“Think about it: No Queen—no Radiohead, no Smashing Pumpkins, and so, no a lot of other things either… Muse, My Chemical Romance, Marianas Trench, etc. etc.” That’s how guitarist Tristan Avakian summed up just how influential Queen has been to a generation of musicians who were still in elementary school when Freddie Mercury died in 1991.
In 1973, Queen was doing things that most people thought were impossible. They used the recording studio as an instrument unto itself, carrying on the tradition of Les Paul and Mary Ford, weaving intricate, multi-tracked guitar and vocal harmonies that have rarely been matched in the almost 40 years since.
Queen hugely influenced bands and musicians that sounded nothing like them and where not even of the same musical genre. They mixed and matched styles with such panache and virtuosity that it was as big an inspiration as the songs and production values. Even throughout the ‘80s—a decade that brought a virtual flood of one-hit (and maybe two-hit) wonders and the record and radio biz became more narrow and niched and constricted—Queen continued to mine their private vein of eclecticism and eccentricity. It was the musical version of a raised middle finger at the increasingly corporate and profit-obsessed music business.
I was among the masses of musicians inspired by them. And I was lucky enough to see them live on the News of the World tour in 1978. (Yep, I may be old but I got to see all the GOOD bands…) So, for me, the standard is pretty high. I saw “We Will Rock You” and thought it was fun but wouldn’t have paid to see it twice. On the other hand, I WILL be back to see the Queen Extravaganza.
A sneak peek at a soundcheck.
The band was a huge part of the reason but the other is that it was one of the best mixed shows i have seen this year even on a PA d’ jour (a good one—the new JBL VTX) that house engineer James McCullagh had never mixed on before.
The Show Must Go On
The Queen Extravaganza began with a kind of public audition process. Thousands of hopefuls submitted videos in hopes of breaking through. All that was promised from the beginning was that at least one band member would be chosen from the online auditions. It’s not like the band had any shortage of people to choose from. In the live auditions, among the guitar players were a guy who had worked directly with Brian May in the past and a guy who has been touring with Blue Oyster Cult for a several years filling first the bass chair and then guitar and keys. After the auditions, when the final band was announced, it included two singers who came through that process plus one who had starred in We Will Rock You for several years and another who had sung with the surviving members of Queen at several events and had been the touring lead singer in Journey for a couple of years.
It was obvious from the start that this was not just another tribute band.
“it’s not a clone of Queen. It’s not trying to be a clone of Queen. It’s its own thing,” James said right after soundcheck at the House of Blues in the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas.
So, what’s special here?
There are a ton of Queen tribute bands on every continent (with the possible exception of Antarctica). And some of them are very good. But this is really about maintaining the legacy of the music. You may have seen the band (Continued)