There’s a certain integral moment in every tribute concert performance.

You know, it’s the one where audience members decide if they’re going to sit on their hands and simply take in the show or whether they will suspend disbelief just enough to truly let themselves go wild and celebrate the music of a great band with reckless abandon.

To be honest, in the early going of Simply Queen’s performance Monday night at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre, it wasn’t entirely clear which way the pendulum would swing in that regard. Things were a little rough vocally, especially in the opening live snippet of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And, let’s face it, Freddie Mercury’s take on that iconic song is an impossible standard to maintain and so deeply ingrained in everyone’s consciousness at this point, that any variation is going to be immediately noticeable.

But Simply Queen gradually won the crowd over and, sure enough, by mid-set a good percentage of the fans in attendance had pretty much lost their minds and inhibitions in the stellar tribute performance. And when singer Rick Rock went into the crowd during “Hammer to Fall,” and subsequently during “Somebody to Love,” to sing with a large group of frenzied youth (yes, and a few grownups), near the side at stage left, you would have thought you were witnessing the second coming of Mercury himself judging by the group’s raucous reaction.

That’s the type of response which makes tribute shows fun. And that level of reaction isn’t just freely given. It has to be earned. And from that point on, Simply Queen could simply do no wrong. The second half of the set and encores brought complete jubilation, with fans dancing and singing in the aisles, and soaking up every note from a catalog of music which has been so sparingly experienced live in Utah.

“The kids are pooping me out out here,” Rock said after returning to the stage following one of the aforementioned in-audience singalongs, prompting guitarist Bob Wegner to refer to the over-the-top youth group as the Queen Children’s Choir.

Simply Queen delivered some great songs in the early going, especially riff-based rockers like “Keep Yourself Alive” and “Tie Your Mother Down.” A three-song medley of “Killer Queen,” “Bicycle Race” and “I’m in Love With My Car” was a nice nod to the mothership, as Queen typically performs an extended medley in its own live shows.

Ironically, it was during “I’m in Love With My Car,” and drummer Phil Charrette’s very Roger Taylor-esque vocals that the audience tide began to noticeably shift. A great rendition of “Under Pressure,” featuring some fantastic singing by bassist Mitch Taylor on the David Bowie lines, also pushed the momentum forward.

A three-song acoustic set was also a tip of the hat to the Queen live experience, especially with solid performances of “Love of My Life” and “39,” the latter of which sounded especially stellar with the full band backing vocal harmonies.

Another factor which works in the favor of tribute bands is the ability to slip in a few surprise deep cuts that the real artists rarely have time for in their own acts. Two such numbers on Monday were “Dreamer’s Ball” and “Fight From the Inside.”

As for the believability factor, the main onus rested primarily with Rock’s Mercury impersonation and Wegner’s portrayal of guitarist Brian May. Both musicians clearly delivered in this regard. Tapping into a Mercurial state of mind, Rock switched outfits numerous times, and each time brought with it immediately recognizable wardrobe functions. Some favorites included Mercury’s faux yellow leather jacket (complete with complementary white pants with red and gold stripes, and three-striped Adidas) from Queen’s Wembley Stadium show in 1986, black leather jacket with biker hat, crown and cape, and his blue jeans/white tank T/arm band outfit from Live Aid — which everyone now recognizes thanks to the film “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Wegner was impeccable on guitar (a Red Special copy), and when he spoke and sang, he was able to channel that distinct May timbre. I also enjoyed how he would sometimes half jog from the back of the stage to the microphone, mimicking May’s distinct live gait.

Other highlights in the second half of the performance included “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “I Want to Break Free” and a truly epic rendition of “The Show Must Go On,” which really highlighted the full band’s vocal prowess.

Simply Queen treated its encore turn as a mini-Live Aid recreation, performing mostly the same songs — “Bo-Rhap,” “Radio Gaga,” “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” — with Rock matching Mercury’s outfit exactly. To be sure, the music must be there — but it’s often the attention to detail that also really elevates a tribute show.

All in all, fans seemed to take their cue from the lyrics of “Don’t Stop Me Now” by having such a good time, and having a ball as Simply Queen proved to be a fun and exhilarating close to the summer season at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theater.{span class=”print_trim”}

Check out Simply Queen’s setlist from the SCERA here.

Doug Fox is the Features Editor at the Daily Herald. He primarily covers rock music in addition to all things entertainment.

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