Mullen as Mercury rocks Byham
On Sunday, April 5, the Byham Theater presented One Night of Queen, a two-hour tribute to arguably one of the most rocking bands of all time. Queen was imitated, or flattered in its highest form, by Gary Mullen and the Works, with Mullen playing a spitting image of Queen’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury.
Yet with all the potential for an intense night of rock, the environment threatened with peace and quiet. Byham Theater is the kind of place where you go to see Annie Get Your Gun. Head banging in Byham just doesn’t seem right. Also, the time frame of 8 to 10 p.m. catered to a geriatric crowd. Sure, most of Queen’s early fans are now grandparents, but the absolute lack of youth can make listening to Queen feel like a Phil Collins concert.
In spite of all these factors, however, Gary Mullen and his crew successfully put on a spectacular performance. The guitarist masterfully blended the clean style of Brian May (Queen’s lead guitarist) while adding his own flourishes, which made the crowd forget that they were standing in front of plush velvet seating. The keyboardist was also crucial in adding flavor to the show, with a particularly impressive performance during “We are the Champions.”
It was no surprise, however, that Gary Mullen stole the show with his portrayal of Mercury. On every level of Mercury’s character, Mullen was excruciatingly exact. Beyond just simple singing (which was fantastic, by the way), Mullen moved as Mercury would have, swinging his microphone and posing just as Mercury did in his heyday. Even between songs, Mullen would play with the crowd, making them fetch drinks, and even trading his famous king’s crown for a fan’s fedora. At one point, he even invited some middle-aged women to come dance with him on stage.
On the agenda for the night were the classics, and only the classics. Those looking for the operatic Queen, with their four-part harmonies and heavily nuanced orchestration, would have been heavily disappointed. The repertoire focused mainly on Queen’s arena rock section, from the straight-up rock and roll songs, such as “We Will Rock You,” to the overly flamboyant “Friends Will Be Friends,” which characterizes Queen’s later, movie-score-oriented years. Guitar solos had top priority, but they far from gave Mullen a break during the Mercury antics. Mullen would air guitar right alongside the soloist, up to the point of apparent aggravation. Nobody ever said that rocking hard didn’t come with a price tag.
On occasion, Mullen would soften up and play a ballad, such as “Love of My Life.” Here the crowd witnessed the pinpoint vocals of Mullen and enjoyed a well-deserved rest in between the harder pieces. It should be noted, however, that no one took a seat during the entire show. This may have been because of Mullen’s repeated demands that the crowd remain standing.
After about 90 minutes of a shirtless, over-the-top imitation of Mercury grabbing his ass, the band closed with a roaring rendition of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” However, just like any other rock band ever to put the amplifier volume over 3, Mullen and the Works came back for an encore, finishing with the duo “We Will Rock You/We are the Champions,” two songs that are always played together on the radio.
The show offered a certain sense of guilt for our generation’s music. These days, it seems that when we want to rock, there’s always unnecessary baggage. Pretentious attitudes, political agendas, and highly specified clothing have spoiled an art form that was supposed to be concerned only with itself. One Night of Queen offered a full two hours of non-stop rock action with absolutely no commitments. That is, besides a sore throat for repeatedly shouting requests to play “Another One Bites the Dust.”