Tag Archives: Queen

Love is not a choice: Panic! At The Disco at Meadow Brook Music Festival

30 Jul

Panic at the Disco - picture 2

Photo credit: my concert buddy Davis Kurepa-Peers

I’ve spilled some virtual ink in the past about how underwhelmed I am by the music of Panic! At The Disco – and how my daughters adore them. Having taken the elder one to two of their shows, the younger one was clamoring to go when it was announced they were playing at Meadow Brook this summer. In her words, “You owe me.”

Here’s why:

As she never tires of reminding me, the girls could have seen them for only $3 each two summers ago at the Arts, Beats & Eats festival in Royal Oak. I said no for many good reasons. The band was scheduled to play late in the evening; there were rumors that a concealed weapon contingent was going to show up just to prove they could; I didn’t want my 16-year old responsible for protecting her 10-year old sister amid unanticipated chaos … and I really, really, REALLY didn’t want to chaperone because I couldn’t justify seeing a band I could care less about for a third time when I’d only seen Tom Petty once.

As punishment for my maternal protectiveness – and mature musical taste – I was now stuck paying 12 times more per ticket to see Panic! in an outdoor venue swamped by freakish thunderstorms and mosquito repellent.

In keeping with their management company Fueled By Ramen’s penchant for punctuality, the show started promptly at 7:30 p.m. with opening acts Magic Man and Walking the Moon; both were fun and energetic and worked their skinny jean-clad asses off. Then when lead singer Brendon Urie took the stage, the place went nuts, with Beatles-level shrieking from the 7,700 soggy fans that became downright deafening when he took his shirt off ten minutes later …

Panic at the Disco - picture 1

Photo credit: Davis Kurepa-Peers

I appreciate Urie for how well he treated my older daughter and other fans the last time he came through town, staying late to sign autographs and pose for photos. I also have a new-found respect for him in light of the Westboro Baptist Church’s recent homophobic protests, likely sparked by the band’s ode to bisexuality, “Girls/Girls/Boys.” He also stated in an interview last year that while he’s happily married to a woman and identifies as straight, he’s “experimented in other realms of homosexuality and bisexuality”  in the past, hence the pinheads with hateful posters outside of his Kansas City show. Urie turned it into a fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign, offering to contribute $20 per protester; when only 13 showed up, he rounded it up to an even $1000 and added in a percentage of the merchandise. Nicely done!

As a veteran of their live performances (sigh), I have to admit Panic! At The Disco puts on a good show. Brendon Urie is an engaging  pop singer with a scorching high vocal range that served him well during their cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” (Here I was, singing along to that song just two weeks after hearing Queen and Adam Lambert perform it at the Palace … déjà vu all over again.) What’s more, their fans enjoy each moment with every fiber of their beings. My daughter was vibrating in anticipation before the show. She sang every lyric and danced at every opportunity. She bought a tour t-shirt with her own money, and if you knew how tight she is with a buck, you’d know how significant that is. She had a completely great time.

That’s something I don’t see at many of the concerts I go to: utter delight. That’s worth the price of admission right there.

See you on the flipside … or at the next stop on my Concertpalooza tour: Gogol Bordello at the Royal Oak Theater on July 30

P.S. When you take Love and Other B-Sides to the beach, you don’t have to worry about getting sand in your Kindle! My novel is available in paperback, as well as in e-book format, on Amazon.com. Read and share!

A Challenge to the Whole Human Race: Queen + Adam Lambert at the Palace of Auburn Hills

14 Jul

Without any scientific proof to back me up, I will state that Queen’s music is the most famous in the world. I’ll wager you could go up to people in any country, stomp your feet twice and clap, do it again, and they’d respond by singing in perfect English, “We will, we will ROCK YOU!”

photo by James Kurepa

photo by my son and concert buddy James Kurepa

It was no surprise, then, that their Palace gig was sold out on July 12. There hasn’t been a Queen tour of this magnitude in years, and the casting of Adam Lambert as the featured vocalist – who had the chutzpah to audition for American Idol with “Bohemian Rhapsody” – was inspired and inevitable: who else in the world has the chops and the fearless feyness to be as outrageous as their catalog demands? (I still can’t fathom how Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers was their singer in concerts past; nothing about his style says “Queen” in the least.)

I was thrilled for the chance to hear Brian May. Listening to News of the World over and over again on my month-long bus trip around the country as a twelve-year-old Girl Scout, May became my first guitar hero. That album taught me that each great guitarist has his own musical signature. No one else plays like he does; for May, lack of imitation is the sincerest form of flattery because no one can match him.

Adam Lambert at the top of the show in the first of at least five costumes

Adam Lambert at the top of the show in the first of at least five costumes

This was the first time my son and I have gone to a concert together in more than ten years. It’s taken us this long to find an act we could both enjoy. He likes pop metal; I like the songs of my youth; we both like a well-done massive spectacle. And we were not disappointed, what with lasers, smoke machines, flamboyant costumes, a “guitar cam,” a disco ball and more – all framed by an enormous Q that spilled out onto the stage as a walkway into the audience.

