The Houston Symphony Jones Hall July 22, 2010
There is perhaps no better way to experience the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen than with a full orchestra. Nothing about the band wasn't large and grandiose in scope, making them one of the bands most ripe for the orchestral treatment. Last night the Houston Symphony happily did the honors with a touring five-piece rock band over at Jones Hall.
Taking the place of Mercury was vocalist Brody Dolyniuk, whose job it was to bring the Queen to a crowd of rockers and symphony folk. He's a part of a traveling troupe of musicians called Windborne who have taken stabs at the oeuvres of Led Zeppelin, the Doors and the Beatles. Soon they will take on Michael Jackson.
Queen's music was seemingly written and recorded with a full symphony in mind, which is a testament to the band's audacity. Some songs popped louder in this setting than they ever have on record. Lesser known tracks like "Too Much Love Will Kill You" and "Who Wants to Live Forever" were expanded with grand strokes, exposing just how forlorn Mercury really was in the band's more poignant moments.
Much can be said about the band's glammier monsters like "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Killer Queen," but when Mercury took things down a notch and he got introspective with his lyrics, it was heartbreaking. It's a man conflicted and lonely, stuck between being the lead singer of a huge rock band and a gay man at a time before being out was cool. The orchestral backing on those songs reminded Aftermath about the sadder side of Queen and sold the show for us.
Windborne and the HSO slayed "Stone Cold Crazy" with precision. Dolyniuk did mention that Metallica had tried as well, but to Aftermath's ears Hetfield and the crew didn't come close to what we heard last night. The Queen/David Bowie collaboration "Under Pressure" benefited from both the HSO and the crowd's own percussion work. The crescendo towards the end of the song threatened to tear Jones Hall's roof in half.
For someone who was born right at the end of Queen's career but old enough to know the band's influence and legacy, finally hearing "Bohemian Rhapsody" in a live setting pulled off by able people was amazing. Everyone in the hall hung on every word and turn of the music. A lady near the front even headbanged a la Wayne's World during the speedy parts.
The set closed with "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions," with the whole throng in the packed house on their feet, something we hadn't seen at Jones Hall since maybe Morrissey last year. Pulled together, the two songs took on an almost gospel feel.
As worldly and decadent as Queen was, Mercury still had some angel in him, which resonates even today.
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Personal Bias: We can play "Another One Bites The Dust" on bass. Really badly.
The Crowd: Symphony folks, teenagers on dates, boomer couples and a handful of metal guys from way back.
Overheard in the Crowd: "He don't look like no Freddie Mercury, but he sounds like him."
Random Notebook Dump: "We Are The Champions" only reminds us of the end of Revenge of the Nerds.