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Queen kicks off its first tour without Freddie Mercury

Queen kicks off its first tour without Freddie Mercury

British rock band Queen has kicked off its first tour since the death of Freddie Mercury in 1991, hoping that the strength of the songs makes up for the absence of the charismatic front man. Two of the original band members strutted the stage at a south London venue late on Monday accompanied by Paul Rodgers, the man handed the unenviable task of filling Freddie's shoes. The crowd of 4,700 did not seem to mind as Brian May on guitar and drummer Roger Taylor led them through classic anthems "I Want to Break Free" and "Fat Bottomed Girls" before winding up with a rousing rendition of "We Are the Champions." Bass guitarist John Deacon has decided not to join the band on the tour, which begins with dates around Europe before extending to the rest of the world. Surviving Queen members have played concerts since Mercury died of AIDS complications, including in South Africa earlier this month, but this is the first tour since the flamboyant rocker performed in front of more than 100,000 fans at Knebworth, England, in 1986. Wary of Mercury's lasting popularity, the tour has been called "Queen + Paul Rodgers," and May has been at pains to point out that Rodgers, former vocalist of the band Bad Company and on Free's 1970 classic "All Right Now," would not be imitating anyone. "I was always against the idea of putting someone in there trying to impersonate Freddie in any way," May said. "Then suddenly I'm looking at this guy who doesn't in any sense try to take the place of Freddie." Die-hard fan Phil Stanyer, waiting for the curtain to go up at the Brixton Academy, said, "It would be better if Freddie was here, but it's the music that keeps us going. As they say -- the show must go on." Internet chat rooms filled with followers defending the band's decision to tour, although there were some dissenters. "Queen 1991; Freddie 1991. RIP," read one contribution. Queen, with hits including "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "The Show Must Go On," are one of Britain's most successful bands, selling more than 150 million records worldwide since the early 1970s. Despite Mercury's death, their success continued with compilations and prizes and the popular tribute musical We Will Rock You, which has played to London audiences for over two years. The Brixton preview will be followed by 32 more dates in Britain and Europe, and band management said the tour would be taken worldwide afterward. Rodgers recalled how the idea of the tour came together. "We did a couple of songs together--'We Will Rock You' and 'We Are the Champions.'... It just felt so amazing that when we came offstage everyone just looked at each other and said, 'Well, let's take it on the road,' " he said before the Brixton gig. Queen will not be the first band to try to resurrect itself after the death of its most famous member. The Doors attempted it after Jim Morrison died of heart failure in 1971, and Australian group INXS has said it will seek a replacement for Michael Hutchence, found dead in a hotel room in 1997, via a reality television series. (Mike Collett-White, via Reuters)

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