Queen weekend Part 2 – Crown jewels

We tried to check in to the hotel before we got to the arena, but the hotel I’d booked (Extended Stay America – again on Priceline) was on a service road off Route 3, and AAA had had trouble trying to map it, and the directions were lousy, and when we got to the spot indicated, the hotel wasn’t there. Running late, we got a little lost before I just headed south looking for big roads. We were supposed to be at the arena at 2:30 – we got there at 2:20. I’d purchased the premium ticket package which included “a guided tour of the backstage area and tea party with other fans”. They put us in two groups, and the first one went off at 3, ours didn’t leave until 3:30. It was a nice tour, and they did have tea and cookies, but I won’t lie – I was hoping to meet the band, or at least catch soundcheck. Still, the people we met were nice, and part of the swag we did get included an autographed program, and the night did get much better.

I called the hotel for directions, and it was pretty easy to get there from the arena. We checked in, dropped our stuff off, then headed over the NJ turnpike to a nearby mall to get dinner. Jill had a craving for chicken pasta dish at Pizzeria Uno’s, so we went there. I had a pepperoni and ham sandwich, Jill had a beer, and I had Jameson’s and diet coke (the waiter was new, and first tried to bring my drink as a glass of diet coke and a shot of Jameson’s). We didn’t take long, and were back at the arena by 7. Our lanyards got us back in the VIP bar, so we sat at the bar and had a couple drinks, finally heading down to the floor just before 8, when they were scheduled to start. Now I knew we had third row seats, so I was pretty psyched, but was astounded when we got there. The middle section of seats in the front was removed to make way for a catwalk, and our seats were right next to it! (see the red dot in this picture). They took an extra half hour to get out, but even Jill was starting to get excited. The opening music came on (a remix of “It’s A Beautiful Day”), and we were up and waiting. The real intro was to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, then Paul came out followed by the rest of the band to thunderous acclaim.

To anyone whose read this far and is wondering “didn’t Freddie die?”, yes, he did. But any time more than one member of Queen gets together (with Elton John, Robbie Williams, George Michael), they bill it as Queen + singer. Last spring, they’d gotten together with Paul Rodgers, legendary vocalist from Free, Bad Company, and the Firm for a British TV show, and had hitten it off well enough to do a small European tour. I very much wanted to go, but decided the airfare, tix, and hotel for two people was just too expensive. But this was the first of two shows in the US (other is in LA next week) and I had to go. I knew it would be a great show, but if it wasn’t the best show I’ve ever seen, it was damn close.

They opened with “Reaching Out” (a charity song Paul had done with Brian) and went straight into “Tie Your Mother Down”, “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Another One Bites The Dust”. Little breather with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, then Paul brought out the first of his hits with “Bad Company”. Paul took a break and Roger stepped out to sing the only new song, “Say It’s Not True” (written for Nelson Mandela’s 46664 benefit), then Brian came out alone to sing “’39” and “Love Of My Life” with crowd accompaniment. I was worried when they dropped “’39” from their warm up show in Aruba the week before, even going so far as emailing Brian to put it back in. Don’t know if he saw it, but it was fantastic. He started a slow version of “Hammer To Fall” out there, then Paul joined him to take it into the fast version. Another Paul classic with “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, then Roger spotlighted again with a drum solo and his big hit “I’m In Love With My Car” (which means that both Brian and Roger did the songs they sung lead on “A Night At The Opera”, their biggest album, which also features “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Brian returned to the stage for his epic “Brighton Rock” solo, leading into “Last Horizon” from his first solo album. Roger came back to sing “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”, then started “Radio Ga Ga”, with Paul coming in halfway through. Two Bad Company tunes next, “Can’t Get Enough” and “Rock & Roll Fantasy”, followed by “I Want It All”. The show closer was of course “Bohemian Rhapsody”. They started with Freddie on the big screen for the first part, then Paul came out for the rocking bits, finishing up with a duet at the end – very nicely done. The encore was “The Show Must Go On”, then the Free classic “All Right Now”, and they couldn’t end with anything but “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions”.

We were sorry to see it end. I was surprised to see Jill totally get into the show, screaming with a couple girls next to us everytime someone came by on the catwalk, and going nuts when Paul stopped to shake our hands. I took a buttload of pictures, and a third came out really well (I also kept some of the oddities). The show was everything I could have ever asked for (except for having Freddie back of course). Paul is an incredible singer and showman, and Brian and Roger haven’t lost any of their vocal talent and musicanship. I was just amazed to be standing close enough to Brian to touch him as he played.

We weren’t in a hurry to leave, tried to see if we could get back into the VIP bar and failed, and found we’d parked in a lot close to the exit. We drove around looking for a place that sold beer but were SOL, we settled for a stop at White Castle. Fortified with grease, we went to sleep – got up at 4:30 for a 6:10 flight. Uneventful trip, and Illa was very happy to see us at the vet in the morning.