waiting outside. The enthusiastic cheers from the packed crowd emphatically heralds in the long-awaited return of Within Temptation to the West Coast, after nearly 7 years. On either side of Sharon den Adel were Robert Westerholt and Ruud Jolie; each armed with nothing more than their acoustic guitars, as Sharon's angelic vocals took center stage. Yet Sharon was not a weapon of her own (besides her amazing voice!)—with a hot cup of tea by her side, Sharon nursed a sore throat as she proceeded to give a stellar vocal performance.

Beginning with the experimental track “And we Run” from their new album Hydra, WT strips it down and takes away the bells and whistles provided by guest rapper Xzibit, and delivers a gorgeous acoustic rendition that silences the doubters and shows that this is still, at its core, a trademark WT song.

From there, Sharon continues to impress us with an acoustic version of the Hydra opening track, “Let us Burn”. She shows no sign of strain or struggling as she hits those high notes; making it seem so effortless, when we know that she is probably pushing herself very hard. After the song ends, Sharon humbly thanks the audience by telling them that she wishes she could capture their cheers and put it in a box, so she can open it and listen to it whenever she needs encouragement.

Robert and Ruud complement the ethereal quality of Sharon's voice with their flowing, delicate melodies as they move on to the next song. It's a new song that everyone knows because it's the first single from the new album: “Paradise (What About Us?)” Sharon's vocals pierce your heart as she sings the impassioned lyrics; taking over the high parts where guest vocalist Tarja can be heard on the studio version. (No, Tarja did not make a surprise appearance...remember, we're in the U.S., and we all know how much Tarja loves playing in the U.S.! Which is not at all!) But as WT has already proven, just because their new album is full of guest appearances, those additional voices are not needed in order to put on a good show. Nor does anyone feel that the songs lack anything without those guest musicians either.

Further proof of this was with the next song: Hydra's closer, “Whole World is Watching”; which features Soul Asylum vocalist Dave Pirner as a guest vocalist on the album version. WT always end their albums on a ballad, and this is yet another touching slow number where Sharon's voice will wrap itself around your heart in her magical way. She puts you under her spell with her ability to put a tear in your eye; the audience is enchanted as this simple yet heartbreakingly beautiful song reaches their ears.

Signed WT poster; photo courtesy of John Thornburgh

Any audience would have been happy with an acoustic set of 4 new songs, but WT keeps it going by surprising us with “a somewhat-oldie, but goodie”. The band proceeds to go into an acoustic version of “Faster”; a fan favorite from their previous album The Unforgiving. Sharon pantomimes being at the steering wheel as she sings the lyrics, “I go faster and faster and faster and faster and faster!” Even when done acoustically, it's a fun, up-tempo song that gets the crowd going; and the band looks like they have fun playing it, too.

But why have one blast from the past when you can have two? The band decides to end their acoustic set with the infectiously catchy “What Have You Done?”, a hit from their 2007 album The Heart of Everything. The rousing chorus might be a bit too much for Sharon, so the audience is happy to take over with their zealous sing-along of the lyrics, “What have you done now?!” There are some points where the people in the audience can be heard as loudly as the band themselves!

With that, the band ends a fantastic 6-song acoustic set. Keep in mind that Sharon has a terrible sore throat and can barely speak! Yet she gives all she has to her singing voice, which shines brilliantly. If this is how she sounded at less than 100%, then one can only imagine her power at full capacity! Well, I don't really have to imagine, as I have seen WT live twice before...but rest assured, even at less than Sharon's highest standards, no listener is cheated or left feeling as if they had not experienced less than her best. This is why Sharon den Adel is one of the most respected vocalists on the scene.

However, her bandmates are not to be forgotten; they know Sharon's voice so well that they can seamlessly craft anything around it. Whether they are playing fast and heavy or slow and easy, Sharon takes any melody that is tossed at her and throws it back with equal strength. The same songs that are written in a heavier style for the album now stand in their bare bones; just as powerful in their beautiful fragility.

WT autograph signing; photo courtesy of John Thornburgh
You can see the back of my head, and that's as good as you're gonna get!

