Last night I was treated to a performance by The Ultimate Queen Celebration, a Queen tribute band fronted by Marc Martel. The show was at the Théâtre du Casino at Casino de Lac Leamy in Gatineau, Quebec.
Going into the show, I had zero expectations – I don’t recall ever going out specifically to see a tribute band, so assumed that it was going to be a band dressing up like Queen and playing their music. That’s not quite what TUQC delivers. I’ll get to that, but first, some group background details.
The band is fronted by Marc Martel, who is apparently quite famous on his own. Based in Nashville but originally from Montreal, Martel gained fame via YouTube when he shared his rendition of Somebody to Love. From what I gather he was hand-picked by Queen drummer Roger Taylor as the winner of a contest put on by Queen bandmembers (I’m fuzzy on the details as to what the contest was for, but I think it was basically to pick a front man for this particular tribute band). All of the rave reviews of Martel essentially boil down to “Close your eyes, and he sounds like Freddie.”
The rest of the band is made up of Tristan Avakian (lead guitar, some vocals); Brandon Ethridge (keyboard, vocals); Jason Gianni (drums, vocals); and Mike Cohen (bass, vocals). They all have various claims to fame of some sort but I was most impressed by Avakian, who did an amazing job last night playing lead guitar. I learned today that he was a former lead guitarist for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra – not a surprise given the talent he put on display. There are other rotating members of the band, who play depending on venue and availability.
Getting back to the show itself, it was definitely a high-energy affair. Everyone on stage were having a good time and putting every effort into the songs, and the crowd was definitely engaged. Actually, despite playing a number of the higher-energy hits (including Bohemian Rhapsody) in the first half of the show, the audience didn’t break out into singing and dancing until “I Want to Break Free”, sung after an impressive opera performance by Martel coming out of the intermission.
The band didn’t dress up like Queen, which was pointed out by Martel. I didn’t find this distracting at all, and actually preferred it. But they played it straight, and by that I mean they didn’t take too many liberties with the source material. They played it as if they were the real band, playing through the set list, trading on and off the stage for effect. I did think that Martel tries a little bit to emulate Mercury in more than just singing style, but he made it his own thing. I think also the band was limited a little by the size of the stage, so didn’t have too many crazy theatrics.
All in all, anyone could take Queen’s music and make a playlist out of it. What The Ultimate Queen Celebration does is put an element of performance into it and deliver an engaging, fun show. It ends up being a little more than just playing the music. Great show, I recommend it if it’s in a town near you!