My wife Barbara and I went to an interesting concert the other night. It was a band you’ve never heard of that nevertheless manages to fill 1,000-seat theaters throughout the world.
The name of the group is Gary Mullen and the Works. But what it says on the ticket to their show is “One Night of Queen.”
Yes, that’s right. Barbara and I went to see a Queen tribute band. I will admit to being the purchaser of the tickets, but I hasten to add that I bought them for Barbara, since she is the bigger Queen afficionado of the two of us.
So there we were at the sold-out Tarrytown Music Hall, a beautiful old theater built in 1885, before anyone had heard of Freddie Mercury. It was our first tribute band concert of any kind, so we were fascinated with all the sights and sounds. For instance, in the lobby, they were selling One Night of Queen CDs.
Now, I can understand why people might go to a tribute concert. Tickets to the real thing might be expensive and, in most cases, even the real bands are largely fake, with replacements for members who are deceased, drug-addled or just really, really old. You might think you’re seeing your favorite band from the 70’s, but it’s really only the one guy who owns the rights to the name and a bunch of musicians he picked up along the way.
So, okay, instead of spending $100 to see a fake real band, you spend $40 to see a real fake band. But why would anyone buy a CD of a tribute band? Just buy a friggin’ Queen CD!
The audience at the Quasi-Queen concert was interesting. The fellow next to me was talking to his friend about just having bought tickets to see the band Get the Led Out for the seventh time. I figure if he’s seen them that often they must be even better than Led Zeppelin. A family of four-–mother, father, 12-ish boy and 15-ish girl–were in the row in front of us. The boy was really into it; he stood up and bopped throughout the show in that annoying “only-the-head-moves” way kids have these days. The girl, however, had obviously been dragged there against her will, possibly as punishment for exceeding the data limit on her cellular plan. Even before the lights went down, she put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones, pulled up the hood on her sweatshirt, and slunk down into her seat, evidently hoping no one she knew would see her there.
Many of the other folks in the theater should have been embarrassed to be seen anywhere. Some, like the woman with the early Joan Jett haircut, were styled as if they wanted to look like the oldest attendees of an actual Queen concert circa 1983.
Anyway, as concerts are wont to do, this one began. And, much to our delight, it started on time, which meant we wouldn’t get home at some ungodly hour like 11:30.
The lead singer of Gary Mullen and the Works, presumably Gary Mullen, came out in tight white pants, a yellow leather-like jacket, and a wide mustache that made him look less like Freddie Mercury and more like a villain about to tie a damsel to the railroad tracks and demand the rent. But he sang every bit as well as Freddie Mercury could have…if we keep in mind that Freddie Mercury has been dead for a quarter century.
This would be a good time to say that I never saw actual Queen in concert. I was more of a folk-rock guy–what today would be the genre called singer/songwriter. I tell you this so that you know I’m unaccustomed to the traditions of rock and roll shows. For instance, I have no idea if it’s normal for a lead singer to remove his jacket and, after sweating profusely into his wife-beater undershirt, rip it off his body and toss it into the audience. I can tell you that I don’t think it’s the sort of thing either Simon or Garfunkel would have done.
I can imagine, though, that if the likes of someone like Roger Daltrey had torn off his shirt and hurled it into the crowd, people would have been climbing over each other trying to get it. Sadly, this was not the fate in store for Gary Mullen’s perspiration-drenched apparel. People actually ducked. It was headed in our direction, and both Barbara and I made the kind of motion with our hands you might make if someone approached you with a dead squirrel.
But even as Mullen’s sweaty undergarment landed safely a few rows in front of us, I wondered if this band had groupies. I mean, how low would your self-esteem have to be in order for you to be a groupie to a tribute band? “Oh, yes,” the young girl might say, ”I faked an orgasm with Faux Collins of Regenesis!” (A real Genesis cover band, by the way.)
At one point, Gary Mullen asked the audience if anyone had attended the last time the band played Tarrytown, some seven years earlier. Remarkably, there was some scattered applause. So The Works has been working for awhile. How does that work psychologically? Does Gary think he’s an actor playing the role of Freddie Mercury? Does he think he’s channeling Freddie Mercury? Does he think he is Freddie Mercury?
As Mullen pranced around the stage, sticking his tongue out, patting his ass, and making lewd gestures with the overly long transmitter of his wireless mic, I wondered if the group ever has the urge to take a deep breath and announce, “And now we’d like to do an original number…”
But then, when he began berating an audience member for not being enthusiastic enough (fortunately, Barbara and I were not seated close enough for him to see us), I realized the show was more of a camp performance, along the lines of an Elvis impersonator. Gary was no more likely to break character than the cast of Hamilton would be to suddenly start singing “My Favorite Things.”
And just as I had that thought, Gary Mullen sang a few bars of “Dance to the Music,” which meant that the Queen cover band was covering Sly & the Family Stone.
We would have left at intermission anyway.
See you soon.
P.S. To make this whole thing even sillier, when I used Google to find photos of Gary Mullen and the Works, I came across pictures of Mr. Mullen before he puts on his fake mustache and hairpiece. Really.