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Live Reviews : Geoff Tate, Black Majesty & Espionage @ Croxton Hotel, 01/02/2019

By on February 2, 2020

What an evening this promises to be. One of the most iconic and storied rock/metal vocalists in history, playing what this humble rock/metal fan and writer considers to be the greatest concept album ever released, and one of the greatest albums of any kind, in its entirety, plus two of Melbourne’s finest lending very able-bodied support. It is tantalising, to put it very mildly.

In the classic metal pantheon, Espionage are relative newcomers, having only been around for five or six years. However, they are starting to build an illustrious name for themselves in that scene (being selected from many to open for this prestigious tour is testament to that), and judging by tonight’s set, their live show is a big part of their burgeoning notoriety. The first thing you notice is the sheer, over the top flamboyance of their performance, in true 80s-influenced style. The hair flies everywhere, the fingers fly across fretboards in blinding fashion during trade-off lead breaks, the big rock endings to songs come at you thick and fast and the personalities onstage are larger than life.

However, this band is not simply flash in the pan, they back up the extroverted performance with super-tightness, excellence in musicianship (those fingers only fly because they’ve been taught to do so through hours upon hours of practise) and strong songs that have the steadily growing crowd singing along and thrusting their fists and horns to the sky. And to cap it all off, they appear to be having an absolute ball onstage, and so we in the crowd do too.

At the absolute opposite end of the longevity scale, Black Majesty are wily veterans of the power metal scene, having been around for virtually two decades. And their experience shows. They smash out their blistering, although slightly more controlled power/trad metal with veritable ease and absolute commitment to the cause. The live sound is just a touch bass-heavy, and this detracts from the presence of the drums a little, but hey, it’s live music played and mixed by human beings, so we can’t expect perfection. Like Espionage before them, the lead guitar work is a highlight (although vocalist John Cavaliere’s soaring, commanding voice is dead on point too) and the ear to ear smiles and onstage interactions between the members tells us that they are enjoying themselves immensely, and that vibe is again contagious.

We are now more than ready for the main event (and apologies up front if this review becomes a little self-indulgent for an overwhelmingly massive fan of this album).

There is something very, very special about Operation: Mindcrime. It is an album during the incubation of which the creative stars truly aligned for everyone involved, for the members of Queensryche obviously, and for the big cast and crew they put together to assist with its actualisation. That immense creative spark was then backed up with true excellence in execution, and the final product that was unleashed upon an unsuspecting rock public in 1988 was a whole even greater than the sum of its parts. And now, more than three decades later, it is still as relevant and compelling as ever (and possibly even more so in the current political and social cesspit we find ourselves in), and seeing it performed live, end to end, in its entirety, is another moment in time unto itself.

First up, the young, all-international band Geoff Tate put around himself to help him pull off this most difficult album on its 30th anniversary celebration tour is lean, hungry and re-create the music and backing vocals of the album faithfully and skilfully. They walk that very fine line between re-producing the stunning performances from the original sessions whilst still putting just a touch of their own style and flair to the parts.

Then there is the man himself. Tate is into his sixties now, and even after decades on the road and in the studio, that magnificent voice is holding up beautifully. Tonight, he performs the deep and profound lyrics and soaring, complex vocal lines of this singular album like his life depends on it, and his interactions with the crowd and his band members are good-natured and engaging.

As an added bonus, after 65 minutes and the almighty climax of Mindcrime, Tate and the band leave the stage, returning after calls for an encore reach fever-pitch, and slam out no less than four tracks from the album’s fabulous follow-up Empire, which are just as much fan favourites. A track or two from Rage for Order would have been very nice indeed, but you can’t have everything.

90 minutes of ‘Ryche magnificence, plus two excellent support acts, and the packed Croxton crowd goes home ecstatic at what they have witnessed. It could very well have been a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. To Geoff Tate and band, we thank you!

About

Rod Whitfield is a Melbourne-based writer and retired musician who has been writing about music since 1995. He has worked for Team Rock, Beat Magazine, themusic.com.au, Heavy Mag, Mixdown, The Metal Forge, Metal Obsession and many others. He has written and published his memoirs of his life and times in the music biz, and also writes books, screenplays, short stories, blogs and more.