On Friday night, Freddie Mercury rose from the dead to lead a starstruck San Francisco crowd in impassioned sing-alongs to his greatest hits.
Well, it wasn’t exactly Freddie Mercury. But the ghost of Queen was certainly present at Jukebox the Ghost’s HalloQueen show at Slim’s.
The pop-rock trio plays this series of shows once per year for Halloween, this being its first time gracing the West Coast. HalloQueen entails a normal set of originals from Jukebox, followed by a costume contest — and then, the main event: Jukebox the Ghost as Queen. Not only do the band members dress up, but they also regale the crowd with an entire set of Queen covers — everything from “Bicycle Race” to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Jukebox took advantage of the spooky season by opening with drummer Jesse Kristin disguised as a ghost. He cartoonishly sang his beloved solo at the beginning of “Hollywood,” a special treat to hear from the one member who doesn’t usually sing.
It’s been three years now since fans have gotten a new studio album from the goofy trio, but guitarist Tommy Siegel reassured the crowd that the new one was finally finished. To prove it, the group played an unreleased song, “Boring,” an early-adulthood version of the laments of a punk teen trapped in suburbia. Chipper piano chords accompanied Siegel’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics: “All our friends are having kids but nobody’s sure why / I guess they’ll procreate until they die.”
The crowd was split between longtime fans of the band who sang along rabidly to every word and those who looked slightly puzzled as to their whereabouts. Maybe the latter just came for the Queen covers.
But one moment in the band’s original set launched everyone into hysterics. During “Somebody,” an upbeat number from the band’s third album, keyboardist Ben Thornewill forgot the lyrics to the second verse. The song quickly devolved into a 5-minute-long, banter-filled jam session, Thornewill cracking up too much to get the lyric in.
“I feel like I’m stuck in a loop, like ‘Westworld,’ ” he muttered in frustration. “This is the longest ‘Somebody’ we have ever done.” Kristin finally broke the loop by singing the lyric himself, and everyone cheered. It spoke to the lighthearted spirit of the band: What could have been an embarrassing misstep to a novice act was for Jukebox an excuse to make an inside joke with the audience.
The band ended on the apocalyptic “Static to the Heart” from its debut album before vacating the stage for a costume contest. First place went to Moana, with runners-up being a chick magnet, two characters from “Stranger Things” and a doughnut. It’s notable that everyone who came out to see Jukebox chose the show over staying home to watch the new season of “Stranger Things,” as it dropped Friday night.
The band paid homage by opening its Queen set with Kristin pounding out the drumbeat to “We Will Rock You” over the “Stranger Things” theme music. Then, Thornewill emerged as Freddie Mercury, clad in a bright yellow jacket, Superman tank and white track pants, his usual full beard pared down to just a mustache. Being Mercury allowed him to step away from the keyboard to gallivant around stage, strike power poses and even play the bass.
Speaking in a British accent, Thornewill-as-Mercury thanked the crowd for coming out.
“I know that the accent is a bit over the top, but you can all go fuck yourselves,” he smirked. “I don’t get to do this very often; I’m dead.”
The much-anticipated “Bohemian Rhapsody” unleashed a barrage of orange and black balloons on the crowd, and Kristin got his time to shine during “Fat Bottomed Girls,” with Thornewill briefly taking his place behind the drums.
The night ended with the ever-iconic “We Are the Champions.” And dressed ridiculously, having barreled its way through back-to-back sets, it was an appropriate closer for the band. Not only did the group finesse Queen’s complex oeuvre — an monumental feat on its own — it also maintained a spirit of festive hilarity throughout. Channelling the star power of Freddie Mercury, Jukebox the Ghost truly emerged victorious.