By Mark Guarino
Imagine if the staples of 1970s arena rock — leather pants, fog, levitating pianos, drum solos, strobes — went through a modern day makeover that now included tanning, teeth whitening, expert designer duds and intermittent video footage that, like Oprah’s makeover specials, illustrated how then was scraggly and now was shiny.
The result would be much like what arrived at the Allstate Arena Thursday, a tour that crossbred Queen and Bad Company, two bands from the classic rock years that previously had nothing in common other than they shared airplay in the glory years of FM radio. Today, with the clock ticking on how long those leather pants are going to fit, those differences are quickly forgiven. This tour was not about logic — Queen leader Freddie Mercury died in 1991, for starters — but more about cashing in on name recognition (top ticket price: $200) and presenting a show that more resembled a streamlined Broadway revue.
Queen was more like a humble chambermaid considering it now consists of half its original lineup. Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor were joined by Paul Rodgers, former lead singer of Bad Company and Free. (Queen bassist John Deacon declined to reunite.)
The over two-hour show featured many usual Queen hits, but due to the fact that Mercury, one of the most distinctive personalities in rock, also happens to be dead, the setlist was padded with songs where that niggling little fact wouldn’t be so noticeable. Which mean too much time for Roger Taylor’s C-level power ballads (“The Days of Our Lives”), a new song from Rodgers (“Take Love”) and forgotten Queen songs like “Dragon Attack” that were never missed in the first place. Devoting time to such limp material, when many of Queen’s classics were ignored, was like showing up to Symphony Center to hear the CSO play “Chopsticks.”
May was the only factor of the two-plus hours that was worth watching. Yet despite the heavier rock moments, he was most endearing when he saddled a stool to play two ballads, “Hammer to Fall” and “Love of My Life.” The material’s melodrama was augmented by his tender fingerpicking of the 12-string guitar. A calm in the storm, it was a performance that involved nuance in a night of not much.
Not much meaning Rodgers. Tanned, goateed, bejeweled, and wearing a rotating series of colored muscle T-shirts (who knew they came in lavender?), he looked like Danny Bonaduce except the former Partridge Family bassist has more of a sense of humor about himself. Mercury’s genius is that he found a sophisticated and satirical edge inside songs meant to pump up the masses. Rodgers ignored the winking humor and flattened the extreme notes of songs like “Fat Bottomed Girls” or “Under Pressure.” Best suited for the macho swagger of the Bad Company material, he spun microphones and blew kisses. His wisest move was to
Today it’s of fashion for bands in their waning years (Journey, The Cars, INXS) to replace key players with affable stand-ins. And who wants to argue someone a paycheck? But as the Frankenstein monster showed us, while this reconstructive surgery can be pulled off, it just doesn’t mean the results aren’t any less a horrible fright.