October 18, 2005 -- QUEEN
IT was a confusing night for hard-core Queen fans, who didn't know whether to seethe or celebrate at the Meadowlands arena.
Their anger that the beloved, late Freddie Mercury had been replaced by former Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers was soothed by the fact that Rodgers, one of the great rock voices, was pretty good, and his being there meant the band was playing their first live American gig in 23 years.
In the end, nostalgia won out — and fans cheered Sunday's concert, the first of a two-show U.S. engagement that concludes Saturday at the Hollywood Bowl.
Rodgers isn't Mercury, unfortunately, but thankfully he doesn't try to channel his ghost, either. Complete appreciation of his show required a love of the songs that transcended the original performances.
Where Mercury was a total natural, singing Queen songs as easily as he breathed, there's a stiffness in Rodgers' delivery, even though technically he's a very accomplished frontman. It's the difference between riffing and reading music.
Considering how devoted fans still are to Mercury, 14 years after his death from AIDS-related complications, this show was a huge risk for Rodgers. Between bow and curtain he took a few knocks, but eventually won the house.
Early in the show, during a five-song greatest-hits barrage that concluded with "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," Rodgers looked like he couldn't be coiled tighter. The stress was so oppressive he didn't strut the stage as much as march. His singing had a clipped hard edge rather than a flow, and he seemed to wince when the audience cheered out "ready Freddie" responding to the lyric "are you ready, for a crazy little thing called love?"
Rodgers soldiered on, and soon found solid footing when he delivered a pair of his own songs — "Bad Company" and "Feel Like Makin' Love." He gained confidence after hearing the cheers were as strong for those classic-rock pillars as for the Queen tunes.
By the time Rodgers dueted with a video of Mercury performing "Bohemian Rhapsody," the quintessential Queen song, he had found major acceptance by the Jersey-side audience.
Original Queen kingpins Brian May, on guitar, and Roger Taylor, on drums, each had terrific vocal solos. Taylor's ballad "Say It's Not True" about AIDS-affected Africa was lovely, and May was quite good on " '39" and Mercury's signature ballad "Love of My Life."
As for the instrumental solos, Taylor's tribute to jazz drummer Gene Krupa called "Let There Be Gene" was surprisingly easier on the ear than May's extended guitar solo that segued into "Last Horizon." May's noodling made yawns contagious.
As the concert progressed it was easier to listen to the music with a Freddie-free mind. That was especially apparent when the band laid into "Radio Ga Ga" where the entire house was on its feet, singing the chorus along with Rodgers and Taylor as well as providing the one/two/one clapping rhythm.
After a shaky start, the combination of Paul Rodgers and Queen lived up to the old Queen promise and boast songs — "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions."
Man Made Paradise