Tuesday night, the Queen Extravaganza touched down at The Canadian Tire Center. This marked the second time this official sanctioned tour hit the nation’s capital, after playing the National Arts Center mid-January. The NAC would probably be a better fitted venue too. With the Canadian Tire Center cut in half (like they do for some concerts) the audience filed the floor, and had sprinkles of people in the hundreds. Though what the crowd lacked in size it definitely made up for in enthusiasm and as they say – “the show must go on.”Queen‘s crest, on a very large piece of fabric, was covered the stage as you entered the venue. Shortly after 8pm, with “The Prophets Song” playing over the PA, the house lights dimmed and the sound of feedback hit your ears. The logo then dropped to reveal Francois-Olivier Doyon on bass, Bran Gresh on guitar and Tyler Warren on drums and vocals playing an upbeat version on “We Will Rock You”.
Keyboardist/ music director Brandon Ethridge, along with the two vocalists Jennifer Esponoza and Marc Martel then joined the band on stage. The crowd was excited to see Martel, a Montreal native who looks a little and sounds a lot like Freddie Mercury. He received an extra ovation as he took to the stage. They broke into “Killer Queen” and the audience was on its feet.
The Queen Extravaganza has the unique title of being the only Queen tribute act that is not only sanctioned by the band, but also hand-picked by it, as Roger Taylor (Queens drummer) personally selected every member. There may just be two ‘singers’ in the group, but every member can sing. Many of the songs had harmonies that you could sink your teeth into, and you knew something good was coming up when Gresh and Doyon stepped behind their microphones. Behind his guitar Gresh played with confidence, skill and a whole lot of showmanship as he tackled Brian May‘s guitar lines and solos. Fancois-Oliver Doyon, much like Queen bassist John Deacon (Whose name was unfortunately not mentioned once though out the show) was a little more mild mannered, but stepping out from his position beside the drum riser when the song was really cooking. Ethridge seems to be playing more of a supporting role, singing harmonies and taking over piano duties on the second verse when Martel wanted to explore the. Warren was an animal behind the kit and a beast behind the microphone.
Though Martel was the vocalist the audience came to see, Esponoza held her own behind the mic and owned the stage with her own vocal abilities. Martel’s singing was something other worldly. If you closed your eyes during the show you would almost think they were playing a CD of Mercury He was that spot on. And it wasn’t just the tone, but also the power. During “Tie Your Mother Down” he held the last note for over 30 seconds. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The band played a variety of Queen classics including “I Want To Break Free”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (which included a keyboard and guitar solos, and a choreographed foot dance at the end), “A Kind Of Magic” and “Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon.” Martel and Esponoza traded vocal responsibilities every song, or sometimes every verse. After Warren finished singing “I’m In Love With My Car” Martel returned to the stage, identified that the last song was written by their boss, and that the next song they were going to play was on the other side of that 45′. It was a song he first heard while watching the movie Wayne’s World (“It’s our generation, right?”). Then a video of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” video came on the screen behind them and the music video started the song. When the video got to the line “don’t really matter to me” we went back live again with Martel behind the piano coming in on the second “to me”. The live act played it great, Gretch hitting the solo note for note on the first guitar solo and then it went back the video for the “I’m just a poor boy/Figaro” part The live act took over again at the guitar line before “so you think you can stop me and spit in my eye”. Moments after the song ended, 60 minutes into he show, the band ran off stage, the house lights came on, and I was confused writhe the show was over or not.
A quick check online confirmed that it was intermission, but it seems like I was not the only one unaware of the scheduled break as there were a few more empty seats at the top of the second act. The only noticeable difference that happened in the 20 minute break was that the band was now all wearing white shirts, as opposed to the black ones they wore it the first act.
Esponoza and Martel tag teamed vocals at the top of the second half, with “Under Pressure” and “I Want It All”. Esponoza then sat on a stool at the front of the stage, pointed a tiny hand held camera to the audience and sang “Best Friend” while our faces filed the video screen
Warren was then featured in a drum solo, and was joined on stage by Gretch and Doyon for “Stone Cold Crazy” A few songs later as Martel sang ‘The Show Must Go On” he carried the Microphone stand around the stage. All of me wanted nothing more than for the stand to snap so he’d have to carry around a half microphone stand, just like Freddy did for so many years. The show “ended” with the group encouraging the audience to sing along to “Somebody To Love”.
The group left the stage, this time, though the house lights stayed off, and within two minutes everyone was back out. Martel asked “did we miss a couple?” and then they broke into “Tie Your Mother Down”, another version of “We Will Rock You” that Gretch started with the opening lick to “Foxy Lady” (maybe more of that Wayne’s Wold influence?), and ended the show with “We are the Champions”.
Although no one could ever fill the shoes of Queen (did you hear that Paul Rogers?) The Queen Extravaganza did the songs more than justice and delighted the crowd, and isn’t that really what it’s all about?