David Cheal finds rapture in singalong city at Trent F W Arena, Nottingham
Freddie Mercury's death in 1991 left a hole in the heart of Queen that will never be filled. Who, after all, could replace the world's most flamboyant frontman?
So it came as a bit of a shock to learn in 2005 that Queen's guitarist, Brian May, and drummer, Roger Taylor, had teamed up with Paul Rodgers, the former Free and Bad Company singer. Now, Rodgers is a terrific vocalist, but he's hardly Mr Charisma, being a bit on the short side, rather unprepossessing, and quite hairy. And yet the opening night of their UK tour turned out to be a thoroughly entertaining and at times joyous occasion. How did they pull it off?
Partly, of course, it was because they were working with a back catalogue of songs that are among the most crowd-pleasing tunes ever written. But it was also thanks to the cleverness with which they worked around the absence of Mercury, not attempting to replace him directly, but always giving the show a focal point.
To begin with, it was May who took the limelight, strutting around with his big, bouncy hair, firing off little solos as the band - including three supporting players on bass, guitar and keyboards - warmed up with Hammer to Fall and Tie Your Mother Down.
His assurance was in contrast with Rodgers, who looked frankly a bit awkward and exposed; he strikes me as a singer who is happiest behind a microphone stand rather than parading and preening.
Rodgers seemed to grow in confidence, though, and Another One Bites the Dust was a chance for him to gauge the crowd's enthusiasm with a bit of call-and-response. They came back at him with gusto.
But the show really ignited when May sat on a stool with an acoustic guitar and said: "There's someone from our party who couldn't make it tonight. He sends his love. His name is Freddie Mercury." Rapture. Love of My Life followed, and suddenly Nottingham was singalong city.
After that, it was - barring a boring drum solo from Taylor and a couple of so-so songs from the new album, The Cosmos Rocks - downhill all the way: Radio Ga Ga, The Show Must Go On, plus a couple of diversions into Rodgers's past with Bad Company and All Right Now. And Bohemian Rhapsody was performed with the help, on the video screen, of the only man who could replace Freddie Mercury: the magnificent, the magnetic, the one and only Freddie Mercury.
Living Life on Life's Terms