Added on 10-Mar-2006
Friday, March 10, 2006
By CHUCK DARROW
Courier-Post StaffThat a superstar rock band of the 1970s is on tour is hardly a novelty. After all, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles been taking their acts on the road for years.
But it came as more than a little surprising late last year to learn that British pop-rock titans Queen were planning a return to these shores after a quarter-century absence.
After all, the band's flamboyant front man, Freddie Mercury died of AIDS in 1991 at age 45. For many, the thought of a Mercury-less Queen seemed as absurd as the Stones without Mick Jagger.
But drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May, the two remaining band members, had an even more unexpected card up their sleeves: They recruited fellow '70s arena-rock stalwart Paul Rodgers of Free and Bad Company to be their lead singer. Which is how Tuesday's concert at the Wachovia Spectrum came to be officially billed as Queen + Paul Rodgers.
"This really started as a lucky accident," Taylor explained during a recent phone interview.
"Brian and I had no intention, particularly of touring. We actually ended up doing a show on TV in the U.K., and we ended up working on one of Paul's songs and a couple of our songs on TV, and it worked so great we just said, "This is too good. We can't waste this. Let's take it on the road.'
"Paul had been one of our favorite singers from 1970, and it just clicked. It was a magical pairing. He sort of brings a bluesier edge to our music.
"And obviously it's great fun for us to play Bad Company songs and Free songs. So we do some of Paul's songs and we do some of our songs."
It's doubtful anyone could actually replace Mercury, whose preening, glam-rock persona and powerful, quasi-operatic vocals helped set Queen apart from every other unit of its day. Taylor and May, whose melodic, multi-tracked guitar lines provided the band's musical signature, always understood that.
"The great thing about using Paul is, I think, that he's not trying to be Freddie Mercury," said Taylor.
"He's Paul Rodgers and always has been. And he sings as Paul Rodgers sings, but he has the range of Freddie, which is remarkable.
"Very few singers have that much range. And he was one of Freddie's favorite singers.
"It worked. We don't have a guy who's trying to imitate or impersonate Freddie Mercury. We have a guy who's a fantastic singer in his own right."
And, as Taylor pointed out, Queen was always far more than simply Mercury's backing band.
"Actually, I think personally that the sound of Queen was a mixture of all of us," he said. "Remember, there were three singers, and harmonies were very much our forte. So alot of that sound was actually the sound of the band with Freddie on top of it.
"So this actually sounds very like Queen to me, but instead of Freddie Mercury, you have Paul Rodgers on top, and he does cope incredibly well with these songs."
Veteran Queen-ophiles will notice that bassist-songwriter John Deacon, while still alive, is not part of the reconstituted band, which also includes Deacon's stand-in, journeyman bassist Danny Miranada. Miranada's resume includes being in a more recent version of '70s heavy metal mongers Blue Oyster Cult.
"John, for some reason, after Freddie's death, became completely non-interested in really having anything to do with music," said Taylor.
"He still remains our sort-of partner, and he sent us a very nice letter saying, "I completely condone everything you do and agree with it. However, I feel I don't want to actually participate. And keep sending the checks.' "
The Queen + Paul Rodgers road show has already played England, Europe and Japan (a live DVD and CD, both titled Return of the Champions, were recently released). It is hardly Taylor and May's first undertaking since Mercury's death.
A couple of years ago, they performed two original tracks on 46664, a CD tribute to South African political icon, Nelson Mandela.
Before that, they were key members of the production team b