Brian Gresh (left) and Tristan Avakian get extravagant.
(photo by Jimmy Leslie)
Ever since I first heard about the auditions for the Queen Extravaganza, a Queen-sanctioned tribute band whose players were selected by Roger Taylor himself, I’ve been anxious to catch the show. I got my chance last night when the Extravaganza rolled into SF to play the Regency. I showed up early, got a great parking spot, and had walked about half a block down the street when I heard the strange sound of a runaway dumpster careening into my car, obliterating my driver’s side mirror. Great. I’m not exactly in love with my car, but you wouldn’t wish this on any vehicle. Oh yeah...the gig.
So, I get inside and meet the two guitarists of the band, Brian Gresh and Tristan Avakian. They graciously filmed some video, answering questions about their gear and the setlist. Tristan even let me try his rig, which consists of a BMG signature guitar, a Greg Fryer Treble Booster, a Tech 21 Boost Chorus, TC Flanger, and Xotic RC Booster, all into a Vox AC30 that he says is up “about 80%.” Brian "Backflip" Gresh plays an EVH guitar as well as a Strat, because he was unable to obtain a lefty Brian May model.
The full band took the stage and opened with the fast version of “We Will Rock You,” and I instantly recognize the first singer as one Jeff Scott Soto, whom you might remember from such gigs as Yngwie J. Malmsteen and Journey. He’s a great rock singer and killed the tune. Avakian and Gresh sounded great, with nice tones and sweet solos that struck a nice balance between note-for-note Brian May parts and their own things. One thing both guitarists were able to nail in impressive fashion is the trademark Brian May vibrato, not an easy feat. That maintained a proper level of Queeniness even when they were improvising parts.
The set, not surprisingly, is chock-full of hits, and those were all awesome. “Killer Queen,” with the incredible Marc Martel on lead vocals, was a beauty, with Gresh and Avakian creating the guitar solo harmonies and counterpoint in real time.A slightly truncated version of “Save Me” was huge and powerful, as was “I Want It All.” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which they used to close the first set, was a stunning, jaw-dropping show stopper. The guitars were amazing and spot on, but the vocal arrangement was out of this world and far beyond anything the real Queen ever attempted in concert.
The hits were all great, but the few surprises they threw in were super cool. “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” was a delight, with the guitar guys nailing the tight, harmonized solo. “The March of the Black Queen” was heavy and dark, and “In the Lap of the Gods” was majestic.
I absolutely recommend this show to anyone who has ever heard Queen, which is everyone. This is a huge undertaking that shows a tremendous amount of respect for the material, massive musicianship, and great showmanship. It’s a jollification as a matter of fact, so tres charmant, my dear!