It took a bit of convincing at first, but the Australian tribute show Queen: It's a Kind of Magic had the crowd on its feet cheering for more at the Capitol Theatre Sunday night.
The group of four Australians kicked off the show with the title song It's a Kind of Magic to a full house at Downtown Moncton's 800-seat theatre. They were barely two songs into the set when lead singer Craig Pesco stopped the band in its tracks and urged the audience to get up to their feet and dance around, which is a difficult thing in the Capitol because there's barely enough room to squeeze into your seat and certainly no space for dancing.
But the audience, not yet really into the mood, obliged by standing up, clapping and shaking around a bit, which seemed to get Pesco into the mood. And from there the show just got better and better.
Pesco, dressed in a bright yellow jacket and white striped pants, has been playing the part of Freddie Mercury for about 10 years with this band and has studied the flamboyant singer by watching countless documentaries and concert videos. The stage setup included a metre-tall drum riser, three big projection screens, a white grand piano, lots of light bars and full banks of Marshall stack amplifiers across the back and platforms behind the drums -- basically a miniaturized version of a full-size stadium stage setup squeezed down to fit onto the small stage of the Capitol.
Taking on the persona of the late great Freddie Mercury, Pesco and the band rolled out a full slate of classic Queen songs like The Game, Killer Queen, Radio Ga Ga, Another One Bites the Dust, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Fat Bottomed Girls and Tie Your Mother Down.
After a 20-minute intermission, the band was back for more as Pesco appeared in a black leather biker outfit complete with leather cap to belt out I Want it All, You're my Best Friend and others. He then disappeared for a bit and returned dressed in drag like Mercury for the song I Want to Break Free. Throughout the show, the band played admirably and pulled off the difficult Queen songs pretty much note-for-note.
But they really hit their stride in the home stretch with songs like Keep Yourself Alive, Under Pressure, Somebody to Love, We Are the Champions and We Will Rock You. They saved Queen's biggest hit, Bohemian Rhapsody, for the very end, which drew an ear-splitting standing ovation from the crowd of about 800.
Throughout the show, Pesco poses and moves like Mercury with the trademark microphone stand that looks like a baton, his arms in the air, spouting mouthfuls of water into the lights and posing as he hits the big notes. Guitarist Travis Hair uses a guitar matching Brian May's trademark "Red Special" and nailed all the parts. The youthful-looking drummer Brett Millican and bass player Matt Newton also showed solid musicianship and vocal ability to bring the show together. Each took time for solos to showcase their talents.
This has certainly been a season for tribute acts in Moncton with Thane Dunn's Elvis show, the Liverpool Legends tribute to the Beatles and the Winter Dance Party paying tribute to Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. And there's more to come. A double-bill of Elvis tribute performers will be at the Moncton Wesleyan Centre on April 16. Classic Albums Live presents The Beatles White Album at the Capitol on April 7. And on May 12, the Capitol will present the ABBAMANIA & The Bee Gees Show.
But what is it about these tribute acts? Legendary performers like Elvis, the Beatles, Queen and others cranked out hit songs like crazy during their heyday and helped define popular music. And there's no way we'll ever see the real bands, so somehow these tribute acts allow fans to see these songs performed in a live context. Sure we could listen to the music on our home stereo or watch concert videos on the DVD player, but there's always something special about sitting in the audience to hear and feel the blast of music in our face.
And these tribute shows are able to fill the mid-size rooms of the Capitol and the Wesleyan Celebration Centre, so there's certainly a market here in Moncton for live shows.
Meanwhile, Moncton concert fans are still waiting for word on who might be coming to the Magnetic Hill Concert Site this summer. A week ago I spoke to André Hudon, president of Donald K. Donald Productions in Montreal, and he said they were still working hard to line up a show for the hill this summer and even asked me what big bands the Moncton fans would like to see. Any suggestions folks? E-mail them to me, quick!
Meanwhile, the people at Evenko (formerly Gillett Entertainment Group) say they are also working on a concert for the Hill this summer. The Rolling Stones drew 85,000 to the hill and last year's AC/DC show drew more than 60,000, more than any other venue in Canada on that tour. To draw that kind of crowd, a band must appeal to a very wide demographic and have years of hits behind them.
Local performers will band together on Friday, April 9 at the Moncton High School gym from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., for a benefit dance to raise funds for the family of Kaitlynn Roy, a Grade 10 student at the school who passed away on March 12. The show will be opened by Marc Little's band, The Watermen, who are just about ready to release their new album. Other performers will be DJ Element, Mayerthrope and 4T. Emcees for the night will be Shilo Bellis from XL96 and Mandy MacDonald from C103. Admission is $5.
* Alan Cochrane is an editor-at-large. His column appears each Tuesday. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org http://timestranscript.canadaeast.com/opinion/article/1001019