The Show Must Go On – Putting it all Together

In amongst the Ghost Town Twitterstorm, I’ve noticed over the last couple of days that there is still a lot of chat about the QAL tour.  Some people (including me) are missing it terribly and are still talking about just how good this tour was, and how superbly everything was put together.  And of course in the last 24 hours there has been a lot of excitement about more dates in South American and the “Don’t Stop Them Now” tour.

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Pic credit: stufish.com

One thing that has particularly interested me is the how the show was put together; the setlist itself and how that extraordinary stage set worked.   The setlist is particularly interesting; how the songs linked together and indeed whether the guys were trying to tell us how they felt by their choice of songs.

I think I need to say I am excluding the Q+PR collaboration from this blog entry – not because I think it wasn’t valid, but because the performances they did weren’t “all” Queen – they included Free, Paul Rodgers and later some original music.  This makes it very difficult to compare the shows, so this is about “original Queen” and how they turned their output into the QAL tour of 2014-15.

First of all, we need to go back in time – about 30 years, in fact.  As it was decades since Queen had toured as Queen, there wasn’t an easy existing pattern to fall back on – and there had been another three studio albums produced in the meantime.

Queen knebworth

Pic credit: Blakemore-Noble.net

Queen’s last performance in their original lineup took place in 1986 at the Knebworth festival.  It was the end of the “Magic” tour and none of us who were Queen fans at the time could have imagined that they would never tour again in that format.  This tour was typical Queen – a massive stage rig, complete overload of lighting and pyrotechnics and a mixture of tracks from the new album, old favourites and a few bits of rock ‘n roll here and there.

Assembling an entire show of this size – one that is going around a large part of the world, is a real challenge logistically and artistically.  On the logistics side, there is the set itself; designing it, building it, transporting it and adding the various lights and effects.

Pic credit: rockimitates art

Pic credit: rockimitates art

The set itself was constructed to Roger’s idea of a huge “Q” which would dominate the stage. The metal structure would surround an enormous screen, supplemented by side screens at the front of the auditorium. The floor of the set included a central runway and two side stages accessed with steps.  The Q could be moved and was dropped flat during Seven Seas of Rhye.

(video from Erotic Sludge’s YouTube uploads – includes a rather good Killer Queen!)

The set was embellished with a large amount of gold and there was, of course, the chaise longue; these were both Adam’s contribution to the design.

The effects rig included pyrotechnics, the all-too-familiar “overkill” lighting and a glitter ball over the central runway.

Two complete stage rigs were constructed; a “forward” crew would be setting up one venue whilst the other rig would be in use elsewhere.  This needed detailed planning and a large crew.  The tour lorries became a familiar site at the venues.

Pic credit: @hid3spy

Pic credit: @hid3spy

Putting the music together can be an incredibly complex operation.  There are a number of formats you can use, and this applies to classical music as well as pop and rock.  You can go for a straight chronological progression through the music, or you can group songs together around a theme.  However, you do have to be slightly careful around timings and particularly the change in key from one song to the next.  Have you ever listened to the radio where there is a really uncomfortable segue?  Certain key changes are not enjoyable.

Putting the setlist together from an artistic perspective must have created a whole raft of problems.  There was a need to produce a programme which showed off Queen’s repertoire, showcased the guys as individuals and also was respectful to Freddie (and John) in terms of how they were referred to in the music.

The short tour of 2012 was something of an experiment.  It was more of a “getting to know you” exercise, but by the three London dates QAL were looking like a confident set-up and there was a real rapport there.

(video from ki55andtell’s YouTube uploads)

But if 2012 was the introduction, then the 2014-15 tour was the real deal, and it’s obvious that a huge amount of effort had been put into getting every detail right.  In having a detailed structure, QAL had moved away from being “just” a rock concert, even given that Queen have never done things by halves.  It was obvious to us that they wanted to put on a show like we’d never seen before.

The setlist for both parts of the tour (US/Asia/Australasia and UK/Europe) was structured into cleanly divided sections and there were clear visual clues given by Adam’s costume changes.  (I know the detractors picked on this, but actually guys, you’re going to a show. Ever seen the stuff that Madonna wears onstage?)  The styling was a great trick; through it we saw the various stages of the gig laid out before us.