After the killer acoustic show, the entire Hydra album plays on the loudspeakers while fans receive their goodie bags from Nuclear Blast (the band's record label) and wait in line to meet the band, who are now signing autographs and taking photos. For over 2 hours, the band shook hands and signed posters; making sure every person in The Joint walked away with a memorable experience.

I really have to take my hat off to Sharon—what a trooper she is! Many other people would have just retired back to their hotel rooms to properly recover after playing a set like that; but even as sick as she was, she still took the time to meet with fans and didn't leave until everybody was done. WT has always been a band who goes above and beyond for their fans, but a situation like this only hammers the point home even more. The fans certainly would have understood if Sharon didn't have a voice to sing (as most were not expecting a show at all!), or if she had to forgo meeting with fans in order to do the show instead. But she managed to hang in there and go the extra mile so that everyone there felt that it was worth their time to come out.

Since it cost no money to get in, one cannot exactly say that fans “got their money's worth”; but if you want to count the time and effort (especially for those like myself who traveled far to get there), then we were certainly rewarded generously! And let's face it, getting to hear an impromptu acoustic set debuting 4 new songs that no one had heard in a live setting yet, that is not something you can put a price tag on. Just to be part of such a unique experience was priceless.

One can only hope that this will not be WT's only West Coast appearance for this upcoming tour; that they will return to the U.S. with a proper stage show so that we can all hear the new songs as they were intended to be heard. But whether they are performing a complete show with all the props and full instrumentation, or down to basics with nothing but acoustic guitars and vocals, WT is one of the best live bands to watch. The circumstances involving Sharon's condition did not compromise that reputation—it justified it and shot it up a thousandfold!

Photo courtesy of  “Iron” Mike Savoia

Saturday, January 25th
Queensrÿche: House of Blues; Anaheim, CA

As if the show the night before wasn't enough, I still had one more concert to attend, and it was one I had been looking forward to for a good long while! Not only was it my first time seeing Queensrÿche with their new vocalist Todd LaTorre, but I was also meeting up with a friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in almost 6 years! Seems we only ever see each other at concerts, but we don't always go to the same shows, and we live rather far away from each other so our meet-ups are few and far between.

Considering that I did not arrive to the place where I was staying until 4 a.m. after the listening party, one would think that I'd be dragging after only a few hours of sleep, especially at my age! But on concert days, I'm full of excitement and adrenaline, which totally makes up for lack of sleep (caffeine helps too!). Fuck it, I'm just going to be honest...I was going to a Queensrÿche concert, which means I think the 15- or 16-year-old version of myself totally took over and told my old bat self to go take a hike! There's always time for sleep on the bus ride home...right?

We were leaving pretty early; my friend was going to the meet-and-greet and was told she had to be there by 3:45. Seemed a bit early to be holding a meet-and-greet, but I'm not in charge of these things, and I wasn't going anyway (a free ticket was enough of a gift for me; I can't afford those VIP packages!!!). After a long trek through the labyrinth that is Downtown Disney, we finally find the House of Blues and arrive with time to spare.

She gets in line for the meet-and-greet, while I go inside to find something to eat. Eventually, while wandering around outside the House of Blues looking for a way to kill time, I meet some other Queensrÿche fans from the South Coast Empire (a local branch of the fan club). It's from them that I'm able to meet one of my Facebook friends, which is super-cool. I also made a few more Facebook friends along the way; one thing about fellow Queensrÿche fans, is that I don't meet any who are jerks! I've met many over the years; some have been longtime friends, and all of them have been awesome people!

It is at this meeting that we learn that the band isn't even set to hit the stage until 10:45 that night. Considering it is not quite dark by this point, there is a lot of time to spare between then and now! By this time my friend has returned from the meet-and-greet, bringing with her a signed copy of the new CD for me (that I brought along and asked her to have signed for me, if she was able). Score!

Meeting up with fellow fans makes the time go fast, and eventually it's time for everyone to find their places in line. Some are going back outside the venue to where the main line is; others are going to where their VIP passes indicate they need to be. I'm off to where the people with wheelchairs are supposed to wait; inside the venue where the elevator will take us to the balcony area when it's time to watch the SOLD-OUT show!!!

