Queen and Paul Rodgers rock Vancouver



What an awesome heavy-metal band Queen used to be.

What, you didn’t know Queen used to be an awesome heavy-metal band?

Maybe it’s not common knowledge. It guess it helps if you were a hard rock-crazed, Circus-reading teen back in ’73 when the British quartet’s self-titled debut LP came out, led by the sonic opening blast of “Keep Yourself Alive”. That’s what we called heavy metal in those days, along with Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, and Aerosmith.

No doubt Queen’s early ear-busting ways had something to do with why, two seats to my left at the Pacific Coliseum last Thursday (April 13), sat local metal expert and Scrape Records owner J.J. Caithcart. The big, bearded longhair appeared to have no problem at all with Queen’s choice for its opening song, the rowdy “Tie Your Mother Down”.

In case you forgot, Queen started to shed its HM skin by its third album, Sheer Heart Attack, when the elegant “Killer Queen” became the first of many smash hits. And the group just got poppier and poppier, to the point where you couldn’t flick a radio on in the ’80s without hearing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Under Pressure”, or the much dreaded (by me, at least) “We Will Rock You”. Queen was as commercial as they come, which may be why, two seats to my right, Loverboy vocalist Mike Reno could be seen crooning along to “We Are the Champions”.

Situated between a diehard headbanger and a former pop idol, I had my own set-list agenda. I was hoping to hear a few tunes from current Queen frontman Paul Rodgers’s days with British blues-rockers Free. Last year’s live Return of the Champions CD had included “Wishing Well”; that and “Fire and Water” would have made my night, but neither Free gem made the cut. The only Free tune churned out was that deathless ode to chasing chicks, “All Right Now”.

“Welcome Home Paul!” read a banner held aloft by one of the enthusiastic concertgoers, who paid upward of $115 to relive the music of their youth. As Rodgers explained to the Straight backstage before the show, he settled down in White Rock after meeting his soulmate, Cynthia, when he played the Coliseum on a bill with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kenny Wayne Shepherd in ’97.

Not only was it Rodgers’s homecoming but it was also the final night of the Queen and Paul Rodgers world tour, so there was a celebratory air to the proceedings. Backup musicians pranced around in sombreros and shook imaginary maracas during Roger Taylor’s drum solo, and a prankster roadie left Brian May befuddled when he delivered a guitar while decked out in Playboy Bunny gear.

Highlights of the show included the song named after Rodgers’s ’70s supergroup, Bad Company, and the exquisite “Love of My Life”, which May sang while skilfully fingerpicking a 12-string guitar.

A sizable portion of the crowd joined in on that ballad, which May described as a tribute to original Queen singer Freddy Mercury, who died of AIDS in ’91. The band took a break while some patchy, out-of-sync video footage showed Mercury, at his flamboyant best, performing his trademark song, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, then Rodgers took over the vocals for the final verse.

After a riotous encore that included the obligatory “We Will Rock You”, the mostly 40-and-over crowd filed out, and as they did a few folks spotted the umbrella-toting Reno. “You rock, man!” proclaimed one overzealous Loverboy fan as he stretched to shake the genial Reno’s hand. “You rock!” I wasn’t about to turn around and argue the point, but I couldn’t help thinkin’ “Relax, pal. He’s no Paul Rodgers.”

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