July 18, 2020
Revisiting Queensryche's Road to the Promised Land Tour
By Brian Heaton
It's hard to believe that a quarter-century has passed since I first saw Queensryche in concert. It was July 18, 1995, at the Jones Beach Amphitheater, in Wantagh, N.Y., on the Road to the Promised Land Tour. It was like Christmas Day for this kid from Long Island. I had been a diehard Queensryche fan for seven or eight years, and after all that time, I finally had the opportunity to see my favorite band live—and they didn't disappoint.
From the opening cries in “9:28 a.m.” to the haunting non-album rendition of the closing song, “Someone Else?” the performance was grandiose in every regard, as Queensryche combined elements of heavy metal, progressive rock, and theater into a spectacle few bands of the day would dare attempt. The show was comprised of tracks from the band's five full-length studio albums, set to an overarching theme of self-reflection. In short, the two-hour journey to Queensryche's promised land was complete sensory overload.
If that sounds a bit pretentious, you have to remember things were different back then. You normally didn't know a band's setlist ahead of time. In addition, unless you were lucky enough to flip through a rock magazine that covered previous dates, or had a friend who snuck in a camera to a show before yours, you had no idea what a band's staging and show looked like. You can imagine my shock at seeing Geoff Tate stroll onto the stage in a suit for the opening number, only to be stripped to his underwear as “I Am I” ended, and “Damaged” began.
Queensryche's setlist that evening (and for the entire U.S. leg of the tour) featured every song on Promised Land, a healthy dose of Operation: Mindcrime, rarities such as “Real World,” and of course a few tracks from the band's most commercially successful album, Empire. For me personally, a huge treat was seeing abridged versions of “Neue Regel” and “Screaming in Digital” from Rage for Order (the latter featuring some vampire animations on the screen as Tate sang), and the first half of “NM 156” from The Warning. Although the tunes were shortened, the band did a great job representing its discography.
The climax of the show was the most visually intense presentation I've ever seen from Queensryche. As the lights went down on stage after the last notes of “Jet City Woman,” the screens lit up, showing a hybrid live-action/animation video of Tate as a middle-aged man with a family, struggling with his life. Despite the serious tone, during the sequence Tate encounters an advertisement saying “You Need This. You Stupid Piece of Shit.” As the crowd laughed, enjoying the moment of levity, the lights came up, revealing that the stage was transformed into a lounge, complete with a full bar.
With the video now concluded, the real Tate is now seated at the bar, with local Queensryche fan club members playing the role of patrons. Meanwhile, Chris DeGarmo, Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson, and Scott Rockenfield are all set up on a small bar stage, in suits, performing the song “Promised Land” as a lounge act, while a melancholy Tate croons from his stool. The elaborate set-up eventually transitions back to a normal stage to finish out the remainder of the set, including the fan favorite “Take Hold of the Flame” in the encore.
Ending the night was the final track of Promised Land – “Someone Else?” As I alluded to earlier, this wasn't a reproduction of the album cut. The band started the song normally, with DeGarmo on piano and Tate on vocals. But it continued, Jackson came in on bass, and Rockenfield added some minor percussion, and Wilton gently plays a subtle lead guitar line to masterfully heighten the emotional impact of the song. This live rendition is still my favorite version of the song to this day.
To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. It wasn't just my first Queensryche show—it was my first rock concert. I remember singing along word-for-word (likely to the chagrin of those around me) to every song, and dutifully buying my “totem pole” Queensryche concert shirt and the tour program. And at the end of “Silent Lucidity,” figuring it was the end of the concert, I nudged my friend and fellow Rycher, Rob, to go, and as we got in the tunnel leading to the venue's concourse, I stupidly realized there was such a thing as an encore (again, first show for me, people). We ran back to our seats for the final two songs, watching the screen pulse with a tri-ryche, laughing at ourselves, and putting our fists in the air as Queensryche returned to the stage.
It was an amazing experience that I'm sure most people reading this can relate to. Twenty-five years later, the images nailed in my head are a little hazy, but the memories, well, they still flow like a river…