It has been largely recognized by rock fans for several decades that Queen's Freddie Mercury is an inimitable vocalist and frontman -- but don't tell that to impersonator extraordinaire Rick Rock.
Rock portrays Mercury in Canadian tribute band Simply Queen, which will be bringing the regal pomp and circumstance of the recently resurgent British rock band to the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre on Monday night. Mercury, who died in 1991, is widely considered to be one of, if not the very best, lead singers/frontmen in all of music -- and the success of any tribute band attempting to tackle the Queen legacy will certainly ride on the vocals and showmanship of anyone who dares wield his microphone wand and lead audiences in the vocal gymnastics singalong of "Ay-O! Ayy-ayy-ayy-O!"
"His versatility between different genres of music -- he is absolutely unparalleled in that regard," Rock said of the unique challenges he faces in impersonating Mercury. "But the biggest challenge is to maintain his level of energy throughout the show and connect with the crowd while you're doing it."
Rock ought to know, having seen Queen live three times in the band's late 1970s glory days -- on the tours for "A Night at the Opera," "A Day at the Races" and "News of the World." These were groundbreaking concerts, where Queen was ahead of its time and pushing the boundaries of what could be accomplished in a live show.
"The live production and the experience of the live versions of the songs were what made them so exciting," Rock said in an email interview, "and that's precisely what Simply Queen tries to portray."
Considering that Queen, in any of its incarnations, has to the best of my knowledge never performed in Utah, this will indeed mark a unique opportunity for local fans to experience the band's regal splendor in a live setting.
Interest in the band's music and live performances is once again on a tremendous upswing -- thanks to a couple of recent U.S. tours featuring Queen + Adam Lambert (he of "American Idol fame), along with the smashing success of the Academy Award-winning biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Rock said the current burgeoning excitement for the band's music has definitely carried over to audience reaction at Simply Queen's live performances.
"Absolutely, the difference has been staggering in how people respond to their music," Rock said. "We regularly have 10-year-olds in the audience who know every word of every song -- including the obscure ones -- and even finishing our sentences between songs."
Simply Queen has been together for seven years. Rock said an agent connected him and guitarist Bob Wegner, "as we were both trying to form our own Queen tribute bands. We gelled immediately."
Wegner, who portrays guitarist Brian May, comes highly recommended. In 2006 he was chosen by May himself, and Queen drummer Roger Taylor, to play guitar in the Toronto production of the "We Will Rock You" musical. Simply Queen also features Mitch Taylor as bassist John Deacon and Phil Charrette as drummer Taylor.
I asked Rock to pick his top five Mercury vocal moments in the recorded Queen catalog -- no easy task, to be sure.
"Indeed, 'Somebody to Love' is right up there," Rock said. "As is 'The Show Must Go On,' particularly the last section. But our other picks are more obscure."
With that, he rounded out his Top 5 with "The Prophet's Song," "The March of the Black Queen" and "You Take My Breath Away."
"But it's impossible to pick just five," he concluded.
Rock said it is quite the experience to look out in the audience every performance night and see the level of joy and exuberance displayed on everyone's faces as the band delivers Queen classics and deep tracks alike.
"That's literally why we do what we do," Rock said. "Music is all about connecting with people, and Queen is pretty well the finest musical Esperanto there is. Freddie's vocal exchanges with the audience have become a universal language to people in all corners of the world."