Queen is a band I've loved for nearly half my life.
They laughingly tower over superlatives. They are everything I ever wanted from a band and more. With the most charismatic and vocally gifted singer to ever grace the Earth in Freddie Mercury, listening to Queen was listening to the heights of creativity and the outlands of beautiful '70s hard rock pomposity.
For me, a Queen song was an experience: sacrament by sound wave. So, despite the fact that the phrase "tribute band" makes my skin crawl, I rolled the dice last night and went down to House of Blues to see the Queen Extravaganza, Queen's official tribute act.
This was not going to be any tribute band. The QE were put together by Queen drummer Roger Taylor, who, along with guitarist Brian May, have been tasked with the duty of preserving the legacy of Queen for the past 20 years after the passing of Mercury in 1991.
I was only a year old when Queen performed their last shows in the U.S., so the chance to see even an officially sanctioned second-hand show gave me the hope that at certain moments in the evening, I could close my eyes and achieve the feeling of being at a teen in 1977.
And so began the two-hour extravaganza, a rapid-fire, 35-song show that seemed to get it right more than wrong. There were a few gaffes that are to be expected of a tribute band, even a great one: a dropped microphone, some sketchy harmony clashes, some missed cues, etc.
But all in all, it was really great sounding group.The set list was full of the super hits you'd expect, with a few gems thrown in for the hardcore fans ("Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon," "March of the Black Queen," "In the Lap of the Gods," to name a few).
The backing band was tight, dynamic, and able to maneuver through the technically complex musical twists that each song threw at them.
Guitarists Tristan Avakian and Brian Gresh are technically skilled axe men who would have been a lot more enjoyable if it weren't for the putrid parade of hacky '80s hair-metal antics they used all night: backflips, awkward hip gyrations, the "use my guitar as a gun and shoot you" move, the "use my guitar as a penis and jerk off" move, etc. Considering how many liberties they took in the solos, the term "jerking off" is metaphorically accurate.
But when they managed to set their egos aside and stay true to the song, they were great.
Metal scene veteran Jeff Scott Soto did a commendable job singing the edgier selections ("Tie Your Mother Down," "Stone Cold Crazy") with respectable gruff and bite. Energetic songstress Jennifer Espinoza was delightful with renditions of the lighter and higher fare ("You're My Best Friend," "Who Wants to Live Forever").
But the star of the evening was, without a doubt, singer Marc Martel. His QE audition video was a viral sensation and a revelation to Queen fans around the world.
His performance last night was simply amazing. From the sweet, soulful delivery of the fan favorite "Love of My Life" to the worldwide sing- and clap-along "Radio Ga Ga" to the Elvis-inspired "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," Martel delivered a vocal and stage performance that was consistent with that of Mercury's, without doing an impersonation.
No easy task, indeed. Remember the name Marc Martel. This guy is destined to be a star.
So what did I think? I think the the band sounded great, the set list provided something for everyone, the light show, and JumboTron backdrop were really impressive. Everyone seemed to have a blast. It was a quality production all around. I really enjoyed it. I also hated it.
I hated it because it was an invention born straight from necessity. I hated it because it's needed and because the original isn't with us anymore. I hate it because he isn't with us anymore.
The Queen Extravaganza is made up of nine musicians who, while highly talented and entertaining to watch, were thoroughly outgunned by the ever-present shadow of a man who died two decades ago. Nine semi-pro musicians. They could have had 50 more up there as much as it mattered.
I don't think there is any semblance of musicians out there could have done a better job then the Queen Extravaganza did. That's the scary part.
For young music fans, Freddie Mercury is the Paul Bunyan of rock — the real stuff of myth. I've seen enough archival footage to know the man existed, although it doesn't make it easier to believe someone so larger than life was actually real.
If you think it's all hyperbole, go on YouTube, search for their performance at 1985's Live Aid, sit back, and prepare to get religion. It's a performance for the ages, and it's a specter that these poor souls in the Queen Extravaganza are going to have to hopelessly chase for their duration, whether they like it or not.
To answer his most famous opening line, it was both real life and fantasy last night at House of Blues. If only the two-hour fantasy could erase the knowledge of the real life, the knowledge that he's gone and he ain't coming back.
The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen. —Justin Smith