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Freddie Mercury. I came late to Queen's music.

Freddie Mercury. I came late to Queen’s music.

I was watching a Queen concert on VH1 classic on Sunday afternoon. Well, I wasn’t “actively” watching it; it was on in the background as I was grading papers. I’ve seen it before plenty of times. But I’m still drawn in by Freddie Mercury and find myself almost mesmerized by him as a frontman.

To take the debate I wrote about last week (music vs. lyrics) one step further, Queen made me think of another thing that draws me into a musical act: the presence of the frontman (or woman).

In order of importance to me:

1. Lyrics

2. Showmanship

3. Music

The lyrics of Queen songs don’t stop my heart, and like with most rock music, the sound completely blends together. But I will watch a Queen performance solely because of the way Freddie Mercury struts around the stage and his powerful voice.

Probably the best performer ever.

Probably the best performer ever.

A few years ago I was watching the Elvis 1968 Comeback special and was struck by how incredibly charismatic and magnetic he was. I had always heard this about the man, and knew it conceptually, but his presence nearly jumped out of the TV. I created a list of what makes a good front person:

  • Charisma
  • Humor
  • Engage with audience
  • Passion for the music
  • Sexiness
  • Energy

I’ve seen live bands that do not have these characteristics in their leaders. Boring! It makes me want to go to sleep. If I’m going to see you live, you better give me something more than I can get if I just listen to your music at home.

I will admit that my favorite singer, Morrissey, doesn’t have a great stage presence. He’s what I call “interior.” You can tell performing is more for him than it is about him giving to the audience. That’s just how some musicians are. The act of performing is what gives them personal satisfaction, not necessarily connecting with the audience. But I will still go see Morrissey because his lyrics make up for his stage presence.

Then there’s music I don’t care for, but I will admit the band has a great front person. David Lee Roth comes to mind, or Mick Jagger.

Who’s your favorite front person? What would you add to my list of what makes a great musical performer?

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