There were also individual touches added for each concert; Brian had a language crib sheet in non-English speaking nations to enable him to engage with the audience in their own language, even if at a basic level, and this was always appreciated. Extra touches were added in the form of one or two venue-specific songs, such as Plaisir D’amour for Paris and a couple of verses of the Beatles for Liverpool.

I would also imagine that some attention was paid to whose songs were performed, so that there was a good balance.  Freddie and Brian wrote the bulk of Queen’s songs before the decision to credit everything to the group as a whole, but it’s usually easy to identify Freddie’s songs as they covered such a wide range of musical styles.

There was even some thought given to what would be played as background music before the start of the gig. People who were listening closely might have recognised the use of Track 13.  This mysterious instrumental was one of the “hidden” tracks on Made In Heaven and was designed as a tribute to Freddie, with 30 seconds of music for every year of his life.

Pic credit: BrianMay.com

Pic credit: BrianMay.com

Pic credit: BrianMay.com

Pic credit: BrianMay.com

The opening number did change between the two halves of the tour.  The 2014 dates started with Now I’m Here, a song by Brian very closely associated with the US.  It was written when he was recovering from the bout of hepatitis which cut short Queen’s first tour to the States.  For the UK/Europe leg, the opener was One Vision, the song which had opened their very last live appearance at Knebworth.

The “glam rock” section of the show remained settled throughout, other than I Want It All moving later in the show for the UK/Europe leg.

The central section was a mixture of Brian and Roger’s own tributes to Freddie and some solo items.  The tributes were handled with great sensitivity; Brian’s rendition of Love of My Life never failed to bring a tear to someone’s eye

Roger sang Days Of Our Lives; although later Queen songs weren’t attributed to any one person, the main structure of the song was his, and it was accompanied by beautiful video footage of “the old days of Queen”, which also remembered John.

There was also a careful nod made to showcasing the other talent in the band with a most unusual bass solo from Neil Fairclough and the father and son drum battle between Roger and Rufus.  Roger must be incredibly proud that his son is such a capable musician, and it was great to see them performing together.

Adam returned for the next section looking much more sombre, but this is a section of the concert that got tweaked more than most.  For the US, the middle number was Love Kills, but was substituted with Dragon Attack for the last two shows over there.  Brian has spoken about Love Kills having painful associations with Freddie’s illness and death, so although it’s a superb song, I can understand why he maybe didn’t want to bring it into the 2015 concerts.

For the UK and Europe, Save Me was introduced, giving this section a “dark romance” feel to it; the pairing of Save Me and Who Wants To Live Forever was inspired; lost love and doomed love.  These superbly demonstrated Adam’s musical and performance skills and also highlighted the relationship he has built up with Brian.  That combination of voice and guitar with the eerie lighting effects was the high point of the show for many of us.

(video from vanglam76’s YouTube uploads)

The tension in the air was kept up by Brian’s guitar solo, and it was only in the final section that we saw Queen back in rock mode, with Adam in plaid pants, tattoos on display. This last section gave the crowd the opportunity to sing, stamp, clap and even dance.  Bohemian Rhapsody was the perfect ending as it contained a final nod to Freddie in the video footage.

Queen’s traditional encores have been We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions for a long, long time and the QAL versions of these didn’t disappoint. There was another touch of genius in the styling for this; instead of Freddie’s imperial crown and ostentatious robes, Adam appeared as the Crown Prince of Glam Rock in a leopard print suit and glittering coronet.  I feel this was a conscious communication from Brian and Roger to acknowledge that Adam wasn’t an attempt to supplant Freddie, but that he was the person they waited so long to find.

There were also some extra numbers that appeared from time to time; Dragon Attack and The Show Must Go On appeared fairly regularly, along with Don’t Stop Me Now. A “special” item included in South Korea and Japan only, was I Was Born To Love You.  This was originally a solo song by Freddie which had been reworked into a Queen version.  It’s consistently one of peoples’ favourites and I’m sure it would be incredibly popular if it were done in a future tour.

