Fear not. There will be no Spandex when the musicians in the Portland Symphony Orchestra channel their collective ’70s psyche to pay tribute to the rock band Queen.
In its final Pops concert of the season, the orchestra will perform the music of the legendary British group accompanied by a tribute band fronted by vocalist Michael Shotton, who briefly sang with the band Boston. Concerts are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Merrill Auditorium.
The entire concert is dedicated to the music of Queen. Fronted by the flamboyant Freddie Mercury, Queen practically coined the term “arena rock” with its anthem-like songs that were full of lush orchestrations and musical complexities. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
Queen’s catalog of songs is instantly familiar to anyone who attends sports events or listens to WBLM — “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You,” most notably. And “Bohemian Rhapsody” stands as a classic in its own right. It is one of the most elaborate songs ever recorded, and is the third best-selling single in the U.K. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it No. 163 on its list of the top 500 songs of all time.
PSO Music Director Robert Moody was a fan growing up in South Carolina.
“I recall fondly being at middle school parties and singing ‘We Will Rock You’ at the top of my lungs,” he said in an email. “I think the music, which has so many great elements of the both the ’70s and ’80s, is incredibly orchestral — dare I say operatic? — in nature. So the marriage between the music of Queen and the PSO is literally seamless.”
In a phone interview, Shotton explained his fascination with Queen as a mix between his respect for Mercury as a singer and performer and his admiration of guitarist Brad May, whom Shotton described as a genius composer.
“He did not write cheesy rock solos. They are incredibly well thought out,” he said. “Brian May is an intelligent and educated man, and equally intelligent in his music and choices of notes.”
Shotton travels with a full band, including back-up singers, and has performed the music of Queen with symphony orchestras in other cities.
The show is divided into two sets, each with nine songs. Typically, there is a two-song encore.
The University of Southern Maine Chamber Singers will perform during the second set, under the direction of Robert Russell. Russell agreed that the music of Queen is both complex and inspired. He is preparing his singers for this show with the same enthusiasm that he would for a classical music concert.
“Freddie Mercury’s choral writing is quite good and quite substantial. We have had a blast preparing this concert,” Russell said. “It is much more than an occasional ‘do-be-do-be-do’ that we sing. The lyrics are meaningful to the students as well as the choral sonorities that he has created.
“The music is really well conceived, and I have had as much fun rehearsing it as the students have singing it. I think the concert is going to be stunning.”
Unlike other tribute artists, Shotton is not interested in recreating the image of Mercury or Queen.
“It’s all about the music and the orchestra,” he said. “I try to be the host and just bring the music to life. I sing the stuff, but I’m not going to put buck teeth in and wear white leotards. It’s not going to happen.”
Similarly, Moody made it clear he has no intention of donning Spandex or playing a role. “Wow. No,” he answered. “But I will let my inner product of the ’80s come flying through.”
For Moody, Queen’s popularity rested with Mercury’s on-stage presence.
“Freddie Mercury was raw. That’s the best way I can put it,” he said. “He was a showman, to be sure. But he let it all out on stage. He held nothing back. You didn’t need to try and guess his emotion, his lust for the high note, his vocal seduction. It was all laid out for the listener. I think that’s why so many of us ended up memorizing every word.”
“It’s not about being a rock star,” Shotton said. “It’s not about guitar solos. It’s about the music, and everyone in the room becoming connected.
“We all sort of relive those songs together.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: