Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime – 25 years on
“The Leppard thing was a completely different type of audience. They crossed the boundaries into pop, so we began to pull in a few of those fans. And like Geoff says, some of them had very big breasts and definitely wouldn’t have come to a Metallica/Queensrÿche show.”
Whatever the gender of their fans, Queensrÿche were certainly attracting their fair share of deranged ones. In 1989 an astonished Tate told Classic Rock’s Malcolm Dome: “There was this particularly exuberant fan in America who pleaded with us for a backstage pass. He said he’d do literally anything to get one. So, as a joke, Eddie [Jackson] told him to staple his forehead. At which point the guy got hold of a staple gun and fired four staples into his head. We gave him the pass!”
In the UK Queensrÿche were able to maintain their upwards momentum via a pair of quite incredible headlining performances, at which they played Operation: Mindcrime almost in its glorious entirety.
Tate: “Aaah, the legendary Town & Country [now called the Forum] show. Funnily enough we were talking about that only a few days ago, trying to recall whether that was the best one, or the Astoria.”
For me, the Town & Country was the most memorable, though the Astoria wasn’t too far behind.
Tate: “So let me ask you a question: what made it so good?”
It was a combination of factors but basically it just seemed to be the right band, with the right album, at exactly the right time.
“The audience that night was absolutely amazing, too,” Michael Wilton chips in from an adjacent table. “They were unbelievable.”
The memory of Jethro Tull’s Crest Of A Knave sneaking up on the blind side in 1988 to steal a Grammy award that was widely expected to go to Metallica’s …And Justice For All album still causes an ironic smile. As does Tull leader Ian Anderson’s victory comment: “Poor Metallica, bless their little spandex shorts.” But few of us recall that Operation: Mindcrime was also shortlisted in the same Best Hard Rock Album category that year.
“All of Q Prime’s bands were nominated that year,” Tate says, waving his hand dismissively.
“We didn’t expect to win; we’d already won just by being nominated,” says Rockenfield (who later tasted disappointment again when one of his outside projects was pipped for a Grammy by Lou Reed). “And the after-show party was a lot of fun.”
In 1989, Queensrÿche released a longform video essay of the album, called Video: Mindcrime. Linking live footage shot on a soundstage, and imagery telling the story of the record (using actors for the main parts), it served as a precursor to the more impressive video and CD package that would eventually be titled Operation: Livecrime.
By then Queensrÿche were two years older and wiser. Despite the fact that they were now promoting the Empire album (its huge, Michael Kamen-scored Silent Lucidity single had helped the band to secure a spot on the bill at the ’89 Castle Donington festival) the band went the whole hog and filmed a full concert performance of Operation: Mindcrime.
“With Empire, we’d purposely stayed away from making another concept album,” DeGarmo emphasised back in 1991. Indeed it was brave of the band to return to Operation: Mindcrime at such a crossroads in their career. Three shows they played in Madison, Wisconsin, were filmed by Wayne Isham and a team that included director/lighting designer Howard Ungerleider, who had worked for the previous 17 years with Rush, as well as with Def Leppard. Queensrÿche performed the album in front of screens that were 18 feet high and 24 feet wide, with movie-quality film sequences projected behind them.
“Isham does Ricky Martin videos now,” Rockenfield chuckles. “It was an experience to work with him. The synching of the audio with the visual was sometimes quite a fiasco, but it worked.”
Fortunately, Queensrÿche had already performed …Mindcrime around 160 times on tour by that point so, apart from walkways that sometimes refused to function, they’d experienced many of the mistakes that were likely to plague an undertaking of the size of those Wisconsin shows. Such as…
“One night when we played in Texas, Sister Mary was up on the screen, with her hair blowing backwards,” Tate recalls. “She’s a striking platinum blonde, and the way it’d been shot it looked like she was on fire. At one point in the show the combination of heat in the building and our projectors not being set up correctly caused the film to melt and then burst into flames. It was pretty spectacular to see Mary on the screen burning in front of me. Not that the audience realised that anything was wrong.”
Just to give an indication of the popularity of Operation: Livecrime, EMI sold more than 260,000 copies of the original video format before deleting it in 1998 and then transferring it to DVD. Tate admits that the band have even discussed making the concept into a movie.
“Yeah, we talked to a few people about it,” he says. “The idea’s come up several times, we just haven’t really found the right outlet for it yet. The worrying thought is that it might be like somebody making your favourite book into a movie, and when you see it, it never matches up to your imagination. In fact as recently as six months ago a producer and director flew to Seattle for talks.”
“Just like the record, it would need the right combination of people to make it work,” Rockenfield says sagely. “Who knows, maybe the Wakowski Brothers – the guys who did The Matrix – will call us some day? But until then we’ll probably keep on saying no.”