No disrespect to current vocalist Adam Lambert, but if you want to take a quantum leap back in time to see what a Queen show from yesteryear looked and sounded like, seek out Killer Queen, dubbed by many as the world’s greatest Queen tribute band. You’ll have just as good of a time, and your wallet will thank you, too.
Killer Queen, the Patrick Myers-fronted quartet hailing from England, is a legitimate band of talented musicians that have been doing yeoman’s work in championing Queen’s music for the past 25 years to keep it at the front of people’s minds.
So while the recent Queen biopic, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” helped serve as a reminder of what once was for Queen fans, it’s been Killer Queen who have been showing what still is.
Killer Queen will bring its spectacular tribute to Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque, Iowa, on Friday, April 26, for a sold out show as part of a 10-week run here in the States.
Myers spoke with ListenIowa recently to discuss the band; the essence that is Freddie Mercury; and the finest 20 minutes in the history of live musical performances — Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985.
ListenIowa: Killer Queen is in America for another go-round.
Patrick Myers: It’s great coming to America. Because we play all over, we notice the differences between the countries and territories, and America really, really appreciates rock, which is good for us considering the material we’re doing. Certain songs like “Tie Your Mother Down” and “Stone Cold Crazy” really set the crowd on fire in America in a particular way. Plus, it’s such a vast place. There are so many different styles going on. We go up and down and all around. We’re in New Orleans one minute and Fargo the next.
LM: I saw you perform at the famous Red Rock Amphitheater near Denver, Colorado a few years ago, which had to be an incredible experience for the band.
PM: Red Rock was our first “toe-dipping” exercise in America. We’d heard so much about the place, and it was a big deal for us to be there. It’s an amazing place to play. When you sound check there, it’s this vast, empty, almost gladiatorial pit, and you’re staring at these massive rows and rows stretching up into the skies, with the rocks around you. You don’t have a sense of what that’s like with the audience in until you literally run out there. We’ve played big crowds, but nothing with that altitude. (laughs) Normally you’re not looking up as the crowd stretches toward the heavens. It was breathtaking. I’m running out onstage with vim and vigor, and I actually had to stop and go, “Whoa!” (laughs)
LM: The band’s version of “Now I’m Here” was especially great that night. How tempting is it to reach into the Queen back catalog and play some of those deep track songs, knowing there has to be a balance between that and the hits people expect to hear.
PM: It’s a fine art, building a set, when you’re dealing with material that is that well loved. You have to balance the set. I get itchy about certain songs. Even though I’ve never seen a Queen concert, I think, “Wouldn’t it be great to play that even though they didn’t play it live?” Not every track that you love translates into a live track, though. There are quite a few songs that didn’t get any live play that we adore, but you have to balance the stuff that they’re universally known for.
LM: When you started Killer Queen, what were the Freddie Mercury qualities, both vocally and performance-wise, that you knew you had to hone in on in order to make this authentic?
PM: I’d had a background in acting and in rock n’ roll bands in my hometown and had been sneaking in bars and playing with bands from about [the age of] 15. At that time I wanted to explore all the things you could possibly do, and really didn’t like the idea of locking into one thing. So with this opportunity, we just brought whatever we had to it. We didn’t think it would last past the first show or two. Our first show, by weird coincidence because things fell through for people, we landed a show in front of 1,000 people. Suddenly we had a gig, and we were like, “Oh, my God!” (laughs) We were kind of rushed onto the stage even though we’d been working hard preparing. We took whatever we had. We tried our best. When we did that first show, we felt we did an OK job, but everybody had missed seeing Queen, and everybody wanted to be in that room and share that moment where you sang “Love Of My Life,” “Radio Ga Ga,” and “We Are the Champions.” Subsequently, some guy in the audience said he wanted to manage us and give us a tour. And we kind of had to go, “Yeah, OK, this is now kind of a thing.” We’d already worked hard, but realized then that we were kind of at the foothills and needed to get things right and get the guitar sound, train my voice. We knocked on every door in London for people who had Queen footage. There was no YouTube then, so we tracked down one of Freddie Mercury’s costume designers. We just wanted to absorb everything we could. I knew it would be good and cathartic to do this, but I didn’t know how much fun it was going to be to perform this stuff. We tried to steer it toward venues we could get bigger production in, not because we thought we were super saavy, we just thought that’s how you do a Queen show. That’s what they did.
LM: Some people think the resurgence of Queen began in 1993 with the release of the “Wayne’s World” movie where they used “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
PM: It was like that in America, but from my point of view, it wasn’t really like that. I think there was some kind of payola (a radio pay-for-play scandal) thing going on in America that Queen fell on the wrong side of the tracks with. And there was another element that of MTV culture that wasn’t so LGBT-friendly at all. It was safe rock. So when Queen released stuff like “I Want To Break Free” and the video in which they’re dressed in drag …. In England, that has connotations of musical and comedy and theater and slapstick, whereas in America, literally, the studio was begging them to do a different video and saying it wasn’t going to fly. At some time, they got locked into the rock mode, and they were marketing them (Queen) as a rock band. But then there was the disco-crossover-meets-rock, and then the dance thing, and then there was “I Want To Break Free” — a number of factors, and Queen just died a sort of death as you pushed toward the mid-80s. But it wasn’t that way across the rest of the world. Queen was still huge. The album “The Works” was massive, and their performance at Live Aid was amazing.
