Seattle Rock Orchestra Performs Queen
Seattle Rock Orchestra Proves Freddie Mercury Is One of a Kind, Saturday at the Moore
Seattle Rock Orchestra Performs Queen - The Moore - Saturday, May 21
Here's the problem with performing Queen songs with an orchestra: Queen is one of the most symphonic rock bands ever, with songs that already have big, sweeping arrangements sung by perhaps the most theatrical and majestic frontman ever, Freddie Mercury. Which means the band's material translates really well to an orchestra setting, but which also means the songs, given a symphonic adaptation, are less dazzling than material by other groups, say Radiohead, which the Seattle Rock Orchestra paid tribute to in February. That being said, Scott Teske's giant rock symphony, which played the Moore Saturday night, is still a helluva lot of fun to see live, and the undertaking is wildly impressive on many fronts.
For their celebration of Queen, the SRO played two sets. The first featured material from the band's first three albums, including "Keep Yourself Alive," "Father to Son," and "Stone Cold Crazy," with a second set that featured Queen's landmark 1975 album A Night at the Opera in its entirety. And as with SRO performances past, a group of half-a-dozen or so singers tackled three-ish songs apiece, all in a row.
Like David Lee Roth, Steven Tyler, and Axl Rose, Mercury is a singer whose persona is indelibly linked to his group. Many have tried over the years to replicate his fabulousness, but few have succeeded. This put a greater challenge on Saturday night's singers than SRO performances usually do. There were no bad singers in the bunch, but it's hard to leave your mark on a song sung by the crown prince of Queen.
Anne Jantzer from Bucket of Honey did a nice job in the first set, showcasing her range and rocking harder than seemed appropriate in her black cocktail dress. Okanomodé, who somehow managed to outdo the Queen frontman's theatricality in a pair of Spandex short shorts, a feather boa, and a lace-up leather vest, had the most powerful voice of the night, but it was Galen Disston of Pickwick and Allen Stone who moved the crowd most. Both men imbued their songs more with soul than technical ability, and rather than trying to keep pace with the original vocals, both simply let the music flow through them.
Michael Harris of Idiot Pilot sang "Bohemian Rhapsody," and though he demonstrated the most polished rock moves of the night, Queen's quintessential song wasn't particularly memorable. The orchestra, however, was, and despite the karaoke-like nature of the SRO's format, the strings, horns, choir, and more were a sight and sound to behold splayed across the Moore's stage.
The "rock" part of the SRO was solid too. Guitarist Jared Borkowski, who just may have been wearing Seinfeld's puffy shirt for the performance, summoned his best Brian May, playing technical leads and difficult riffs with precision, while Teske held down the rhythm section on bass backed by Emily Westman on drums and Nic Danielson on piano.
The show could have had a more powerful first act had it focused not just on Queen's early material, but on more of their hits. Teske introduced the show by saying he hoped the early material would give an appreciation of how Queen got to A Night at the Opera, and as good as some of their early material is, it was disappointing not to hear some of the band's equally great post-Opera hits, like "Bicycle Race," "Fat Bottomed Girls," and "I Want to Break Free." During the encore, the crowd began stomping their feet and clapping the opening rhythm of "We Will Rock You," which never materialized. Instead, the encore consisted of a chaotic second version of "Bohemian Rhapsody," with all of the night's singers taking turns on the verses. It was not the showstopping finale the show deserved. "We Are the Champions" seemed like it would have been an appropriate selection given the scale of the performance and how awesome the SRO really is, but it wasn't to be. Quibbles aside, Teske's project is an admirable one, and though the focus of this review was mostly on the rotating singers, the orchestra and the arrangements were the real stars of the show.
BTW: The Seattle Rock Orchestra's shows at the Moore are done for the season, but you can catch the group's Radiohead material as a part of this year's Sasquatch Festival on May 28.
Overheard outside during intermission: "Is this, like, the greatest show you've seen!" an overly enthusiastic concertgoer asked rhetorically to nobody in particular.