Saturday, January 28, 2012

Calgary concert review – Part 1

Media Moment: Journal 3009 student newspaper
Queen-related: Concert review from 1975

Two weeks ago, a student of mine (the same one I wrote about here) tipped me off about a Queen concert review that she came across in Journal 3009, a newspaper run by our Journalism students. Apparently she found it in a hardbound volume of past issues that is housed in our Communications Lab. My curiosity got the better of me when I was at school late one night so I flipped through a bunch of these old hardbound volumes in search of it. Not only did I discover the review itself but I was surprised by a few other Queen-related finds.

The earliest reference I found to Queen at all in these archived issues was a January 11, 1974 review of their debut album, Queen (seen here). Whoever the student was that reviewed it obviously thought Queen were on their way to greatness. (Interestingly, there is no review of Queen II or Sheer Heart Attack in these back issues.)

The next Queen sighting was of a pre-announcement that appeared a few weeks before for their upcoming concert at the Stampede Corral on April 3, 1975. I can’t say for sure whether this announcement was put together by the students or whether the concert promoter opted to place the announcement in that student paper given the demographics it would reach. The photo of the four of them looks suspiciously like an ad slick and I’d have to wonder where students would get their hands on such a marketing image.

(As an aside, the headline below the announcement is an odd bit of irony, as far as I’m concerned.) 

After the concert on April 3, a review on it came out in the Journal’s April 11, 1975 edition and it even manages to garner a spot on the paper’s Table of Contents (as seen here). The review itself gives writing credit to G.E. McCaw and Lynne Sears, two Journalism students at the time.

The full story reads like this:

Queen, a product of current trends in British sound

By G.E. McCaw & Lynne Sears

The music of Queen, who played at the Corral last Thursday night, can perhaps best be described as a synthesis of trends in mainstream British rock.
     Take the flighty harmonies of Yes, some Pete Townshend powerchords, some Mick Jagger posturing, the hard-driving straight-ahead energy of Uriah Heep, throw in the half-baked commercialised occultism of Black Sabbath for good measure: and there you have Queen.
     The focal point of the group is Freddy [sic] Mercury. The band’s vocalist and sometime piano player. He delivers the group’s lyrics convincingly; which is not always easy to do when they deal with witches, goblins and faery queens. Not your everyday hearts and flowers teenage love stuff, but sort of a hybrid of The Brother’s Grimm and J.R.R. Tolkien.
     The band effectively employs tape loops to produce a product close to what they put on their records. Such things are gigantic beating hearts are heard to duplicate on a stage without a little taped help.
     Queen’s act was, surprisingly, almost free of parlour tricks. Aside from a few dry-ice clouds and a lot of vamping around on the part of Mercury the band relied mostly on its music to carry through.
     However, the evening was free of surprises musically, Queen is basically a three-piece group: drums and guitar (Mercury plays piano only occasionally). To be outstanding such groups need the guitar virtuosity of an Eric Clapton or a Jimmy Page in addition to a strong vocalist. Unfortunately, no such combination is evident here. The axework of guitarist Brian May is competent but nothing exceptional. In short, your average wind-up rock ’n roll guitarist.
     The main thing which sets Queen apart from other groups is their motif of black versus white. Sort of a yin-yang thing which they express in their dress as well as their music.
     The seven-member Kansas, an imported group from (what a surprise) Kansas state is one of the latest examples of glitter-rock, little talent and lots of sound. The group’s 46-minute performance (including the obligatory encore) was an electronic holocaust of sound and, to be charitable, caterwauling, further complicated by what could only be called an over-exuberant lightshow.
     By the middle of their third number, the audience had begun to migrate en masse to the foyer, cavort and play impromptu hockey games on the ice on the floor of the auditorium, or merely chat and talk while they waited for it to end. 
     Musically, the band performed what appeared to [be] poor plagiarisms of Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson numbers and their style was at best, repetitive and at worst, inconsistent. The only thing they offered was tasty electric violin playing for most of their set.
     In any case, despite the lackluster performance, the group was accorded a hearty reception by the audience, which only seems to prove that people can, indeed, be railroaded into assuming that if everyone else is cheering it must have been good..

While Queen avoided the level of scorn aimed at Kansas, I was left with the impression that G.E. and Lynne weren’t huge Queen fans. Either that or the band wasn’t on top of their game given Freddie’s recurring laryngitis. That wouldn’t have explained the comment about Brian being an “average wind-up rock ’n roll guitarist,” though. As a matter of fact, this reviews seems so out of character to what the Journal’s “Queen” album review a year earlier had to say about the band’s potential. I guess this dichotomy is a good example of the uneven press relationship that the band had talked about since day one.

Whatever the case, I thought it would be interesting to try and track down both of these writers and possibly conduct a follow-up interview with them to get the scoop on how the concert review was co-ordinated and what their thoughts on the band are currently since Queen achieved superstardom literally a few months after this concert with the release of A Night at the Opera in November 1975.

My pursuit of Sears and McCaw would prove successful but it resulted in an unexpected mystery which I’ll explain in Part 2.


1 comment:

  1. This is great, a nice juicy story with great Queen-ness!!

    I can see the Corral now and how that could look with Queen on stage there. Also, there is a nod to J.R.R. Tolkien in the review. A clue to Lovely Bones perhaps?