Monday, February 20, 2012

Tenacious Q

Media Moment: Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny
Queen-related: Queen references throughout

I PVRed Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny the other day and had a chance to watch it last night for the first time. I have always been impressed with Jack Black’s musical skill and his ability to laugh at himself is genuine and endearing.

When I sat down to watch Pick of Destiny I wasn’t expecting an Oscar-calibre script nor Cameron-esque production values. What I did see was a comical mix of Rocky Horror and Harold & Kumar with generous helpings of The Devil Went Down to Georgia and Faust.

To my delight, our old friend Meatloaf (Marvin Lee Aday) makes an appearance as JB’s flashback evangelist father who lays into him about his Satanic interest in rock music.

After a raucous tiff at the dinner table, JB retreats to his room where ML follows with his belt in hand. After a quick belt caning, dad begins to tear the music posters off of junior’s wall to drive home his point. All of this action is set to music with ML conjuring up memories of his Eddy character from Rocky Horror, as seen here:

Hey, was that the Queen II album cover? By golly, it was. Does that mean we’ll be seeing  more of the boys later on in the film? The answer to this was, unfortunately, “no,” as an approaching plot twist would determine.

After a long jam session that produced meagre results, an observant Kyle Gass, Black’s partner in Tenacious D, stated that the reason the big stadium rockers were better than them is because they all used the same guitar pick. At closer inspection of the magazine covers that featured the virtuoso guitarists from these bands, they were indeed all using this same guitar pick passed down from one guitar prodigy to another through the years . . . a pick crafted from Satan’s tooth.

Obviously, Queen couldn’t have been lumped into that group of stadium rockers because Brian doesn’t use a run-of-the-mill guitar pick. Far from it. His pick of choice, as we all know, is an English sixpence. (What bites is that Brian had sold out of his freshly minted “Back to the Light” sixpence coins when I saw him on tour back in ’93.)

The absence of Brian in the list of guitarists makes sense at this point in the film, but it makes me wonder why suggest Queen as a source of inspiration to Black’s character at all. Although the explicit Queen reference in the film is gone within the first three minutes, there were more latent Queen references to come.

Perhaps the whole “rock opera” connotation that the movie suggested to most movie critics at the time warranted the nod to Queen’s back catalogue. Even more appropriate was the “Beelzeboss” Satan character (BoRhap, anyone?) played by Dave Grohl (who I didn’t recognize at all, although it was obvious it wasn’t Tim Curry). Dave and the Foo Fighters are no stranger to Queen fans as this eyebrow-raising video purports to show the extent of their homage to Queen.

Outside of the POD movie, there’s some overlap between Tenacious D and Queen that deserves some discussion. In addition to the odd Queen cover tune they’d play live (like Flash) the Queen II photography motif was used by Tenacious D on some of their t-shirt designs (seen here). Interestingly, the retailer even markets the shirt as TD and Queen, which crosses the copyright line, in my opinion.

And when Q+PR released The Cosmos Rocks in 2008, there was an immediate comparison between the guitar riff on C-lebrity and Tenacious D’s Metal.

It was close enough that a mashup of the two songs ended up on a remix CD of Queen tunes. Here’s a link to a YouTube version in case you want to check it out.

Was the movie any good? Depends on whether you get the White Castle munchies I suppose.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Calgary concert review – Part 5

Media Moment: The Calgary Herald newspaper
Queen-related: Concert review from 1977

Oops, forgot this one . . .