While hanging out in my chair and waiting for the security to take us up to the balcony area, who do I see come out of the artists' area but Todd LaTorre himself? Pretty cool! But he looks rather busy so I do not try to get his attention or anything. However, a little while later, he comes back and we sort of make eye contact, so what the hell? I wave hello. Sure, maybe he'll wave back or nod or something; that would be nice. But what does he do? He walks straight over to me and shakes my hand. Wow! What a nice guy. A true gentleman!

A few minutes later, I also saw Michael Wilton come out the same door that Todd had gone back through, but security was ready to take everyone upstairs, so I didn't get anything more than a glimpse before I was ushered to the elevator and directed to the area where I would park my chair and watch the gig. I don't even think it was quite 8 o'clock yet, so it was still a long way to go before the band hit the stage. I take this opportunity to check out the merch booth and buy a shirt. As everyone knows, I love collecting band shirts. This has become for me what shoes and purses are for other women, so any opportunity I have to add another band shirt to my collection, I'll take it!

The first opening act of the night is a band called Heaven Below, which didn't appeal much to me. The music was OK (the drummer was quite good), but the vocals are all that same “screamo”-type shit that is popular these days. The band was energetic and put on a good show, but their music is just not for me. When they got to the final song of their set, they brought out a female singer for a cover of Dio's classic “Rainbow in the Dark”, and she did a great job there. That was probably the most I remember about their set.

After a sufficient intermission, the next opening act hits the stage: John Corabi, who is probably best known as the singer who replaced Vince Neil in Mötley Crüe for a hot minute back in the mid-'90s. As opposed to Heaven Below's fast-paced performance, Corabi did an acoustic set; including an acoustic version of the one minor hit he had with the Crüe during his short stint in the band. To be honest, he isn't a bad singer; however, I think my lack of sleep started to catch up with me during his set, because his songs are so mellow and relaxing that I sorta drifted off a couple of times! This is not to say his music was so boring that it put me to sleep...but well, I think at this point my old bat self had made a return; because I had been operating all day on a few hours' worth of sleep, and I wasn't familiar with any of his material, so it was easy to just close my eyes for a few minutes and let the music carry me away! And maybe I needed those few minutes of light dozing to renew my energy for what was to come!!!

And then...FINALLY!!! The moment that seemed to take forever to arrive!

Anaheim setlist; courtesy of

The opening notes of “Queen of the Reich” kick in, and the crowd goes ballistic as Todd hits the stage and belts out that piercing high note that fans have missed hearing for years; showing their enthusiasm by singing along during the chorus. Scott is on his drums, playing like a monster; while Michael and Parker proceed to unleash their twin-guitar assault in the solo. Eddie stands unobtrusively on his side of the stage, but he's clearly rocking out too. What a way to kick off a show. Goddamn, that was good!

But it gets better...the next song is “Speak”, which is another good tune for the audience to sing along to. Eddie and Parker provide some nice backing vocals while Todd headbangs his way through the guitar solo, where Michael shows just how and why he has earned his nickname of “Whip”!

Next up is “Walk in the Shadows”, from one of my favorite Queensrÿche albums, Rage for Order (this album always ties with Promised Land for my all-time favorite). This was definitely a part of the show where I went nuts, because obviously I love to hear anything off this album. Parker does a fine job on the solo and Todd rouses the crowd into a little sing-along towards the end of the song.

So if one song from Rage for Order wasn't enough, let's have two! Here comes “The Whisper”, another fan-favorite from Rage and a song that has been pulled from the vault after many years. Parker brings in the ever-familiar riff and we all know what is coming. Todd pulls off some impressive high notes, making it sound like new again. I also love to watch Scott during the kick-ass drum part after the guitar solo.

Just when I thought I couldn't be any more pleased by hearing songs from one of my favorite Rÿche albums, I'm about to get a lot happier as the bells toll and Todd introduces “En Force”; my favorite song from their album The Warning, and a song I never thought I'd get the chance to hear live. The blood-red lights coupled with Parker's sinister low-pitched vocals singing the “enforcer” line just give it that extra-special something. Todd sounds almost exactly like the studio version; which is pretty fucking awesome, considering he did not even sing on that album! Then towards the end of the song, Todd gets up on the dais where Scott's drums are, and plays right along. After all, many people forget that Todd LaTorre doesn't just sing, but he plays drums too. Then he jumps back down and sings that final part that is so heart-wrenching and hauntingly beautiful.

