C-lebrity

REVIEW: Queen + Paul Rodgers – Live in Ukraine (2009 CD/DVD)


 

QUEEN PAUL UKRAINE_0001QUEEN + PAUL RODGERS – Live in Ukraine (2009 Hollywood 2 CD/1 DVD set)

The show was dubbed “Life Must Go On”, with funds raised going to AIDS research.  Queen had never played in Ukraine before.  350,000 people would be in attendance at the gig, which also functioned as Queen’s tour kick-off.  No pressure.

The massive 28 song setlist consisted of Queen classics augmented by Free and Bad Company tunes, and songs from Queen + Paul Rodgers’ studio album The Cosmos Rocks. The stage has two huge screens on the sides, and an even bigger one behind.  A taped intro to “One Vision” leads to the band taking over with a rapturous entrance.  There is also a center ramp that takes the members right into the crowd.  I have always liked Paul’s slant on Freddy’s songs.  He’s not the same singer, not in the slightest, so the vocals lines change organically and it works.  Unfortunately “One Vision” is shortened so as to lead into “Tie Your Mother Down” which is right up Paul’s alley.  Brian and Roger do their share of the backing vocals, and it sounds pretty Queen-like.  (The live band is rounded out by longtime sideman Spike Edney (keyboards), Danny Miranda (bass) and Jamie Moses (backing guitar.))

QUEEN PAUL UKRAINE_0007“The Show Must Go On” came early in the set, and Paul really poured everything into it.  Even with his “cool biker’ stage look, he had the crowd in the palm of his hands, especially when twirling that mike stand over his head.  “Fat Bottom Girls” sounds a little odd without Freddy, but Paul manages.   Of course Brian and Roger do their part to help.

I found “Another One Bites the Dust” to stumble awkwardly, as I anxiously awaited the song to end so we can get on with it.  “Hammer to Fall” is vastly better, and this flows cleanly into “I Want it All”.  Brian smiles away as Paul commands the song in his own way.  “I Want to Break Free” works better than you’d think, and Brian’s guitar is sublime.

At this point of the show, Brian introduces Paul to the crowd, who then sings Bad Company’s “Seagull” acoustically.  This is a show highlight, as Paul occupies that ramp in the middle of the crowd.  Paul then introduces Brian as the “greatest guitar player in the universe” (I won’t argue), who does “Love of My Life” solo acoustically on a 12 string.  Brian’s sweet voice is augmented by 350,000 others.  Brian then invites Roger and his bass drum up the ramp with him, and they do “’39” together, possibly my favourite Queen song ever.  But it’s just a fake-out; Brian invites the backing musicians to join them and “’39” is fully fleshed out.  It’s funny seeing all five musicians out on that tiny platform in the middle of the crowd, but what a treat for those down there!

Roger Taylor is left on stage with Danny Miranda, and they proceed to play his electric upright bass with drum sticks.  This turns into a medley of famous Queen basslines, all played with sticks.  Nonsense aside, Roger is left to solo on his scaled-down portable kit.  This jazzy solo is another solo highlight, as Roger demonstrates his underrated skills on the traps.  As the solo progresses, his drum tech gradually sets up a full kit around Roger.  By the end of it, Roger breaks into “I’m in Love With My Car” with the whole band.

QUEEN PAUL UKRAINE_0005Finally Paul Rodgers returns to the stage for the latter half of “Say it’s Not True”, a stunning ballad for Freddy.  Halfway through the set now, and this is the first new song.  With Paul back, they decide to do a couple more of his songs:  “Shooting Star” and “Bad Company” (Paul on piano for “Bad Company”).  Both sound great with Queen; the guys’ backing vocals work perfectly, and the crowd clearly knows them.  During “Bad Company”, a slide show of that band runs on the giant screens.

May is front and center for his guitar solo, and the crowd loves every note of it.  This solo goes into “Bijou” from Innuendo, featuring the pre-recorded image and voice of Freddy Mercury.  This then leads into “Last Horizon” from Brian’s solo album, Back to the Light.  Unfortunately this appears to be the part of the show during which one would leave to urinate.  “Bijou” and “Last Horizon” are both great, but it’s too much slooow soloing for too long.  The bit only starts to come to life when guitarist Jamie Moses joins Brian for a harmony lead.

QUEEN PAUL UKRAINE_0006Paul straps on an acoustic for a laid back version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” which degenerates into guitar noodling.  Finally comes Queen’s “new” single “C-lebrity” which is a song I like a lot.  It boasts a solid rock riff and a great performance by Paul Rodgers.  Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and the song everyone had been waiting for, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, follow.  Both songs fail to really combine the elements of Queen + Paul Rodgers fully.  “Feel Like Makin’ Love” is a little too sweet when performed by Queen, and “Bohemian” is done with the recorded image and voice of Freddy singing the song.  The crowd doesn’t seem to mind, but it doesn’t work for me.  Paul only shows up for the heavy part at the end.

Fortunately one more new song was played: “Cosmos Rockin'”.  I wish there were more.  Yes there are a lot of songs to be played, but surely a solo could be cut in order to play more new material.  It feels as if Queen + Paul Rodgers weren’t even giving the album a chance.  It’s not like radio is going to play it, so you have to play it live.  The song is well received with the crowd jumping and down.  When they sing, “We got the whole house rockin’ to the mighty power of rock n’ roll,” I believe it!  They are dancing and going absolutely nuts!