Lambert is a trained pop vocalist who doesn’t have the growl and grit of a rocker, but Lordy, the man can sing – even when supine on a couch:

Still, the specter of Freddie Mercury was everywhere. May sang a duet with film clips of Mercury, and drummer Roger Taylor sang “These Are the Days of our Lives” with footage of the band in their prime thirty or more years ago. Lambert gave Mercury a shout out early on and alternated verses with him on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It was as if they all had to ask permission from Mercury’s ghost to perform in his stead. Some critics have groused that this demonstrates that the band’s best, most innovative days are behind them. Perhaps that’s true.

But let’s face it: you can’t hear a Queen song without thinking of Freddie Mercury: who he was and why he died.

There’s an insightful Rolling Stone piece this month, “Queen’s Tragic Rhapsody” by Mikal Gilmore, that portrays Mercury “perceived homosexuality” as the reason for – and the near undoing of – the group’s success. In this age of Modern Family and out-and-proud pro ball players (and Adam Lambert, for goodness sake) the article is required reading. We should never forget how truly remarkable it is that a hard rock band fronted by a bisexual singer/songwriter became a staple of nearly everyone’s musical DNA … and how Mercury’s death from AIDS was a watershed moment in rock music coming to terms with both the disease and homophobia.

Mercury didn’t know he was going to be diagnosed as HIV-positive not long after he performed this version of “Who Wants to Live Forever?” in 1986 so the song is eerily prescient in retrospect:

No wonder that when they closed the show with “We Are the Champions,” I was crying. That song, which has been co-opted for every possible commercial purpose, represents something very specific to me about gay pride in the face of ignorance, prejudice and death. Gilmore acknowledges this, saying, “Some listeners have also heard ‘Champions’ as Mercury’s sly, subversive avowal of gay forbearance,” although he believes that’s no longer true since it’s become “the universal bully chants of victors at sporting events.”

But therein lies Freddie Mercury’s victory. He proved “an old queen” could be the biggest badass in the masculine world of rock and roll. The openly gay man who sings his songs more than twenty years after he died knows he owes him a great debt.

So do we all.

See you on the flip side, when Concertpalooza moves on to Meadow Brook Music Festival for Panic! At The Disco on July 27!

P.S. Love and Other B-Sides is now in paperback! If you’re old school about your reading material, now you can hold an actual copy of my first novel in your hands … or a virtual one on a Kindle, Nook, iPad or smart phone.

Roll over, Beethoven

8 May

I floated a number of topics for this post … including famous bagpipe solos in rock history.*

Flying V is for Violin

Flying V is for Violin

Instead I’ll focus on other non-traditional rock instruments: the ones found in the strings section. For instance, this Mazda ad caught my ear while I was sitting through previews ahead of Iron Man 3 this weekend, not because of the snazzy car but because of the head-banging cellists playing a Kinks song in the middle of the Utah salt flats.

There are a plethora of older rock songs featuring strings (“Yesterday” by the Beatles and “Touch Me” by the Doors comes to mind) and the newer examples aren’t always the folkie/country/ Mumford and Sons-ish Depression chic bands, either. As a matter of fact, I’ll be seeing the Airborne Toxic Event next week, featuring Anna Bulbrook on viola. It seems

 the sky’s the limit for a kid with a bow and a dream.

Maybe for the first time ever,  elementary school orchestra can be the first step toward rock superstardom.

This is all the more top of mind after my 11-year old daughter’s orchestra concert this week. They acquitted themselves well for 65 fifth graders who had been playing for about six months, focusing on a few simple classical standards (“Can-Can”, snippets of Mozart) as well as well-known favorites including “Over the Rainbow” and “Star Wars.”

Note that as she's rehearsing Offenbach she's wearing a Slash t-shirt ...

Note that as she’s rehearsing Offenbach she’s wearing a Slash t-shirt …

Then the special guests did a set. They were the high school’s electric strings ensemble, ABC Strings, short for “Anything but Classical.” My daughter and her friends were intrigued by the violins’ alien shapes and their hot rod paint jobs. (“You can even get the horsehair in different colors,” she told me admiringly.) With all that awesomeness at their disposal, though, I wish they had selected less pedestrian material: they went for the easy choices and played “Don’t Stop Believin'” and a Queen medley.

Yet at that point I had to wonder, when does classic rock turn into classical music?

It’s not so much that orchestral instruments are playing more rock. I think it’s the start of the inevitable evolution of musical taste and expression. I can foresee a time centuries from now when kids who want to study music seriously will begin by playing rock songs. This will not be because they’re pop songs instead of stuffy symphonies, but because this music expresses something meaningful about the human spirit that will continue to resonate for all time … even if you play it on a violin … while wearing a yellow cape.

See you on the flip side …

* By the way, the three bagpipe songs I came up with were:

1. “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)” – AC/DC
2. “Tessie” – The Dropkick Murphys
3. “Big Country” – Big Country (uh, wait, that’s a guitar playing that solo … d’oh!)

What would you add?

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