More material from The Warning is coming next; EdBass is throwing down some massive grooves as the crowd chants and “Child of Fire” proceeds to rock everyone's asses off. This is another tune where the audience is happy to sing along to Todd's impressive vocals. Todd really shows off his stage presence as he gets on his knees and sings the lyrics of hopelessness in the middle of the song right before Michael's soulful solo.

You can't have songs from The Warning without doing the title track, right? Not to worry, because Queensrÿche knows what their fans want to hear! The sound of sirens herald Todd's cry of “Warning!”, as he urges the crowd to raise their hands. Crowd participation is just as essential to a Queensrÿche show as the band themselves, as the audience enthusiastically chants along with the chorus. Michael rips it up on the solo while Scott bashes those skins with wild abandon.

So far the show has consisted of “oldies but goodies”, but now it's time to break out some new stuff. The intro track “X2” plays to a darkened stage with minimal blue lighting, heralding in the fan-favorite “Where Dreams go to Die”. The fans can be heard singing along as loud as Todd; we know every word and aren't hesitant to show it! Michael and Parker are bringing back the harmony and melody of the trademark double-guitar sound that is classic Queensrÿche. This song is every bit as fantastic live as it is on the album. Well, go ahead and see for yourself...

Video provided courtesy of  “Iron” Mike Savoia

After the intensity of “Dreams”, the second intro track from the new album, “Midnight Lullaby”, plays from the speakers and I know what is coming. I'm ready for my own personal highlight of the show: “A World Without”, my favorite song on the new album and a song I have reviewed as being better than sex (or at least a close second!). So yeah, I am totally into the music and having the time of my life, and then...all of a sudden I cannot hear Todd sing towards the middle of the song! Someone either fell asleep at the switch or the cord in his microphone fell out. I don't really know, but he keeps going (because he's a pro), and the fans have got his back as they fill in for him and sing the vocals. Luckily the moment doesn't last long, but it does bum me out to think that this will probably be my only chance to ever hear this song live (because by the time they come back this way they'll probably have a new album out), and something came along to dampen the experience. Oh well. Nothing in this world is perfect, and considering the circumstances, it could have turned out much worse. I mean, they could have played something from American Soldier! The horror! (Oh wait, what am I saying? This is the real Queensrÿche we're talking about...those shitty albums from the Dark Years do not exist!)

“A World Without” was probably the closest the show came to a “slow break”, so the band goes immediately back into rockin' mode as Michael and Parker take center stage and proceed to do a double-guitar solo that redefines the term “eargasm”. Bits and pieces from other well-known Queensrÿche guitar solos are peppered throughout as each guitarist shows off his chops for over two minutes.

This, of course, leads up to another song...a fan-favorite from the beloved Operation: Mindcrime: “The Needle Lies”! The crowd screams the line “you'll never get away!”, as Todd belts out the high notes. EdBass moves towards the front to show off for a minute (which is not long enough!). OK, so Todd can't hold the end note as long as on the studio version, but neither can their former singer, so who the fuck cares?

Yay, more stuff from The Warning! The ominous “NM156” starts up, and Todd's voice is equally eerie in the verses, and then he just belts it out on the chorus. S-Rock is like a beast on the drums, and the guitar solo is spot-on. This is another favorite of mine from this album, and while I have heard it live before (nearly 20 years ago!), it's been far too long since the last time so it's almost like new again. Damn, those high notes Todd hits at the end of the song make me want to cry tears of joy.

We are back to songs from Operation: Mindcrime as the clock ticks, ushering in the short song “My Empty Room”. Todd really shows off his ability to convey the emotion of the song in his performance; getting on his knees as he sings the pensive lyrics. Then he tells the crowd “you know what time it is” as the intro plays and the opening notes of “Eyes of a Stranger”, the closing track from Mindcrime, starts up. Todd gives us another glass-shattering high note as he starts in. More guitar solo awesomeness proceeds and the crowd sings along shortly thereafter. Then the band just full-on rocks out 'till the very end.

