It’s been a while. Sorry, this crazy little thing called life keeps getting in the way, but QAL are back, so how could I not write about them?
Queen in their various incarnations have repeatedly been one of the best concert experiences for so, so many people over the years. There are the oldies like me, who’ve been around almost since the beginning, ranging all the way through to the younger fans, some of whom don’t even remember Freddie being alive. The QAL experience must be particularly special for them, plus of course, all the Glamberts who were either Queen fans in the past, or have picked up on this fandom as well.
If you’re a football (soccer) fan, you may well have come across the expression “total football”. Ironically, it’s most often been applied to FC Barcelona, who are probably the finest club team in the world. They don’t just play football; they live it, working towards the perfect application of the game. By the same token, Queen do “total music.” I’ve seen them more than I’ve seen any other band and every experience of them has been different. Each time seems to surpass the last, for one reason or another, and there is something irresistible about this music; it keeps drawing us back for more as each time they head out of tour, it gives us yet another chance to live it all again.
Not only was this near the start of the “third age” of QAL, but it was also my first venture into the world of gigs on the European mainland. Surprised? It’s a long story, but this blog is about the gig, not me. It somehow seemed appropriate to go and see them in Barcelona, a place I’ve always wanted to visit, as well as a name that Freddie immortalised in song with Montserrat Caballe.
The Palau Sant Jordi is at the top of a very steep hill, next door to the Olympic Stadium; what a great place for a concert, looking down on the huge city spread out around us. It rained unexpectedly during the afternoon so those in the queue got a soaking for their trouble, as well as it being rather unseasonably cold for Spain. A couple of hundred hardy souls had been there since the morning, but despite not getting there until rather later, I had a good sight line on the floor at the right hand side. It made a nice change not to have a bunch of giants obscuring my vision; the curse of the small(ish) person.
And what a night it was. Queen have always used the maxim “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing” and as ever, they were completely true to their words. This was two hours of total music – and total sensory overload.
We had been promised some changes, and we got them. The opening sequence has been reworked; the “Flash” theme and The Hero, rapidly followed by Hammer To Fall, one of my all-time favourites. There aren’t that many videos online yet from Barcelona, but thanks to Marc Valiente for uploading this one:
The visuals have also had a makeover; the “Q” is new, improved and lighter for easier transportation. Lasers have been added to the already impressive lighting rig to show off QAL in all their impressive glory.
But, let’s cut to the chase. This isn’t just about the details, it’s about the big picture; why people keep flocking to see this remarkable liaison between old-time rock n’ rollers and a guy who started off in music theatre and then ran into them on a US talent show. The opening show in Lisbon on 20th May was exactly seven years to the day that Adam sang with Brian and Roger for the first time; what a fine coincidence, and what a huge distance has been travelled since then.
Brian has said many times that they weren’t actively seeking a new singer, but Adam happened and there they were, QAL unexpectedly rising from the ashes. Now utterly seasoned at working together, the shows are well-planned, slick, produce music of an impossibly high quality and take the audience through every mood that music can induce. They are masters at constructing a setlist; Queen’s output encompasses a huge variety of styles, which admittedly helps, but it’s obvious that a huge amount of thought goes into putting a programme together.
It’s difficult to pick out the best moments because the standard these guys produce is so consistently high, but for me, the highlights were:
- Hammer to Fall – it would have been even better to hear the full-length version, but it’s one of the songs that I really wanted to hear Adam sing with Brian and Roger – and they didn’t disappoint. It was classic Queen – that overwhelming, all-encompassing sound
- Somebody To Love – Adam was born to sing this – it’s stunning every time I hear it, and I love the “live” arrangement of it, which is quite different to the original recording. It’s got gospel; it’s got pzazz; it’s got top notes and it’s got a great melody lines. One of Freddie’s all-time classics
- Who Wants To Live Forever – if anything, I think this has got even better since the UK/Europe tour last year. The visual impact of the song has been reworked and the whole thing is breathtaking. As I’ve said before, this isn’t just a power ballad, it’s an operatic aria; it’s difficult musically and emotionally and they nail it every single time
- Brian’s guitar solo (you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you 😘). OK, this is about instinctive musicianship. When you stand up to do a guitar solo like that, you might have a rough framework in your head, but not every single note, and if you’re a fan, you’ll know that each one is slightly different. As I expected, there was a little snatch of Barcelona worked into it, as well as the more usual themes from Lost Horizon and Brighton Rock. Brian’s solos contain elements of rock, jazz and modern classical music, and it takes the “instinctive” music gene plus an amazing mind to play like that. During the solo, he was whisked into the heavens among some stunning astrophotography
- I Want It All – this is another song that seems to have improved with live performance. Of course, this is one of the post-1986 songs that Freddie never got to perform live, but it’s a fans’ favourite and a real Queen anthem. It suits Adam’s voice to a tee; there’s plenty of opportunities for drama and there is that magic moment for “it ain’t much I’m asking” that everyone seems to love
Thanks again to Marc Valiente for uploading this:
There were many, many other magical moments during the set; the appearance of Freddie during Love Of My Life and Bohemian Rhapsody and Adam’s utterly cheeky rendition of Killer Queen, where he has progressed from a chaise longue to a throne. There was a deafening cheer at the start of Under Pressure when a photo of David Bowie flashed up on the screens and a lovely moment when Roger solemnly presented Brian with the Red Special just before the start of These Are The Days Of Our Lives. Roger also proudly introduced “his boy Rufus” at the end of the drum battle and we were treated to an updated, acoustic version of Crazy Little Thing Called Love. There’s also a particularly honourable mention for the inclusion of Play The Game, which worked beautifully.
Even two hours was too short and time flashed by to We Will Rock You, We Are The Champions, the inevitable end, the post-gig heartache and the craving for more. The smoke guns fired and we were showered with gold foil. It snaked and circled down among us, probably imprinted with traces of the music that we’d been bombarded with. There’s some in my handbag to keep the memory alive.
At least it’s the start of the tour and there are more live streams to come – and of course the Isle of Wight festival for those of us in the UK. Queen are alive and well – Don’t Stop Them Now.