The long-awaited DVD release of what was formerly known as the We Will Rock You concert video, now titled Queen Rock Montreal by Queen does justice to the classic hard rock band’s image as ambitious, super-talented songwriters and stadium-conquering performers. In other words, it was totally worth the wait (and released late last year).
The DVD captures the best of the quartet’s two-night stand in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on November 24 and 25, 1981, which, as fate would have it was ten years to the date before singer Freddie Mercury died of AIDS. It’s a historic release too, as the shows that were filmed were the first ever by any group to be recorded on full cinema format 35mm. They were also the only shows Queen ever filmed in their entirety, and the sound and video has been remastered; you can watch the DVD in PCM Stereo or DTS Surround Sound.
It’s true that you could get a 2-DVD version of this release that also includes Queen’s famous Live Aid performance. But if you’re worried about getting your dollar’s worth with this single DVD, have no such fear, as 26 tracks will keep you busy and entertained for a long time. Also, Queen setlists during this tour didn’t change much from night to night, so even though two short versions of “Flash” and “The Hero” are not shown on this DVD (because they were never filmed), it feels like a full show at just under 100 minutes. [You can, however find those two tracks on the CD version of this release]
From the start of the show and throughout the film, it was clear the fearless foursome came to play and play hard and tight. A hyper-fast, semi-punk rock version of “We Will Rock You” got much of the 18,000-strong Canadians into it immediately, which was followed by a string of pure hard rock tracks and sophisticated, epic rock mixed with symphonic/Broadway-ish guitar and piano interplay. Songs like “Killer Queen” and much later, the explosive mega hit “Bohemian Rhapsody” exemplify that latter side of their sound.
Queen may have had hits that defined “stadium rock” — think “We Are The Champions” and “WWRY” — but as they show on the DVD, they could be as heavy as Black Sabbath (“Let Me Entertain You,” “Dragon Attack”) or just plain rock your socks off like Boston (“Tie Your Mother Down”). And the red hot riffs to those songs and more are executed to perfection by Brian May on his “Red Special” guitar and John Deacon on bass guitar.
There’s something in the water in England that has apparently produced so many memorable rock and roll frontmen since the original “British Invasion” in the mid-1960s. Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Ozzy Osbourne and David Bowie are just some of the legendary English lads who have and continue to influence rock and rollers the world over.
But perhaps there was none more talented however, than the late Freddie Mercury. His operatic voice was uniquely perfect for both his band’s most theatrical material and its more muscular, kick-ass brand of rock. Beyond that, he was a flamboyant stage performer and accomplished musician (piano, guitar). And it shows on this DVD in many of the aforementioned songs, including his seemingly effortless singing and piano movements on “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Elsewhere in the set, May and Mercury show their music could be as powerful stripped down to a microphone and acoustic guitar as their grander material, especially on the majestic “Love of My Life.”
In another first, the Montreal DVD marks the live debut of “Under Pressure.” And though the recorded version featured Mercury collaborating with David Bowie on vocals, the latter’s voice wasn’t noticeably missing on the live debut, as Queen is a band in which all four members can sing and sing well, this tune included. Drummer Roger Taylor in fact, got to show off his Rod Stewart-like throaty vocals on the moderately paced track “I’m In Love With My Car” earlier in the set.
While one can enjoy the whole show without interruption, viewers also have the option to view it with audio commentary by Roger Taylor and Brian May. There, we learn lots of useful information, including the fact that May uses a (freaky-sounding) harmonizer effect pedal during a break in the psychedelic tune “Get Down Make Love” that was specially made for him. They also tell you that Freddie, who plays an acoustic guitar during the rockabilly-ish hit “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” actually wrote the song on guitar during a bath!
In closing, I must admit that while I was familiar with many of Queen’s big hits, I never really got into them and fully appreciated the talent of this band. With this concert video however, it’s official: I am now a big-time Queen fan. There’s no going back now. And it is my hope that any of you other casual Queen fans out there will take this opportunity to pick up the Queen Rock Montreal DVD and experience this same transformation. I doubt you’ll regret it, as the band was arguably at their peak during this time period. I know I didn’t.