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Thursday 22 June 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Geoff Tate (Live Review By Simon Black)

Geoff Tate, Daxx And Roxane, King Kraken & Zak And The New Men, The Neon, Newport 17.06.2023

I’m constantly bemoaning that Cardiff doesn’t have enough mid-size venues close to the city centre, yet about 15 minutes away the city of Newport has just stolen their thunder with a belter of a new one. I had never heard of The Neon before, and none of the fellow scribes and snappers assembled here this evening had ever been here before either, but needless to say we all came away thoroughly happy to have found the place. 

It’s an old, converted cinema, which means a well-designed slope from the back allowing almost perfect views of the nice high stage wherever you choose to stand. From the audience’s perspective it’s the perfect venue lay out, but by all accounts, the get in is a bit of a bitch, not being designed for the constant in and out of touring, as say old theatres are. The other advantage? Shit hot acoustics. If I have one criticism of the venue, is that they’re clearly not used to Metalheads, and the reasonably priced, but cans only bar is cleaned out before the headliner even gets to stage.

It’s another thumbs up from me that the promoter has chosen to add two local acts to the bill to bolster the touring package, meaning we do get our money’s worth in terms of run time tonight. By the time I get there due to the joys of ongoing railway disruption, Zac And The New Men (6) are coming to the end of their quite short set. Given the heavier bent of the audience, their Pop infused brand of Alt-Rock means they need to work at it a bit harder. 

They haven’t much room to move, and it’s not until they get to the last couple of numbers that they start injecting a bit more energy and movement, and the audience responds, moving from polite applause to some genuine cheers. It wasn’t their crowd, but this young bunch worked it till things happened, and their music certainly has a little more technical proficiency when you tune into it more that makes me want to give them another shot down the road.

King Kraken (8) also have a few cards stacked against them tonight. They’re a guitarist down due to travel disruption of a slightly more significant level than I experienced (given that he’s stuck in South America), but the band bravely decided to play the gig anyway. There are a couple of more grizzled Hard Rock infused players in the South Wales scene right now and like their local peers Eulogy, King Kraken have worked hard to build up a following. 

Their album MCLXXX is an absolute belter, and comprised as they are of experienced players trying something new, they know how to meld the old Hard Rock vibe with enough of a Modern Metal twist to make this energetic, relevant and punchy as a slap in the chops from a heavyweight. Given that their brutally heavy riffage is somewhat diminished tonight, they still give it one hundred per cent and singer Mark Donohue bounds across the stage like a man with a mission and makes sure everyone in the audience knows they are there. The cheers are genuine though and most people not familiar with them didn’t notice anything amiss anyway. Nicely done chaps.

Daxx And Roxane (9) were the wild card in the set for me tonight. I hadn’t come across their music before, and that 70’s and 80’s Hard Rock ’n’ Roll into early Metal style of music is never going out of style, though it’s always refreshing when such a young act gets the ethos and energy of the period so right whilst still sounding new and modern. By the time their set is done, they have the audience eating out of the hands, with the wild energetic mania of their performance. It’s humid and hot as hell tonight both inside and out, and to leap around the stage, their gear and over each other to that level of intensity without dropping a beat or a note takes stamina and skill and the audience loved every bit of it. That’s how support acts show they’re ready to headline…

Geoff Tate (11, yes this one goes up to 11 – just deal with it, OK?) had some exceedingly strong openers to beat tonight. My word, he really delivered tonight. Exploding onto stage with the kind of theatrical energy that’s been missing since The Promised Land days, Tate owns the stage and the audience from the opening bars of Revolution Calling. Full of power, and snarling energy – every syllable of every line is enunciated and physically emphasised like a razor cut to ram home the deeply political message of an album that if anything is more relevant today than it was in the 80’s.

I had concerns about this going in, because the last time I saw him performing in these parts about ten years ago it was a sad and disappointing experience. At that time, he was just going through the whole messy divorce process with Queensrÿche and touring as Operation: Mindcrime around the 25th anniversary of the album’s release. It was not a great performance then. At the time he was carrying a lot of weight both physically and emotionally, his performance was sadly lacking both the energy or charisma of the old days, and he delivered a vocal performance that hinted that his best days were behind us.

Tonight, was completely the opposite end of that spectrum. Tonight, the Geoff Tate of old was back, and then some…

Ironically, this was pretty much the same set I saw up in Pontypridd a few years back – a full run through of Operation: Mindcrime and some classics from the glory ‘Rÿche years to follow (albeit a much beefier selection), but the point is the delivery was so much better you would not have known it was the same man. So, given that he’s got more years on the clock than before, what’s changed? I suspect two fundamentals at play here.

Let’s call the first the Avantasia Effect. Tobias Sammet’s Power Metal Supergroup has become a greater beast than the sum of its parts, and Sammet first managed to rope in Tate for 2016’s Ghostlights album. As always, Sammet’s greatest gifts are to both write a song that absolutely encapsulates his guests’ greatest hits in one or two songs, and to entice a performance out of them that matches. On this, Tate delivered his best studio work for some years, and Sammet got him back again for Moonglow and more importantly, to tour it. Now, if you haven’t seen this live, it’s quite a spectacle, as Sammet assembles a who’s who of the genre, with about seven or eight singers working together over a full three-hour live show. That would have seen Tate sharing a stage wth the likes Of Michael Kiske, Eric Martin, Bob Catley, Ronnie Atkins and a whole host of others. When you’ve got to deliver alongside that sort of line up for months at a time, it really rather forces you to up your game.

Secondly, he’s not been too well and has fortunately fully recovered from some quite serious heart surgery. With health a renewed focus, Tate has also been organising lots of walking tours across the world where fans can join him for a trek across the National Parks of the world, which is why not only does he look ten years younger and fitter than when I saw him last, but a combination of the two means his voice is better than it has been since the early 90’s.

Vocally was where my delight at his rejuvenation turned to sheer, unmitigated smiling joy, because he’s not sounded that good live for a very, very long time. Most singers take things down a key or two to support their ageing vocal chords, but tonight he was screaming every note in the right key and pitch and with the power and intensity of a man thirty years younger. This was what we came to see, and my word did he deliver, with power, panache and absolute charismatic finesse.

We got Mindcrime in its entirety plus a generous dollop of extras mostly from Empire, but hearing Take Hold Of The Flame and Queen Of The Reich live was a lovely touch, especially as the piercing screams that accompanied the close of the set tell of a singer who’s career just bounced back with a vengeance. With a backing band fully utilising the stage and giving a showy performance worthy of the legendary singer, this was an absolute treat of a night. Out of the park…

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