There’s no contest.
*plays the theme tune to Hong Kong Phooey*
Is it “The Wall”?
is it “Tommy”?
Is it “Operation: Mindcrime” by the mild mannered Queensryche?
I realise that anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with a) Operation Mindcrime b) Queensryche or c) Eighties heavy rock in general, is scoffing heartily at this presumptuous claim. And yes, it’s all in the eye (or ear) of the beholder, if that’s the phrase I’m looking for, and it’s all a matter of opinion, but…..
….but it’s true.
It’s the perfect concept album.
Slightly ridiculous plot?
Dialogue in between songs voiced by “real” actors?
But unlike “The Wall” or “Tommy” every tune is a belter, and each one drives the plot forward. The plot doesn’t involve anything quite so fanciful as a deaf dumb and blind kid playing pinball. Instead it sticks to the usual dystopian themes of bent politicians, mind control, a murder, terrorism etc. All good wholesome family fun, and all surprisingly topical twenty five years after release.
It is also a highly influential album. If “influencing Evanescence” is a thing.
Either way, the opportunity came along last night to relive my youth and hear the former lead singer of Queensryche, Geoff Tate and his new band “Operation: Mindcrime” play the album in its entirety, some twenty five years or so after I first heard it played in its entirety live. (At the Kentish Town Forum / Town and Country Club as it was then, and then on the next tour at Hammersmith Odeon, for those that care about such things).
There’s a long and complicated story to explain why Tate isn’t playing the album with his former Queensryche band mates and it’s an argument more bitter, and also more uninteresting, than any I have ever seen in music, including Pink Floyd v Roger Waters, Axl Rose v The World, Nigel Tufnel v David St Hubbins and that argument that The Troggs had that was released as a bootleg, so I’m going to steadfastly ignore all the squabbling. Suffice to say it all had to go to court and Tate won the exclusive right to perform Operation: Mindcrime live in concert, whilst Queensryche hired former Crimson Glory singer….and oh, I’m boring myself..
We’ll move on.
Chinnery’s in Southend-on-Sea is right on Southend sea front and is one of the UK’s finest small venues. It reminds me of The Marquee in Wardour St both in size and in the stickiness of the floor. You know the kind of place. It’s perfect in every way, especially if you like large pillars jutting out of the floor right in front of the stage. It’s perfect to see any kind of band, but particularly one that features a former AC/DC drummer (Simon Wright) who is going to whack seven shades out of his kit eight feet in front of you, and to hear one of heavy rock’s best ever vocalists.
I thought Tate might keep us waiting before playing the album that gave his band their name, but in fact we were straight into Anarchy X and Revolution Calling, the audience singing along to every word.
How was it?
Well, it was hard to fault. Tate’s vocals sounded great, he still has great presence and he has a good band. New material, from “The Key”, played after the Operation Mindcrime album, sounded promising, and prevented the entire evening being just an exercise in nostalgia, not that there isn’t a place for that sort of thing.
It’s good to see artists still working hard at making a living, years after they were riding high on the crest of a wave. We are seeing a generation of artists finding ways to keep working and that, in it’s own way, is every bit as rock n roll as selling out shows wherever you go. Rock n roll isn’t always glamour and excess. Sometimes it’s about working to find your audience, playing the less glitzy venues.
Tate may not be gracing the front pages of Kerrang! anytime soon (and from past history he might think that’s no bad thing) and it is unlikely his band will be selling out Hammersmith Odeon two nights running again, but that seems to be okay. He remains fully committed in performance and he’s playing some great songs, from rock’s best ever concept album….