The semi-reunion of British
symphonic rockers Queen -- guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor,
minus the late singer Freddie Mercury and happily retired bassist John
Deacon -- could have gone two ways.
Like the Doors of the 21st
Century, INXS and other recent nostalgia jaunts where groups missing their
distinctive lead vocalists hired obvious ringers and offered pathetic
imitations of the sounds that made them famous, it could have been a
Or, given that May and
Taylor turned to another member of England's rock royalty who sounds nothing
like Mercury -- former Free and Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers -- it
could have been a halfway credible attempt to create something familiar but
The group's 2-1/2-hour
show at a packed Allstate Arena Thursday night started strong, with Rodgers'
bluesy growl providing a different but no less effective take on spirited
versions of the classic Queen rockers "Tie Your Mother Down" and "Fat
Bottomed Girls." And then things started to go dreadfully, horribly wrong.
In the now clearly
misguided moment of optimistic anticipation this Queen fan mustered before
the show, I forgot the key hurdle it faced: the fact that Bad Company was
one of the most vapid and cheesy bands in '70s arena rock. The Queen
veterans apparently forgot this, too, because the concert continually lost
whatever momentum it had built whenever Rodgers was allowed to howl his way
through a Bad Company chestnut such as "Feel Like Makin' Love" or "Can't Get
Enough," predictably thrusting his crotch on every downbeat.
With so many great Queen
songs left untouched -- No "Bicycle Race"! No "Killer Queen"! No "Sheer
Heart Attack"! -- there was simply no reason to let Rodgers flaunt his far
inferior catalog, much less surface amid clouds of fog playing a grand
piano, or flash a video montage of himself in his long-haired, shirtless,
hippie studmuffin youth.
And how about those
fashion faux pas? There were the black leather pants (rock star cliche
numero uno), the nearly see-through white pants that made fans think of the
infamous cucumber scene in "Spinal Tap," and the beyond-silly jacket adorned
with the names of dead musical heroes -- including a misspelled "Muddy
To be sure, Mercury's
high-octane, far-beyond-camp persona was often ridiculous, but he intended
it to be: We laughed with him, not at him. Rodgers seems oblivious to the
distinction. He wisely ceded the first third of "Bohemian Rhapsody" to a
video of vintage Mercury. But when Rodgers tried to showboat his way through
the final third of the song -- after the operatic midsection that had always
been on tape -- his flat and joyless caterwauling made you long for Wayne
The most disappointing
aspect of all of this was that May and Taylor sounded as good as they ever
did, and they stand as two of rock's most distinctive though most underrated
virtuosos; even their longish spotlight solo sections were tolerable, or at
least preferable to Rodgers' shenanigans. And both Queen vets seemed
genuinely thrilled to be performing once again, and sincerely moved by the
outpouring of love from diehard fans.
The hired help -- an
extra guitarist, a bassist and a keyboardist who looked and sounded like
rejects from Night Ranger or Loverboy -- were certainly nothing to get
excited about. But May and Taylor would have been just fine on their own
with those fellows backing them, and without making any attempt to replace
their original vocalist who, in the end, has proven to be irreplaceable.