Remembering Queen Live at Wembley ’86
When Queen took to the stage at Wembley Stadium, they were the biggest live attraction in Britain if not the world, Freddie Mercury was at the top of his form, and the crowd at Wembley roared in his hands. The Live at Wembley Stadium ’86 DVD and CD set is, without doubt, pure class and worthy of a place in anyone’s record collection; in terms of live recordings, this is historic.
I’ve been watching and listening to this event since I was a kid. My parents had videos full of music videos and concerts and I must have watched them all to the point of wearing them out when I was younger. Dad taped this one from the Channel Four broadcast, it was taped after David Hepworth talked to David Hepworth on the Born in the USA tour and before a Prince’s Trust concert but…I digress. The point is, I didn’t have to re-listen / re-watch this to write any words about it and I make no apologies for saying it’s the absolute bollocks of live documents.
One Vision is epic, that keyboard intro and that guitar riff before Freddie emerges from the smoke with his microphone. Even so soon into the performance, Mr Mercury is magnificent. Gimme Gimme Gimme fried chicken!
The set list for this and every Queen event was very thought out and structured and Wembley was no different. First, blind and deafen, slow and thoughtful ramping up to blind deafen them again with the closing; generally leave them speechless. One Vision and Tie Your Mother Down achieve the first rule brilliantly before In the Lap of the Gods which was dusted off specially for the Wembley dates according to the Brian May, a fan favourite. Watch Freddie posing; hear his delicate vocal delivery before the drums kick in and the woah woahs start… anyone not into it by this point has my sympathy.
The groove of A Kind of Magic here is different from the studio recording obviously, it’s beefier, rockier. John Deacon’s bass struts its way through (as it does on Under Pressure and Another One Bites the Dust which follow this). Brian May’s guitar work is outstanding and Roger Taylor drums his arms off. This is what happens when every single element of a rock band, are on the same page. Live at Wembley is full of these moments, frankly my dear.
After …Magic we have the moment. The moment Freddie gets an entire Wembley crowd in the palm of his hand. Often imitated (Robbie Williams, Guy Garvey, I’m looking lovingly in your direction), never bettered. The call and response part is brilliant. And only Freddie could end the exchange with a cheeky “Fuck you!” and get a cheer from the crowd … Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay oh!
Crowd participation is often a risky business at live concerts, if the people don’t respond or their reaction is half hearted it wont pop and you end up looking like a bit of an idiot. Bruce Springsteen does it very well, Noel Gallagher heard the Don’t Look Back in Anger chorus come back at him perfectly at every Oasis gig I saw. Robbie can do it too. Queen and more specifically Freddie Mercury had every member of the sell out crowd with him here. Ending band split rumours with “we’re going to stay together until we fucking well die, I’m sure” delights them. The band then go into Who Wants to Live Forever; the then new song, written for the Highlander film, and the comments made before it look somewhat poignant given the passing of the band’s front man.
I Want to Break Free sounds funky and no, the band don’t perform it as Coronation Street ladies as in the video which is a tribute to the British soap (sorry, America).
If you were to skip any tracks in the presentation of Live at Wembley and you chose Impromptu and Brighton Rock Solo then Given to Sound would support you. Both of these inclusions work for the entirety of the concert and they may be good, but they don’t stand up to repeat listening. I stand by my assertion that the tracks are flawless, but some may be a little less flawless than others.
Now I’m Here is Roger Taylor hammering the drums and Freddie covering every inch of the stage, literally being here and now there and attempting to perform on every surface on that stage, vocally he never misses a moment.
As Freddie and the band disappear and ‘the guitarist gets to speak’, Brian delicately strums Love of My Life and Mercury comes back for to the fore with conductor greatness; conducting the audience to sing back the words back to him. This is live, people, this wasn’t Memorex, wasn’t auto tuned and wasn’t mimed. This was an intimate moment where you can almost be forgiven for thinking there ISNT a sell out Wembley crowd there. When you are at a live show and moments like this happen, you feel every second, and you should watching or listening to this collection too. The way Freddie’s voice dives soars and crackles Is This the World We Created is beautiful.
It is at this point in the set that the band then dive into old classics like (You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care and Hello Mary Lou (Goodbye Heart). Queen were clever at knowing when to lighten the mood, and the had a liking for songs with brackets in the titles (OK maybe not). Tutti Frutti starts off in the same kind of free jam spirit as the other two songs, but soon enough Roger is back on drums, the guitars are plugged in, Freddie’s running again and the band means business. Business and then some, because soon comes Bohemian Rhapsody.
The crowd sway, and sing along, this is after all, one of the most influential sound recordings in the history of music. It may sound shivers down your spine, perhaps more than the studio construct of the A Night at the Opera album version because you watch and hear every part flow together live (the i see a little silhouette-o of a man part is of course, played in and not recreated live, but…come on that is vocal multi-tracked gold and we can forgive that). Any way the wind blows!
After all that time on stage and all those hits, you’d expect that to be the end but Queen deliver more. A powerful Hammer to Fall and a cute Crazy Little Thing Called Love with Freddie’s ‘shitty guitar’ bring on a rocky Big Spender complete with Freddy ripping his shirt and taking the crowd straight into Radio Ga ga (clap along like a good ‘un, you know you want to).
We Will Rock You, Friends Will Be Friends and the loveably pompous We Are the Champions complete the show. The crowd sing their hearts out and Roger is immense on drums. Sonically, this is good for the ears and visually Freddie charging around the stage in a flowing white cape just tops it off.
Overall there is nothing wrong with the spectacle that is Live At Wembley Stadium at all. We will forgive you for skipping where we suggested but the concert is a journey and the crowd are invited along for the ride, even now so many years after the actual event it sounds fresh and looks amazing. The band is on form for what would turn out to be the penultimate live performance of their career (they played Hyde Park after this because a third Wembley date was not available).
Live at Wembley Stadium is evidence that Queen were amongst the very best bands Britain has ever seen and with the immense enjoyment of this, there is an inevitable sense of sorrow that it was never again like this for them or their fans. They broke the mould in music and in their live shows, they lowered the biggest video screen in Europe into the stadium for this concert, they put cameras everywhere and demanded that everything be recorded, they built the stage into the foundations of the stadium; bands don’t do that anymore, they usually put a stage up and leave the seats behind empty.
They were a one-off. Freddie Mercury was a one-off, and so many current performers owe so much to him; to Queen as a whole. Long live our noble Queen.
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Words © Simon A. Moult / Moultymedia 2011. Picture © Neal Preston used for illustration purposes only.