When I first heard about Queen, well, Brian May and Roger Taylor, coming out of retirement for the first time since Freddy Mercury’s death, I can’t say that I was all that interested. Especially since they chose Paul Rodgers to handle the vocal chores. I mean come on! Rodger‘s is certainly one of the greatest rock singers of all time, but to sing Freddy Mercury’s songs? Could these two guys be more polar opposites? My wife has commented numerous times about how macho looking and sounding Rodgers is. Now, you can describe Mercury’s unique style in many ways, but macho is not one of them. He was certainly no Rob Halford. Oh, wait a minute.
I figured, if anything, Queen would pick some Brit-pop singer like Robbie Williams, or maybe that skinny dude from The Darkness to replace Mercury. At least somebody who embodies his style a little bit more. The curious thing was that I started seeing all of these great reviews for the new Queen and Rodgers collaboration, aptly titled Queen + Paul Rodgers Return Of The Champions. So when I came across the DVD on sale one day, I said what the hell, lets give her a try – and I’m glad I did.
Return Of The Champions was filmed at Hallam FM Arena in Sheffield, England on May 9th, 2005. The show was brilliantly captured by award winning director David Mallet using eighteen high-definition cameras and it looks and sounds amazing. Then again, all of the Queen concert videos put most others to shame. The show kicks off humbly with Rodgers walking alone down a huge catwalk that extends from the still curtain covered stage while singing "Reaching Out", the new single that was released to promote the DVD/CD. The song lasts for only a minute and then Brian May strolls out from behind the curtain playing the killer intro riff to "Tie Your Mother Down". Cued exactly with Roger Taylor’s first cymbal crash, the billion watt light show (I’m not kidding) kicks in full force just as the curtain drops. The crowd is now in ecstasy.
For every miscue, like Rodgers‘ gritty, muscular take of the glam-pop tune "I Want To Break Free", he propels other songs like "I Want It All" and "Fat Bottomed Girls" to new heights. Obviously for most Queen fans the last couple of Mercury-led concert films, Live At Wembley Stadium, and On Fire At The Bowl are going to be a much more satisfying experience. Although this setlist has a few of the great old-time rockers like "Tie Your Mother Down", "I’m In Love With My Car", and "We Will Rock You", they mostly stuck to the more recent, light-pop fluff such as "These Are The Days Of Our Lives", and "Radio Ga Ga". To make matters worse, they handed them over to Roger "must have smoked three packs of Marlboros a day" Taylor to sing. OK, he actually did a nice job.
The inclusion of "Last Horizon" from Brian May’s 1993 solo album Back To The Light, and "Say It’s Not True", a song they wrote for the Nelson Mandela AIDS Concert: African Prayer album, also add to the uniqueness of this disk. Freddy Mercury comes to life on the giant video screen during several of the songs, and the best occasion is when he shows up to sing "Bohemian Rhapsody" as the rest of band plays live. Rodgers joins in for the ending rock-out section as he and Mercury alternate lines. It actually worked better than it sounds.
Even if you are not the biggest Queen fan, this DVD is worth watching just for Rodgers‘ great performance. He dusts off two of Free‘s biggest hits, "Wishing Well" and "All Right Now", as well as the two Bad Company classics "Feel Like Making Love" and "Can’t Get Enough". Thanks to Brian May’s energized guitar playing and Rodgers‘ spirited performance, these renditions were much superior to the somewhat sterile versions you got on the Bad Company reunion show Merchants of Cool. Rodgers‘ powerful blues-rock pipes are still perfectly tuned and his charisma helped to propel this show beyond being just a forgettable gimmick. His genuine enthusiasm and constant ear to ear grin assures you that this show was just as much a treat for him as it was for the adoring Queen fans.
The DVD boasts an exceptional video transfer that easily copes with the extraordinary Queen light show. The director also did an excellent job capturing the electric atmosphere and emotional impact of the performance using an assortment of great camera angles. A superb PCM stereo track is the default option, but if you can, go with the powerful DTS surround track, as it reproduces the live atmosphere much better. The only extra is the bonus track "Imagine", which was a performance at London’s Hyde Park on July 15th, 2005 that was dedicated to those who lost their lives in the London terrorist bombings earlier that same month.
For those of you who never got to see Queen live, or have simply just really missed these guys since they called it quits in 1991, Return Of The Champions is a great way to fill that void. This tour is still going strong, as of this writing, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out.
Tie Your Mother Down
I Want To Break Free
Fat Bottomed Girls
Another One Bites The Dust
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Say It’s Not True
Love Of My Life
Hammer To Fall
Feel Like Making Love
Let There Be Gene
I’m In Love With My Car
These Are The Days Of Our Lives
Radio Ga Ga
Can’t Get Enough
A Kind Of Magic
I Want It All
The Show Must Go On
All Right Now
We Will Rock You
We Are The Champions
God Save The Queen
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