Queen fans have a lot to be thankful for recently. Over the last couple of years the band has released two great concert DVDs, both in excellent two-disk packages, and have also re-released the legendary We Will Rock You DVD with a much needed DTS audio remaster. Live At Wembley Stadium was the first of these two new concert videos from Queen, and it is remarkable. I won’t even try to tell you which of these three DVDs is the "best", but this one is certainly the most vital, since it captured the band on what would be their last tour, only five years before the death of their inimitable frontman, Freddie Mercury.
Live At Wembley Stadium was filmed July 12, 1986 at Wembley Stadium in London during Queen‘s The Magic Tour, which was to promote their recently released album A Kind Of Magic. For those of you who were around back then, this album was basically the soundtrack to the movie Highlander, and the song "One Vision" was also featured in the movie Iron Eagle. A Kind Of Magic was also one of Queen‘s weaker albums, and was part of a slide into mediocrity that started around 1982 with their atrocious Hot Space album.
The setlist for this show was reasonably diverse, and included a few nice surprises such as "Seven Seas Of Rhye" from Queen II, and "In The Lap Of The Gods" and "Now I’m Hear" from Sheer Heart Attack, but is was mostly dominated by their mid-80’s material. Nine of the twenty-two original Queen songs performed were from either A Kind Of Magic, or The Works albums, so if you love that period of the band, then this set is the one for you. That is about the time I started to loose interest in Queen, so I’d much prefer to see the Live Killers set on DVD, but the songs they did choose from their 80’s catalog were mostly the better ones, and the added live muscle improved a few of them significantly.
During the band interview Brian May and Roger Taylor talk about how a lot of thought goes into the setlist and the pacing of each show. I will paraphrase some of their comments: "In the first ten minutes, blind and deafen them, then, while they’re still recovering, slip in a few not quite so good ones, a few recognizable ones, slow things down a little, and then gradually build to a climax." That is pretty much what they did at Wembley that night.
The show kicked off with a ferocious performance of "One Vision" followed by their heavy-metal anthem, "Tie Your Mother Down", which whipped the 70,000 fans into a frenzy. It was still light out at this point, so you could not yet appreciate their great light show. They had to let the music speak for itself. Before launching into "In The Lap Of The Gods", and then a surprise performance of "Seven Seas Of Rhye", going all the way back to Queen II, Mercury greeted the massive crowd with a charming "Hello again my beauties". He was in fine form this night, and this concert serves as a fitting document of one of his last great performances. The way he could command a monstrous crowd to act as one, such as during the improvised chants during "Under Pressure", or the crowd singing the entire first verse of "Love Of My Life", unaccompanied, was pretty amazing. His vocal gymnastics during "Impromptu" were equally amazing.
At about the half-way point, Brian May takes an extended guitar solo, which is centered around his famous "Brighton Rock" solo. It was a let down not to have the entire song performed. During the soft parts, when he took the volume down low and was just riffing on some improvised blues parts, I could swear that he was sitting right in my living room playing. The guitar mix was that good. His guitar solo led right into an intense performance of the Sheer Heart Attack classic "Now I’m Hear". Things bogged down a bit after this, as they performed two acoustic ballads, followed by a forgettable medley of 50’s and 60’s classics including "Hello Mary Lou" and "Tutti Frutti". The songs weren’t bad, and the guys really seemed to enjoy themselves here, but I would have much preferred to hear "Keep Yourself Alive", "Spread Your Wings", "Fat Bottom Girls", or any of the other classics they neglected to play this night.
By the time they got to "Bohemian Rhapsody", 17 songs into the set, it was finally dark outside, and you could now really appreciate their fantastic light show. During the opera section of the song, the band left the stage as they played clips from the song’s famous video. I’d imagine it would be almost impossible to recreate that section live, but I would have loved to see them try. I normally can’t stand "Radio Gagga", but the live version blows away the original. Seeing all 70,000 people in the crowd clap simultaneously during the breaks in the chorus, is quite the site to behold. Mercury must have felt like a god up there.
Queen ended the show appropriately with their anthems "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions", which were misguidedly broken up by "Friends Will Be Friends". Does anybody else notice how Roger Taylor sounds like a Liza Minnelli on steroids when he screams the chorus to "We Are The Champions"? Mercury sings the song wearing a king’s robe and crown, which is either a tribute, or a slap in the face to the British Royal Crown. "God Save The Queen", as usual, blares over the PA system as the band takes their bows before leaving the stage for good.
After watching the bonus material on the second disk it becomes apparent why this video ended up looking so spectacular. The director, Gavin Taylor, explains in his interview all of the foresight and planning that went into the camera, sound, and stage direction for this massive production. No less than 16 cameras were used to provide, what I think is, one the best filmed stadium concerts ever. Only a widescreen presentation could have improved the presentation. The camera angles were outstanding and provided one of the most intimate viewing experiences you will ever find for a show of this magnitude. The shots from the side and behind Mercury, as the crowd fervently reacts to his each and every command, give you a great feel for what it must have been like to be in his illustrious position. The audio was nearly as impressive, with both a powerful DTS 5.1 surround, and PCM stereo mix provided. My only complaint with the audio, was that the bass was given a relatively weak mix.
The bonus features were abundant and included new interviews with Brian May and Roger Taylor from 2003, a backstage documentary, rehearsal footage and excerpts from the Friday night concert, and a multi-cam option for four songs. This is essentially the model DVD concert package. The concert footage was excellent, the production was top-notch, the extras were more than you would expect, and the producers obviously took pride in their product.
While addressing the rumors of a Queen breakup, just before the performance of "Who Wants to Live Forever", Freddie Mercury gave the fans some apparently great news when he said "We’re gonna stay together until we, well, die I’m sure." Unfortunately, his words were sadly prophetic.
Tie Your Mother Down
In The Lap Of The Gods
Seven Seas Of Rhye
Tear It Up
A Kind Of Magic
Another One Bites The Dust
Who Wants To Live Forever
I Want To Break Free
Brighton Rock Solo
Now I’m Here
Love of My Life
Is This The World We Created
(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care
Hello Mary Lou (Goodbye Heart)
Gimme Some Lovin’
Hammer To Fall
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Radio Ga Ga
We Will Rock You
Friends Will Be Friends
We Are The Champions
God Save The Queen
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