Show review by Ben Lauter:
The energy was high on a crisp Saturday night two weeks ago just outside the Whisky A Go Go, one of LA's last remaining rock and roll torchbearers. Fans quickly filed into the 500-person venue to capacity to watch tribute rockers Bohemian Queen cut a most impressive LA debut, rousing an enthusiastic packed house with a two-hour set of epic Queen hits and deep cuts from the legendary London-born band.
Following a resurgence in the early 1990s, Queen has continued to be one of the most enduring bands of any genre with a global popularity. On any given night, the tribute band scene is a surefire winner. Add in a thirst for live music following almost two years of hesitant touring across a pandemic-ravaged music scene and you have an audience primed for a good time.
If anything, this wall-to-wall crowd was an indication of just how much these songs, which overwhelmingly speak to the joys and pleasures of life, continue to resonate with music fans.
Opening the set with a brief but thrilling up-tempo teaser of “We Will Rock You,” featuring a bit more of a robust, hard-charging guitar vibe than usual, Bohemian Queen wasted no time in announcing its royal arrival on the LA scene.
One by one, the band worked its way through a dazzling laundry list of iconic fan favorites and a few rarities, impressively marrying Queen's fabled visual showmanship with its musically layered sounds and putting an equal emphasis on its travels through '70s classic rock and '80s experimentations.
Any tribute band worth its salt knows there are songs that audiences must hear. Queen has an astounding amount of those. The fist-pumping “Stone Cold Crazy” and bass-thumping “Another One Bites the Dust,” balanced out with the cool shuffle of “Crazy Thing Called Love” and the tender “Love of My Life.” The foot-stomping “Fat Bottomed Girls” and the crunch of Live Aid showstopper “Hammer to Fall” playing against wistful numbers like “You're My Best Friend” and “Somebody to Love.” With each number ticked off, the audience seemed to give its enthusiastic stamp of approval.
And then, of course, there's “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The behemoth, the mountaintop, arguably Queen's most famous song, given its proper due here in a rendition that was deeply felt in its highs and lows and all its musical complexity.
While it was clear the band could handily replicate Queen's musicality as it did throughout the night, its members also took beats here and there to orchestrate their own individual spotlight moments. “Barcelona,” a Freddie Mercury solo number, allowed lead singer Paulie Z to duet with guest vocalist Lucia Marco on a fabulous rendition accompanied by a string quartet (perhaps the only time a string quartet has ever appeared or will appear at the Whisky). And second guest singer Mick Scott came up to deliver the big David Bowie parts of the reliably finger-snapping “Under Pressure.”
The tribute scene is by design, meant to deliver the familiar, but it was the little moments that helped make the set something unique beyond mere impersonation. “Killer Queen” provided an ample opportunity for keyboardist/co-guitarist Victor Bender to dip into a colorful piano solo. Drummer Glenn Jost took to the microphone to sing lead on the deep cut “'39” and also laid down a groovy solo with bassist Aaron Sampson, while ace guitarist Steve Zukowsky noodled on one of his own.
As the ringleader bringing it all together, singer Paulie Z infused much welcomed humor and nods to his Brooklyn upbringing into his take on Freddie Mercury, providing an additional layer of levity which included a whopping (and surely exhausting) dozen costume changes. It was yet another indication of a set designed to command audience attention.
Returning at last to “The Show Must Go On” Freddie Mercury's anthem of resilience, and closing with “We Are The Champions,” in its typical full glory, the band brought its set full circle in what was a terrifically fun and loving celebration.
As added uplift, the band's set also served an additional purpose, earmarking $1 of every ticket sale to the David Z Foundation, a music education charity initiative and labor of love for Bohemian Queen's lead vocalist.
With its LA debut now under its belt, the band is already poised to return for another big set at the Whisky on August 20.
Photos by Ricardo Hererra: