On a recent afternoon in Toronto, Queen’s Roger Taylor was checking out rehearsals for Queen Extravaganza – a 25-date tribute tour with a lineup hand-selected by him and his bandmate, guitarist Brian May – when singer Marc Martel belted out a few notes from “Bohemian Rhapsody,” stopping the 62-year-old drummer in his tracks. “It was as if Freddie (Mercury) was in the room,” Taylor said today during a conference call with journalists. “It was uncanny.”
Martel is just one of four singers selected to join the Queen Extravaganza lineup after a lengthy online audition process. The nine lucky musicians will kick off their trek on May 26th in Quebec City after making their live debut last week on American Idol, where they were joined by Taylor and May. “We had such a fantastic response,” said Taylor. “We weren’t just looking for copies of us. We were looking for great musicianship, great charisma and the right people, the right sort of personalities that fit into the band. What we weren’t looking for were lookalikes.” Martel first discovered Queen’s music while watching the 1992 film Wayne’s World. The 36-year-old singer, who is also in the Nashville-based band Downhere, was later encouraged by his bassist to study Mercury’s singing. “I realized, ‘Wow, this guy did so many amazing things with his voice,’ especially in the studio,” Martel explained. “He really pushed himself.”
The tribute tour is just one of the projects that Queen have planned for 2012. Taylor and May will also play five Queen shows in Europe later this year with singer Adam Lambert on lead vocals. According to Taylor, Queen will perform in Moscow, Ukraine and London. He described the Ukraine show as a “very big outdoor” co-headlining gig with Elton John; the London gigs will take place at the Hammersmith Apollo. “We were hoping to do a festival in London, but for various reasons that didn’t happen,” Taylor said. Lambert, who performed with Taylor and May on the 2009 American Idol finale, has long been on the duo’s radar. “Brian and I have seen quite a lot of his shows,” Taylor added.
Any plans to perform with Lambert beyond that are unclear for Queen, who have toured on a handful of occasions over the past decade with Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers. “I don’t know whether that’s going to be ongoing,” Taylor said. “Brian and I are not the young men we once were. These are slightly experimental – we’ve got to see how they go, see how we get on, if it really works. Who knows what might happen. It really is slightly experimental right now. We didn’t really want to commit ourselves to too many things.”
The Extravaganza, Taylor said, was conceived as a way to present Queen’s music as the band originally intended. Complex tunes like “Bohemian Rhapsody” will finally be performed in their entirety. “We will be able to do what we couldn’t do before – all the harmonies, all the little parts we put onto the record,” said Taylor. “This will give us the tools to do that.” In typical Queen fashion, the Extravaganza will also be quite the visual spectacle: Taylor and May have hired designer Mark Fisher, who worked on Pink Floyd’s The Wall concerts and every Rolling Stones show since 1989, to work on the tour. “I don’t want our music to be represented in any average kind of way,” Taylor said. “We look to excel with this and really teach other bands how to really do a show properly.”
While Martel’s vocal resemblance to Mercury is striking, Taylor noted that there’s no replacing Queen’s iconic singer, who died in 1991. And Taylor firmly dismissed the notion that he would ever perform with a “hologram” of Mercury, the way that Dr. Dre did with one of Tupac Shakur at Coachella. “I don’t want to sit up here with a hologram of my dear friend,” said Taylor. “Were somebody to use a hologram of Freddie, I don’t think I would have an objection. But I don’t want to. It just didn’t sit too well with me.
“When Freddie died, we were in shock,” continued Taylor. “And it didn’t go away for five years. We would have probably remained together. We were very tight and very close. We never saw the need to break up. I think he’d love (these shows). I think he would have been really flattered. He would have loved the idea of keeping our musical flag flying. Brian and I always sort of imagine he’s in the room.”