As far as the older songs go, up until this point the band has only played material from their first 4 albums; but that's about to change as the guitars fire up “Empire”, the title track from their 5th album and the very first Queensrÿche song I ever heard in the summer of 1990 (just before my 12th birthday), and my life changed FOREVER. And in case you're doing the math, this means I have been listening to their music for nearly 2/3 of my life! (Ahem, enough of boring stories about me, on to the show!) So yes, this is a song I have heard at every single Queensrÿche show I have ever been to (this one marks #4!), but because of the sentimental reasons attached to it, I never get bored of hearing it. Todd does his share of headbanging here as Parker and EdBass provides some nice backing vocals. Just before the solo, Todd calls for the house lights so he can see the crowd, and then introduces the rest of the band. Upon Whip's introduction, he greets us back with the killer solo. It's almost like a game of vocal tennis as Todd sings, “Can you feel it coming?”; and the audience hits back with their response of, “Empire!”...“Can you hear it calling?” “Empire!”...“Can't someone here stop it?!” “EMPIRE!!!” Ah, yes. What a great song to hear live! So much energy. So much rock. So much everything!

Afterwards, the band leaves the stage for a few minutes, and then it's time for the encore. Wow, time flies when you're having fun! We're so close to the end of the show already?! Noooo!!!

The band returns after a short break with another song from the new album; one that has quickly become a huge favorite among fans: “Fallout”. This is a fast-paced rocker that gets everyone on their feet and headbanging exuberantly. This time Parker does a solo for a change, and he sounds fantastic! The crowd chants along: “fallout, fallout, don't hesitate”, Before you know it, the song is over, but it packs a big punch and shows that not all great metal songs have to be lengthy or padded with solos in order to kick ass.

But don't worry, folks; there's still some more to be had! Another Empire tune is coming, and it's “Jet City Woman”, the band's homage to their hometown of Seattle. EdBass' trademark opening bass line ushers in the song, and everyone cheers enthusiastically. The crowd knows all the words and sing along to the chorus. Oh, and S-Rock is also drumming his heart out as well. In case you don't believe me, here is some video for you...

Video provided courtesy of “Iron” Mike Savoia

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and so it is here...we have arrived at the final song and what is an excellent closer to a Queensrÿche show: a longtime fan-favorite from The Warning; the uplifting, “silver lining in the cloud” track, “Take Hold of the Flame”! It is at this time that Parker returns to the stage, proudly wearing a Seattle Seahawks jersey; obviously as a way of showing his hope that the team will win the Super Bowl (which obviously worked very well, because they did!). Why he didn't wear it during the previous song, I don't know; would have made more sense, but...what do I look like, a fashion coordinator? Have you people seen my wardrobe? Highly unlikely. Anyway...Todd screams out that high note at the beginning of the song like no one's business, while Parker moves over to the other side of the stage. Everyone in the audience is pumping their fists and chanting “take hold!” EdBass also moves to the front during Michael's solo. Looks like everyone in the band wants to get some serious time up front before calling it a night, which no one minds at all!

So while this is the final song of the night, the show is not quite over yet. Todd has some things to say to the crowd, and it just reminds you of what a breath of fresh air he is to the band when he sincerely thanks the fans for welcoming him into their hearts over the past 2 years. He also thanks his family and friends from Florida for coming out to the show, as he screams out one last high note and S-Rock's drums pound out the last notes of the song.

A couple of things to say about the show overall...for one, I cannot speak highly enough about Todd LaTorre or give him enough praise for resurrecting the band I love. I wish I could have had the chance to tell him this personally when the opportunity presented itself, but I imagine that he hears it all the time and one more person probably would not have made a difference! Then again, he has expressed such gratitude towards the fans and shows such humility about his role in the band that I certainly could not think that it would just roll off his back either. But I'll talk more about that in a minute!

Judging from past performances on YouTube from when he first joined Queensrÿche, his stage presence has improved a great deal. In the earlier footage, you can see he looks a little stiff and not quite sure of what to do onstage sometimes; tending to stay in the same spot throughout the show and not moving around much. This is not the case anymore! If anything, now it's hard to keep up with Todd as he flits like a bee from flower to flower, moving across one side of the stage to the other in the blink of an eye.

