The rock band Queen formed in England in 1972. Although several critics admired their earliest releases, the public remained largely indifferent until the 1974 SHEER HEART ATTACK, which jolted the band to fame in both England and America--and throughout the 1970s Queen generated one major recording success after another with A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, A DAY AT THE RACES, and NEWS OF THE WORLD. Even so, the band often provoked a "love it or hate it" reaction; they offered an odd mixture of thundering hard rock, English musical hall, and progressive sound in a "glamrock" package, and as time passed American audiences found it less and less appealing--particularly when dogged by rumors about lead singer Freddie Mercury's sexuality and the sexually "ify" nature of the band's name itself.
By the early 1980s those controversies, shifts in musical tastes, and the band's extremely ill-advised gig at the segregated South African resort of Sun City effectively knocked Queen out of the lucrative American market. But something unexpected happened: Queen, which had long been a concert favorite in Asia and Europe, emerged as the world's premiere stadium concert act, and quite suddenly the American market was almost irrelevant. Who cares about New York and Los Angeles when you have out-charted every one from Elvis Presley to the Beatles and when you are the single biggest concert draw in world history? In 1986 Queen played England's Wembley Stadium, one of the largest venues in Europe, performing two concerts (one in a rainstorm) to sold out audiences. The concert was filmed, and it presents a great band that clearly had a great talent for playing to such incredibly large audiences.
When you listen to Queen's most popular releases you listen to a band that knows how to work a recording studio to the nth degree--and so it is very easy to forget exactly how athletic and musically muscular Queen was. WEMBLEY reminds you of the fundamental facts in no uncertain terms: four band members, a single back up musician to pick up occasional phrases here and there, and that was it. And they clearly do everything but tear Wembley Stadium down to the ground.
At this point in the band's history concerts focused tightly around lead singer Freddie Mercury, who had a unique talent for dominating the massive audiences to which he played: handsome, muscular, he is all over the stage--and then there is that voice. Mercury is said to have had a four-octave range, and while his upper registers were too delicate for the demands of the concert stage you don't doubt it for a minute. This is a voice as delicate as a trembling candle flame, as roaring as bonfire, and shifting between both extremes without the faintest sign of strain or effort. And the band is behind him every inch of the way: Brian May, lead guitar, is a legendary performer in his own right, and bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor are rock solid as well.
That said, however, the film itself is actually only so-so, and the reason is very obvious: the editing. The thing consists of one flash cut after another, bouncing from Mercury to May to Taylor and shortchanging Deacon in the process. We have plenty of close ups, and very often some remarkable shots of the crowd--"Radio Gaga" is particularly extraordinary in this--but we seldom actually get to see the band as a whole. The endless cuts become more than a little wearing after a while and they ultimately undercut the energy of the concert itself.
The producers make up for this a little bit on the bonus disk, which includes a feature that allows you to focus exclusively on one performer at a time over the course of a few songs. The bonus disk also includes several documentaries that range from the "fair enough" to the "very good." Queen was a great live band, no doubt about it; the film falls short of that, but even so it reminds you very clearly of what Freddie, Brian, John, and Roger could do when they put their minds to it. It also has a certain poignancy, particularly when Mercury remarks that the band will stay together until they die, particularly given that Mercury very likely knew at this point that he was HIV positive and would not be able to tour much longer. He would be dead five years later. Strongly recommended in spite of flaws.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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