The Calgary Herald
Thursday, March 17, 1977 
Queen rules stage with dramatic effect
By Bill Lindsay (Herald Staff Writer) 
Queen have taken quite a fancy to themselves.
     “We started out with hard rock, but I think we”ve come a long way since then, I hope you agree,” purred Freddie Mercury, front man of Queen, to an adoring full house at the Jubilee Auditorium Wednesday night.
     It would be a major mistake to believe that this British glitter quartet is original. They owe an immense debt to the likes of David Bowie, Lou Reed and even The Rolling Stones in their staging and persona, if not in their music.
     But, it would be just as off-base to dismiss the band’s work as entirely derivative, polished to a high gloss but lacking any statement of its own.
     Queen are progressive rock purists, if anyone can be classed that in a medium devoted to excess, debauchery and degeneracy. Their music is a bizarre blend of hysterical choral breaks, smooth guitar flash and campy lyrics, pinned by a dynamic rhythm section.
     The effect is theatrical.
     Consistently busy — powder flashes, strobes, shifting vistas of soft colors and brilliant spots — and occasionally stunning, the band has created a dramatic package that is primitive theatre, but a relatively sophisticated rock show.
     Mercury, decked in white tights exposing his chest, cavorted about the stage in a manner very much like the emcee in the film “Cabaret.” Guitarist Brian May ran to the edge of the stage to strike chilosophical [sic] poses for his leagues of followers.
     May has perfected the musing look of studied concentration that shows how dreadfully serious he is about his fingerwork.
     At times, though, things went a bit too far into absurdity. For instance, a stage hand runs out with a triangle so it can be struck once, and then runs off with it. Similar scenes pop up throughout the show.
     Opening act Thin Lizzy were no match for the volatile theatrics of Queen.
     Their twin guitars and hopelessly predictable stage moves seemed out of date. Jamming a guitar into one’s crotch and waving it at the audience has become just a little too tedious.
     Besides, there’s something deeply disturbing about an Irishman pretending to machine-gun the spectators with his bass just before St. Patrick’s Day.
     Thin Lizzy are much better on record than on stage. They’re better when you don’t have to watch them and contend with such acts of consummate cleverness as catching the spotlight on a guitar and shining it in random faces. Really nifty.
     Tonight’s show at Jubilee is sold out, as was the opening night, but a few tickets for a Friday concert in Edmonton are available at Bay ticket wicket.
There you have it. Queen wins. Thin Lizzy fails.



Edmonton concert review 1977

Media Moment: The Edmonton Journal newspaper
Queen-related: Concert promo and review from 1977

So the boys wrap up two shows in Calgary at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium and in the end play to less than 10,000 fans over Wednesday and Thursday nights. The next night they played up in Edmonton to a single crowd that was larger than both Calgary shows combined. 

Unlike Calgary’s shows, however, Brimstone, the promoter, opted to run a promo ad in the Edmonton Journal prior to the show. (Perhaps it was felt that Calgary’s first show would get them enough word-of-mouth to fill any remaining seats on their second night.)

In case you can’t read the newspaper article above, here’s a text version:

The Edmonton Journal
Saturday, March 19, 1977 
Orchestration highlight of Queen production 
By Joe Sornberger 
     It was as if somebody, some pop music god or something, had orchestrated the whole thing.
     Everything, it seemed, happened on schedule and according to plan. The surprises (smoke bombs, strobe lights, dry ice fogs) were there, but they were there exactly when called for. On cue when things were wearing a bit thin.  
     The fanfare of taped music that brought Queen to the Coliseum stage also brought the crowd of 12,000 to its feet, as if somebody in the rafters was pulling invisible strings.
     And so it went.
     When singer Freddie Mercury cavorted about, struggling to keep his scoop-necked leotards from slipping, the crowd cavorted by standing on their chairs. When he wailed, they roared.
     Just handing over some of the champagne from the stage sent ripples of mild frenzy through the waves of people in the pit — that congested part of the auditorium on the floor immediately in front of the stage.
     And when he threw flowers to the people, near the end of the show, it was as if members of the crowd were scrambling for pieces of gold.
     It was definitely a success for Queen, a band that, along with Kiss, is probably glitter rock’s last gasp. The concert means the English group’s popularity has peaked in this city, as it has almost everywhere else in North America.
     But though successful in their concert effort, things seemed a little too pat. A touch too predictable.
     Freddie Mercury, though a tremendous front man, is more of a parody of a rock singer than an actual rock singer.
     In his strutting, posing manner, he is like a Mick Jagger blown 10 times larger and way, way out of proportion. He should watch it. One step further, one shade more outrageous, and what he is going might actually become rock comedy.
     Whatever, the audience loved him and loved the songs.
     “Somebody To Love,” from their Day At The Races LP went over very well, despite the ragged harmonies. “Bohemian Rhapsody” scored well too, though it didn’t sound quite as good as when the band played here last, in the Field House.
     Undoubtedly, the group was tired. This was their final stop on a long North American tour. Perhaps that’s why the energy that was apparent last time around was lacking just a little this time out.
     But, with their peaking popularity — what with hit records an gold albums — they went over bigger this time than last.
     Thin Lizzy, a quartet that seems to enjoy seeing how many songs can be played without changing chords, opened.
     Three guys with hair down to their waists and a curly-haired fourth, it looks like they had their act choreographed by the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
     But if the group lacks musical ability and stageshow they more than make up for in verbalizing. For instance, on into:
     “This is a cowboy song for all you cowboys. It’s called The Cowboy Song.” Now, how about that for zappy stage chatter?
     No matter, the audience loved Thin Lizzy, giving them an encore, too.
While not as eloquent as the review from The Albertan in Calgary, I think Mr. Sornberger is mildly approving of the show but not so much for Thin Lizzy, though. His prediction that Queen had peaked in popularity in North America with this tour was obviously wrong as their true peak came with The Game, then it slowed with Flash Gordon and eventually cratered with the release of Hot Space.

