Queen Live !! November 11, 1978, The band performed at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA “Jazz” Tour
Queen. It’s a word with distinctive overtones. A word that, at once, suggests power, elegance and stylishness. When vocalist Freddie Mercury first conceptualized “Queen” as the name for a rock and roll band, you can be sure that he was aware of these overtones, as well as the inevitable gay coronations. Accordingly, Queen lived up to the traits suggested by the name. They were powerful, they were elegant and they were stylish.
Above all, though, they were flamboyant, both onstage and in the studio, although in different ways. In the studio, the band achieved a homogenization of the coy, the rough and the pretty. The studio sound was lush, almost over-orchestrated. Primarily, a rock and roll band, they nevertheless injected their sound with tongue-in-cheek operatic embellishments, layering one vocal track atop another, the end result being a lilting, full-chorus sound.
Onstage, Queen was just ambitious, their show incorporating smoke, fire, a sea of spectacular lighting effects and outlandish costumes. On anyone else, this sort of ornamentation would appear cloying or overly affected. But Queen somehow managed to pull it off. They incorporated the pretension of art rock and the hostility of heavy metal with such style and assurance that, well, you bought it!
And now, on their current U.S. tour which brought them to Kalamazoo’s Wings Stadium Saturday night, it seems evident that the band has discarded visual as well as aural exorbitance….when they first took the stage at Wings, there was no regal – sounding intro, no
smoke and no explosions. Instead of a cape or a studded leotard, Freddie Mercury was clad in a glossy, vinyl – looking black suit, looking very pedestrian by the bands former standards. And then there was guitarist Brian May wearing a simple vest and jacket, a far cry from the billowing bell sleeves he once wore (although he did don the billowing blouse for the encore of “Sheer Heart Attack “).
It was during Freddie’s vocal showcase he was at his condescending best. Although the band is undoubtedly reaching a larger audience with its current, straight forward approach, Freddie seems a little impatient with rock and roll mentality. At the beginning of the acoustic set, he mused, “You thought we were just a rock and roll band.” Midway through the set, he clutched his mic and spewed out several grating falsetto screeches. When the audience responded with predicable frenzy, he turned to Brian May and laughed…. the band is far too clever, both structurally and lyrically, to be satisfied with the simplicity of their current show, a concert that would have done most bands well.
But Queen is not most bands. They have a wit and sophistication that is all their own, and their mastery of affective rock and roll is what made the band so distinctive and refreshing.
By Kevin Ransom