With only two appearances, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, concertgoers at the Continental Airlines Arena at the Meadowlands had the opportunity to witness a rare event here in the States. A spectacular show billed as Queen + Paul Rogers. On the heels of a European tour, and on their way to Japan, this brief stopover in the U.S. didn’t open that opportunity to many people relatively speaking, and no doubt, those who came made the pilgrimage from far and wide to take part.
With Freddie Mercury’s passing nearly 14 years ago, a lineup like this would certainly evoke reactions at far ends of the spectrum. The negative, from purists who think any form of the band without him is just not Queen, and the positive, from those who can take it for what it is and just revel in the music, whether it’s technically Queen or not. A great song can hold up under many different interpretations. That’s what makes it worth revisiting in the first place. And judging by the capacity crowd on this particular night, there are plenty of people who know Queen have a great deal worth revisiting.
The show was slated to start at 8 p.m. without an opener, but didn’t kick-off until 8:30. Whether it was to allow the many late arrivals time to find their seats or to build anticipation, it definitely succeeded in the latter respect. The background music slowly built over that half hour until the lights dimmed and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” rang out at full volume to a single tier of purple lights peering out across the arena. At first an odd choice of music to pump up a rock audience, but as the lyrics spilled out with an unresolved tension, “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, You own it, you better never let it go, You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, This opportunity comes once in a lifetime,” the appropriateness became apparent as the curtains dropped and another voice broke that tension. Paul Rogers made a lone entrance with a snippet of a charity inspired May/ Rogers single titled “Reaching Out,” exclaiming, “Are you reaching out for me, like I’m reaching out for you?” And as the unmistakable tone of Brian May’s guitar cut in with the opening riff to “Tie Your Mother Down,” this audience was already reaching out. The participation was amazing from the very start. No prompting needed, and no warming up to the Queen/PR combination required. The majority of the crowd anticipated what they were in for, and wore their enthusiasm on their sleeves. This was especially evident during Roger Taylor’s/Paul Rogers’ rendition of “Radio Ga Ga” as the arena became a sea of hands, held high and wide in anticipation of each set of claps. A testament to the power of video, since this song was never performed live in this country. It’s been 23 years since Queen last toured here. That pre-dates America gathering as a nation to watch them perform on live television from London’s Wembley Stadium for Live Aid, and that has translated into quite a bit of pent-up fervor.
So you might be asking yourself how Paul Rogers managed to fill such big shoes. He approached it much the same way Brian May and Roger Taylor did on the material they covered, he simply didn’t try to be Freddie. Paul Rogers is a strong presence in his own right. He naturally brought a bluesier feel to much of the material, but did it justice nonetheless. The set was even peppered with Bad Co. and Free material for good measure. “Bad Co.,” “Feel Like Making Love,” “Can’t Get Enough,” and “Rock And Roll Fantasy” were included as well as Free’s “All Right Now.” That said, some surely would have preferred to hear more Queen songs instead, but crowd response didn’t fade and this did open up some nice avenues for guitar work that would otherwise not have been heard from Brian May. He undeniably left his mark on all of these.
Queen have such a vast catalog that everyone could find something missing from the set list at just over two hours. For instance, the obvious omission of “Killer Queen,” considering the amount of airplay it receives here in the States. But overall, a decent variety of material was covered showcasing an aspect of this band that helped set it apart in the first place, its diverseness. Unfortunately, John Deacon has retired from touring and did not make an appearance, but has given this latest incarnation his blessing. Taking up the bass in his absence was Danny Miranda, formerly of Blue Oyster Cult.
A huge video screen provided larger than life views of the stage when not used for a specific accent to songs. Roger Taylor’s rendition of Innuedo’s“These Are The Days Of Our Lives” featured vintage film footage of Queen in Japan, rolling by in black and white like a nostalgic look back into one’s own family photo album and really hitting home at how much Freddie is missed. “Bohemian Rhapsody” pushed the use of the video beyond just passive eye candy and into the truly interactive realm. As a tribute to Freddie, the song began with only a beam of light projecting him onto a small corner of the screen, alone at the piano weaving a tale that would become one the greatest rock songs ever. “Mama, just killed a man…” professed the image from the past. The song progressed to its operatic crescendo, and scenes of Freddie in all his flamboyant glory filled the screen. And as the band joined him one by one onstage, it put the audience as close to a reunion as possible at this point. This would be the last song before the encore and could very well have brought the show to a close. If it weren’t for the fact that the ultimate anthem still lay up their sleeve, it would have been tough to come back for an encore at all.
After a short absence to allow the crowd a chance to let them know they wanted more, they eased back into things with the very fitting “The Show Must Go On” followed by Free’s “All Right Now.” And finally, the only anthem big enough to push things to 11 and pull everyone back into the fold after such a momentous show, the double-barreled “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions.” And they did. And they are.