I've often reflected on a band/artist and thought, “I wish I could’ve seen them live.” Led Zeppelin, The Doors, and James Brown spring to mind. It’s easy to assume that because the artist(s) themselves are beyond our world, or indefinitely disbanded, that we’ll never be able to experience their power live. And while that might be true in the most literal sense, you should be wary of forever hanging your hat on that notion, and keep your mind open to reverent performances. Cover bands—or tribute shows—can breed a spirited homage worthy of their own appreciation.
The first cover/tribute show I experienced was years ago at The State Room, where I saw This Is The Place—a Chicago-based Talking Heads cover band. It was unforgettable—I danced something fierce that night. So, two weekends ago, while having drinks at Dick N’ Dixies with my nephew, I coaxed him into joining me in an impulsive decision to wander across the street to the Urban Lounge and indulge in their Queen Tribute Night, all rooted in the argument that Queen is much more of a band than they are given credit for. Plus, a $3 cover, along with the opportunity to see local bands Westward and 90’s Television take a stab at mainstays of Queen’s catalog, sounded like a great act of spontaneity. The whimsical decision paid off.
It’s only been within the last few years that I’ve come to realize Queen's uniqueness. I'd even written them off as a rock band that was good, but not worthy of a closer look beyond the catalog staples we’re all familiar with. This often happens, too, when a band gets well-known for a particular core of commercially successful songs. But I was pleasantly surprised at the audience turn-out— and even more impressed with the sincerity with which Queen’s songs were played.
Westward kicked the night off with a pulsing performance of Another One Bites the Dust that was tagged with a discreet segue into We Are The Champions. The rhythm was well established; a burst of clapping hands in unison emerged as quickly as I realized what had happened. Lead vocalist/guitarist Andrew Marshall embraced the tempo and aggressiveness necessary to rough up the crowd with Stone Cold Crazy, and after a short-lived breather, they launched into one of two songs I had anticipated: Under Pressure. Overall, I commend the performance. The band was on-point, notwithstanding a noticeable misfire, after which bass player Karl Grimm took the reins of the slipping vocals and carried the song to an honorable finish. It’s a bold move to take on a timeless song like Under Pressure—I admire Westward for the valiant effort and for a tight, well-executed performance.
90’s Television followed with a lively set. We Will Rock You and Killer Queen made for a vitalizing two-punch opening, and Fat Bottomed Girls brought the vocalist out in everyone in the building. The night took a fast turn for excitement (for me, at least) when the band extracted the deep track Cool Cat from Queen’s 1982 album “Hot Space”—a sexy, groovy number that showcases Freddie Mercury’s—and in this case, vocalist Ginger Brown’s—ability to reach a falsetto. Bohemian Rhapsody was the second song I highly anticipated. Unfortunately, it wasn’t played. In hindsight, that might be a good thing; Urban Lounge could’ve been challenged by the potential raucous that the song invokes in a spirited, sing-along crowd.
One thing was made conspicuously obvious by how much effort it took for the bands to play the songs and how endearingly the crowd enjoyed them: Queen is a terribly under-appreciated band. At times startlingly heavy, beautifully melodic, unexpectedly operatic—incisively witty and critical—they pulled their own in the rich rock scenes of the 70's and 80's without much more to reconcile with the masses than a handful of songs to be played over PA systems at sporting events. Perhaps why they never got the recognition they deserved is because they were so fantastically unique compared to their contemporaries—maybe even threateningly so. I sit back now, as a relatively new Queen enthusiast, recognizing that musical virtuosity, confidence, flair, and songwriting prowess aren't always as a direct road to success as a pop sensibility. Queen had all of it, and their legacy is as worthwhile now as it ever was for those who wish to embrace it. If there were ever a band who had a supply of surprises waiting for the lucky ones who have the resolve to dig deeper, it is Queen.