On February 22, 2020, as I arrived at Mount Airy Resort and Casino, I could tell it was going to be a special night, a celebration of music that has stood the test of time—the 30th anniversary of Geoff Tate’s Empire. I had been looking forward to this show since the summer of 2019, and seeing a full parking lot, watching people walk eagerly across the street to get inside, and hearing Tate’s music booming from car stereos, I knew precisely what to expect from the Seattle native and his talented band. I made a point of noticing the concert shirts people had on, the majority of which were either emblazoned with imagery from Geoff Tate’s solo tours or with artwork from his past tours with Queensryche. Feeling nostalgic, I got a fuzzy sensation in my stomach. Memories of past shows, old friends, and good fun washed over me. I savored the sensation, knowing that hours from now I would be transported back in time to the 80s and 90s. Tonight’s concert was going to be my time machine, Geoff Tate the pilot and tour guide.
Before the show I spent a while in the atrium, sitting on an extremely comfortable chair and taking copious notes, and I could overhear snatches of conversation about music, about the old days of Queensryche with Geoff Tate and about Geoff Tate’s thriving now on his own and his recent involvement in several major projects; chit-chat also covered rock/metal bands from all over the world and the topic of music in general. I got a dialogue going with these concertgoers. Our discussions, sprinkled with enthusiasm, laughter, and excitement, ranged from the night’s events to the unseasonably warm weather to the beautiful resort, and ended with more than a couple of us saying we couldn’t wait to hear Tate sing our favorite songs from the past. And even though everybody already knew the setlist it didn’t in any way dampen anticipation. How could it? Tate had just come off a successful tour with Germany’s Avantasia; he had been featured on the bestselling Sweet Oblivion, a widely acclaimed album; and having completed, in 2019, an extended Operation Mindcrime anniversary tour, he was inspired and his voice in top form. No wonder tickets for Tate’s Empire shows are selling fast—many even selling out!
At the Event Center entrance was the merchandise table, where a variety of shirts covered with stunning artwork enticed passers-by, who, crowding the area, kept the attendant busy. Against the far wall stood a large fully stocked bar staffed by several bartenders, all of whom had to work under the pressure of long lines which never seemed to let up. And as soon as the band started playing, as soon as the first chords had been struck, those thirsty people standing in line at the bar rushed inside and scrambled to their seats.
The theater itself, for tonight’s show, accommodated between 1,000 and 1,500. Not a bad seat anywhere; two gigantic screens on either side of the stage promoted upcoming shows and displayed Tate’s album covers. The stage itself, wide and deep and decorated with banners, gave the band ample room to perform, to move around and entertain. Ireland native Mark Daly opened the show playing energetic rock & roll, combining hard-hitting tracks with a few mellower numbers. He received his fair share of applause, and more than a few times expressed to the packed house his appreciation for that applause and thanked everyone for listening to his music.
Around 9:00 p.m. Geoff Tate began his first set—Rage for Order in its entirety—with “Walk in the Shadows,” the first track off the album. (Each album’s songs were played in order.) The former Queensryche frontman seemed confident and comfortable, full of steam—releasing it from one song to the next, jumping, dancing, grooving, and singing animatedly, his voice as powerful and dynamic and nuanced as one would expect from a seasoned vocalist who over a long career has kept his instrument in shape and knows how to enunciate every word and line. All the songs in the “Rage” set sounded much like the original versions, with only slight modifications, the fans thrilled to be hearing Geoff Tate’s hitting and sustaining the most demanding notes, as they pumped their fists and elatedly high-fived spectators nearby. Several times audience members shouted between songs, “We love you, Geoff!” The more energy the audience gave, the harder Geoff and his band worked.
After the first set and a brief intermission, Tate and company launched into the second set—Empire in its entirety—with “Best I Can.” Audience members reacted to the music by doing what they did during the opening segment, singing along, banging their heads, dancing, playing air guitar, or forming with their hands heavy-metal horns, holding them up as high as they could. The energy, fire, and momentum of the first set had not fizzled out at all, it only intensified. Once again, Tate, fueled with passion and pride, performed as if this show were his last, as he always has. The rest of the band, feeding off Geoff’s masterful showmanship, played competently, staying sharp and interacting with the audience throughout the concert; the guitarists threw picks to outreaching hands, and from time to time members of the band pointed and gestured at fans who sought their attention by screaming out encouragement and praise. Especially loud were the roars of approval and delight for “Empire,” “Silent Lucidity,” and “Another Rainy Night,” three mainstream hits from Empire.
Two encore songs, the last of which, “Eyes of a Stranger” from Operation Mindcrime, whipped the audience up into a state of euphoria. Fans from the back of the room pushed, squeezed, and slipped their way to the front, then sang along with Geoff; and he, showing his gratitude, smiled, tapped his heart, and summoned all his strength and stamina and finished strong. For their two-hour, 24-song set, Tate and his bandmates received a long, well-deserved standing ovation, after which they took a bow, waved goodbye, and posed for pictures.
On the way out of the auditorium I heard fragments of conversation—all positive, everybody was adrenalized. Another crowd had formed around the merchandise table, security allowing patrons one last try at a T-shirt before shutting down, while others seemed to be headed toward the casino, the night still young and far from over. Somebody said they were going to look for the band’s tour bus and hang out there, though, to my mind, Geoff and his band had already given their fans more than enough.
Outside, I saw groups of people huddled in the shadowy parking lot, probably talking about what they had just experienced—the magic of good music, the majesty of Geoff Tate. When he comes to your town, be sure to attend a show and join in the celebration. The journey back in time—fresh, invigorating, dazzling—is well worth the cost of admission. Thanks, Geoff!
For more information on Geoff Tate or to purchase tickets to his shows, visit https://geofftate.com/.
Review by David Boyle