Queen plus Paul Rodgers, Brixton Academy, London

Queen are dead; long live Queen
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The Independent Culture

Unprepossessing though G4's take on "Bohemian Rhapsody" is, its Top 10 success bears testimony to the enduring appeal of Queen's songs. Fourteen years after Freddie Mercury's death from Aids, the band's back-catalogue continues to make millions in royalties, while the highly successful stage musical We Will Rock You is about to enter its fourth year. When Q magazine published a special edition on Queen earlier in 2005, moreover, loyal fans lapped it up in droves.

The guitarist Brian May and the drummer Roger Taylor have continued to make guest appearances with Queen fans such as The Darkness and The Foo Fighters, but last year, when they announced they had reformed Queen with Paul Rodgers, some thought it an odd marriage. Though the macho, mighty-voiced Rodgers was undoubtedly the real deal when fronting Free and Bad Company, one could hardly imagine him strapping on falsies - as Mercury once did - for a strutting rendition of "I Want to Break Free."

Apart from a benefit performance in South Africa for Nelson Mandela's 46664 campaign, last night's press-and- fan-club-only show was the first that Queen and Rodgers had played together. Their equal billing was immediately underlined by the choice of openers: Queen's "Tie Your Mother Down" and the Free classic "Little Bit of Love".

May rocked the loose-black-trousers-and-Nike-trainers look, while the trimmer, more toned Rodgers wore leather strides and a tight-fitting T-shirt. "Are their any fat-bottomed girls in tonight?" Rodgers enquired before the song of the same name's impressive a cappella section kicked in. Well, Mercury wouldn't have asked that.

Mercury was greatly missed, of course, for both his showmanship and his flaunting of Queen's pomposity. But that doesn't mean it wasn't wonderful to hear Rodgers - a soulful, granite-solid vocalist whom Mercury himself much admired - tackling the likes of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", "Radio Ga Ga" and, yes, "I Want to Break Free". During the latter, the crowd sang the first two verses alone at great volume. Rodgers looked thrilled; Taylor was grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

No one, least of all May, seemed quite prepared for the tide of emotion that was unleashed when he announced that he wanted to sing one of Mercury's songs. Accompanying himself on 12-string acoustic, the guitarist led the crowd in a heartfelt rendition of "Love of My Life", the song's lyric taking on a new resonance, namely that of a musician paying tribute to an absent friend with whom he'd written some truly great pieces of music. Great, too, to hear May - hairstyle and Vox-amplified guitar sound unchanged in 30 years - lend his considerable talents to such rock staples as Free's "All Right Now" and Bad Company's "Feel Like Makin' Love".

"It's hard to find the words," the guitarist said at one point, visibly touched, "but somehow the spirit is still alive." The ensuing roar from the crowd seemed to voice one thought: in a world of lumpenproletariat mundanity, Queen remain a right royal treat.

Queen tour 3 to 14 May and Hyde Park, London, 8 July