In the Press
By Jacky
Mar 17, 2006, 13:44

Minus Mercury, remade Queen rocks AA Arena
On the opening night of its first North American tour since 1982, Queen recaptured the flavor of its classic rock shows.

Fairytales of yesterday will grow but never die

I can fly my friends

The show must go on.

-- ``The Show Must Go

On,'' Queen (1991)

The late, great Freddie Mercury wrote his own epitaph and directive to his bandmates with the lyrics to that stirring Queen ballad, recorded right near the end of his life in 1991 at age 45.

Friday night, the song was an emotional and dramatic highlight of his band's first major tour since his passing.

With that refrain, he's also offered a succinct review of the newly-billed Queen + Paul Rodgers' opening night performance at Miami's AmericanAirlines Arena. Surprisingly, Queen can carry on without Mercury, who lives on on CDs and MP3s and, during this concert, on video screens. The show must -- and is -- going on.

Significantly, this is Queen's first tour of North America in 24 years, and it's an old-school classic rock outing complete with all the musical chops and excesses boomers will recall of those bygone days -- the overlong, octave-splitting guitar solo and the hoary drum solo that prompted one female fan near the front to exclaim, ``I thought drum solos were over, man!''

Ex-Bad Company/Free vocalist Paul Rodgers did a fine job filling in for Mercury as lead vocalist.

There is a void for showmanship and musicianship in rock music, and Queen's surviving members -- guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor (bassist John Deacon has retired) -- are up to the task to fill it.

Of course, it's impossible not to miss Mercury. Rodgers, long respected as one of Britain's better blues-rock belters, adds an interesting contrast to the band -- a macho, straight man fronting a band named Queen -- but his vocal register is keyed lower than Mercury's, so some hits sounded curious.

Still, Rodgers, looking fit at 56, valiantly gave it a go, endearingly looking as if he were a newcomer who had landed the dream gig of a lifetime. This showed in the beaming smile that kept cresting his face during favorites such as Tie Your Mother Down.

Nevertheless, gone are the high notes and pop panache needed for Mercury staples such as Another One Bites the Dust and Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

If the 23-city Queen tour picks up support -- the arena was far from filled -- some big-name guest rappers would be ideal to enliven and modernize Dust.

Rodgers good-naturedly let Queen's surviving members sing lead often. Taylor, raspy like Rod Stewart, sang a so-so newer ballad, Say It's Not True, written for Nelson Mandela's campaign against AIDS.

May dedicated Love of My Life to Mercury, who appeared via video footage to sing the bulk of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Rodgers sang the end of the song from the point it morphs from a multilayered operatic track to an all-out rocker. The whomping drum fill Taylor drops immediately after the ascending ''Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me'' line still delivers an adrenaline shot to the heart.

Rodgers' new tune, Take Love, also went over well, blending the chord projections of his Bad Company material with Queen's dramatic accents.

Opening night was not without its few missteps -- a flubbed cue here, an out-of-tune guitar there. ''I'm sure this guitar was in tune when I bought it,'' May teased after '39.

This more down-to-earth version of Queen didn't tarnish its hallowed reputation. It also proved Rodgers is now the go-to guy when you need a frontman to replace your beloved icon.



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