On Stage: Killer Queen Experience at Knauer

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

No one will ever hear or see Queen – the band the ruled the rock world in the 1970s and 1980s – play again.

Sure, there is a band called Queen out on the road now with two of the original members – guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor. But Queen without deceased vocalist Freddie Mercury is like the Four Seasons without Frankie Valli or the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger.

Queen with Paul Rodgers or Adam Lambert handling the vocals is not really Queen. It is a super high-quality tribute act that no other tribute act can challenge — but it’s not Queen.

Challengers or not, there are plenty of Queen tribute acts performing around the world with names such as Killer Queen, Almost Queen, One Night of Queen, Queen Flash, Rapsodia Bohemia Sinfónico, Absolute Queen, Sympoinic Queen, One Vision, Rhapsody of  Queen, We Are the Champions-The Que, Queen Symfonicznie, and A Night Of Queen: Best Of Queen.

Many of them make the mistake of trying to both look like and sound like the band fronted by the iconic Freddie Mercury. Even the recent biopic had actors who resembled Queen’s members – but they were actors not musicians and could never have come close to actually making the music.

So, if you’re going to a Queen tribute show, you are forced to make a decision – do you want to see some poseurs trying to look like Mercury, May, Deacon and Taylor but playing poorly or do you want to hear a group of real musicians doing an exemplary job of recreating the flamboyant London band’s classic sound.

If you chose the latter, then you’re in luck.

You’ll have the opportunity to hear just such a band when the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, UptownWestChester.org) presents 33 1/3 LIVE’s Killer Queen Experience (KQE) on August 24.

Not just another tribute band, KQE re-creates Queen’s studio recordings live, with an ensemble of instrumental and vocal talent needed to make it possible.

Jim Drnec, drummer and founder of the multi-faceted musical collective 33 1/3 LIVE, remembers listening to his favorite albums all the way through — the way the artist meant them to be heard. This was the inspiration for 33 1/3 LIVE’s most recent and most ambitious endeavor: The Killer Queen Experience.

The group faithfully performs Queen’s studio recordings live on stage, including all the vocal harmonies that made the recordings so amazing. To simulate Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor’s style, Jim plays special instruments, a 1970s-era Ludwig Vistalite drum kit with Paiste 2002 cymbals and a Roland sample pad for sound effects.

“I keep rotating the cast and rotating performers,” said Drnec, during a recent phone interview from his office in Wilmington.

“This Queen project has legs on it, so we’ll keep doing it as long as people want to hear it.”

Drnec, who is a medical malpractice defense attorney during the day, explained the catalyst for his 33 1/3 LIVE projects.

“About seven years ago, my wife gave me a turntable,” said Drnec. “I listened to the first Montrose album all the way through. Every song was great.

“So, I got some musicians to join with me to play the album live along with Aerosmith’s ‘Rocks,’ ‘Who’s Next’ by The Who, Humble Pie’s’ ‘Rocking the Fillmore’ and the Cars’ first album.

“Queen was the first concert I ever went to when I was young. It was Queen, Kansas and Argent at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey. Queen were rock stars.”

That show was on February 21, 1975. The same show touched down in Philadelphia on February 23 at the Erlanger Theatre, which was one of Philadelphia’s most elaborately designed live performance theaters and was considered one of the most magnificent ever built in the United States. It was demolished in 1978.

“After listening to Queen’s ‘Night at the Opera,’ I called Justin Gonzalez, who is a great singer,” said Drnec. “He’s a classically trained tenor.

“We started getting this Queen project together three years ago. It took us about a year to get our feet under us – especially with 11 people from different projects trying to find time to work on it.

“We got together whenever we could. We played our first show two years ago just to get it out there. We really hit our stride about six months ago.”

Not satisfied with just playing the “hits”, the Killer Queen Experience also plays Queen’s quintessential album, “A Night At The Opera” in its entirety, featuring tracks such as “You’re My Best Friend,” “The Prophet’s Song” and Queen’s operatic masterpiece “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

There are more musicians and singers than were on the album, allowing them to perform the songs as they were recorded, overdubs and all — nine musicians playing multiple instruments and six vocalists reproducing the live the parts that even Queen could not manage on stage.

According to Drnec, “The cast also includes some of the Delaware Valley’s best musicians.”

Fans of live classic rock may recognize some members of the KQE ensemble who regularly appear throughout the Philly and tri state region — Stephanie Davis, vocals, vocal arrangements and clarinet; Michele Davis-Tortu, vocals, violin and bells; John Dennis, electric/acoustic guitars and vocals; Tony Mecca, vocals; Chip Michael, bass guitar; Mike Pappas, keyboards; John Tidwell, vocals; and Steve Wiggs, electric/digital guitars.