LM: Some people argue that the band’s 20-minute set at Live Aid was the best live performance ever, by anyone.
PM: Technically, you could pick holes what Brian played, what Freddie sang, how Roger finished early on a song; it wasn’t a flawless performance, but what it was an amazing performance that was absolutely legendary. The charisma and essence and sheer animal-like joy of Freddie Mercury. If you go to a park, the best thing you could ever see is a really, really happy dog just running around. Everybody, no matter how hard of a heart you’ve got, just goes, “Awww.”
LM: It puts a smile on your face.
PM: It’s one of the best things in the universe to watch something like that. It’s sheer joy, positivity, trust, energy and happiness; it’s what defines us. When you see it, it’s beautiful how universal a sort of thing like that is. It was exactly the same way when you watched Freddie. There was something raw, universal and primal about the sheer pleasure he took in sharing music, performing for you, and with you. The whole energy was really remarkable, and it was backed up by a supreme amount of stagecraft from all of them. If you want to show anyone the excitement of being at a gig, yeah, I’d show them those 20 minutes.
LM: What’s your take on “Bohemian Rhapsody” the movie? What did they get right, and what did they get wrong?
PM: When I look at the movie, I don’t look at it as a Wikipedia entry that needs correcting. The essence of the story is true. I think there are a lot of conflated characters, but you can’t have a movie about three different managers. And maybe the timing of when Freddie knew this, and Freddie knew that was changed, but we don’t know exactly what happened. What you do know is the essence of it. By the end they were supporting each other. I think Freddie knew he was ill by ’85, but the [AIDS/HIV] tests were massively unreliable then. They’d be positive then negative, then positive then negative. It was very difficult until ’87 to get a definitive take on what was actually happening to you. People would say, “You can have HIV, but you’ll never get AIDS.” There was stuff that just wasn’t correct, and it’s easy to get hung up on it. If you’re trying to catch people emotionally and engage them in a story, you have to jump on board visually and have a continuity that takes the audience’s hearts, so they’re rooting for a character rather than obsessing on wigs and costumes.
LM: Concentrating on the overall story.
PM: Yes, it’s distracting as a Queen fan when you see it and go, “That’s not right. That’s not right.” I wish I knew less about Queen, but on the other hand I thought it was great, brilliant and fantastic. I think we’re all information sponges, and I’ve always loved that stuff. But I think, essentially, they made decisions so it would be cohesive. People sort of slagged the film a bit because it didn’t go into Freddie’s love life more, but for me, that gets as boring as lawyers talking about contracts and managers. How many sex scenes do you need to have? What kind of film are you left with? Everybody has different amounts of sex, and sure, Freddie would have described sex as one of his hobbies, but that’s not a film either. I know Sacha Baron Cohen (the actor originally slated to play the role of Mercury) said he wanted to see dwarfs with cocaine balls on their head. OK, so show it, and then what? You still have to tell the story. Queen wanted to make a version that was truthful within the context of two hours, and truthful for any generation who wanted to see it.
LM: Have Brian May or Roger Taylor ever reached out to you or come to a Killer Queen performance?
PM: Brian’s website has said a few great things. We’ve won some nice awards around the world, but Queen themselves keep an arm’s length away from other tributes, partly because they’re touring themselves, and partly because they’ve got their own tribute called “Queen Extravaganza.” They’re fantastic, but they’re different than us in that they dress up as themselves and just perform the music. We go the other way and want to give people permission to feel like they’re at some sort of time bubble concert, because that’s what we wanted to do.
LM: What would you do if you did meet them?
PM: I like leaving Queen where they are. For me, they’re the people I grew up with in the 80s and looked at as a band that’s as good at The Beatles. That’s a part of my childhood that’s really special. I’m not even sure what I’d do if I accidentally bumped into the guys. I might even cross the road. (laughs) The last thing I want to do is have one of those meaningless conversations where I go, “Thank you for writing the music, uh, uh, it’s really great…” I’d rather not have that conversation at all and leave them on that brilliant shelf of my childhood than have one of those.
LM: Sometimes things are better left alone and with mystique.
PM: Stay on the shelf, Brian and Roger. (laughs) You’re still the gleaming statues. I love what they’re doing with Adam Lambert and am so pleased that they’re out there and we can see them. When I did finally get to see them, it was with Adam Lambert, and it was an extraordinarily moving and fantastic experience. Of course it’s not Queen without Freddie, but it’s Brian and Roger being Queen, and for me, that’s Heaven on a stick.
What: Killer Queen
When: Friday, April 26 at 8 p.m.
Where: Diamond Jo Casino, Dubuque, Iowa
Tickets: SOLD OUT