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Chris High reviews Paul Rodgers and Queen at the M.E.N Arena 2005

Queen and Paul Rodgers band including: Danny Miranda, Jamie Moses and Spike Edney.

M.E.N. Arena Wednesday, 4th May 2005


"Fifty quid? For a tribute band?" has been the common grumble amongst the many who have shelled out the readies to see Brian May & Roger Taylor 'regroup' and get - what Elton John described as "the Ferrari of Rock" - back on the road for the first tour since Freddie Mercury's sad and early death, in November 1991. Indeed, the first tour since the Magic Tour of 1986 disappeared from the stage of Knebworth, on that hot August night of many moons ago.

Vocalists to replace the irreplaceable have been often touted, the most notable being Robbie Williams and George Michael. However, after an impromptu performance earlier this year at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Paul Rodgers - formerly of Free & Bad Company - agreed to step into the sizeable shoes and so, at last, the show could go on. Old and young gathered together, swapping stories and anecdotes beforehand, whereas others just came dressed to kill and savour the moment that eventually arrived almost by surprise because the support act didn't appear - at all.

Rodgers has often been quoted as saying he is not Fred's replacement. Nobody could and nobody ever will. But when Brian May parted the curtains and started the ball rolling with Tie Your Mother Down, the years rolled away as though they'd never intervened.

Paul Rodgers has an amazing voice; clear strong and vibrant, he carried the Queen tracks astonishingly well. I Want To Break Free, Crazy Little Thing Called Love and a stunning version of Fat Bottomed Girls followed on immaculately. He sang Bad Company's Wishing Well as a timely reminder of his own impressive back catalogue, before leaving the stage.

Over to Brian & Roger.

Roger Taylor has lost none of his drive or vocal prowess. His steady rhythm and pumping beat is still very much the heart of the ensemble and his vocals on I'm In Love With My Car are as strong as on the day he recorded the track for A Night At The Opera. His new song Say It's Not True is a haunting reminder of the vagaries of AIDS, a problem that is still a major issue both worldwide and for a band robbed so cruelly of its talisman, by its brutality. Days Of Our Lives was a gentle reminder of Freddie and John's absence, courtesy of video footage of the group as an a original quartet that had rocked the world to its foundations.

But it's Brian May who continues to defy logic. How can this man be so good at everything he does with a guitar and not have broken finger at the ends? His rendition of Love Of My Life brought tears to the eyes, whereas his customary twenty -minute guitar solo - topped by a simulated repeat of his performance on the roof of Buckingham Palace - was perfection, despite the traditional Queen technical problems. Hammer To Fall started off slowly - very slowly - and then rose to the shattering crescendo of Rock greatness that it truly is, before Blues Breaker lit up the hall in a thousand starlights cast by a huge Glitterball suspended from the ceiling. Taylor began Radio Gag Ga, and Rodgers finished it - superbly - before continuing with Can't Get Enough Of Your Love.

For the true Queen aficionado, though, Bohemian Rhapsody was always going to be the tester of the evening. So, May & Taylor took a body swerve and allowed Fred to do what he did best, and sang the opening section from the video screen, backed by the band. Yes, the dearly departed can still move a place to tears after so many years of being away; an incredible testament, to an incredible talent.

Surprise of the night? Peter Kay & Patrick McGuiness entertaining the sell-out crowd with Amarillo and other jokes, which would have been made all the better with May backing them on guitar. They introduced Under Pressure before disappearing and then Paul Rodgers was back with the Free hit, Alright Now, which pulsed with an energy that could only be supplied by the man on the Red Special.

We Will Rock You is great song made bad by the knowledge that it is always the penultimate. We Are the Champions, duly followed by May's recorded National Anthem, all too soon signalled the end of the proceedings.

The lighting was awe inspiring, the sound - as always here - superb. Nobody was left out; Freddie and John were recognised in a fitting manner. The audience were far from cheated; two hours ten minutes of solid Rock is testament to that. Paul Rodgers never appeared weighed down by the mantel of being a replacement and thoroughly enjoyed himself. There were snags - guitars breaking down and some feedback at inopportune moments - but, hey, this was a Queen gig and it never once interrupted the flow. Hell, they even laughed about it during I Want It All.

"Fifty quid? For a tribute band?" Yeah! And worth every single penny of it!




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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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