Rockin’ the Rhapsody

Rock music lovers from the ’70s remember the first time they heard Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the popular rock variety show called “The Midnight Special.”
The weekly show was about the only place on the television dial people could see and hear the top artists and hot up-and-comers perform their hit songs. What set Queen above the rest — they introduced Americans to the first ever music video. Because of the innovative presentation and the exposure from the show, “Bohemian Rhapsody” became a huge hit — forever changing how music could be delivered and heard.
British rockers Freddie Mercury (lead vocals, piano), Brian May (lead guitar, vocals), Roger Taylor (drums, vocals) and John Deacon (bass guitar) were influenced by progressive rock, hard rock and heavy metal but they also brought elements of theater into the show. Mercury’s charismatic and flamboyant showmanship and the powerful energy of the group made rock history. Queen became the king of arena rock, performing for packed stadiums around the globe for more than two decades.
Mercury mesmerized audiences with his energy and larger than life stage persona. Upon his death in 1991, a huge void was left in the rock concert world, which to this day has not been filled.
Queen Nation, a tribute to Queen, picked up the gauntlet in 2004. Gregory Finsley (vocals & keyboards as Freddie Mercury), Mike McManus (guitar as Brian May), Peter Burke (drums as Roger Taylor), and Parker Combs (bass as John Deacon), have carried on the musical torch to pay homage to vintage Queen concerts.
The guys’ performance and attention to detail and accuracy are at the heart of this live retrospective through signature pieces like “We Will Rock You,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Are The Champions,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Another One Bites The Dust,” “Under Pressure” and many more.
They return to the Riverside Resort for a series of shows Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 31-Nov. 3.
We talked with Mike McManus about the music, the guys and the show they’re bringing back to town. Here’s his take…

Why a tribute to Queen? What about the music appealed to you?
How it originally started — our agent kind of put it together back in 2004, because there’s a local music club out here called the Canyon Club, and the owner had approached our agent and said, “Hey, if you could put a Queen tribute together, they could play here.” We’re all huge Queen fans, so it was a labor of love for all of us.
I didn’t even have an appreciation for what the bass player does or what the drummer does because I was always so focused on the guitar and the vocals — and now I see the overall complexity, the songs are so well thought out and crafted. I never thought I would gain as much respect for the music as I did until we started this.
I’m a super huge Queen geek. I’ve been into them since I was a kid back in the ’70s, so I mean, it’s just even more cemented my appreciation for it all. I remember seeing that “Bohemian Rhapsody” video, going, “whoa, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” There was nothing like that ever, you know, and I was like, “okay, I wanna do that.”

How far has the music taken the group since that time?
We have been around since 2004. We’re from southern California, and started out doing like five shows a year. We’ve pretty much played all over the country and Canada and Mexico. We went to Newfoundland, which is the farthest northeast point of North America. The band has sold out a bunch of shows and broken some attendance records this year.
The most bittersweet part about being a traveling musician is you meet some of the nicest people that you’d ever want to meet and you know there’s a good chance you’ll never see them again. So you just have to appreciate those people while you’re in their presence and just enjoy makin’ ’em happy and entertaining them.

What is your approach to recreating Queen?
We kind of try to stay to what Freddie was wearing and what he looked like back in the early ’80s. That’s the beauty about doing this residency in Laughlin, we’ll wear different outfits each night and we’ll switch up the set list a little bit each night. We do have people who come multiple nights, and we try to give them a reason to spend their money on us that second night.

What was your biggest challenge in putting this tribute together?
Just nailing the music. Because I was and still am such a big Queen freak, especially since the guy I imitate is Brian May, who’s the biggest musical influence on me and my guitar playing. Just learning all the songs and making sure we did Queen justice, ’cause at the end of the day, we wanted to be the Queen tribute band that we would pay to see.

What do you think it is that sets you guys apart?
There are only two tributes in the United States, but if you wanted to compare us to the ones internationally, like over in Europe and South America, they always emulate queen circa 1986, emulating Queen at the height of their popularity overseas. We try to emulate them during the height of their American popularity right around The Game tour ’80 or ’81. So we wear the same costumes that they wore around that time, when they were at the top of the charts in the States.

Is there a particular song or segment that goes over the best no matter where you perform?
Oh, there’s like 10 we have to do. Every night we’ll play all the big hits, and then play some of the not-so-gi-normous hits and switch those out. We would not even think about not doing “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “We Are the Champions,” one night. We’re gonna keep playing all the big Queen hits and then for the die-hard Queen fans, we’ll change out the lesser-known stuff and switch those around.
I never get tired of playing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” — for the musical challenge and because we have the audience sing the operatic part. It is the most joyous, cacophonous sound, with thousands of people singing “Galileo Galileo Figaro.”

What else can audiences expect?
We tell people bring your best singing voices. We’re not going to do all the work we want you singing as loud as we are so be prepared to sing along and our goal is to never give people a reason to get up and use the bathroom. We don’t want you missing anything.

Do you know what your demographic is here?
(He laughs) We do and we’re right behind them. But I look at it this way, they’re probably still slightly younger than the real Queen.

Living the dream…
It’s still the best job in the world, and we’re still the four amigos on the road every weekend. There are always good people no matter where we go. And we get to go to the Midwest and the South. We play for the nicest people you’d ever want to meet — we’re just hanging out with good people who want to rock.


Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort

Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 31-Nov. 3 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info