(video from nico glambert’s YouTube uploads)

Of course, the ultimate problem was “too many hits”; Queen have always played a lot of their hit records in the concert tours, rather than doing the traditional rock band thing of featuring most of a new album.  In any case, Queen were never the type of band that churned out albums very quickly; they were very particular about the music they put out and they wanted it to be of the highest quality possible.  There is lots of material on YouTube about the making of various of their songs, and you can see how much detail is put into every one.

But for the QAL tour, it seemed to be a question of what they could realistically leave out.  There is still a lot of fantastic material in the Queen repertoire that they could perform (although I would love to see QAL do some original material as I think they could produce incredible music together).

Of course, the news of the “Don’t Stop Them Now” tour makes me wonder if there will some more amendments made to the setlist.  There are core songs that will always be part of any Queen gig and there will always be the question of what to leave out.  There are some songs that I would love to hear QAL perform, either because they’re just personal favourites of mine, or because I would love to see how they would sound with Adam’s voice. So, the ones I would really love to see on a setlist are:

  • I Was Born To Love You (just because!)
  • Hammer To Fall (for me, one of Brian’s best rock songs)
  • Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy (A Freddie song in the Noel Coward tradition – Adam would do a fantastic performance of it, I’m sure)
  • It’s a Hard Life (another Freddie song; love it hugely and would love to hear Adam belt out that line from Pagliacci at the beginning)
  • Innuendo (because it’s a monumental song in the style of Bo Rhap and I think Adam would do justice to it)
  • Brighton Rock (another one of Brian’s songs – an oldie but a goodie; it would make a fantastic show opener
Pic: stufish.com

Pic: stufish.com

We know that there isn’t going to be any concert activity until September, but there is bound to be more speculation about where else QAL are going to appear in the world.  I think we’re all hoping that they turn up at an arena near us.

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17 thoughts on “The Show Must Go On – Putting it all Together

  1. Always love your reviews- they echo my thoughts constantly. I’ve been wondering how they picked the playlist- so many to choose from as you say. Would be interesting to know the logistics of setting up the European tour, ie booking arenas , hotels, ferries. Also would like to know what a typical day would be for the band- both on a show day and a rest day. I was surprised to see the band arrive around 4.30 at Sheffield and was told they do their own soundchecks. I’d imagined the soundchecks would have been done by the technical team and that QAL would arrive much later on. I don’t know if other bands do the same?? Just shows what a long night it is for them – they are there and working much longer than the time we see them on stage. So many questions still!! Would love it if you could do a blog answering some of them. Thanks for all the blogs you’ve done on QAL so far- look forward to more

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Ann – I meant to get back to you sooner than this, but I’ve had a shocking chest infection all week and have not been up to much for the last few days!

      I’d love to know some more of the logistics of setting it all up. I guess I need to try and get an interview with them about it 🙂 I keep hoping that they will want an official blogger….

      For the soundchecks, as far as I know you need the “real” musicians there as you have to test the voices and instruments in the arena. Of course, this doesn’t give an accurate picture because you’re testing in an empty arena; when a places is full of bodies, it cuts down the resonance as we ain’t great at reflecting sound! Classical musicians have to do the same thing and will want to rehearse at least part of a concert programme in the venue so that you can get a sense of how things are going to sound.

      Soundchecks are particularly important for bands that do everything (or almost everything) completetly live. For those that use large amounts of pre-recorded music, or worse, those that lip-synch everything it’s far less of a problem.

      I suspect their “working day” is very long. As a singer, you have to warm up your voice *and* your body, particularly if you do the sort of routines that Adam does on stage. I know he worked with a vocal coach and a personal trainer, so I suspect he wouldn’t have been lying in bed until midday or later on gig days! Warming up your voice will consist of doing vocal exercises and maybe trying out bits of songs before you get to the soundcheck. During the soundcheck there will be certain key parts of the sets that either the musicians or the sound engineers will want to test. This will depend on the size of the arena or if there were any problems with the previous gig. In between all this you need to eat, but you need to eat the right sort of food; carbohydrates will give you energy, but you have to make sure you don’t eat too near to the start of the performance; when you’re nervous, your stomach stops working and this can really slow you down.

