LYNN — When Freddie Mercury died in 1991, the music world lost a unique voice. No one shined brighter in the spotlight than the frontman for the band Queen. Blessed with a four-octave vocal range, Mercury could sing anything, from the band’s rocking numbers, its quiet ballads, and even opera. One wonders what he would have accomplished if he were still around.
Saturday night at a packed Lynn Auditorium, The Ultimate Queen Extravaganza and lead singer Marc Martel brought Mercury and the iconic British band’s songs to life. It’s eerie how much Martel sounds like Freddie. You’ll find yourself asking “Is this the real thing, or is it fantasy?” and “Is it live or is it Memorex?”
It was most definitely live … and lively. The enthusiastic crowd, a mix of longtime fans and those who were turned on to the band via the film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” was revved up and ready to go from the first notes of opening song “Tie Your Mother Down.” They clapped and sang along, loudly.
This was one of the finest nights of entertainment I’ve enjoyed in many a year.
Martel, a Canada native and former leader of a Christian rock band, was hand-picked in 2011 by Queen drummer Roger Taylor to front his Queen tribute band. In the film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” it was Martel’s voice, used in tandem with Mercury’s and actor Rami Malek’s, that often enriched each song.
Martel also captured Mercury’s mannerisms and theatrical stage persona: the hip shakes, the fist pumps, the constant racing across the stage. Even seated at the grand piano, playing and singing a heartfelt ballad, like “Save Me” or “Somebody to Love,” Martel channeled his inner Freddie.
This isn’t entirely Martel’s baby, however. His four bandmates are terrific, especially Tristan Avakian, who ably duplicates Brian May’s distinctive, layered guitar histrionics. Queen famously boasted on its early LPs that “no synthesizers were used on the record.” I suspect keyboardist Brandon Ethridge added a bit of synth on some of the band’s later hits, but wasn’t quite sure, given Avakian’s stellar playing. Jason Gianni (drums) and Mike Cohen (bass) are a solid rhythm section.
The song selection was sublime. It’s easy to forget how many hits these Rock and Roll Hall of Famers delivered. Nearly all were played Saturday night: “You’re My Best Friend,” “I Want it All,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “The Show Must Go On,” “Radio Ga Ga,” and the encore, a joyous “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.” I would have liked to have heard “Love of My Life,” though.
“Under Pressure,” the Queen-David Bowie collaboration, with its recognizable bass intro, was fantastic. Avakian sang Bowie’s part extremely well, even sounding like the Thin White Duke. The show’s first half ended spectacularly. Martel sang a goosebumps-inducing “Ave Maria,” which segued into “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with attendees roaring the “Scaramouch Scaramouch, Gallileo Gallileo” chorus. Magnifico!
I was fortunate to have seen Queen and Mercury in concert many times, starting in ’75-’76 at the Orpheum and Music Hall, and in the ’80s at the Garden.Yes, this is a cover band, but it’s a killer Queen, endorsed by May, Taylor and John Deacon.This is the real deal. The Ultimate Queen Extravaganza will return to the auditorium June 6, 2020. It will rock you. Tickets go on sale June 11.