Queen, Brixton Academy, London

All right now - even without their killer queen
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The Independent Culture

Not since Jesus Christ stood on a mountainside and asked the Five Thousand if they fancied a spot of lunch have so many hands been raised together. Hands clapping to "Radio Ga-ga" and "We Will Rock You", hands punching the air to "We are the Champions", hands extending prehensile index fingers during "A Kind of Magic", hands giving the metal-head salute to just about anything... Queen fans sure love a good revivalist meeting.

Not since Jesus Christ stood on a mountainside and asked the Five Thousand if they fancied a spot of lunch have so many hands been raised together. Hands clapping to "Radio Ga-ga" and "We Will Rock You", hands punching the air to "We are the Champions", hands extending prehensile index fingers during "A Kind of Magic", hands giving the metal-head salute to just about anything... Queen fans sure love a good revivalist meeting.

There was a kind of magic in the air at the Brixton Academy on Monday when Queen played their first concert since 1986, but it was the magic of nostalgia rather than resurrection. Brian May and Roger Taylor, Queen's original guitarist and drummer, plus three un-named sidemen on second guitar, bass and keyboards, recreated a sound that hasn't been heard on these shores for two decades - the sound of Operatic Rock Posing. Every musical phrase, every melodic progression, every sonic impulse took second place to the band's classic sound - a massive guitar power-chord bolstered by a thunderous drum wallop, reverberating around the auditorium while the guitarist leans against the noise and grins at the singer... Repeat a hundred times and you have the essence of Queen Live, 2005.

We longed to see how Paul Rodgers (pictured right) would pass muster as a replacement singer for Freddie Mercury. "I was always against the idea of putting someone in there trying to impersonate Freddie in any way," said Brian May recently, so it's good to report that there's no danger of any confusion between the two men. A hairy blues belter like Rodgers could no more sing one of Mercury's more nuanced melodies (like, say, "Killer Queen") than give birth. He's better at barnstorming through "Tie Your Mother Down"(a well-chosen opener) or the chorus of "Fat-Bottomed Girls" safe in the knowledge that his voice will be heard above the triumphalist ruck, in the same way a jet fighter will be heard above a football crowd.

You could ask why he bothers. As the band chugged into "I Want to Break Free", Rodgers shyly proffered the microphone to the audience. Seizing the opportunity, they sang the first line, the second, the third and fourth, the whole next verse - they were unstoppable. Was that a look of sheepishness on Rodgers' beardy face at this evidence that he might be slightly redundant? He gives good front-man, though, striding about in a tight white T-shirt and black leather pants (not the most convincingly straight look in the world), twirling his mike stand like a chrome propeller. He's charmingly old-fashioned, in the way he introduces the band, Las Vegas-style ("Mister Brian May... Mister Roger Taylor") and schmoozes the audience in the authentic tones of 1970 ("Awesome... awesome, man... this is beautiful").

There was a lot of lump-in-throat stuff at the Academy. The performers took turns to advertise their tender feelings. "You all right out there?" asked May in a choked voice. "I can't really believe we're all here doing this."

"We've all spent an awful long time together in one way or another," said Taylor, "and this is a reminiscence song," before launching into the terminally drippy "Days of Our Lives." Among the nostalgic moments evoked was May's spectacular solo on the roof of Buckingham Palace, at the climax of the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Further signs of a band becoming embalmed in nostalgia were provided by old video footage of Freddie Mercury eating sushi, working a stage - and singing the opening to "Bohemian Rhapsody", so that Rodgers didn't have to (and he'd never have reached the note on "Life has juuuust begun" anyway). There were some stormingly executed Queen standards, especially "Hammer to Fall", and Paul Rodgers' back catalogue from his Free and Bad Company days proved enduring ("All Right Now" is amazingly evergreen), but by the end, all musicianship was drowned in the arms-aloft rabble-rousing of "Rock You" and "Champions" and, er, "God Save the Queen", to which some diehards in the stalls sang the lyrics, not realising it was ironic. May and Taylor and Rodgers stood drenched in sweat. The audience raised their fists. The band raised their fists back at them. The Academy was a forest of beer-bellied middle-aged chaps exchanging emotional power salutes. It was vainglorious, ludicrous and rather touching.

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