Queen, one of the premiere rock groups of the 70's and 80's, has recently found a new wave of success with former Free and Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers. But no matter how much people may enjoy the combination, there's no replacing Freddie Mercury. There's ample evidence for this in Queen Rock Montreal, a document of their 1981 live tour. The performance, which took place as the band found worldwide fame for their massive hit album The Game, shows the group at the peak of their powers, centered around the flamboyant theatrics of frontman Mercury. The sheer power and charisma of the quartet is undeniable, and sorely missed.
Given the timing of the show, right at the end of their golden period (1974-1980), the band perform what now looks like a greatest hits collection, but at the time was simply their most exciting material. Things begin with a bang as Queen takes to the stage with a sped-up version of "We Will Rock You" which, while a recorded version exists, is most famous for its live appearances. The crowd predictably goes nuts, and from there, the group plows through a set of songs so good you'll want to pull all the old albums out to hear them again.
Of course, being Queen, these guys know the value of dynamics. Several times throughout the show, Mercury and May will slow things down, serenading the crowd with gems such as "Save Me," "Love of My Life," and "Play The Game." This is also, according to the commentary, one of the first shows where the band performed "Under Pressure" live. They even have time for a lengthy drum/guitar solo section, and a cover of "Jailhouse Rock." There's not a bum note in the entire set, and the group is about as tight as they ever got.
Watching it now, it's amazing to see what an astonishingly confident frontman Freddie Mercury was. It's like he was born to perform. Tireless, he bounds from one side of the stage to the other, singing material that would make most singers choke and sputter. He's also got a great rapport with the audience, talking to them and cracking jokes. Brian May is the band's anchor, though, spitting out classic guitar riffs like they were a dime a dozen. To this day, there isn't a guitarist like him. John Deacon and Roger Taylor provide the band's unfailing rhythm section, more than happy to go as fast as May and Mercury dare. Shortly after this show, the band would incorporate outside musicians for their performances, but here it's just the four of them, playing their hearts out.
While seeing Queen (a John Deacon-less version of the band, no less) live might be a nice nostalgic rush, it's no match for the real thing. While this may only be a recording, there's more energy and vitality on display here than most bands ever have. Have no doubt about it, even 27 years later, Queen will rock you.
The tracklist for the show is as follows:
"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"
The Blu-ray Disc:
This concert was previously released on DVD as We Will Rock You. Unfortunately, that release suffered from several errors, which prompted this release (also available on HD DVD and standard DVD).
Lighting for film is both an art and a science. It can be very hard work to get people to look good, and that usually means very exacting lighting conditions. Concerts, on the whole, offer an entirely different style of lighting. With the focus being on maximum visibility to a mass audience, the last thing on a concert lighting designer's mind is how the show would look on film. Every so often, particular projects surface that manage to capture the excitement of a live show with the more stringent requirements of cinema (Stop Making Sense being the best example), but those are few and far between, and Queen Live in Montreal is not one of them. In fact, by all accounts, there was quite a clash between the band and the director, leading to Mercury purposefully doing what he could to screw up the film crew.
So perhaps it's no wonder that this VC-1 encoded 1.78:1 1080p transfer of Queen Live in Montreal (the same as the one used on the HD DVD) falls to the weaker end of the HD spectrum. The wide shafts of colored light tend to diminish detail. The white lights used are better in that regard, but are so powerful that they create a very harsh image. There's also an awful lot of grain, so thick that it actually seems to move in waves in time to the motions of the musicians on the stage. Every so often, mostly during close-ups, the quality picks up, but it's the exception, not the rule.
One of the big issues with the We Will Rock You disc was a series of noticeable audio hiccups, including several sequences of the vocals not matching Freddie Mercury's lip movements. Thankfully, all of the mistakes have been rectified for this release, making this edition worth an upgrade just on that issue alone. But even more than that, the concert has been given a remix, and we get both a DTS-HD (lossy 96/24) 5.1 mix and an uncompressed PCM 2.0 mix. As is usual with Eagle Vision, the PCM has more depth and clarity to it. But the DTS-HD track is no slouch, with a nice sense of ambiance and separation between instruments. The balance feels just right, no matter which track you choose.
- Commentary by Brian May and Roger Taylor: The remaining members of the band (John Deacon retired prior to the Paul Rodgers tour) look back on the concert and give their thoughts. Like me, they too find themselves repeatedly impressed by Freddie Mercury's showmanship and talent. They talk about the gripes with the film crew, the tour, their overall career, and the problems with the We Will Rock You disc. Very entertaining.
- Live Aid Performance: The cover of the disc actually says "Queen Rock Montreal & Live Aid," but I don't see how the Live Aid footage can possibly be considered part of the main feature. Why do I say that? Well, for one thing, it's in standard definition that's so bad you can actually see phase lines, as if someone recorded the performance on video tape off of a television. I have been informed that this was most likely due to interference from the speakers, which were understandably very loud. Not only that, but the set is rather short, with only seven songs. Still, it's not a bad clip, just not as exciting as the main feature.
- Live Aid Rehearsal: Three songs from the rehearsal, also in standard definition.
- Interview: Short and not very insightful.
Queen were, at one time, one of the most exciting and vivacious live bands on the touring circuit. While the remnants of the group may be cashing in on the nostalgia, there's a much cheaper and more effective way to bring back the old warm and fuzzies, and that's by getting Queen Rock Montreal and Live Aid. While it's not got the best high def picture I've ever seen, the sound is very good and there are some decent extras, including a very good commentary. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.