CONCERT REVIEW: QUEENSRŸCHE and MARTY FRIEDMAN Bring Supercharged and Eclectic Musical Mixture to Denver (March 20th, 2023)

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Queensrÿche made a stop in Denver Friday on its current “Digital Noise Alliance” tour, much to the excitement of a packed out house at the Gothic Theatre. Supporting the bill was Marty Friedman with band members from Japan, as well as a new rendition of the Bay Area thrash band, Trauma, who in the early 80s claimed to have Metallica late bass player Cliff Burton as a member.

I missed the Trauma performance as I got to the venue a few minutes before the start of Friedman‘s set. Marty and his band are enjoying the opportunity to play live in the United States after a lengthy absence due to the pandemic and its touring challenges. Although no mention of Marty’s former association with Megadeth was announced, the crowd clearly remembered Marty, his undeniable six string skills, as well as his massive mane of curly hair. His supporting band, comprised of guitarist Naoki Morioka, bassist Wakazaemon, and drummer Chargeeeeee, seemed to be having a blast letting loose on the club circuit of America. While Wakazaemon and Morioka maintained a balance of love for the music and a respectful Japanese reserve, drummer Chargeeeeee stole the show with his platinum blonde hair, black lipstick and wild attack on the drum-kit. In introducing the band, Friedman referred to him as “from another planet.” The eclectic set was raucously received and Marty seemed genuinely touched by the crowd response, which was even bigger than his Paul Stanley-like platform boots. The instrumental set came and went quickly, leaving the energized crowd in a worked up fury.

MARTY FRIEDMAN Photo Gallery:

Queensrÿche took the stage about 20 minutes later, entering the darkness on the heels of Pantera’s “Walk” that drew the crowd to rapt attention. They kicked off the set with “Behind the Walls,” the first single off their recent 2022 release, followed by “Don’t Look Back” from the 2013 self-titled album, and then surprisingly, two tracks from 1984’s “The Warning.” Four tracks in, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a rehash of the well-worn setlist they’ve trotted out for so many years. It’s no surprise to anyone that songs from “Empire” and “Operation Mindcrime” are the biggest crowd pleasers and safest plays. They’re what a lot of fans come out to hear. But the band has produced so much more material, including four solid studio records, with “new” singer Todd LaTorre, and as Todd admitted to the crowd, they believe in their new music and want to play more than the same old stuff.

Perhaps as one might predict, this is a double-edged sword. It gives the band a chance to work newer material into a live set and have some fun showcasing newer tracks, but it also leaves the more casual fans in attendance scratching their heads somewhat, waiting for a more familiar tune to arrive to rejuvenate the crowd energy.

There was no mistake that “Spreading the Disease,”Jet City Woman” and “Eyes of a Stranger” pulled the greatest response from the crowd. These are songs the crowd has grown up with and internalized during their youth. As mentioned in my review of “Digital Noise Alliance”, the new release is excellent, but there’s no denying that it has reached far fewer ears. Such is the dilemma of a band like Queensrÿche, who have a deep catalog and continue to make new music. The band has a storied history of drama with personnel changes that have injured its legacy, but the current lineup seems to like working with each other and they are standing tall behind their current work, playing 7 songs of the 16-track set-list from the LaTorre era recordings.

Noticeably absent from the set was “Silent Lucidity,” perhaps the band’s most commercially successful and recognized song. Filling that void from a vibe sense was “Forest,” a newer song that gained the greatest response in particular from the ladies in the audience. Todd introduced the song by explaining that it was about trying to capture the feeling of having a loved one still felt within us, even though they’ve since passed away. Asking for an “open mind,” he received it. The crowd settled down and soaked it in all the way through. Then, the signature bass rumbling of Eddie Jackson on “Jet City Woman” vaulted the energy level back up again.

While the band is down to two original members, it’s easy for some to dismiss this as a “cover” band of Queensrÿche. In reality, it’s another version of the band, who have earned the right to stand on their newer songs to a certain degree simply due to the quality of the more recent material. I, for one, and happy to not have the same set-list year after year, but I would have liked to hear perhaps one or two more golden tracks from the band’s pinnacle years of success. In particular, rather than closing the encore with “Road to Madness” (also from the debut), I would have liked to have seen the crowd sent home with “Revolution Calling” or “I Don’t Believe in Love” still ringing in their ears. But there’s probably no way to make everyone happy and credit must be given to the band for standing behind their new material.

Production was a bit on the simpler side, and some missed mic cues and amp feedback made the performance imperfect but authentic. Todd hit all the high notes well, despite recently having to cancel a few shows due to losing his voice. Playing Denver can be a wildcard as the altitude here can wreak havoc on some singers, but Todd managed to be his usual self in the singing department. Equally as important, the tandem lead chorus solos that are the signature sound of Queensrÿche rang out strong between Mike Stone and Michael Wilton in spots where it mattered most. Drummer Casey Grillo was solid, but bathed in darkness most of the light, reducing the amount of attention drawn to him.

All in all, it was anything but a greatest hits show, but one that served to justify the ongoing development and sustained performance of a stalwart metal titan nearing 40 years of music. If  you think they’re a has-been act from the late 80s, I challenge you to give a few spins of “Digital Noise Alliance” with an open mind and judge for yourself. They’re still the “thinking man’s metal” band, and I mean that totally as a compliment.

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