Bohemian Queen played the Showroom at the South Point Hotel/Casino on Friday, July 15, 2022. Additional performances followed on the next two nights, but this review strictly covers the Friday show.
No one can deny the impact of Queen on the world of music and pop culture in general. It's no surprise we're beginning to see increasing numbers of Queen tribute bands. Bohemian Queen, playing a three-night run at the South Point, consists of Paulie Z, Steve Zukowsky, Aaron Samson, Glenn Jost, and Victor Bender, talented musicians who've played in a wide variety of bands over the years. I am glad to see the band incorporates an additional musician in the form of a keyboard player; the real band did incorporate additional musicians, most notably Spike Edney, in the 1980s.
Because of my age, I never had the opportunity to see Queen live in their classic heyday with Freddie Mercury; that iconic frontman passed away when I was only seven years old, although I did catch Brian May and Roger Taylor with Paul Rodgers in 2006.
When I heard this show was going on, I knew I wanted in. After all, this would probably be the closest I'd ever come to seeing classic-era Queen on a live stage (unless one counts live DVDs of the band, of which I have several). Queen is easily one of my favorite rock bands, with a wide and diverse catalogue that ranks among one of the finest in the music world. One thing I knew from the get-go is that doing justice to this music on a live stage would be no easy task.
There are a good many things to consider when it comes to paying tribute to Queen. Stage setup. Costumes. Selecting a setlist. What instruments to use. How many band members. For a show to truly capture the essence of what Queen was all about, all these variables have to come together perfectly.
I'm happy to say that they did. This was a truly epic night of Queen music, with the band rocking the stage for 90 minutes, and not a dull moment.
As the band walked onto the stage, it was done so to the pre-recorded track of Brian May and Roger Taylor performing the "20th Century Fox Fanfare" as was heard in the Queen biopic BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. A great little intro touch.
The look of the band definitely got the job done, with the members of the group dressing in clothing akin to what the Queen band members would wear during their classic concert heyday. The highlight of this, of course, was frontman Paulie Z's performance as Freddie Mercury, performing costume changes to suit the "look" that Mr. Mercury would have at different points of his career. From the old 70s glam outfit with "wings" under the arms to the classic 80s mustache look, this guy fully encapsulates the legendary frontman and brings him back to life. His singing voice will never be mistaken for that of the real Mercury; his vocal style almost reminded me more of Marq Torien of Bulletboys. But he had a powerful singing voice nonetheless, at one point in the show even joking he was a Brooklyn boy and would not be attempting the British accent. Still, there's no denying this is the Freddie Mercury tribute artist audiences want, need, and deserve. I already want to see him in concert again.
His work on the songs spoke for itself. Even an early Queen classic, "Keep Yourself Alive," was sung closer to the album version than the band's "simplified" live version; this is no easy task and is one area in which Bohemian Queen bested the real band! He also did a good job getting the crowd involved, from having them finish lines of old rock and roll songs to the classic "Day-O" chants. A Queen tribute doesn't work if the guy playing Freddie doesn't work. And Mr. Z is everything this role requires and then some.
I was also pleased with the way the costume changes were managed. They could've halted the show for a few minutes, which would've been boring, but instead used these times for instrumental solo sequences, including a keyboard solo and a guitar solo. The best part of this was the solos incorporated elements of other Queen "deep tracks" including songs like "The March of the Black Queen" and "The Prophet's Song!" This was a great little wink for the die-hard fans of the deep catalogue a lesser band wouldn't have thought to do.
The setlist itself was pretty solid. Queen's got a good mix of hits and deep tracks, and I believe this performance gave us an adequate sampling of both worlds. Classic hits dominated the performance, including tracks like "You're My Best Friend," "Tie Your Mother Down," "Fat Bottomed Girls," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and "Another One Bites the Dust." Surprises included "One Vision" from the IRON EAGLE soundtrack and even "The Show Must Go On," a powerful and emotional song Freddie had written known the end of his life was near. I could nitpick the omissions of some of the deep cuts, but I won't. This was a great setlist good for both casual and die-hard fans. The one major hit that was sadly MIA was "Killer Queen" (though the band did say they may be mixing up the setlist/costumes/etc. for the latter two nights). But you could tell this audience was fired up with the renditions of "Bohemian Rhapsody," with the band actually performing the entire piece (this actually isn't what happened at live concerts Queen did back in the day, as they had a pre-recorded opera section and a light show during this time) and the encores of "Radio Ga Ga" and the medley "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions." And much like the real Queen, when the performance ended, a pre-recorded version of Queen's cover of "God Save the Queen" played over the speakers.
The band's name was in lights, literally, from start to finish on a huge electronic screen behind the performers, though this admittedly felt like something of a wasted opportunity. Why not use that video screen to show off album covers and vintage photographs of the band? Perhaps different logos from the group's different eras? I love when a band has a tool like a giant video screen, but it seems wasteful to just use it to show off the name of the band and nothing else.
The final criticism I have is one more about the venue than the band. The venue was filled with seats/tables/chairs/etc. Here's the problem. Bohemian Queen is a high-energy band that demands not holding still, as they'll make you want to rock out. I wanted to be on my feet up front banging my head, not condemned to a chair! The band wanted crowd participation and audience members on their feet, but this was difficult to do when there's basically no room to stand. It might be a good idea for future Bohemian Queen gigs at South Point to not set up the chairs/tables closest to the stage, and make this a "standing" area for people who want to go down out of their seats and get closer to the band. I assure you I would've been at the front, rocking out, singing every damn lyric had then been the case (and I'm sure me singing at the top of my lungs where I was sitting probably attracted some strange looks from nearby venue patrons!)
Bohemian Queen has a daunting task to accomplish, and guess what? They pull it off! It's probably the closest I'll ever come to witnessing a "real" Queen concert from the vintage era, and if that's the case, that's good by me. These guys are the real deal, and if you're a fan, they will not disappoint. Very highly recommended!
PHOTO CREDIT: All photos by Stephy (Hayward) Muzio for ZRockR Magazine - All Rights Reserved