Queen. Were they glam rock? Were they cabaret? Were they heavy metal? Were they prog rock, or classical rock? The only fitting answer is yes. However, by the time they played this concert (actually two, recorded at the Montreal Forum on November 24 and November 25 of 1981) they'd already added composing for soundtracks and combined funk and the new wave for some chart topping success ("Another One Bites the Dust," from 1980's, The Game, the only Queen album to go #1 in both the UK and the States.) The 80s also saw the rockabilly revival as part of the new wave trend, it was something those behemoth British bands were starting to incorporate almost as a more mature answer to punks, who were gobbing over anything that even resembled royalty, but neither Led Zeppelin (whose Mojo was cut short), nor the Stones could come up with a catchy ditty like, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," which also reached #1.
As 70s bands started off the new decade playing catch-up, Queen were out on the road, and out in front; living fast and making cutting edge music that would literally be the foundation for a new genre called rap (via Grandmaster Flash). The tour proved to be as victorious as the album they were supporting when the band played to a crowd of over 130,000 fans in Sao Paulo Brazil, and by the time they made their way to Montreal, Queen, deservedly felt like King. And while the talk of putting out a concert film came up, and was even attempted before this tour, the timing couldn't have been any better to show the world how the magnitude of their live show rivals that of their studio albums. In fact, this ambition was so serious, the producers decided to film the performances on majestic 35 millimeter instead of video. Producer/Director Saul Swimmer (The Concert for Bangladesh, 1972) shot his film in a pre-IMAX process of "curtain walling" called, Mobile Vision, the idea being to take the film on the road to bring the concert-going experience to theatergoers.
Attentive fans already know this performance video as Queen: We Will Rock You, which was originally released in 1982 and reissued on DVD in 2001, but the band felt that the product was sub par and decided to drudge up as much of the source material as possible for the miracles of remastering. The result is a pristine platter of Queen at their peak. The show opens with the "fast version" of "We Will Rock You, "a number that sets both the pace and the tone of the show. As we'll find out later in the commentary, there's an aggressive vibe from the start, we see the band sounds thick and tight, and with their stripped-down look they're entering the new decade ready for a fight. This is especially true for frontman, Freddie Mercury who's sporting trainers (he's British), a superman tank, and is boxing flurries to the music. While this show is technically a one-off specifically for this recording, it's clear the muscle memory of this band hadn't forgotten what it was like to perform like a well-oiled machine, as they sound so slick (not just commercial slick, but so tight and slippery). Freddie heads over to the piano for, "Play The Game," a song that features his rhythmic touch as well as a nearly perfect voice.
Brian May's guitar sound is exhilarating as well. It's as if one could examine it under a microscope to find that his tone is scientifically superior to most other guitarists. Back at the piano, the band play a simply inspiring version of "Somebody To Love," that isn't over the top and operatic, as much as it's loose and intimate. In fact, Freddie keeps that tight but loose vibe throughout, rushing through "Killer Queen" (followed by Roger Taylor's vocals on "I'm in Love With My Car."), but getting slow and moody on "Get Down Make Love." Fresh off the Flash Gordon soundtrack, May's guitar emits these rays of pure sci-fi fantasy, and the light show complements his amazing sound. If the guitar work doesn't dazzle you than the Mercury's vocals on "Save Me" certainly should - his fate, notwithstanding, the moment itself is poignant and operatic. "Now I'm Here" is a truly factual announcement, because the song was omitted from the original, We Will Rock You release. Now "Dragon Attack" is a scorcher to say the least, and it's place where Roger Taylor and John Deacon's rhythm section is so funky it's got complete control over Mercury's moving body. I would say May's guitar sounds as crisp as a CD but those weren't on the market yet.