This Edmonton show would be their final concert ever in our province. Brian returned to the Edmonton Coliseum in 1993 as the opening act for Guns & Roses; a show I was fortunate enough to catch almost 20 years ago. At the time I thought it would be the closest I’d ever get to seeing a Queen concert since I missed the real McCoy in 1975 and 1977 because I was too young to travel to the big city. I outdid myself, though, in that I caught Q+PR in Vegas in 2007 so that was probably the closest I’d get to Queen proper, simply because Roger was part of the lineup.

Maybe I’ll snoop around for the concert review from the Guns & Roses show just to round out the newspaper review theme I’ve started here.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Curtain closes on Whitney

Whitney Houston is dead. What?

I saw a snippet about it on the six o’clock news last night, texted my wife to let her know, and quickly checked Wikipedia to get more of the story. To my further surprise, the location of her death was listed as “Ottawa, Canada.”

When my wife got back from her night out with the ladies, I checked Wikipedia again and noticed that the location of death was changed to Beverly Hills, California, which made more sense to me. Did I really see “Ottawa” earlier? I went to the Revisions page for her Wiki article and hoped to see the modification entry that switched “Ottawa” to “Beverly Hills.” This was no easy task because her page was edited on average once every minute as details about her death emerged through a myriad of sources.

I eventually did find the “Ottawa” revision so I can rest assured I’m not losing my mind . . . yet. It did say on that revision page, though, that “Ottawa” was listed as uncited, which struck me as a textbook example of the problem of democratizing information like it is on wikis such as this one.

What mildly disturbed me as I skimmed through the revisions to her Wiki page was that it was both voyeuristic and gossipy at the same time. You could literally follow what happened to her minute-by-minute and the smallest detail took on immense proportions because of the emphasis it drew as it was posted. 

This “real-time” unfolding of events made me wonder how much of Freddie’s death would have been made public if he lived to see the digital era. It was bad enough to read about his final moments in the tabloids — and then in Jim Hutton’s book — but to remove what little privacy he had at his most vulnerable time would have been unbearable to him and his family. I’m sure that even the details surrounding his funeral would have made their way to the Internet.

So apart from lifestyle excess contributing to both of their deaths, I found some interesting convergences between them on-line. Most were a comparison of their vocal ability and which one was better, as this Yahoo Answers article asks:

There is an even more prolonged discussion about the two singers on this Yahoo Answers thread. Unlike the Queen fan above, however, most posters on the other thread focused on the technical merit of their voices, which doesn’t offer a complete picture of their musical talents.

Measuring the notion of “who’s better” should be explained in explicit, conceptualized terms. What are the variables used in determining “the best”? To merely say that one has a vocal range of x-number of octaves isn’t enough, in my opinion. All too often personal preference is the only rhetorical device used to make an argument, which is merely “he said, she said.” Who’s better: Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen? Eddie Van Halen or Jimi Hendrix? Picasso or Dali? 

