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To Queen or Not To Queen

Last summer’s Live 8 was a bittersweet reminder of the original Live Aid, and that fateful moment back in 1985 when Queen so rightfully reclaimed its throne: The wife beater, the gay mustache, the baseless mike stand, the Nazi-esque overhead clapping — it was all as iconic as Elvis karate-kicking or Mick Jagger straddling an inflatable penis. More than an entertainer or mere singer, Freddie Mercury was a voice, and it was rock and gospel and cabaret and opera, and thank bismillah he never had that overbite fixed. (Remember Kurt Cobain’s chilling suicide note?: “...when we’re backstage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowds begins, it doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Freddy [sic] Mercury, who seemed to love, relish in the love and adoration from the crowd, which is something I totally admire and envy...”) Queen was a group born in ’70s glitter and waning in ’80s new wave when Bob Geldof found the “old faggot” on a beach somewhere and told him Live Aid “was gonna be the biggest thing ever.” And what we got was a 20-minute set — no soundcheck, no lights — of the most raucous, came-saw-conquered live music ever televised. Freddie and his harlequin unitard went to that big stadium in the sky in 1991. Bassist John Deacon retired soon after. Drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May moved on to solo projects. And the band ceased in 1992. But have those songs ever been more a part of American pop culture than they are now, 13 years after Wayne’s World? Witness countless remixes, covers, tributes and mash-ups (Gwen Stefani, you keep your tacky acrylics off the Queen samples!); a hit musical in Vegas and London, where the larger-than-life gold Freddie statue out front at the Dominion Theater is a tourist attraction; and their very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (How funny was it to hear honorary Mayor Johnny Grant quip during the ceremony, “I welcome all you queens to Hollywood Boulevard”?) And though their last stadium tour was in ’82, the bum-bum-buh of “We Will Rock You” reverberates every day at America’s major sporting venues.

Now, they’ll be hitting the stadiums once again in the flesh. The not-so-fine print: Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers is taking over for Freddie.

Now, seeing half of Queen is justifiable: May only wrote the music, for God’s sake. But listening to Rodgers, the antithesis of campy/glam rock, sing “Fat Bottomed Girls” (the gayest ode to women) or “I Want To Break Free” (the entire band was in drag for that video) is a whole other consideration. Bona fide fan pride can go either way. But let’s face it: The chances of anyone successfully tackling his Royal Highness’ vocal parts are dead before you pull into the Bowl’s $18 parking lot. Stay home, though, and you’re gonna miss Taylor at his autoerotic best on “I’m in Love With My Car”; that bass on “Another One Bites the Dust” (who cares who’s playing it?); and May. No reason needed there.

Queen + Paul Rodgers perform at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, October 22.