This summer, Brian May and Roger Taylor are reactivating Queen for a handful of dates that will feature former American Idol contestant Adam Lambert on vocals. But they’re also plotting a way to keep Queen’s music on concert stages for years to come.
The Queen Extravaganza is a tribute group featuring four singers and five musicians (two guitars, bass, drums and keyboards) reproducing the music of Queen. While many legendary classic rock artists have inspired tribute bands, Queen is the first who have actively recruited and produced its own. May and Taylor both are involved in the tribute, but Taylor has a more active role as the show’s producer. (Queen bassist John Deacon isn’t involved in the band’s concerts, albums or in this project).
“I got fed up with seeing Queen tribute bands. Some were good, some were bad, some were cheesy, some were not-cheesy,” Taylor says. “But I thought, ‘If people are playing our music I want it done brilliantly.’” So he cast the group through online tryouts on YouTube. He decided the group should replicate the music rather than themembers of the band: the nine-person lineup is able to more closely reproduce the music on Queen’s albums than the band was actually able to in concert. And besides, Taylor notes, “I didn’t want it to be pantomime. I didn’t want a ‘Mini-Me’ or a ‘Mini-Freddie.’”
Of course, a singer replicating the vocals of the late Freddie Mercury would be a tall order, hence the decision to go with four singers. One of those singers, Marc Martel, told CBS Local, “I was so glad when I found out that they didn’t want someone to emulate Freddie Mercury,” noting that Queen’s singer was an important influence on his singing. “I never took vocal lessons, I just emulated other singers.” Those singers included Eddie Vedder, George Michael and Bono, until a band mate gave him some prophetic advice: “He said, ‘You’ve been using other singers as a way to learn to sing. You should check out Freddie Mercury.’” He credits the Queen singer with helping him to find his own voice.
Speaking of replacing Mercury, Taylor says that he and May are looking forward to their upcoming gigs with Adam Lambert. Queen and Lambert have performed together on American Idol and the MTV Europe Music Awards, but now they have five full length concerts coming up. “The gigs with Adam are something of an experiment. We’ve done some things with Adam, he’s an extraordinary singer with great range and theatricality.”
Classic rock fans may wonder what became of the arrangement the band had with former Bad Company/Free front man Paul Rodgers, who sang on the band’s 2008 album The Cosmos Rocks and a number of tours. Taylor says that their union wasn’t intended to last indefinitely: “Well, nothing was really planned. One TV appearance gave way to, ‘Let’s do some gigs,’ which led to a few tours, then an album and another tour. Paul’s voice wasn’t necessarily suited to all the material, but it was a nice collaboration, and we had fun playing some of his songs.”
The Queen Extravaganza, however, can last for years… long after Taylor and May have retired from performing. And that’s the idea: Taylor says, “I hope this project goes on for a long time.” The Queen Extravaganza North American tour kicks off May 26 at the Grand Theatre du Quebec in Canada. Meanwhile, Queen and Adam Lambert kick off their string of five concerts at the Moscow Sports Arena on July 3.
–Brian Ives, CBS Local