Lots of singers have a tremendous range but who has sold more records? Who writes their own music and lyrics? Is simply being a vocalist as much of an accomplishment as a musician who creates all aspects of his or her music? Okay, let’s put Freddie up against Whitney as a vocalist— she may very well be better technically but let’s see her up against Elton John as a pianist or her up against Diane Warren for songwriting ability. 

(Sorry, I don’t mean to rag on Whitney. I just think comparing Freddie to Whitney merely on vocal ability is silly because the target keeps moving.)

Speaking of Whitney, I just finished watching The Grammys and thought her tribute was fitting. The musical guests this year were staggering, in my opinion. I was waiting for a Queen reference of some kind. I saw lots of Queen-related stuff going on (Gaga, Foo Fighters, Katy Perry) but managed to catch of snippet of Brian playing on Gaga’s YoĆ¼ and I when her album was announced as one of the nominees for Album of the Year. Adele ended up getting that award. Oh well.


Calgary concert review – Part 4

Media Moment: The Albertan newspaper
Queen-related: Concert review from 1977

The Albertan, a smaller cousin to The Calgary Herald, failed to cover Queen’s Corral show in 1975, but they did run a review of their show in 1977 when Queen played for two nights at the Jubilee Auditorium here in Calgary. Not only did they run a review — it was a three-page spread with a large photo essay. Surely, it must have been the dominant story in that edition of The Albertan. Here they are:

I guess John didn’t warrant a spot in the photo collection here, which is too bad.

Actually, I’m quite surprised at the high profile granted to Queen since they garnered squat in 1975 from this paper. What changed? Did they get a Queen fan on staff? Did their growing popularity now command a larger fanbase and, consequently, a larger readership of this paper? 

Here’s the readable version:

