Ruth Eckerd Hall has, as you well know, been more or less shut down since COVID-19 exploded across the country. Following a few months of mini-cabaret theater shows in the new lobby, staff and crew there have worked tirelessly to bring in new additions to make your concert experience as safe as possible: a new mobile app that updates you on your drink orders, a new bacteria-killing air purification system, and a 50% capacity limit, just to name a few.
The main 2,180-seat theater has been barren ever since REO Speedwagon tore it down on March 9, mere days before the lockdown. Now, here we are, at the end of this gruesome year, still in a time when there are coronavirus spikes and fear. With safety at the front of its minds, Ruth Eckerd Hall decided that the time has come to start allowing fans and world-class artists back inside. And who better to reopen Clearwater’s favorite venue but former Queensryche frontman Geoff Tate?
Whether the hard-rock icon is on your list of legendary assholes, or your list of legendary voices, Tate can still hit the same notes he could thirty years ago, without even the slightest quiver. Monday night, he picked up where he left off, and gave just a shred of light to a live music industry that’s all but disintegrated thanks to COVID-19. He’s currently on a tour in which he celebrates the 30th anniversary of Queensryche’s Empire album by performing the whole thing cover-to-cover. And an added bonus is the inclusion of a cover-to-cover performance of the band’s sophomore LP, Rage For Order.
Tate and his four-piece band came out a little bit after the ticketed time of 8 p.m., jumping right into Rage's grand opening “Walk In The Shadows.”
“Can you believe this? I can’t tell you how good this feels,” Geoff exclaimed, draped in a shiny gold blazer and his recent-trademark fedora. “So many months of sitting at home. I can’t do it anymore.”
Without a teleprompter in sight, and the band members’ only aid being each other and their printed setlists, Geoff and his band effortlessly trucked right through the heavy album in about 45 minutes. The 61-year-old’s pipes went in and out of beast mode during “Screaming In Digital,” and he introduced “Surgical Strength” as the only song on the album that doesn’t connect very well with him.
“The world was changing so fast, I was just trying to keep up,” he admitted.
He couldn’t have selected a better backing band, either. Guitarists Scott Moughton and Kieran Robertson dynamically traded licks, dueled, and flat out fell to their knees song after song, just to match that sound Queensryche—a band their boss got booted from some years prior—made famous.
After a 20-minute intermission—with the Rage For Order banners taken down from behind Tate’s spot onstage and replaced with Empire ones—the PA let out the lyrics, “Don’t worry dear. He’ll never find the gun,” as the band returned to the stage.
“Best I Can” saw every fist in the air at least once, and “Jet City Woman” had every voice in the house responding back (this writer heard Ruth Eckerd PR boss Katie Pedretty bellow, “Best song ever!”). At the halfway point, Geoff stopped to seek some true dedication in the audience.
“Any Rage For Order tattoos?” he asked. Not only were there tattoos—a few folks closer to the stage had brought an original Rage For Order tour t-shirt with them. Yep, if you hold onto a concert shirt for 35 years, you bet Geoff freakin’ Tate is gonna notice you.
The Empire set was far more compelling than the Rage For Order performance. It might have been because Rage was put out when Queensryche was still learning the ropes of the biz—not to mention the hits and musical complexity on the effort. But then again, it could have been that Geoff seemed to be visibly exhausted for the first 20 or so minutes of Rage For Order (throughout the rest of the show, he’d often step behind one of his banners with a sweat rag for his shiny scalp).
Once the vocally-gifted headliner finished his admirations and a speech about how optimistic he was about the good news circling the COVID-19 virus, Tate introduced his favorite Queensryche tune, which happens to be one of its biggest hits. A gorgeous and electric piece that people have been married and buried to. You better believe it was “Silent Lucidity.” Not as many cellphone lights as I suspected there would be, though.
An encore consisted of “Last Time In Paris,” from ‘90s action film “The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane” and Operation: Mindcrime’s finale, “Eyes Of A Stranger.” Capping everything off was a Tate-flavoredc over of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with Garry Buck from his booking team on drums. For some reason, it was at that point when probably a quarter of the scaled-down crowd began to pour out. I guess the Stones just don’t cut it for Queensryche fans.
Tate’s Clearwater stop was actually announced back in 2019, originally billed as a St. Patrick’s Day concert at Bilheimer Capitol Theatre, a few miles away in downtown Clearwater. A few weeks ago, though, likely due to safety reasons, Tate’s anniversary celebration was relocated to Ruth Eckerd Hall.
But hey, wherever the show took place in the end, Monday night was a sign—we’re a little closer to getting full live music experiences back, and Ruth Eckerd Hall’s model is a good one to pay attention to. We’re so close, folks. Please continue wearing a mask.
Tampa Bay venues and promoters need you to bug Marco Rubio about saving the live music scene. See a list of Tampa Bay’s “Safe & Sound” live music venues here.
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