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Back on the throne: Queensryche puts pedal to the metal with Fargo stop tonight

When bands start working on material for their next album, most hunker down in the studio or a rehearsal space. When the Seattle-based heavy metal band Queensryche began planning for its last recording, Geoff Tate told the band he was hitting the...

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When bands start working on material for their next album, most hunker down in the studio or a rehearsal space.

When the Seattle-based heavy metal band Queensryche began planning for its last recording, Geoff Tate told the band he was hitting the highway.

The vocalist and his wife loaded up their motorcycle and spent weeks on the road. As the couple crisscrossed the country, Tate made anthropological notes on how people acted a year after 9/11.

When Tate returned home, those notes evolved into the lyrics on the group's newest disc, "Tribe."

Tate is on the road again, this time with Queensryche. The progressive rock band plays Playmakers in Fargo tonight.

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"I wanted to find out what it's like being an American in the new millennium," the 44-year-old singer says from a tour stop in Wichita, Kan. "I'm still looking at why I'm proud to be an American."

Tate didn't find any firm answers on his bike, only more questions. While referring to himself as a moderate, he expresses anxiety over the direction the country is headed and the increased role of the media in society.

"What I'm interested in are social issues, the evolution of humans," he says. "More of a look at where we're at and in some cases where we're going."

"Tribe" continues the band's journey of making thematic albums, this time looking at America as a community, "a country of contradictions in a growth period."

The recording process reflected the idea of community as founding guitarist Chris DeGarmo joined the band in the studio for the first time in five years.

After the group's label of 14 years, EMI, folded in 1997, DeGarmo decided it was time for a change and left the group to become a pilot. The band continued on with different guitarists filling in.

"We've always kept that fifth chair open," Tate says.

The singer received a call from DeGarmo as the band began recording tracks for "Tribe."

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The guitarist said he had some songs that might work and co-wrote four of the 10 tracks on the new disc.

"Whenever things like that start happening, I just go with them," Tate says. "It reinforced the idea of a tribe, people gathered together for music."

DeGarmo, however, declined to go on tour with the band.

Throughout the group's 22-year career, that music has generally garnered tags like, "art rock," or "prog rock," lumping them together with concept albums by the likes of Pink Floyd and Styx.

"I never think of Styx when I think of that," Tate says. "I think of geeks who are trying to describe music."

Thanks in part to Tate's operatic vocals on conceptual lyrics, complex playing and pristine production, the group earned the moniker "the thinking person's metal band" from MTV.

The group's theatrical visions and soundscape reached its potential in 1990 with the release of "Empire." The album featured a hit single, "Silent Lucidity," which earned a Grammy nod and continued airplay.

The lyrics, a parent's calming bed-time conversation with a child, struck a chord as soldiers geared up to leave for the first Gulf War.

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"It certainly was a nice surprise to get that much attention," Tate says.

The ballad further removed the group from the burgeoning grunge scene in Seattle. Though the heavier, flannel-clad seething of groups like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains seemed an affront to Queensryche's polished production, the singer sees a connection.

He relates a story of the first time he met Ann Wilson of Heart and gushed over how she had opened doors in Seattle for being in a rock band. Wilson in turn told him how Jimi Hendrix had done the same for Heart.

"Everything is derivative," Tate says. "We just strive to be uniquely derivative."

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

If you go

- Who: Queensryche and Echo 7 in concert

- When: 7 p.m. today

- Where: Playmakers, Fargo

- Info: Tickets are $29.50 for this 18-and-older show. (701) 235-7171

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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