ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON APRIL 6, 2006
By Steve Newton
Chilliwack was the perfect place for a rock-crazed teenager to grow up during the ’70s. Not only could you crank “Free Bird” at full blast without fear of recrimination, but the big-city destination of Hastings and Renfrew was only an hour away. Whether it was Bob Seger at the Gardens, Nazareth at the Forum, or Queen at the Coliseum, the PNE grounds were rock central in those days.
Queen’s 1977 show at the old hockey rink stands out as particularly memorable because the opener was Thin Lizzy, and hearing Phil Lynott and Co. at the top of their game made the trip from the sticks worthwhile on its own. But Queen kicked royal butt as well.
The headliners delivered a stunning, immaculately choreographed concert that almost made you forget the boys were back in town. I still have a tour program from that concert, with its introductory telegram by Groucho Marx, who was tickled that the band’s latest albums, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, were named after Marx Brothers flicks.
Lynott and Mercury have long since taken in-house residency at that great gig in the sky, but die-hard fans of both Lizzy and Queen still rally around the groups’ surviving members whenever they hit the stage. In Queen’s case, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor have combined forces with another of the greatest voices in popular music, Paul Rodgers, for a world tour that brings them back to the Pacific Coliseum next Thursday (April 13).
Best known as the frontman for British riff-rock acts Free and Bad Company, Rodgers sports a husky voice decidedly unlike Freddie Mercury’s. Yet-as heard on last year’s live Queen and Paul Rodgers release, Return of the Champions-he celebrates the difference by injecting a fresh, soulful spirit into the Queen songs.
As Taylor explains over the phone before a sound check in Milwaukee, the plan to get Rodgers into the lineup wasn’t conceived by industry executives from the band’s Hollywood Records label. “It kinda happened by accident, really,” notes the 56-year-old skin basher. “We ran into Paul at a TV show, and he sang ‘Rock You’ and ‘We Are the Champions’ on the show, and it went so great that the idea came outta that.”
There must be a few devoted Queen fans wondering how the deep-voiced Rodgers is expected to pull off the high-end histrionics of a song like “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Taylor and May solve that problem by using tape recordings and video to bring the beloved Mercury back for his trademark operatic tune.
“It’s a duet between Paul and Freddie on the screen,” Taylor points out. “We thought that would be the best thing to do, ’cause it’s so much Freddie’s song. But Paul is having fun with it.”
Apart from “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Taylor points out that there is very little prerecorded material in the band’s current show. Helping the three principal performers re-create the sound of Queen in concert are long-time keyboardist-vocalist Spike Edney, guitarist-vocalist Jamie Moses, and bassist-vocalist Danny Miranda, who just a few years back was seen playing a half-empty Burnaby bar with Blue Oyster Cult.
One listen to Return of the Champions makes it clear that Taylor and May are still capable of living up to their “We Will Rock You” claim. Taylor hasn’t had much difficulty keeping his drum chops up since Queen left the touring circuit in the ’80s.
“Strangely enough, it all just comes back,” he contends. “It’s like riding a bike, I think. My main worry was stamina more than technique, and I seem to have the gist of that, so it’s good.”
Besides the best-known Queen tunes, the current lineup rolls out a number of Free and Bad Company hits, so there’s a sporting chance that the most-played radio hit of all time, Free’s “All Right Now”, will make an appearance. Classic-rock staples like that aren’t what Taylor normally listens to, though.
“I have spent a lot of time listening to Led Zeppelin in the past,” he relates, “but now I like an odd mixture of stuff. I listen to a little classical stuff, and more ambient, mood things, you know.”
Although May and Mercury were the main songwriters in Queen, Taylor came up with a few notable ditties of his own, including “I’m in Love With My Car”, “A Kind of Magic”, and “Radio Ga-Ga”, all of which are included on the live CD. He says that his fave Queen albums were its third, 1974’s Sheer Heart Attack, and its last, 1995’s Made in Heaven, which was released four years after Mercury died of AIDS. It was also the final Queen album to feature original bassist John Deacon, who has since retired from the music scene.
“When Freddie died, John didn’t want to play to large numbers of people,” Taylor recalls. “He said, ‘I approve of what you do, and keep sending me the cheques.'”