There are only a few “must-plays” left, and undoubtedly “All Right Now” is one of them.  Paul Rodgers has certainly lost nothing through the years and that riff sounds great coming from Brian May.  And finally, the traditional duo of “We Will Rock You”/”We are the Champions”.  I’ve always felt these highschool rally perennials are probably best experienced live.  It’s a “had to be there” feeling, since these singalongs are probably more fun to experience than to watch.  Although Paul since both songs differently from Freddy, I like his slant on them.

Wikipedia reports (unsourced) that digital download versions of Live in Ukraine contained two bonus tracks:  “Radio Gaga” and “A Kind of Magic”.  I’ve been searching online for years and I’ve never found them available anywhere, so take that with a grain of salt.  Both songs are available live on another Queen + Paul Rodgers album, Return of the Champions.  That album has enough different live material from this one, such as “Can’t Get Enough”, “Wishing Well” and “These are the Days of Our Lives”, that both are worth owning.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queen + Paul Rodgers – The Cosmos Rocks (+ bonus tracks)

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QUEEN + PAUL RODGERS – The Cosmos Rocks (2008 Hollywood Records, iTunes + Amazon bonus tracks)

I was surprised as anyone else when, in 1997, Queen continued on as a three-piece (sans the retired John Deacon) with a new track called “Only The Good Die Young” (Queen Rocks). Since then, Queen has continued on with one-offs under the name “Queen +” with the name of the singer.  (Adam Lambert, you can fuck right off.)

When they started touring with Paul Rodgers, I salivated! I loved the live album Return Of The Champions, and I was chomping at the bit to hear some new music. Would I, as a long-time Queen fan, be let down?

Not really.

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There have always been Queen albums, particularly in the 80’s, that I felt had filler on them. Cosmos Rocks is like that. Some songs are awesome, worthy of the Queen legacy and a proud addition to the canon. Others are limp are dull. And, the best song didn’t even make the CD release! Read on….

The CD kicks off with what I consider to be some cheesy sound effects, similar to but not as good as “One Vision”. Then, Brian May’s guitar kicks in, and the first track “Cosmos Rockin'” really starts. This is a great track, a hard and fast rocker with May’s licks as fluid as ever. Paul Rodgers, perpetually young, is in fine voice. What a great start to a comeback album! Rogers and May ably handle all bass duties on this album.

Rodgers sings most leads on his own, with familiar sounding backing vocals by Roger Taylor and Brian May. On some songs, the lead vocal is split three ways, such as “Say It’s Not True” which is actually an older song from 2003. I like this touch, as it keeps the sound a little more rooted in old-school Queen which always had Taylor and May singing lead. When Rodgers sings, however, with his voice in full power, it is a brand new beast.

I have to say I was very happy with the choice of Paul Rodgers as lead singer, as he is simply one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, up there with Daltrey or Plant. He is also a gifted writer, although I’m not sure his writing really gelled with Queen. Still, he is vastly different from Freddie, and nobody could ever replace Freddie, so I think this was definitely the way to go. Certainly much better than picking up some guy who lost American Idol…

Some of the other highlights on this album were the heavy-handed first single “C-lebrity” which seems to disparage the reality TV that Queen would later embrace! I prefer the disparaging sentiment! “Surf’s Up…School’s Out!” is another rocker that blows the doors off most younger bands. “Say It’s Not True” is a highlight, as it is the most Queen-like. Of course, with Freddie gone, his dramatic flourishes and piano was also gone, leaving Queen as a straightforward rock band with May & Taylor firmly in charge. What they once had in unique operatic flourishes has been replaced by hard rocking guitars, for better or for worse.  It is what it is, and nobody can be Freddie.

“Small” is a fantastic ballad, worthy of the Queen back catalogue.  May and Taylor join Rodgers on the lush outro.  I absolutely adore this song.  But then when you think Queen have lightened up, “Wayboys” assaults the speakers, a rare political statement with a military drumbeat.  “Call Me” is another great tune, very vintage Queen in style, sort of an electric campfire singalong.

There is, unfortunately, a lot of filler on this CD, slow-paced plodders that don’t go anywhere or stay in your memory. The thing about the Queen of old is that they were very diverse. You could have a nice jaunty flamenco song like “Who Needs You” on the same album as an epic like “It’s Late”. Queen + Paul Rodgers lacks that diversity. Well, it would have had more diversity if the best song had been included….

That best track I mentioned, that isn’t even on the CD, is available as an iTunes download only. It is a cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway”, and it is worth the purchase, because it is amazing. I love the oldies, and clearly these guys do too. I wish it had been included on the CD. There is no shame in having a cover tune on your CD, especially when you also have over a dozen originals as well! The iTunes download also came with a new live version of “The Show Must Go On”, but I have no idea when or where it was recorded, except it is a different version from the one on Return Of The Champions. Maybe it is from one of the Queen instant live CDs, of which there are plenty, or maybe it is from the Super Live in Japan DVD that comes with some editions?

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There was another bonus track too, one I haven’t heard, because only American residents can get it from the Amazon.com site. Canadians are SOL!  “Fire And Water” (a live version), originally by Paul in Free, is that bonus track. Come on, Amazon! Let Canadians buy it too!

This actually really pisses me off.

(ADDED NOTE:  I have since acquired that bonus track.  Read all about it here.)

The Cosmos Rocks is not a perfect Queen album, but one that stands up in the back catalogue as an interesting and entertaining sideroad.  The big difference is that The Cosmos Rocks has more, and bigger, guitars than many Queen albums of the recent past.

3/5 stars.