Front­man can change con­cert from OK to Oh wow!

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - VOICES - Con­tact Shawn Ryan at sryan@times­freep­ or 423-757-6327.

I was lucky enough to see Queen in con­cert three times.

The first was 1974 on the “Sheer Heart At­tack” tour; the sec­ond in 1977 for “Day at the Races”; third in 1980 for “The Game.” The ’74 show re­mains my fa­vorite. Queen wasn’t bathing in bucks at that point so the mon­strous l i ght­ing rig and mas­sive stage sets weren’t around. The band just came out and crushed it; many folks don’t re­al­ize that Queen was a ter­rific rock band.

All this is on my mind be­cause to­day is the 25th an­niver­sary of the death of Queen vo­cal­ist Fred­die Mer­cury. He also would’ve been 70 this year.

I’ve never seen a front­man who could han­dle a crowd like Mer­cury. Bound­less with en­ergy, he never stopped mov­ing ex­cept when he sat at the pi­ano. Be­tween songs he was charm­ing and funny. But what he also did — in a non-vi­o­lent way — was grab the au­di­ence by the throat and bend it to his will. There was never any doubt about who was in charge. If he told you to clap, you clapped. If he told you to sing, you sang. Not out of fear but in the in­clu­sive, com­mu­nal feel that the best con­certs cre­ate.

Of course, none of that mat­ters if the mu­si­cian­ship is lousy; so you need skills and play­ing and per­for­mance. A live show is more than just play­ing the songs — no mat­ter how well — and say­ing “thank you” and “good night.” Get­ting the en­tire crowd on the same page can turn an OK show into some­thing truly mem­o­rable.

Only a few front­men have that abil­ity. Bruce Spring­steen has his we’re­all-in- this- to­gether ca­ma­raderie. Mick Jag­ger and the Rolling Stones are one of the few that can own a packed sta­dium. U2’s Bono can be cap­ti­vat­ing but can veer into pompous.

Tina Turner is an ex­plod­ing stick of dy­na­mite. Drum­mer Fred Le­Blanc of Cow­boy Mouth is a com­bi­na­tion of high-oc­tane mo­ti­va­tional speaker and go­rilla. And — no lie — Barry Manilow is one heck of an en­ter­tainer in a Las Ve­gas way.

In con­trast, Axl Rose of Guns n’ Roses has that writhing snak­i­ness, but he’s such a jerk on­stage it doesn’t mat­ter.

Van Halen’s David Lee Roth was fun in the early years, then got so full of him­self he’s mostly ob­nox­ious; and then there are the front­men who sing and then don’t say any­thing be­tween songs, ex­cept maybe mum­ble a song ti­tle.

Get­ting back to Queen, the band cer­tainly isn’t deep­think mu­sic — “Bi­cy­cle Race” any­one? — so its shows were sim­ple fun made even more en­ter­tain­ing by Mer­cury’s rap­port with the au­di­ence. It’s a skill not seen very of­ten these days. And that’s just a shame.

Shawn Ryan

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