Selves Kept Alive

Build a classic-rock supergroup—in this case Brian May and Roger Taylor, the surviving, eager-to-tour members of Queen, and Paul Rodgers, the singer oft proclaimed by Mojo readers like Tony Blair as the soul-fullest living Englishman—and they will come. At least in Jersey. Indeed, thousands of classic-rock partisans—many wearing acid-washed jackets and matching jeans, some sporting fresh Jethro Tull tees—showed up at the Continental Airlines Arena October 16 for the first U.S. show in 23 years by “Queen.”

And you know what? Despite ponderous spots (a plodding instrumental, Taylor’s tune about Nelson Mandela and the AIDS crisis in Africa—a mea culpa for Queen’s 1984 Sun City performance, perchance?), this was not the mummification that, say, Q104.3 regularly promotes. Rodgers doesn’t try to copy Freddie Mercury vocally: He “yes y’all”s like Otis Redding and huffs and puffs like Howlin’ Wolf, two men Mercury never evoked. Rodgers did prance around in a white tank top, though—at a very fit 55, he could’ve passed for a Chelsea gym rat.

The order of the night was cock rock and “lighters/cell phones” aloft Queen (plus Free and Bad Company) anthems, not Mercury’s cod-Broadway showstoppers. It’s hard to begrudge May and Taylor (the former a completely unique guitarist, the latter a drummer who clearly trained hard for this tour) the ability to play songs they wrote to an arena full of fans who began to appreciate them since 1982 and relished singing along. It’s even harder to begrudge them since they sounded great and seemed delighted to be there.

Of course, one person was conspicuous by his absence. When it came time for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the first verse was reserved for Mercury, present via file footage and resplendent in a kind of blouse with Betty Boop on the back. The crowd went bats—sort of touching, but oddly so. After all, most folks in the hall would probably consider this joke I heard on the way home a real humdinger: “What do A-Rod and Freddie Mercury have in common? They’re gay.”