Friday, March 3, 2017


I caught Trooper, Canada’s favourite party band, at a community association fundraiser recently. (Trooper, incidentally, was my very first arena concert experience as a kid in small-town Alberta, so the last time I saw them was in 1977, so this fundraiser was promising to bring us back together after nearly 40 years.)

As stoked as I was to see them, however, it was their opening act, Punch Drunk Cabaret (PDC), that actually made the night memorable for me.

The Punch Drunk Cabaret line-up (L-R): Sean E Watts (drums), Bandmeister Randy B (guitar/vocals), and Terry Sawbones Grant (bass)
The lead guitarist, Bandmeister Randy B., was decked out in a white suit and bowler hat, and began throwing around some rockabilly riffs that really got the crowd going. A few minutes into their set, what started as Rock This Town by the Stray Cats, segued into a variety of song snippets and eventually ending with the Everly Brothers’ Wake Up, Little Susie. Half-way through this extended medley was a few seconds of Fat Bottomed Girls!

PDC eventually conceded the stage to Trooper after a 40-minute set and as great as Trooper was that night, I kept thinking back to that medley which included FBG. When I got home that night, I tracked down PDC on Facebook and messaged them about the FBG appearance and if they’d be open to answering a few other Queen-related questions. To my surprise, Randy B., also the band’s manager, responded the next morning and invited me to send over whatever questions I had. So I cobbled together a list and fired them back.

QV) As mentioned, Randy, I caught PDC when you guys opened for Trooper on February 11th. To my surprise, I heard the intro to Fat Bottomed Girls during your song medley. Can you tell me the backstory on why you featured Queen and, more specifically, why that song was chosen.

RB) By design, Punch Drunk Cabaret is an act that is always looking for ways to involve the audience in the show. We’ll spike our originals with snippets of cover songs, and radically re-arrange cover songs to make them more original. Adding a chorus of Fat Bottomed Girls into the Stray Cats classic, Rock This Town, might seem an unlikely fit but it goes over with ANY audience, which is a testament to Queen’s universal appeal. The decision to juxtapose those two songs was completely stream of consciousness. I credit it to developing a broad musical vocabulary as a kid which had a lot to do with listening to Queen.

QV) On a scale of 1 to 39, how would you rate yourself as a Queen fan?

RB) I don’t really think of myself in terms of being “a fan.” It’s much more like a philosophy or belief system that I ascribe to as a musician and performer. Of course I have favourite songs and albums, but Queen’s manifesto was impressed upon me when I was a very impressionable nine- or ten-year-old. Thirty years later, I still adhere to that manifesto. It’s become a lifestyle. I don’t know how to conduct myself any other way. So it’s more like saying “I’m a practicing Buddhist” rather than, “I’m a fan of Buddhism.”

QV) That’s an interesting way to think of it. You told me earlier that you had the good fortune of discovering ANATO and NOTW when you were ten years old. What were the circumstances in which you discovered these two albums?

RB) In the mid to late ’70s, I had a cousin who was ten years older than me with a modern record collection. That exposed me to all kinds of great music that I would then beg my parents to buy me. At that age I was also really drawn to the cover art, which is why I initially bought A Night at the Opera. I loved that great regal, coat of arms. It was as if Queen was its own nation and the listener could belong to it. Then I got News of the World and that giant killer robot scared the hell out of me! The cover alone was such a great narrative.

QV) Funny you should say that…Seth MacFarlane had the same fear as a kid. How has Queen’s music and/or stage presence influenced PDC?

RB) When I talk about Queen’s “manifesto,” I’m referring to things like...
- “performing” music as opposed to simply “playing” it,
- pairing great music with engaging visuals,
- including the audience in the show and creating a communal experience,
- creating a broad and dynamic body of work that defies genres and categories,
- inhabiting a character or character's during a performance,
- embracing the fact that you are an entertainer,
- injecting a sense of humour into your art,
I could go on and on...

QV) Do the other band members have a similar attitude towards Queen or is it just you?

RB) My bandmates didn’t have the same personal experience with single Queen albums like I did, but they were equally impacted by ’70s era theatrical rock that was also being popularized by KISS, Bowie, and to a lesser degree, Cheap Trick.

QV) As a professional guitarist, can you comment on Brian’s playing and songwriting?

RB) For me, Brian is counter-inspirational! His level of talent and skill set is so highly evolved that you just think to yourself “why do I even bother”? Studying Brian’s work is like studying alien DNA. From establishing a signature guitar AND guitar sound, to being an outstanding songwriter, he has it all. I remember buying the music for The Game when I first started playing guitar and thinking “how does he know so many chords”?

QV) Has the band done a proper Queen cover tune? To me, an obvious choice would be CLTCL since it’s rockabilly anyway, but I can easily imagine PDC reinterpreting a lot of Queen songs.

RB) We haven’t fully covered a Queen tune yet. On occasion we’ve lead the audience in a chorus of We Will Rock You during an original called Digg that’s a blues shuffle. It reframes the lyrics from a triumphant declaration to a veiled threat!

QV) That’s awesome! It seemed to me as I watched your performance the other night, that the steampunk, retro-technology element of your show had traces of Metropolis, and even a nod to Queen’s The Works era. Is this coincidence or is there a subtle Queen connection there as well?

Queen adopted many of the retro-futurism motifs from the film “Metropolis” for The Works album and tour in 1984.
RB) Identifying the Metropolis link is most perceptive! What we share with Queen isn’t obvious to the casual observer. We look like steampunks, our sound is a rockabilly/swing/ rock mix and we play with the energy of a stadium rock act. But if you look under the hood, you’ll see that our approach and execution is built on the same template as Queen. On a personal note, I have to admit that on this tour, the armband and stripes down the legs of my suit harken back to Freddie’s iconic, mid-80s look.

An early Punch Drunk Cabaret set design with similar retro-futuristic imagery. Photo © Papa Razzo.
QV) Were you lucky enough to catch Freddie and Queen back in the day? Any desire to catch Q+AL in Edmonton later this summer?

RB) Sadly, I never caught vintage Queen live. I saw one of the world’s top tribute acts and was left very underwhelmed, so it would be a good idea to see them with Adam Lambert this summer to wash that taste out of my mouth.

QV) Maybe it was serendipity that Queen and the Everly Brothers appear together in your song medley....when Phil Everly died in January 2014, Brian May is on record saying that the Everly Brothers were a major influence on Queen’s vocal harmonies years later.

RB) Interesting point. It certainly wasn’t planned to mash those songs together, but I find it endlessly intriguing how artistic decisions can seem so arbitrary at the time, only to discover the elements are connected after all. That’s far more interesting than calculating things in hopes that they’ll appeal to an audience.

Find out more about Punch Drunk Cabaret at their website here.

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