Concertgoers at Harrah’s got a special treat Saturday night, a closeup seat for One Night of Queen in the South Shore Room. The UK tribute act put on a high-octane performance, faithfully replicating the sound of one of the most iconic rock bands of all time.
The night kicked off with “More of that Jazz,” full-bodied drums and guitar blasting from the room’s speakers as a long line of amped-up attendees poured through the double doors.
Gregarious frontman Gary Mullen paced the stage, very much looking the part of Freddie Mercury with a long mustache and a white and red military parade jacket, and promptly snagging a faded ball cap from a front row fan, which he sported incongruously for a moment.
“If you’ve come to sit on your ass and drink and be boring, then go home,” he yelled to the crowd in a coquettish British lilt.
“Wave your hands in the air, take some clothes off; this is ‘Under Pressure,’ ” he said, removing his jacket with aplomb as bassist Billy Moffat rolled out the opening notes of that wonderful song.
One Night of Queen certainly does a commendable job of recreating the band’s intricate and fast-paced music. David Brockett was a bit of a show-stealer on his red Brian May Signature electric guitar, running away with the hall of fame guitarist’s licks, rhythms and solos. I consider May’s to be one of the most distinctive tones in all of rock music, and Brockett was a ton of fun to watch, shredding through the lightning-fast riffs with ease.
The quintet, including drummer Jon Halliwell and keys man Malcolm Gentles, tore through almost all of Queen’s top hits, tunes such as “Somebody to Love” and “Killer Queen,” along with less familiar tracks (to me) including“A Kind of Magic.” Mullen constantly engaged the crowd in operatic, scat-style call and response, and dedicated more than a few tunes, including sending out “You’re My Best Friend” to all the lovers in the house.
In imitating Freddie Mercury, Mullen takes on what has to be one of the most demanding roles in the tribute-band business, a vocal range and ability that was nothing short of astounding. Fortunately the frontman does the late pop icon justice, sounding discernably similar to Mercury’s tone, and cheekily portraying his glamorous, diva-esque onstage persona. There were definitely a few octave drops, and an omitted line or two, but he certainly earned the roaring applause after every number. It was apparently his first performance at Tahoe’s elevation, so there’s that as well.
Mullen covered an awful lot of ground during the show, roughly the amount in your average “Bicycle Race.” He appeared to particularly enjoy Halliwell’s raised drum platform, frequently bounding up and over it to strut back and forth in an ever-decreasing wardrobe (he reloaded a second shirt and jacket during a brief intermission, allowing him to strip bare-chested twice during the show). There was at least one bachelorette party in the audience that got some added value from their tickets.
“When are you getting married love? May? That’s a long time away. Well, I’m your stripper for tonight. Do you like it?” he asked, to a wave of catcalls and cheers.
All in all, it was a tremendously fun show, enjoying a live rendition of Queen’s wall-of-sound music performed by a dedicated band. Hearing songs such as “Fat-Bottomed Girls” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” played in person was an absolute treat for hundreds of gyrating fans clearly having a ball. The South Shore Room was primarily standing room, a rarity for the venue, and the audience made the most of the added space, dancing away to the upbeat, feel-good music.
After a hearty thanks to the crew and crowd, Mullen grabbed a cherry sunburst Telecaster for the final number, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” with Brockett starting the tune on an acoustic before switching back to his electric guitar for the spirited solo.
After a short trip to the wings, One Night of Queen returned for an encore with “We Will Rock You” and “We are the Champions,” about as fitting a closure as a rock band has written. Aside from the thrill of the live music, this was also an excellent opportunity to reflect on just how enjoyable and timeless Queen’s work is.
Hats off to the band for a memorable evening, and South Shore shall hope to see them return before long.