Added on 10-Mar-2006
It's a crazy little thing called Queen + Paul Rodgers
By Joan Anderman, Globe Staff | March 10, 2006Was there a more distinctive rock singer than Freddie Mercury? The late frontman for the British band Queen, who died of AIDS in 1991, was as gifted as he was eccentric: a flamboyant showman with a sublime, operatic voice, equally at home commandeering a metal riff, cooing to a disco groove, or trumpeting a pop anthem.
How do you begin to think about replacing Freddie Mercury? You don't.
''There wasn't an INXS search," says Queen drummer Roger Taylor. ''The last thing Brian [May, Queen's guitarist] and I expected to be doing was touring. We weren't looking to re-form. We just happened to do a TV show with Paul Rodgers."
All three had been invited to perform on the national broadcast of the UK Music Hall of Fame awards show in 2004. Queen was without a singer. Rodgers, the former vocalist for Free and Bad Company, was minus a band.
''They supported me on 'All Right Now' and asked me to play on 'We Are the Champions' and 'We Will Rock You,' " recalls Rodgers. ''And it just escalated from there."
The rest, if not exactly history, is certainly an opportunity. Following in the footsteps of such reconfigured classic-rock acts as the Doors of the 21st Century -- a short-lived and dubiously received effort with Cult singer Ian Astbury clutching Jim Morrison's microphone -- Queen + Paul Rodgers was born.
The full-disclosure band name goes a long way, because in many ways Rodgers is a peculiar choice: a macho belter with none of Mercury's range or theatricality. But the threesome clicked. Over the next year they put together a 40-song, Queen-heavy set list sprinkled with a handful of Rodgers's hits. One assumes he was hired at least in part for his marquee-level name, so ''Feel Like Makin' Love" could hardly be left out. A short European tour sealed the deal, a whirl through Japan followed, and the thriving new trio (Queen bassist John Deacon retired shortly after Mercury's death) documented its progress with a double-live disc, ''Return of the Champions," recorded at a Sheffield, England, arena in May 2005.
''Where's the meeting point? It's the passion for playing live," says Rodgers.
''Paul," says Taylor, ''was one of Fred's favorite singers."
On the heels of two sold-out concerts last fall at the Hollywood Bowl and Madison Square Garden, Queen + Paul Rodgers decided to hit the road for a proper US tour, Queen's first since 1982, which stops in Worcester at the DCU Center tonight. Strong ticket sales and some positive reviews have tempered anxieties about the public's reception of the rejiggered lineup, but Taylor still bristles at the inevitable question.
''Fact: Freddie's not going to turn up. Fact: If Brian and I don't do it, you won't see Queen in any form. Fact: Paul is one of the best blues singers in the world. He gives 'We Will Rock You' a completely new take. It's edgier. But if people are so obsessed with Freddie that they can't bear to see Queen without him, they should stay home and listen to the records. This is very much a new thing."
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Except they're playing the old songs, with a few omissions and alterations: ''Killer Queen" hasn't been resurrected, mainly because it's impossible to re-create the elaborate harmonies, and neither has some of the softer material like ''You Take My Breath Away." ''Bohemian Rhapsody" is performed as a duet between Rodgers and a videotaped Mercury. The rest of the repertoire, judging by the live recording, winds up sounding an awful lot like a Queen tribute band. A really good, tight Queen tribute band. Rodgers sings his heart out, but ''Crazy Little Thing Called Love" is hardly elevated by his bluesy drawl. Still, it'll do for the hundreds of thousands of Queen fans snapping up tickets to the shows.
''There's no replacing Freddie, but Paul does a pretty good job singing those songs," says Mike Thomas, program director