LaTorre also knows how to invoke the right mood according to the song; during the slower parts, he gets on his knees and his voice almost sounds like it is crying when he sings those lyrics that can be downright sad. On the other hand, when the song is up-tempo and calls for a lot of action, he is running around the stage, headbanging, pumping his fists or rallying the crowd to join in along with him.

True, performance-wise he has not quite yet mastered all of the dramatic onstage gestures of his predecessor; but I think it's also safe to say that over the years, the grandiose displays and “putting on an act” started to far outweigh the essence of the music as well. So at least for me, I am willing to give up some of that if it means I can hear the songs properly. I also feel it is more important that the band now has a singer that will not compromise sonic integrity for avant-garde stunts. In short, I'd rather have a rock show than a cabaret show. There, I fucking said it. Take it for what it is.

This brings me now to Todd's voice...OK, so in some parts it does sound a little pitchy, but let's also not forget that the band's former singer was classically trained as an operatic vocalist; whereas LaTorre hasn't had any formal training of this sort, so he is “all-natural”, so to speak. That being said, I sort of expect some things to not be 100% like it was with the former singer (it never is in any band, no matter who it is or what kind of singer they are dealing with). Yet keep in mind that the band's former singer has not been singing in this style at all for at least over a decade (arguably almost 2!), so even with all his fancy training, he was not hitting those notes perfectly either. Again, I would rather sacrifice a little bit of “classical training” if it means I can listen to a singer that is willing to put his heart into the performance and is able give the fans what they want. Todd is giving us the high notes; while sometimes they lack the finesse or technical precision of those earlier studio works, he makes up for it a thousandfold in terms of energy and passion. This is someone who shows he loves the music; that he truly enjoys singing these songs and wants to continue working hard to make them sound as close to the way fans remember hearing them as much as possible.

Coming back to my previous statement of Todd's onstage performance improving, this also means his vocal delivery is getting better too. After all, Todd LaTorre has been a lifelong Queensrÿche fan who has known these songs front-to-back for years, so in many ways, he has been training his voice to sound like his predecessor's for a long time (whether subconsciously or not). However, it shows that he has clearly made the transition from being the wide-eyed fan who has scored his dream gig, to taking his rightful place as the frontman that Queensrÿche has needed for far too long. You can tell he loves what he's doing and is happy to be there.

Speaking of which, this brings me to the band themselves...they also show a restored vigor onstage; the band was all smiles during the night and looked so relaxed and just plain HAPPY. This was a huge difference from the last time I saw them 15 years ago; there was a sort of tension in the air and the band looked so miserable up there onstage. There isn't a fan on earth who doesn't know the reasons for that now; but back then, those personal differences were not publicly known. So to see them in a live setting again, playing songs from years's like their playing feels young again, and they have regained so much assurance and swagger in their performances too.

This says a lot not just about their overall performance, but in the choice of songs too. I think for so long, they have been bogged down with the safe, middle-of-the-road songs, that they have just gone balls-out and are making this a real ROCK show in the truest sense of the word, from beginning to end. Every song, one right after the other, were heavy tunes that got your blood pumping and your head banging. It was like they had a hat full of magic tricks, and each one they pulled out of the hat was more surprising than the one before. Oh, you liked that song from Mindcrime? Here's one from Rage for Order that you haven't heard in a while! You thought that one was going to be the heaviest song of the night? Here's three songs from The Warning that will melt your face off! You get the idea.

In fact, perhaps you have just now noticed that the band's most popular song, “Silent Lucidity”, was not on the setlist at all! I know there were a couple of people who asked me why they did not play this song, and while I cannot answer for them personally, I can offer up my own opinion, which is this...I really think that they have gone so many years having to play nothing but ballads or mid-tempo songs; stuff that was not necessarily what they wanted to do, but was what put asses in seats (or what their former singer was either capable of doing vocally, or only the songs he wanted to perform). Now that they have proven with Todd LaTorre that fans are still coming to see them in spite of the personnel change, I think that has also given them the courage (?) or incentive to start playing what they want; popularity level of songs on the setlist be damned. 

