Why Queen’s music lives on
03/21/2014 9:11 AM
03/21/2014 9:13 AM
For Angela Mallory, Queen has always been more than a British rock band whose sound defined an era in music. The band’s songs have also been the soundtrack to seminal moments in her life. Nearly 45 years after their formation, the layered, operatic ballads still resonate.
“Queen left a mark on me. I was born in 1971, around the time they started up. I grew up with them,” said Mallory, who co-owns the Donut Whole on East Douglas. “At the skating rink, at soccer games – their songs were always playing.”
On Monday, the glory and glamour of front man Freddie Mercury will be resurrected at the Orpheum Theatre for One Night of Queen, as Gary Mullen and the Works pay tribute to the iconic, groundbreaking band.
The One Night of Queen ensemble re-creates that original Queen experience by emulating the band’s heyday. The shows take heavy reference from tours during the 1980s, using modified custom-built lighting rigs that mimic the lighting used during many original Queen performances. The five-piece band is fronted by Freddie Mercury sound-alike Gary Mullen, Davie Brockett on guitar, Jonathan Evans on drums, Billy Moffat on bass and Malcolm Gentle on keyboards.
While Mercury died in 1991, original members Brian May and Adam Taylor have continued to create new music and tour under the Queen moniker. Recently, they announced that “American Idol” runner-up Adam Lambert would be joining them on tour this summer.
Fan Casey Sigg thinks that this melding of generations underscores the timelessness of Queen’s music and also augments the significance of the upcoming tribute concert.
“I grew up with Freddie Mercury, and I love the theatrical performance,” she said. “Of course I like the time period, but their music is timeless. It gets discovered by each new generation. It’s theatrical and written amazing, and I think that’s why.”
Sigg, who owns Shine Salon, said she and several of her colleagues will be attending the show Monday night. For her, it’s a chance to be part of a music legacy that she never got to experience in person but that affected her deeply.
“For me, Freddie Mercury was the first gay person that I ever knowingly experienced,” she said. “That helped a lot of people with acceptance, especially after he got HIV. He was the heartbeat of Queen. Watching him was absolutely mesmerizing. It was amazing music, but when you add that theatrical performance in a concert it was one-of-a-kind.”
Gary Stewart, former vice president for A&R at Rhino Records, says Queen bridged styles of music as much as it did types of people.
“In many ways, their biggest influence is that they found a way to take some of the ideas that were in glitter and glam – some of the crossing gender line types and coded gay elements that were implicit in that type of music – and found a way to meld that with arena rock and made that bridge,” Stewart said. “They took the dramatic and the operatic and mixed it with the grungy. They found a way to make it acceptable and interesting to people.”
Stewart was quick to point out that there were no intentional politics to Queen or the theatrics of Freddie Mercury. Because its music championed the underdog and outsiders, though, it was able to bring in audiences that might otherwise have shied from the flamboyance.
“Their music is highly dramatic, and people like that – they love the over-motive,” he said. “A song like ‘We Are the Champions’ really has no subtlety. It brought musical theater to rock and roll in a way that hadn’t been done before. The band also broke the role of what was allowed in a lead singer. The fact that you could have somebody with a falsetto-tinged operatic, feminine sounding voice in male rock and roll, regardless of what his identity was, altered what was possible in music and helped send a subtle message.”
Mullen, who takes on the stage persona of Mercury, said he was mesmerized by Queen at the age of 4, and that he quickly decided he also wanted to be a performer. Since the formation of One Night of Queen in 2001, Mullen has focused on bringing that transfixing experience to fans, many of whom have never seen Queen live.
“It’s about creating a moment in time that you’re never going to see again,” he said. “Some people have said afterward that it was like they were there in concert with Queen. We try to create the energy of Queen and the dynamics 150 percent. It’s in-your-face rock and roll. This is not a musical adaptation or a play; it’s a rock concert. You want to come dance, you want to play air guitar, you want to head bang. You want to sing along. We make it a big party.”
Mullen said that while his band pays tribute to a bygone era, the relevance of the songs persists.
“Songs like ‘Under Pressure’ are quite political,” he said. “A lot of what was happening then with the Cold Way is happening again, but to a different generation and in different ways. … Think terrorism or other global issues happening right now. Every generation has its own set of problems. Then you have the love songs like ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love.’ These are all songs relevant to any human at any point in time.”
The universal relevance is what fans like Mallory say still make their hair tingle when they hear certain Queen anthems such as “Bicycle Race.”
“Everything they did made a statement and it had some sort of impact,” she said. “Just singing about riding a bicycle made you want to do it because they were singing about it so sincerely. They made love to you with that song, and it was just about riding a bike. All the things that make you feel wonderful and alive – they found it and made it real for you.
“Their music is timeless because it’s over the top and there is so much electric sensation to it. It’s intricate, but colorful. It’s like art, but audio.”
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