Sunday, February 12, 2012

Calgary concert review – Part 4

Media Moment: The Albertan newspaper
Queen-related: Concert review from 1977

The Albertan, a smaller cousin to The Calgary Herald, failed to cover Queen’s Corral show in 1975, but they did run a review of their show in 1977 when Queen played for two nights at the Jubilee Auditorium here in Calgary. Not only did they run a review — it was a three-page spread with a large photo essay. Surely, it must have been the dominant story in that edition of The Albertan. Here they are:

I guess John didn’t warrant a spot in the photo collection here, which is too bad.

Actually, I’m quite surprised at the high profile granted to Queen since they garnered squat in 1975 from this paper. What changed? Did they get a Queen fan on staff? Did their growing popularity now command a larger fanbase and, consequently, a larger readership of this paper? 

Here’s the readable version:

The Albertan
Friday, March 8, 1977 
Queen size bed rock
By Scott Beaver 
     Standing on the corner, atching [sic] all the boys go bi [sic].
     Freddie Mercury, the lead singer-spiritual cornerstone of Queen, a British rock band that played two SRO concerts in Calgary to crowds beside themselves with adoration, slithers onstage in a white worksuit for the opening number, exits, and returns in a costume that must be seen to be disbelieved — ballet tights, pure white, with a neckline that wanders downward three inches below the navel.
     The effect joins opposites: L.L. Bean long-johns re-designed by Halston. The intention joins opposites: Male and female merge into androgynous sensuality, the David Bowie territory in which the only sin is to fail to sin.
     With his eyes outlined in black like an Egyptian princess, with his wrist swinging limply through the grass-smoked air, with his back arched and head thrown back like an Equus horse hopped up on speed, Freddie Mercury unites yin and yang in a sexual smorgasbord that has the women in his audience delerious [sic] and the men devasted.
     (And in the corner, a member of the security contingent — a Calgary city cop in his late twenties — watches Freddie Mercury with an expression that says that if Mr. Mercury were to find himself under the cop’s police-issue heel, Mr. Mercury would resemble a fly-swatted flattened nothing in nothing flat.)
     Rock, excepting New York City village rock, is in its Mannerist period, all line and no volume. Queen (one assumes the name has four meanings — at least) is more versatile than most of the collections of glittery nincompoops which troop across the stages of North America playing with their guitars and pursing their lips in imitation of the Grand Old Man/Woman of Sleaze, Mick Jagger.
     Freddie Mercury’s debt to Jagger (via Bowie) is heavy enough to pull Jagger’s photogenic lower lip into the dimensions favored by Ubangi beauties, large enough to envelope Barbra Streisand’s ego, expensive enough to balance England’s balance of payments.
     But Mercury takes the mannered, standard fag punk gestures and applies them as an overlay to a sound that in its unabashed energy and electric vulgarity rolls right on past that Toronto hollow in which The Rolling Stones are busy gathering moss with the wife of what’s-his-name, Pierre Uknow.
     (And in the corner the cop sniffs the air and wonders where all the dope in Jubilee Auditorium is coming from. Everywhere and nowhere. You can’t bust 2,500 people. Sigh.)
     Technically, the Queen show may well be the tightest in rock and roll — it’s flashier than the Stones’ 1972 trip, and better co-ordinated. The lighting design, puns aside, is brilliant, slick as the innards of the Argo Merchant. The electronic effects — Arp and Moog and Echoplex ‚ are incredible.
     Queen is what as known as a studio group: Their music depends on electric currents, on recording overdubs about 150 times. The group brings the studio onstage with enough electronic gewgaws to squeeze Tomita dry. The goal of recording, in the halycon [sic] days before Bowie, was to approximate on vinyl the sounds of a live performance. The goal of performance, in these dry-hellish Seventies, is to approximate the sounds of the studio.
     Queen arranges its music as though the stage were a console, as though the musicians were tracks on tapes, as though we were ear-blistering bugs crawling across a woofer, lusting for decibel suicide in the AC/DC intestines of the sound system.
     (And in the corner, the cop’s expression grows in repugnance as Mercury re-appears, wearing a black version of his white Frederick’s of Hollywood get-up, only this time the crotch is splattered with a Milky Way of rhinestones, as though his thigh were whipped with a belt made of stardust.)
     “Keep Yourself Alive,” Mercury sings. The audience has every intention of doing so. He’s called back for an encore with flicked Bics, matchbooks set ablaze, a Woodstock-era quirk that A Star is Born has brought back. Mercury adds a silver vest for his first encore. He throws clumps of carnations into the crowd.
     (And in the corner, the cop’s expression segues from repugnance into puzzlement as he stands there and watches all these gorgeous girls go berserk for this guy who looks for all the decadent world like a drag queen getting ready for All Hollow’s Eve.)
For the second encore — the air is now thick with a new smell, acrid sulphur piled on pungent pot — he re-emerges in a Kabuki Kaftan, joining Africa and Japan.
     He sings “Big Spender” (from Sweet Charity) and — he’s into Gwen Verdon — slowly, teasingly, strips. Underneath the kimona [sic] is a pair of shorts, red and white striped, held aloft by scarlet suspenders.
     Now he sings “Jailhouse Rock” (roots, you know) and the crowd breaks ranks and surges toward the stage and this odd English singer with terminal buckteeth is in command, all the way — Queen of the hop, of the Jubilee joint. When he exits for the third and final time, a tape plays a rocked-up “God Save the Queen” while the lights hit two mirrored hemispheres on either side of the stage and the image is right out of the Great White Way and Las Vegas’ neon river. Kitsch has reached an apotheosis, has ascended into a Three-D picture postcard heaven to sit on the right hand of Elizabeth Regina, who is reclining on a vibrator easy chair, wearing headphones, inhaling amyl and watching Larry Flynt play the Moonlight Sonta [sic] on an electric organ while Betty Boop does the two-step and Freddie Mercury straps on his foot-wings and flies through the cosmos, singing platinum hits.
     (And in the corner, the cop considers buying a plunging neckline, considers investing in brown mascara to match his moustache. You stand bi, on a corner watching all this go bi, long enough, it’s sure to happen. Why not? he may be thinking. If that’s the way it’s gotta be to score with the ladies of this cooled-down generation, that’s the way it’s gotta be.)
So did Mr. Beaven like the show or not? 

He seems to have gone waayyy out of his way to fully describe the otherworldliness embodied in an early Queen concert that he ultimately ends up endorsing the show with a review that reads like a journalist’s version of The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke

Even his narrative of the all-seeing cop interspersed with the show’s commentary is an interesting tactic. You get a real sense of what an “objective” member of the audience could be thinking which may have been at odds with any preconceptions he may have had before the show.

Bottom line . . . why employ such elaborate wordsmithing to a review when he could have just said it sucks, if that’s indeed how he felt at the time. He probably liked Thin Lizzy as well since the opening act escaped any mention in the article.

Finally, ’sup with the headline on this one? Queen-sized bed? I’m guessing that since the review is loaded with sexual innuendo (i.e., “bi,” “fag,” and “score with the ladies”). Did Mr. Beaven have a premonition of sorts?



  1. Been poking around your blog for about an hour, Patrick. Man you've got some GEMS on here! I love it.

  2. Thanks Scott. Good to see you this morning. Maybe I'll interview you for a blog entry? You up for it?

  3. I was at that show, way up in the back 2nd balcony, it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. Funny they didn't even mention the opening act, Thin Lizzy! Also great musicians.

    1. Thanks for the note, Di. Any chance you still have the ticket stub?