It’s easy to forget that the recipe for a great band is a delicate thing. Like a soufflé, even the slightest adjustment can make the dish fall flat. While the Queen+Paul Rodgers show at Hollywood Bowl (the second of only two U.S. dates) wasn’t exactly inedible, it brought to mind Fran Lebowitz’s advice to budding chefs: “If you are the very first to have thought of adding fresh lime juice to scalloped potatoes, try to understand that there must be a reason for this.”
Brian May and Roger Taylor (Queen’s remaining original members) should have realized that there must be a reason why, in the 14 years since singer Freddie Mercury’s death, nobody was clamoring for Rodgers to replace Mercury. It’s not that he’s a bad singer (to be honest, he’s better than Mercury), but he’s the wrong singer. Rodgers’ gruff swagger — so memorable fronting Free and Bad Company — is a boilermaker to Mercury’s flamboyant champagne fizz; yes, they’re both alcohol, but rarely are they ordered at the same bar.
He certainly makes a game attempt, and the setlist has been chosen wisely, with an eye toward Rodgers’ bluesy heft. It closely mirrors “Return of the Champions” (Hollywood Records), including fan favorites “Tie Your Mother Down,” “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” but avoiding campier material such as “Killer Queen.”
His duet with a taped Mercury on “Bohemian Rhapsody” makes it clear that Rodgers lacks the winking self-knowledge to pull off Queen’s deeply silly pomposity.
The balance is no better when the musicians try their hand at Rodgers’ hits. “Bad Company” and “Rock and Roll Fantasy” have never lacked for bombast, but on record, drummer Simon Kirke kept them light on their feet. Queen never met a song they couldn’t add an extra layer of pomp to; their versions drag. Slash sat in for “Can’t Get Enough” and only made the sound thicker and louder.
While the show is billed as “Queen+Paul Rodgers,” about a third of the two-hour show subtracts Rodgers from the equation, as he gives way to solo showcases by May and Taylor. The latter takes a Gene Krupa-style drum solo that leads into “I’m in Love With My Car” and comes out from behind the drum kit for a tender “These Are the Days of Our Lives.” He’s got such an attractively grainy voice you have to wonder why Queen doesn’t consider going the Genesis route and turn him into their lead singer. May is attractively low-key on a folky “Hammer to Fall” and a tousled “39,” but his extended guitar solos serve as a reminder that the excesses of ’70s rock have not all aged equally well.
There’s obviously an appetite for this music, but if anyone really wants to hear Queen songs sung by somebody other than Freddie Mercury, there’s always “We Will Rock You.”