The Albertan
Friday, March 8, 1977 
Queen size bed rock
By Scott Beaver 
     Standing on the corner, atching [sic] all the boys go bi [sic].
     Freddie Mercury, the lead singer-spiritual cornerstone of Queen, a British rock band that played two SRO concerts in Calgary to crowds beside themselves with adoration, slithers onstage in a white worksuit for the opening number, exits, and returns in a costume that must be seen to be disbelieved — ballet tights, pure white, with a neckline that wanders downward three inches below the navel.
     The effect joins opposites: L.L. Bean long-johns re-designed by Halston. The intention joins opposites: Male and female merge into androgynous sensuality, the David Bowie territory in which the only sin is to fail to sin.
     With his eyes outlined in black like an Egyptian princess, with his wrist swinging limply through the grass-smoked air, with his back arched and head thrown back like an Equus horse hopped up on speed, Freddie Mercury unites yin and yang in a sexual smorgasbord that has the women in his audience delerious [sic] and the men devasted.
     (And in the corner, a member of the security contingent — a Calgary city cop in his late twenties — watches Freddie Mercury with an expression that says that if Mr. Mercury were to find himself under the cop’s police-issue heel, Mr. Mercury would resemble a fly-swatted flattened nothing in nothing flat.)
     Rock, excepting New York City village rock, is in its Mannerist period, all line and no volume. Queen (one assumes the name has four meanings — at least) is more versatile than most of the collections of glittery nincompoops which troop across the stages of North America playing with their guitars and pursing their lips in imitation of the Grand Old Man/Woman of Sleaze, Mick Jagger.
     Freddie Mercury’s debt to Jagger (via Bowie) is heavy enough to pull Jagger’s photogenic lower lip into the dimensions favored by Ubangi beauties, large enough to envelope Barbra Streisand’s ego, expensive enough to balance England’s balance of payments.
     But Mercury takes the mannered, standard fag punk gestures and applies them as an overlay to a sound that in its unabashed energy and electric vulgarity rolls right on past that Toronto hollow in which The Rolling Stones are busy gathering moss with the wife of what’s-his-name, Pierre Uknow.
     (And in the corner the cop sniffs the air and wonders where all the dope in Jubilee Auditorium is coming from. Everywhere and nowhere. You can’t bust 2,500 people. Sigh.)
     Technically, the Queen show may well be the tightest in rock and roll — it’s flashier than the Stones’ 1972 trip, and better co-ordinated. The lighting design, puns aside, is brilliant, slick as the innards of the Argo Merchant. The electronic effects — Arp and Moog and Echoplex ‚ are incredible.
     Queen is what as known as a studio group: Their music depends on electric currents, on recording overdubs about 150 times. The group brings the studio onstage with enough electronic gewgaws to squeeze Tomita dry. The goal of recording, in the halycon [sic] days before Bowie, was to approximate on vinyl the sounds of a live performance. The goal of performance, in these dry-hellish Seventies, is to approximate the sounds of the studio.
     Queen arranges its music as though the stage were a console, as though the musicians were tracks on tapes, as though we were ear-blistering bugs crawling across a woofer, lusting for decibel suicide in the AC/DC intestines of the sound system.
     (And in the corner, the cop’s expression grows in repugnance as Mercury re-appears, wearing a black version of his white Frederick’s of Hollywood get-up, only this time the crotch is splattered with a Milky Way of rhinestones, as though his thigh were whipped with a belt made of stardust.)
     “Keep Yourself Alive,” Mercury sings. The audience has every intention of doing so. He’s called back for an encore with flicked Bics, matchbooks set ablaze, a Woodstock-era quirk that A Star is Born has brought back. Mercury adds a silver vest for his first encore. He throws clumps of carnations into the crowd.
     (And in the corner, the cop’s expression segues from repugnance into puzzlement as he stands there and watches all these gorgeous girls go berserk for this guy who looks for all the decadent world like a drag queen getting ready for All Hollow’s Eve.)
For the second encore — the air is now thick with a new smell, acrid sulphur piled on pungent pot — he re-emerges in a Kabuki Kaftan, joining Africa and Japan.
     He sings “Big Spender” (from Sweet Charity) and — he’s into Gwen Verdon — slowly, teasingly, strips. Underneath the kimona [sic] is a pair of shorts, red and white striped, held aloft by scarlet suspenders.
     Now he sings “Jailhouse Rock” (roots, you know) and the crowd breaks ranks and surges toward the stage and this odd English singer with terminal buckteeth is in command, all the way — Queen of the hop, of the Jubilee joint. When he exits for the third and final time, a tape plays a rocked-up “God Save the Queen” while the lights hit two mirrored hemispheres on either side of the stage and the image is right out of the Great White Way and Las Vegas’ neon river. Kitsch has reached an apotheosis, has ascended into a Three-D picture postcard heaven to sit on the right hand of Elizabeth Regina, who is reclining on a vibrator easy chair, wearing headphones, inhaling amyl and watching Larry Flynt play the Moonlight Sonta [sic] on an electric organ while Betty Boop does the two-step and Freddie Mercury straps on his foot-wings and flies through the cosmos, singing platinum hits.
     (And in the corner, the cop considers buying a plunging neckline, considers investing in brown mascara to match his moustache. You stand bi, on a corner watching all this go bi, long enough, it’s sure to happen. Why not? he may be thinking. If that’s the way it’s gotta be to score with the ladies of this cooled-down generation, that’s the way it’s gotta be.)
So did Mr. Beaven like the show or not? 

He seems to have gone waayyy out of his way to fully describe the otherworldliness embodied in an early Queen concert that he ultimately ends up endorsing the show with a review that reads like a journalist’s version of The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke

Even his narrative of the all-seeing cop interspersed with the show’s commentary is an interesting tactic. You get a real sense of what an “objective” member of the audience could be thinking which may have been at odds with any preconceptions he may have had before the show.

Bottom line . . . why employ such elaborate wordsmithing to a review when he could have just said it sucks, if that’s indeed how he felt at the time. He probably liked Thin Lizzy as well since the opening act escaped any mention in the article.

Finally, ’sup with the headline on this one? Queen-sized bed? I’m guessing that since the review is loaded with sexual innuendo (i.e., “bi,” “fag,” and “score with the ladies”). Did Mr. Beaven have a premonition of sorts?