      In my own singing days, I would want to briefly test out my voice a couple of hours after I woke up (your voice has to wake up the same as the rest of you!). If you’re doing a one-off concert with a pianist or an orchestra, you would usually then have a rehearsal in the afternoon, not to run everything, but to “top and tail” any tricky bits and to test out the sound of the concert hall/theatre. Then you go off, eat, relax and get ready. If you’re in an opera, you’re normally required to be there at least an hour beforehand depending on make-up and costume requirements. Then you’re off and into the performance and if you’re doing something taxing, it can feel like doing a ten-mile run! Therefore a 10-12 hour day isn’t uncommon, which is why you need a bit of down time in between.

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      • Adam’s professional vocal training & strong work ethic remains with his acute responsibility to his fans, musicians and all who support his performances.He never takes his incredible gift for granted & protects it. He usually exercises on a treadmill or exercise bike for 1/2 an hour, along with 20 minutes or so of warm up vocal exercises, along with drinking his throatcote tea. You’ll also see him drinking water between songs to keep his vocal chords moistened. So glad that he takes care of his beautiful gift for us to enjoy for a very long time. He also rests and keeps partying to a minimum while on tour so he can give his all. Love that man!

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  2. I love how they changed up the set list throughout the tour! Such nice surprises! SAVEME was such a THRILL! My non-Queen friends don’t understand the joy this tour brought so many people. All I can say is it was magical. I’m looking forward to September, it’s very exciting! Thanks for the blog, I really look forward to reading your page, and hang on every word Lol! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy – I’m so looking forward to September as well. I hope there are some more surprises in the setlist. I will be finding ways to follow it avidly, as I know I’m not going to be able to get to South America. I’m therefore hoping for more dates in the UK/Europe…

      Like

  3. I’m finally going to see them in September, in Brazil or Argentina. I’ve been following your blog, I love this. And tonight, reading this entry, I feel extra emotional, you reminded me of what I’m going to see in a few months! (How am I going to survive til then? ). Thanks for sharing this with us ♥

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  4. great write up as usual, yes I loved the adjustments in the show, was nice for those of us watching all of them to get some change up an clearly tied to popularity levels which makes sense. i know save me from the greatest hits but it was not a hit in the US ditto one vision, the now Im hear was a fun tongue in cheek statement for adam more appropriate for us. Adam loves dragon attack lol he’s done it a lot, the show must go on is a fan fav I think, but probably hard to do an maybe comes an goes depending on how his voice is.

    I will say that for casual fans the middle section was nice but too long, the first thing my friend said when we left was she was annoyed that they wasted so much time with things like the bass solol when they had so many more hit songss fans would have loved to have heard tho I sure understand that stans loved it.

    Im curious as to how they may adjust for the next shows.

    Just as an aside Bruce Springsteen is one of the best live performers out there and one thing he does on international tours is do a cover of a hit song from a local person, sort of a nod to the country he’s in, he covered lorde’s royals in NZ for example and a spanish song in S.A.. He also will at times take requests from the audience. it keeps things fresh and fun, great idea.

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    • I also thought the bass solo and middle without Adam was a little long & would rather have it filled with Adam, but in all fairness a 2 1/2 hour concert is very demanding, especially for Adam who packs so much passion and energy into each song with so many difficult, high notes that must really take a toll on his vocal chords.It also is a time for the band members to have their moment to shine, but Adam has to pace himself when he gives so much and he certainly gives his all. I also much preferred Now I’m Here as the opening instead of One Vision that really didn’t grab me.I also loved Love Kills as well as Save Me.There’s just a wealth of great songs for Adam to create. Looking forward to videos of the South American Tour. I’m really missing Adam & Queen!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Pacing a set like that is hard work, and I’m sure that there was a lot of thought into the amount of down-time that Adam would need, particularly in the first half of the tour when there were often consecutive days. I tweeted Adam about this a couple of weeks ago when he suddenly announced a Twitter party, and I was lucky enough to get an answer from him (which nearly melted my phone). He said he had to put himself on complete voice rest some days, which makes sense when you are following a schedule like that.

        I’m missing them terribly! I’m sure the South American dates are going to be awesome and we’re all going to be glued to the action.

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  5. In reading over this blog, I watched the video of Who Wants To Live Forever, and started crying. I’ve never been so affected by a performer in my life, and it’s interesting to read your blogs to understand why. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I’ve practically bankrupted myself following Adam first, and then QAL but never enjoyed myself so much.

    Liked by 1 person

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