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Interview:
Queen-designed show lets iconic group pay tribute to itself
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

Queen, or at least its surviving members, still want to rock you.

But these days they'd rather let the music do that job than the musicians.

Although guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor have done some live playing under the Queen mantle since frontman Freddie Mercury's death in 1991 -- with Paul Rodgers between 2004-2009 and this year with "American Idol" runner-up Adam Lambert -- they are, as Taylor puts it, "not as bendy or flexible as we were. We really don't want to commit ourselves to too many things."

But they still want the music to be heard.

Enter the Queen Extravaganza, a traveling tribute show featuring a nine-piece band put together through an extensive, reality show-style audition process overseen by Taylor. The two-hour spectacle features 40 songs drawn from the 15 albums Queen released between 1973-95, and Taylor hopes the experience will leave fans "joyously overwhelmed" in the same way those who actually saw the band in its heyday.

"It's been a fascinating thing and a real stab in the dark, in a way," notes Taylor, 62. "I'm trying to cram our entire career, in an encapsulated form, into one show -- that's why we have four lead singers, to cover that kind of breadth of material.

"There are a lot of other (tributes) going around representing our work; some of them are cheesy, of them are very good, but I wanted there to be a really great, first-class option. So we've formed our own sort of authorized band to play our canon...with all the things we can bring to bear -- the film clips nobody's ever seen and all the production tricks that we've accumulated over the years."

Taylor says that there were "hundreds and hundreds of applications" for spots in the Queen Extravaganza band, which was determined by a combination of fan votes online and by Taylor and other members of the Queen inner circle who watched over the proceedings. He acknowledges that he personally recruited the company's best-known member -- former Journey and Trans-Siberian Orchestra singer -- while others, such as Marc Martel from the Canadian Christian rock band downhere [cq] and bears a striking resemblance to Mercury, came through the process.

"The standard was fantastically high," Taylor says. "It was difficult to make some of those decisions, but I think we have an incredible band. Everybody in the Extravaganza has a tremendous knowledge of our body of work. They're absolute Queen aficionados, and at times they seem to remember things I've forgotten, so it's an absolute pleasure in that sense."

One thing the Queen camp didn't consider, however, was using a hologram or any other sort of visual image of Mercury similar to the late rapper Tupac's "appearance" at this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival during April in California. "It just doesn't sit too well with me," Taylor explains. "Were somebody (else) to use a hologram of Freddie, I would have no objection...But I don't want to appear with a hologram of my dear friend. It's the real one or no hologram for me. But I think it's an amazing effect when used properly -- obviously in darkness."

Queen did, however, use a visual projection of Mercury during the 10th anniversary performance of the hit musical "We Will Rock You" on May 14 in London, although that was designed as a one-off rather than a regular feature.

And while the Queen Extravaganza has largely been Taylor's baby, May stepped in once the band was formed to help guide rehearsals in Los Angeles and Canada. (Bassist John Deacon is retired from the group.)

"It was sort of my project at the beginning, but he's very much behind it and he's now climbed on board," Taylor says. "So you have the entire clarity of what's left of Queen, which is two people.

"We're very proud of our canon of music. We'd like that to be represented in an absolutely brilliant way, not as just traipsing through the hits. We have always been perfectionists, so we want this to be...perfect.

Extravaganza singer Martel, meanwhile, says having Taylor and May has been "crucial" to the new ensemble's success and has allowed the troupe to gel as a group in its own right.

"There's no way they could know we're all going to get along so well," Martel says. "We've developed a really great band chemistry, and I'm really pleased I'm gonna be on the road with these guys for the next couple of months."

Taylor says he and/or May might make some cameo appearances at Extravaganza shows, though he notes that "It would just be a little bit of maybe surprise icing if it ever happens." The two have their own Queen shows with Lambert to do, after all, a total of five shows starting June 30 in Moscow and including three sold-out theater shows in London.

"We're really excited about it," Taylor says of the association with Lambert that began on the 2009 "American Idol" finale and continued at last year's MTV Europe Music Awards. "Adam...of course he has this unbelievable range, like Freddie (Mercury) had range. Adam can really cover it. He's an extraordinary singer and a real talent. I feel he fits into our sort of theatricality."

As for doing more with Lambert, Taylor says that "we're just going to see what happens, how well it goes, how we get on. Who knows what might happen...but we're very optimistic."

The Queen Extravaganza plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 31, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $30 and $15. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

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