The Queen Extravaganza had their second last tour stop here in Calgary last Monday night. My purchased tickets had been collecting dust on the fridge door since the end of March and now my brother and I were ready to see if Roger’s hype would become reality.
As we approached the front entrance to the Jack Singer Concert Hall from the street, I noticed an inordinate amount of Queen t-shirts being proudly worn. I was in uncharted territory, it seems. For me, being a Queen fan has been a fairly solitary existence with the occasional chance encounter with another rabid fan. But tonight, I really started to question whether I was the biggest Queen fan in Calgary, which is a healthy sign of how popular the band is in this part of the world I suppose.
At these kinds of events, I normally make a bee line for the merchandise table to see if I can pick up a concert program to add to my collection. Understandably, there were no QE programs nor other paper items (except for a tour poster), so I opted to buy the white two-sided Night at the Opera shirt and a QE keychain.
One of the t-shirts up for sale was the winner of the 40th Anniversary T-shirt Design Contest, which I wrote a lengthy review of here. I don’t recall any of the guests last night wearing Freddie’s Magic Years yellow jacket over their regular shirt as I did with many of the other t-shirt designs that were up for grabs. As a matter of fact, I’d be curious to know how that contest winner has been selling during the QE tour.
I could faintly hear some synthesizer music playing in the background. At closer listen, I recognized it as the instrumental Track 13 from Made In Heaven. That’s interesting, I thought. I wonder if the 20-minute announcement regarding the start of the show would correspond to the duration of Track 13 since it is around 20 minutes as well.
Before the crunchy guitar appears after the vocal canon segment of the song, the curtain drops and Jeff Scott Soto does a pretty solid rendition of the fast version of We Will Rock You. He then keeps the momentum going with Tie Your Mother Down.
For the next song, Now I’m Here, Yvan Pedneault takes over for Soto and while Yvan did a competent vocal job, I thought the two guitarists stole the show on this number. Their sound was meatier than Brian’s on the original recording. Brian Gresh and Tristan Avakian really brought the song to life as I thought it should be . . . grittier.
The most famous QE winner, Marc Martel, makes an appearance during the next song, Killer Queen. Up to this point, none of the singers have tried to imitate Freddie although I noticed a few subtle gestures from Soto that he has probably been doing for years since he, more than any of the other band members, has an active history with Queen, the band. Was Martel, however, going to crank up the Freddie persona? No, he didn’t, which he explained later in the show.
Next, Martel swaps places with Soto for I Want It All. This song has never been a favourite of mine but again, the QE guitarists added a dimension to it that the original was lacking, in my opinion. Soto is then joined by Yvan for Bicycle Race and the two vocalists seemed to have fun bantering the lyrics back and forth. Even the duelling guitar work that Brian offers up in the original was captured nicely by Gresh and Avakian.
The unmistakable opening keyboards to I Want To Break Free signalled the next song. I was half-expecting someone to come out wearing a frock and hair rollers trying to vacuum the stage, but it was just Yvan sauntering in from stage left. I must admit, his performance on this song kickstarted the audience participation that was lacking up to this point in the show. His performance, as a matter of fact, struck me as how John Deacon might have performed it if he was ever able to sing his own songs.
Soto returns to the stage at this point for a superb rendition of Dragon Attack. Again, it’s the collaboration between the two guitarists that make it work as a live performance — each playing off of each other, just like in the original version. As an aside, I always thought that Dragon Attack was Queen’s attempt at an contemporary update to Ogre Battle. Both feature mythical beasts surrounded by intricate guitar work. I don’t think the fairy tale motif from their early days were in alignment with their ’80s identity, though.
The stage goes black once again and Freddie’s opening vocal canon to You Take My Breath Away is played until just before the piano segment with Yvan finishing off the song. This ballad is followed by another when Soto appears to do a respectable version of Save Me. And staying with The Game theme at this point, Martel re-appears with an acoustic guitar and does some muted strumming. I don’t think anyone immediately recognized the tune until his strumming turned into the opening chords of Crazy Little Thing Called Love. The whole performance reminded me of Queen’s energized appearance on Saturday Night Live back in 1982.
|Intermission — another chance to see the age diversity of the audience.|
Soto joins bass player François-Olivier Doyon on stage for a hard-edged version of Another One Bites the Dust. I must say, the live performances of early synth-based or R&B type Queen songs (i.e., Staying Power) in which they beef up the sound with real drums and heavier guitars give these songs a different life. Add in Soto’s rocking voice and the crowd really picked up on it.
Jennifer was the only band member to parody
Freddie in some way. If it was one of the men,
I think it would have invited a perception
Martel then asked how many “Queen Geeks” were in the audience. With a show of hands, it was obviously he was preaching to the choir. This was a lead-up to explaining why the following two songs may not be as familiar to some as the past laundry list of hits have been. As expected, they performed both sections of In The Lap of the Gods. What disappointed me was that Seven Seas of Rhye was not performed during the Calgary show but was played at other venues on this tour. After these back-to-back Sheer Heart Attack tunes, Tyler Warren gave a drum solo that seemed a bit out of place. Why not have the solo either before or after I’m In Love With My Car?
This four-year-old came a long way tonight.
During the first set, he was visibly uncomfortable
as he covered his ears. By the close of the show
he was happily gesturing with the best of 'em.
Soto then arrived on stage to dedicate the next song to all the ladies in the crowd with big bums. We all know where this was headed and sure enough the multilayered vocal harmonies of Fat Bottomed Girls began. Choosing Jeff to front this song was a great fit. After a thunderous applause, Marc returned to the piano on the stage and performed the song that launched his YouTube career, Somebody To Love.
So was it the Marc Martel show? No. Marc is arguably the most visible member because of his journey to get here, but he by no means stole the show. Half way through the show, Marc echoed Roger’s stated goal of putting together a group of musicians capable of executing Queen songs in a way that was as close to the recorded versions as possible. Sure, there needed to be a sense of similarity to the vocals — just as there would be for the other instruments — but the visual appeal of the band was secondary to their performance.
By downplaying the visual similarities between this band and Queen, the audience was left with focusing on the music itself, which kicked ass. As a matter of fact, it confirmed why Queen music has meant so much to me over the years.
Was this the best Queen tribute show I’ve been to? No question.