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Calgary concert review – Part 3

Media Moment: Calgary Herald newspaper
Queen-related: Concert review from 1975

So we’ve discussed how the student-run newspaper at Mount Royal College reviewed Queen’s first Calgary show back on April 3, 1975. What about the mainstream media in town? How did they react to the same show? Well, a little digging at the local public library unearthed the following Calgary Herald review from the same show that Gord and Lynne attended:

Here’s the readable version:

The Calgary Herald
Friday, April 4, 1975 
Rock groups Queen it down at the Corral 
By Randy Hutton (Herald Staff Writer)  
     The lights are dimmed . . . the crowd goes wild . . . suddenly the arena looks like it’s been invaded by a plague of fireflies.
     Yes. The light-a-candle-for-the-rock-group-heroes syndrome strikes again.
     A moving, sincere gesture that comes straight from the heart, in tribute to only the greatest of artists. After all, you wouldn't take a chance on singeing your thumb for just anyone, would you?
     At any rate, many of the more than two thousand people who went to the Stampede Corral Thursday night to see Queen and Kansas made this offering.
     Queen, who emerges from a stage flooded with smoke, is apparently trying to be as nasty as the monsters from a ’30s horror flick.
     Had the group appeared in a real ’30s movie, the gimmick might have worked.
     The show’s the thing with Queen. Able to make only the most rudimentary variations in sound, the quartet relies on the stage antics of the lead singer and a fancy lighting job, to remind you you’re at a concert.
     Leaping about, flinging his arms open, playing the mike-stand like a guitar, the lead singer does more to give the impression that something is going on than the sound does.
     Not that the band isn’t versatile. Oh no, they played both hard rockers and ballads. Well, a ballad, anyway. It was a ballad because it didn't begin and end with a crashing guitar chord and an earthquake drum roll.
     Another device Queen uses to supplement its basic mix of guitar, bass, drums and occasional (when the singer isn’t playing lead mike-stand) electric piano is the tape loop.
     This repeats what was played a few seconds previously, so that the player can jam with himself. Musicians such as Terry Riley, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix have put this to good effect, building on the repetition and subtly creating multi-rhythmic layers of sound.
     Queen’s guitarist had a long solo bout with the recorder and later three members of the band sand to themselves singing to themselves.
     All they proved was that doubling something does not make it twice as good.
     At least Queen has its style down pat. The encore consisted of “Hey, Big Spender” and “Jailhouse Rock” (that was the rock and roll Queen had been promising for over an hour), but you wouldn’t have known it if you hadn't heard the words.
     Dorothy Fields and Elvis Presley might have cried and it would not be grateful tears of nostalgia.
     The opening act, Kansas, had its priorities reversed from those of Queen.
     Though they number six, the members of Kansas emphasized their music, not their visuals, which is just a shift of pretentiousness.
     Synthesizer, electric piano, two guitars, violin, bass and drums are the instruments played by Kansas.
     At times the group sounds like a zillion other hard rock groups you can hear on the radio, then the violinist will take over and it sounds as though a station playing some cheesy classical music has barged in on the rock station’s signal.
     Sometimes it even sounds like both stations are playing at once. (Gosh, there’s that ol’ versatility again!)
     Kansas’ drummer, in his solos, showed that he can play his licks equally well at 33 or 78. He should learn 45, too, because the group is missing out on a lot of uptempo Elizabethan blues.
A few things come to mind when I read this:

  • The writer is obviously not a fan of either Queen nor Kansas. The sarcasm in his writing style is profound.
  • No where are the band members referred to by their names. Apparently, the only label they deserve to get is what instrument they play.
  • The headline is confusing. Is the term “Queen it down” meant to be a verb? Maybe it’s a colloquialism from the ’70s that I’m not aware of. Or maybe the writer just made it up.

Maybe I should track down Mr. Hutton to see if he’d be open to the same interrogation I gave Gord over his review 37 years ago.

As for the other mainstream newspaper in Calgary at the time, The Albertan (an early moniker of The Calgary Sun), there was no concert review around this time that I could find. It was a much smaller paper compared to the Herald so either their review didn’t find space in the entertainment section or they didn’t have anyone on staff to cover it.