Observing the gradual and unstoppable decline of the once-untouchable Gods of epic metal from Seattle has been nothing short of stupefying. "Where did it all go wrong?" sang Geoff Tate on the title track of the last album to deliver great things, "Promised Land", to which we can all now shout in unison, "You tell us, pal."
So the band comprised of all the remaining members from those heady "Operation Mindcrime" days plus Mike Stone on guitar (returning inspirational guitarist Chris DeGarmo only does studios for now it seems) are traipsing the world doing performances like this one (captured from several unspecified shows on the "Tribe" tour). They try to blend the below-par latter-day material in with the classics in an attempt to assure us that all's rockin' in the 'RŸCHE world. It's not, of course, and in as much as it might seem overly harsh to say this, "The Art Of Live" plays like a shit sandwich. That's to say that the good bits at either end are filled in with a nasty-tasting dirge.
Encouragingly, opener "Tribe" is by far the best moment from the studio album of the same name. To these ears, it actually comes off better in this setting — all mood and dark chords with a soaring delivery from Tate. Next up, we get a track which carries much the same status as the opener — "Sign of the Times" being the sole jewel to be found amidst the low-grade grunge that formed the "Hear In The Now Frontier" album. Again, so far so encouraging.
Then we bite through to that bad stuff in the middle — and boy is this particular batch sour. "Open", "Losing Myself", "Desert Dance", "Great Divide" and "Rhythm of Hope" (surely a contradiction in terms) are difficult to dissect specifically because they are so insipid, emotionless and out-of-sorts that you find yourself drifting away from the reviewing task at hand. OK, so you could say that the main riff in "Desert Dance" had SOMETHING about it, but you'd really be clutching at straws. Listen closely and you can hear Tate's usually unbreakable voice wavering in the downbeat spirit of songs that demonstrate how the mighty can fall — and fall hard. The band can't even rely on performance levels to lift these off-color moments because although everything is played as studiously as you'd expect, "The Art Of Live" never sounds like a buoyant band maximizing their time on stage.
Inevitably — and thankfully, after a ruinous acoustic version of "My Global Mind" – we get the inevitable "Operation Mindcrime"/"Empire" selection. The likes of "Breaking the Silence" will forever go down in metal history, but the version here is not a patch on the one that appears on the glorious "Operation Livecrime" live album that was released over ten years ago. Nothing more needs to be said other than that you should go out and spend your hard-earned cash on that if you don't already have it. If you do, you will have no use whatsoever for "The Art Of Live".