Queensrÿche @ Club Capitol (Perth), 27 August 2009

Call it what you will: thinking man's metal, progressive rock or a throwback to the '80s... Queensrÿche put on one hell of a show in Perth in support of their latest album, American Soldier.

The legend goes like this: way back in 1980, a singer named Geoff Tate declined an invitation to join a band called The Mob, although he sang live and recorded a demo with them, because he wasn’t interested in playing heavy metal. Three years later, he gave in to their continued requests and joined as a full-time member of the group which had, by then, been renamed to Queensrÿche.

Fans of progressive metal throughout the world can be thankful that Tate did change his mind, because it’s now over 25 years later and Queensrÿche are still releasing great music and touring around the globe. With borders and continents shrinking the way they have been of late, in 2009 the band has even made it out to Perth for the very first time. So it was with much anticipation that a quite small group of fans gathered at Club Capitol to see what they had been missing out on.

First however, it was up to some Australian prog metal to set the tone for the evening. Sydneysiders Darker Half kicked off proceedings, but being on first has its disadvantages: I missed most of their set despite being at the venue within 20 minutes of the advertised starting time of 8 pm. The song which I did see confirmed what I had heard about this band - they are melodic and energetic. They also got a good response from the punters that were present, with one dude in particular showing his appreciation by headbanging in a manner almost certain to result in injury.

Perth-based Voyager was up next, after a quick stage changeover. This is a band that has been around for quite some time, but has developed a strong local following lately, and it’s easy to see why – each of the five members project their own personality on stage and each is a part of the show. Frontman Daniel Estrin, a natural showman, wastes no time getting the crowd involved in the set, as well as playing both air guitar and air drums in addition to his keyboard and vocal duties. Facial expressions on all band members range from pained to agonised to ecstatic, but it was great to see a local band set with all members giving their all. Add some solid tunes and a fuckload of smoke machine activity to these factors, and Voyager becomes both a professional and likeable package.

The crowd had swelled to around 300, mostly male, mostly middle-aged or older punters by the time the openers had finished. The demographic was not surprising, given the band’s immense popularity in the mid ‘80s, but it was still somewhat of a novelty to walk through the crowd and overhear snippets of conversation: not about cars, weed and fights like at most metal shows, but about kids, kitchen renovations and that new financial controller from Melbourne.

The headline act began at around 9.30pm, with drummer Scott Rockenfield leading the way, followed by guitarists Michael Wilton, Parker Lundgren (a very young-looking session player), and bassist Eddie Jackson. Last onto stage, just before the vocals section of Neue Regel, was Tate, the most unlikely frontman in heavy metal history: one cool motherfucker in immaculately tailored suit trousers and vest, topped off with a fedora and dark shades.

After the first song, Tate explained the format of the show in a deep, calm and conversational voice: there would be three “suites” of music, firstly from 1986’s Rage for Order, then songs from their current release American Soldier; and finally a set from 1990’s Empire. The Rage for Order section then continued with The Whisper, Screaming in Digital, I Dream in Infrared, Walk in the Shadows, and I Will Remember.

Club Capitol was putting its best foot forward tonight – the sound in the venue was unusually clear with a crisp, dry drum sound that cut cleanly through the rest of the audio layers. The club also seemed to have found a few extra spotlights to improve on their typical all-red light show, although that (and indeed, the audio quality) may have been the doing of the band.

Sounds of pre-recorded gunfire signalled the beginning of the American Solider suite. After the first song Sliver, Tate spent a few moments explaining the inspiration behind the album – his own experiences in a military family – and the process of writing the album, which involved interviewing hundreds of American soldiers from all eras, before dedicating The Killer to his father. If I Were King and Man Down! rounded out this segment of the show.

The final and longest suite, Empire, was the one that was best received by the crowd. Best I Can had everyone singing along; The Thin Line, complete with Tate on saxophone, was a clapping-in-time kind of affair; and One and Only even elicited dancing. The slower Silent Lucidity resulted in one enthusiastic punter getting a cigarette lighter out and waving it back and forth, while Jet City Woman offered a rare opportunity for bass player Jackson, previously almost unseen behind the guitarists, to come forward and shine, albeit briefly. And for the final song in the set, Anybody Listening?, Tate even took his rock star shades off.

The crowd knew what was required of them: clapping and chants brought the band back on stage for an encore, the title track Empire. Mid-song, Tate took a moment to wax lyrical about “the power of music” in a very American way, which was kind of fitting for the song, although it sounded corny to Australian ears. With a puff of smoke and a big bow from the band, the show was over.

Often touted as “thinking man’s metal”, Queensrÿche are certainly that and more; not only is their music thoughtful, but they treat their audience with respect and intelligence. Tate mentioned during the show that the band felt privileged to play for us, in a place they had never been before. I feel privileged to have experienced this talented, polished and very interesting band.