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Queensryche forces out singer Geoff Tate ... and loses its biggest fan as a result

Queensryche isn't your typical Stuck in the '80s band. But when news came out this week that the heavy-metal rock gods had parted ways with longtime singer Geoff Tate, there was a lot of angst in the air from fans. Immediately I knew that no one would be more crushed than one of my friends here at work, Frank Pastor, our internet sports editor and one of the biggest fans of '80s metal that I've ever know. So it's no surprise that Frank had some conflicts between his head and his heart that he wanted to express on this horrific news. Pour yourself a drink, cue up a little Operation: Mindcrime and let the wake begin.

My favorite band broke up this week. Or, rather, sacked its lead singer. Somehow, it feels just the same.

Truthfully, it's probably best for all involved. The members reportedly haven't gotten along in years. Their musical tastes have become increasingly divergent. And they seem to have found the ideal replacement singer.

So, why am I so bummed? For me, it's the end of a 30-year relationship.

I first discovered Queensryche in 1984, when I heard a song on a late-night radio show called "Metal Shop.'' I was 15 and just starting to develop an interest in hard rock.

It was an exciting time for the genre. Bands such as Van Halen, Night Ranger and Ratt were burning up the charts. Scorpions and Twisted Sister released multiplatinum-selling albums.

But Queensryche was different somehow. The band's sound was melodic and aggressive like the others, but more serious and sophisticated, with an urgency others lacked.

They were just beginning to evolve as songwriters and lyricists, but in time would write poignantly about issues such as homelessness, environmentalism and gun control and go on to create a narrative concept album worthy of Pink Floyd's "The Wall'' or The Who's "Tommy.''

I've seen them in concert six times, four in the past five years. On three of those occasions, they were the opening act. I still bought a T-shirt. I once crammed for a show by listening to their 13-album back catalogue in its entirety.

In November, I hung out outside of Ruth Eckerd Hall after a show for a chance to meet the band. I got a picture, autograph and signed pick from guitarist Michael Wilton and bass player Eddie Jackson.

A few weeks ago, I scoured Total Wine in search of Wilton's craft beer. I found it but still haven't decided whether to drink it or save it.

Unlike many bands from previous decades, Queensryche consistently produced new music throughout its career. Just last year, it celebrated its 30th anniversary with four of the five original members intact.

For vocalist Geoff Tate, there won't be a 31st.

On Wednesday, Queensryche issued a press release saying it had parted ways with its lead singer. Add the departure of guitarist and principal songwriter Chris DeGarmo in 1997, and the band now has lost its two biggest creative forces.

Personnel changes happen all the time in sports. Players are traded, leave through free agency or retire. Coaches are fired and replaced. And yet we still pull for those teams.

The same goes for actors. As much as I liked Sean Connery as James Bond, I accepted Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton (to a lesser extent), Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig in the same role. Michael Keaton and Christian Bale both can be Batman.

So, why is it so different with singers?

Bands have survived, even thrived, with new vocalists. But their DNA is forever changed.

It often matters less which singer was best as which was first. Sammy Hagar sang circles around David Lee Roth but was never accepted in the same way by Van Halen fans. Arnel Pineda is a virtual doppelganger of Steve Perry, but many Journey fans still clamor for the real thing.

Queensryche's Tate is the real thing. In his prime, he had four- (some would say five-octave) range. Perfect pitch control. Passion and charisma.

He was the face and voice of Queensryche, and its chief lyricist.

Now, he's a solo artist. Instead of rocking arenas with his bandmates, he's playing acoustic shows and telling stories to smaller audiences with a wine glass in hand.

Meanwhile, the Queensryche I knew and loved is no more.

Tate's former bandmates plan to carry on under the name with a new singer, Bradenton resident Todd LaTorre. LaTorre sounds like a younger Tate but feels a connection to the band's older material that Tate no longer does. He can sing the songs Queensryche dropped from its set years ago.

News of Tate's ouster has created a buzz around the band not heard in years.

It hasn't hurt that it came on the heels of several weeks of odd behavior from the singer, including a rumored physical altercation between him and two band members before a show in Brazil and Tate chastising a festival crowd in Oklahoma for its lack of enthusiasm.

In many ways, a split might be the best thing to happen to Queensryche.

The band seemed to recapture its old fire while playing two well-received shows with LaTorre under a different name a few weeks ago in Seattle. They focused on songs from their first four albums, many which hadn't been performed in years.

Tate, who spends as much time these days promoting his wine brand as his band, can focus on the music he prefers to play.

Still, I can't get over the feeling that something, once great, has been lost.

Will I accept the LaTorre-fronted Queensryche as I did the band's previous lineup? How will I feel about Tate's solo work?

And why, after all these years, do I still care? I wonder.

Somehow, it just doesn't seem the same.

Posted by Steve Spears at 3:54:10 pm on June 22, 2012