This concert also marks the first time the band performed "Under Pressure," co-written by David Bowie, and sung here with a much more youthful attitude than would later be the case. "Keep Yourself Alive" is British-metal at its finest, good enough to inspire knights to fight for King and Country. The song becomes the segue for Roger Taylor's bombastic drum solo where he comes out from behind the kit to play a pair of timpani's almost bigger than he is. Brian May then gets a chance to establish his own groove and eventual solo which is as soaring as it is interactive, when both Taylor and the audience lay down a bed of tribal rhythm underneath. Mercury comes back out with the Ovation guitar and kicks off "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," and while May plays the country-guitar solo on his black Fender Telecaster, he quickly reaches for the comfort of his "Red Special" for the out-solo. After a fun version of "Jail House Rock," the band deliver the epic" Bohemian Rhapsody;" and if other songs seemed rushed this one got all the attention it deserved. Cut to the encores where Mercury is on stage in hot shorts, a baseball hat, a handkerchief tied around his neck. Fred has snuck us into his underground gay club; where a seedy beat and infectious hook make "Another One Bites The Dust," an anthem for many genres. And as the arena-ready "We Will Rock You" segues to "We Are The Champions," you can sense that these Canadians know that these are the songs to win Stanley Cups to. And by the closing chords of "God Save The Queen" you realize that we're all in Wayne's World and none of us are worthy!
We Will Rock You (Fast)
Let Me Entertain You
Play the Game
Somebody to Love
I'm in Love With My Car
Get Down Make Love
Now I'm Here
Now I'm Here (Reprise)
Love of My Life
Keep Yourself Alive
Drum and Tympani Solo
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Tie Your Mother Down
Another One Bites the Dust
Sheer Heart Attack
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions
God Save the Queen
Video: The video's scope can be compared to that of Led Zeppelin's, The Song Remains The Same not just in terms of its use of 35 millimeter film but in its elevation of the subject - Queen on film are larger than life. If you couldn't have the stage, a full-size screen would be the next best thing, but this remaster brings the concert to your home theatre in a very realistic way (in a 16:9 aspect ratio). They also gave the film a little bit of that hands-on Jimmy Page treatment, making sure the original negative was scanned in and corrected, "frame by frame" as advertised. Film is film, and there's life inside the pores of its stock, and opportunity for color to radiate and saturate. The group's fantastic lighting rig represents the rainbow, and is as vivid as one.
Sound: As impressive the treatment on the footage was, it's the sound that beefs up this release. As explained in the commentary, the film was originally mixed in a flat manner so that individual theatre owners could adjust the sound to their room, but the result left the home viewer with a neutered soundtrack. This DTS Surround Sound or PCM Stereo correct bring back some of the life to the mix. Going back to the original multitrack tapes the drums sound big and fat, the bass sounds low but present, and the guitars dance across your speakers like a thrilling action movie.
Commentary: While the two-disc edition of this DVD includes Queen's Live-Aid performance, the only extra on this disc is the commentary by guitarist, Brian May, and drummer, Roger Taylor. They talk about the atmosphere surrounding the show, which included a lot of tension between the band, the film crew, the producers of the show, and even their management who they were falling out with at the time. They suggest that part of the reason why the show moves so fast with aggressive energy is largely because there was so much hostility surrounding the performance; Freddie Mercury, in particular, was annoyed with these cameramen running around the stage and getting in his way. They commented about how the crew didn't really know the set, or the music, which not only made them an intrusion but resulted in some lackluster coverage; there's no shot of Brian May's guitar solo for "Bohemian Rhapsody, for example, something he still seems annoyed about. Freddie got so ticked-off by the production that he decided to sabotage its continuity by wearing those white shorts for the second night instead of the white jeans. The set may be a little out of order, but that's the way the film was originally edited and they explain how they could only cut the remasterd sound to the original (but tweaked) film, because the producers threw away all the footage that didn't make the cut.
This isn't one of their mystical earlier shows like Earls Court, but in hindsight, this is still a younger, tighter four-piece that was still living up to their "no synthesizers" promise. The set-list covers Queen's full range of musical tastes, and shows them not only delivering the hits, but challenging themselves to make them hit harder, and in the end they deliver the goods - in spades.
Why are our days numbered and not, say, lettered?