I also think their overall goal with this lineup change has been to reconnect with their fans, and a huge part of that is to play the songs that fans like to hear; songs that fans have been asking to hear for years uncounted. Seeing as how the song has been a staple at shows for over 20 years, I do not hear a lot of fans saying they miss hearing “Lucidity” on the setlist. The return of classic Queensrÿche has also meant doing a lot figurative spring cleaning and getting rid of the unnecessary bullshit. If that means getting rid of all the poseurs who are only there to hear their one hit song from over 20 years ago, then good fucking riddance to them! I'm a fan who wants to hear songs from a time in their history when I was too young to have heard them the first time. I want to hear songs that only other fans know. I never liked having to put up with that one person at the show who looks dead in the water for the entire two hours and then only shows the slightest bit of enthusiasm when the band's radio hit starts playing. Get the hell out of the venue and let the rest of us fans rock out in peace!

OK, so you're all probably sick of me going on, so I shall get to my final point of this review, since we are on the subject of the fans, which brings me to an earlier point that I will now elaborate on. One of the reasons I am so fond of LaTorre is not just because he's delivering the goods vocally; but also because he seems like a good fit for the band as a person as well. I have had the privilege of meeting the other bandmembers many moons ago when the original lineup was still intact, and one thing that always struck a chord with me was how genuine they are with their fans. They were down-to-earth guys who never conveyed a “rock star” attitude or treated their fans like they were somehow beneath them. They talked to their fans like regular people; sometimes even like a friend.

So when one bandmember gets drunk with power and starts to make everything his personal ego trip, I can see where it weighs down on the others and skews their perspective; especially if they still want to maintain their down-to-earth roots and still be those regular guys for their fans. You can't be real with your fans when you're hiding inner conflicts or personal differences. Nor can you feel comfortable with your fans when there are other people in the band dynamic who want to treat those fans like shit, or strut around with the attitude that the fans somehow owe them something. I would think a lot of times they felt embarrassed by that, even if it was no fault of their own.

This is yet another reason I feel that LaTorre has breathed new life into Queensrÿche; not just because of his vocal prowess, but also because you can tell by his public persona that he is also a nice guy that is humble and appreciative of this rare opportunity that has come his way. He's been with the band for nearly 2 years; long enough to become complacent with the idea or to even be a little jaded by it. But if he has, he doesn't let it show. He continuously shows how thankful he is to the fans for giving him a chance and welcoming him into the fold. He understands that the extended Queensrÿche family includes their fans and recognizes that it's he that is the new element in their faction; not the other way around. Lead singer syndrome does not appear to affect Todd LaTorre, by the way he respects the fans' opinion of him and does not act as though somehow being the new lead singer makes him above that. He's a class act, and the band deserves a classy person to match their first-class music. I can't wait to hear what they've got in store for us next. (And hey, if that next thing happens to be another show in my neck of the woods, I certainly will not complain!)

Another spectacular gig for the record books!
Photo courtesy of “Iron” Mike Savoia


Special thanks to the following... 

At Within Temptation:
Loana at Nuclear Blast USA (who dubbed this “The Weekend of Awesomeness”!), John Thornburgh (my fellow SC writer; thanks for sharing your photos with me!), Laura Medina, Shiva Ramesh, Andrea Granillo, Craig Frantz, Diane Granillo, Zoë Marie Federoff, Alirio Puche, Güzel Engel, Rose Caldera, Fernando the bartender, and IHOP!

At Queensrÿche:
Tané Pruett, Mike Savoia (thank you for sharing your photos with me!), South Coast Empire (all the wonderful people whose names I've forgotten!), Melody & Bobby, Dave Fulbright, Teefer Churro Norcal, Sylvia Giraldo, Leisha Fenton & Ronald Fauth, and Ron (the elderly gentleman who sat next to me at the show)!

To everyone who couldn't be were missed. To anyone I didn't get the chance to meet up with over this weekend of awesomeness, I'm sorry I missed you! Apologies to anyone whose name I forgot to add to the list.

To my metal family...I love you all. See you at ReVamp, bitches!

In loving memory of my old-school camera, which died before this weekend. I will miss the beautiful pictures you gave me. But you went out with style at Kamelot, and who could ask for a better send-off?

Until next time...