“We do a 120-minute show,” said Drnec. “We play everything that is on ‘A Night at the Opera’ and added hits. Getting it together was a labor of love – especially with songs like ‘Keep Yourself Alive,’ ‘Tie Your Mother Down,’ and Radio Gaga.’ Our goal is to create live what Queen did in the studio.”

The concert by 33 1/3 LIVE’s Killer Queen Experience at the Uptown! will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.

Mary Fahl

When Mary Fahl performs in concert, there are three possible musical avenues she might travel. She could take the stage with her band. She could perform a solo show. Or, she could treat her fans to a live presentation of one of her special projects.

When she travels physically to a show, there are two venues she could play that are close to her home in Bucks County. She can make a 10-minute drive to the New Hope Winery or a ride that is just slightly longer to the Sellersville Theater.

Fahl is playing an area show on August 24 and the venue option goes to the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

With regard to the music, Fahl will present two of the three options mentioned above.

“I always love doing shows at the Sellersville Theater,” said Fahl, during a phone interview last week from her Bucks County home. “It’s such a nice theater in such a nice little corner of Bucks County.”

The Sellersville Theater is also a perfect venue for Fahl to play her music in a full band format.

“I love chances to play with my band,” said Fahl. “Most of my shows are shows I play by myself. So, I really am happy when I get to perform with my band.”

Fahl with band is a treat for the singer and for her fans – and a somewhat rare delicacy.

“I only do about four band shows each year, so this is a pretty special event,” said Fahl. “This will be fun. My band is from Syracuse and so is Mark Doyle. He is my music director and also plays guitar and piano.

“He’s based in Syracuse and I asked him to put a band together for me. We have a drummer, a bass player and a keyboard player. They can all rehearse easily in Syracuse and I go there when I need to rehearse with them.”

Fahl has also been heading north to the city named after a city on the east coast of Sicily (Siracusa) for another reason.

“My husband has been bugging me to do a Christmas record,” said Fahl. “So, I went up to Syracuse to work on it with Mark Doyle. I’ve gotten a lot recorded. It’s a combination of carols and wintery songs.

“I had a brutal spring – getting on a plane and working almost every weekend. I spent a lot of time in the Newark Airport. I have three shows in August. Then, in September, I’m back up running again.”

The show at Sellersville has a lot to offer Fahl’s fans.

“I’ll be performing two sets,” said Fahl. “The first set will be my regular set – my stuff, October Project songs, a typical show. The second set will be my version of ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’”

Many of Fahl’s fans have been with her ever since her time with October Project which lasted from 1991-1996.

“October Project had a large body of work and I still perform some of those songs in my live show,” said Fahl. “If I don’t do some of those songs, fans get upset. I also like doing interesting covers.”

Fahl has written and performed songs for several major motion pictures, including the lead song (“Going Home”) for the Civil War epic “Gods and Generals.” Her music can also be found on the original soundtrack of the 2003 movie “The Guys.”

In 2011, Fahl recorded her own version of one of rock’s all-time classics — Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Fahl re-interpreted the songs on an album she titled “From the Dark Side of the Moon.

For many artists, the task of re-inventing songs from an album as iconic as “Dark Side of the Moon” could have been too much of a challenge. Not so for Fahl who crafted a disc that honored its roots but established an identity all its own.

“After making the Sony classical album (“Classics for a New Century”), I wanted to do something that was fun,” said Fahl. “An independent filmmaker I knew wanted to use me in a performance piece. I wanted to do something that I didn’t have the ability to write.

“That’s when I decided to do the ‘Dark Side’ recording. It’s like a classical piece of music. I did not intend to make a cover record. It’s my version and it doesn’t sound at all like Pink Floyd’s version. But, a lot of die-hard Pink Floyd fans have responded well. They like the album — and my live versions of the songs.”

Fahl is a singer, a guitarist and a songwriter. More than anything, Fahl is a performer.

“Performing is my primary form of self-expression,” said Fahl. “When I do a show, I want to take you on a complete journey. I want to transform you.”

Fahl has been delivering transformative shows for years. Once you’ve heard Fahl sing, from that point on when you hear a song by Fahl, you immediately know who is singing.

“I finished the classical record,” said Fahl. “It’s a folky, ambient classical record. It has a lot of ambient guitar, cello and a little me on guitar. I’m now figuring a good time to release it.

“I love it – but I don’t know who will buy it. It’s hard to figure out how to market it. Still, I’m very proud of it. I feel like I brought something different and good.”

Video link for Mary Fahl — https://youtu.be/ISjBz_DIbKI.

The show at the Sellersville Theater will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $32.50 and $43.

Another show at the venue in Sellersville this weekend will be on August 25 featuring Larry, Steve & Rudy: The Gatlin Brothers.

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