Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Live At Wembley

And that says it all, doesn’t it?

In 1986, Queen did 26 shows called the Magic Tour; 1.5 million people saw them, and the smallest venue they played was 40,000. (Practically a nightclub, darling.) Right in the middle of the tour, they played two nights in London at Wembley Stadium, and it has been called the Greatest Rock Gig EVAR.

I have written to numerous Important Rock Critics to see the rubric used in judging rock gigs, but my letters have gone unanswered.

(TotD also finds it suspicious that so many of the Greatest Rock Gigs EVAR were recorded for posterity, whereas so many other shows–surely not as great–were lost for the want of a Betty Cantor. So many bands’ best shows just happen to be the ones that were heavily bootlegged, or were more widely available (at better quality) than other shows.)

And the fact is that this show is mostly identical to any other on the tour: mostly the same set list every night, mostly the same outfits. (For all the purist Deadheads out there sniffing at the idea of something so low as caring about your visual presentation, let me remind them: when the entire audience isn’t on acid, you need to give them something to look at.)

Queen played the same show their whole career, really: “deafen ’em, blind ’em, and leave ’em wanting more” was their ethos. Here’s every Queen show: ten or fifteen minutes of the loudest songs they knew (and Queen knew many loud songs); Freddie goes to the piano to catch his breath and they do a medley; one or two songs from the new album; Brian plays his guitar while everyone else in the building goes to pee; stools and acoustic guitars at the front of the stage; Bohemian Rhapsody; loud song; WWRY>WATC; Brian’s version of God Save the Queen plays while they bow.

This tour was no different. They performed what they called an Impromptu at every show, but it was always the same riff; Freddie even gave the same speech about the band not breaking up every night. A comparison could be made–favorably or not is up to your taste–to a Broadway production.

Perhaps this is what makes this show so special: there’s nothing special about it; just another night of the tour. There were better sets, musically, and the crowd in Leiden sang along so boisterously that you almost couldn’t hear the band. (Trust me on this one: I have stared into the live Queen abyss. So many AUD’s.) You might say that it’s a hometown show, and that they were excited, but I’d offer up the night in Budapest–the first massive outdoor rock concert behind the Iron Curtain–for viewing; it’s the same damn show.

And it’s still magic, kind of.

Watch this. I know I keep telling you that, but it always works out well for you. (Except the time I told you to google “turtle penis,” but that worked out well for me because I think it’s funny to make people look at turtle penis.) Not the whole show–you may if you choose, but I wouldn’t ask someone to watch an entire concert–just the first song.

This version in particular. A young TotD wore out a VHS copy of Queen at Wembley in high school, but this is new to me: Freddie Cam, in addition to the cut that so many Queen nerds know by heart.

Name another famous jacket. Michael Jackson’s red zippered number, and Prince’s purple duster: that’s it. People have been wearing jackets for at least a hundred years, and there have been three famous ones.

But take a closer look at Freddie’s outfit:

The jacket’s purpose it to be seen from the very last row, but it’s not some bullshit 80’s neon: it is the color a crayon thinks the sun is, and now look even closer. The horizontal buckles deliberately clash with both the vertical piping of his trousers–possibly the loosest Freddie has ever worn onstage–and the diagonal stripes on his Adidas: this contrast makes you stand out against a background. It is reverse camouflage: look at me, look at me.

Here, look at him:

Besides Freddie, how many Frontmen were there? Who didn’t play instruments, and had to dance around and shake their asses on huge stages? Mick Jagger, David Lee Roth, Axl Rose. Bono. Steven Tyler, fuck that vulgar clown. Who else? Oh, right: Robert Plant, but he just stood there and showed the crowd his chest and cock; the other guys worked the stage in order to show as much of the room their cocks and chests as possible.

(Metal had a lot of Frontmen, but most were goofy at it: Ozzy wanders around confused, and Bruce Dickinson was and is confined to the platform above the drums, as far away from Steve Harris’ spotlight as possible.)

And Freddie was the best.

Bands make promises–art makes promises–and a band with songs like Let Me Entertain You, We Will Rock You, and Another One Bites The Dust is making the promise of power and spectacle; Freddie delivered.

This is two minutes of beauty. Watch it:

It is telling that this moment, Freddie alone with 80,000 people, is maybe the most famous of the show. With neither accompaniment nor lyrics, he connects with the entire crowd–outsinging them, of course–while throwing drinks at them, and finishing with a cheeky “Fuck you” which they cheer him for.

And there was some serious Rock Star bullshit, too:

The giant inflatable band member/pigmonster/hooker loosing from its moors and floating away is grad level Rock Star bullshit. Only Pink Floyd and Queen managed to lose a balloon, I think. (Pink Floyd did it on purpose.)

Freddie conducts the crowd through the whole show, just like he always did. Some nights he demanded they sing with him, and other nights he let them. But they always did.

Charisma is uncoupled from talent; there’s not a one-to-one relationship. One can be creative and capable without magnetism, while some bores and hacks demand your attention. Nor is it a function of looks: Freddie was striking looking, but a good deal of that was due to his being Freddie; if someone else had his face, it would have been a mess. Charisma has nothing to do with effort in performance: James Brown exerted maximum effort, and Garcia played it cool.

What the fuck is it?

That’s as good a definition as any.

There are three other men on stage, and it’s a shame to overlook them: the band sounds like a hurricane driving a Rolls Royce, powerful and tight, and they still nail the harmonies, and Brian does all his guitar poses.

First he does this one:

And then he does this one:

Roger, who is the drummer, does not strike any guitar poses, because he is the drummer. He looks like this:

Roger and Mickey were sweatband pals; sometimes there were sweatbands you could get in America, but not in England, and Mickey would mail them to Roger; vice versa.

(Let’s see who’s been paying close attention. Guess the name of the shoe company that sponsored the tour.)

At some point in the show, John Deacon changed out of a track suit a Russian in a dashcam video might be wearing:

Only to put on this outfit:

And let us speak no more of it.

Queen played two nights, the 10th and 11th of July, 1986, and though there was demand, Wembley was not available for a third show; instead, the band returned to England for a show at Knebworth on August 9th. Knebworth isn’t a stadium, it’s a rich guy’s lawn, and as many people can come as they want: at least 120,000 turned up.

And that was it.

Some sources say that Freddie learned he was HIV-positive in 1987; others say it was as early as 1984. All the sources–every single interview with every single person who was close enough to hear him–say that Freddie made numerous comments about how this was the last tour. About how he didn’t have it in him for any more.

I keep telling you: this story has a sad ending.

2 Comments

  1. ‘sounds like a hurricane driving a Rolls Royce…’

    Bellissimo.

  2. Wow, if he knew in 1984 that could almost be that his knowing contributed to the final rise, as opposed to the reason for the sudden end.

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