- Queen Rock Montreal
Queen Rock Montreal is a groundbreaking concert film that is finally seeing a legitimate release. Recorded at The Forum in Montreal, Canada on November 24th and 25th in 1981, these concerts were scheduled specifically to make a full length film of Queen’s live show, as Queen decided to break new ground by becoming the first band to shoot an entire show in 35mm full cinema format. The movie was directed by Saul Swimmer, who is best known as the director/producer of The Concert for Bangladesh in 1972.
After not owning the rights to the movie for several years, Queen once again regained those rights (supposedly when Swimmer died in 2006) and then painstakingly restored the film to its original condition, requiring that the original 35mm negative be scanned frame by frame and the sound be newly mixed and remastered. The resulting restored clarity of the video and audio is very impressive. As a bonus, the DVD also offers commentary by guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, each providing insight into the songs, the band, and the show.
The film begins with a sped up version of “We Will Rock You” with the band taking the stage to a very strong backbeat by Roger. It is quite evident from this first song that this is a very tight unit at their peak. The next song, “Let Me Entertain You” has the band continuing the energy, and we see the combination of John Deacon’s bass and Roger’s drums really driving this song. Freddie moves to the grand piano for the first time for “Play The Game,” showcasing the grand, arena rock sound that had become Queen’s forte. “Somebody To Love” begins with a brief acapella vocal and subsequent solo piano sequence before the band kicks into gear, and this is the first time that the vocals, harmony, and tightness for which Queen has become known are truly highlighted. There are some great solo shots of Freddie at the piano and Roger behind the drums trading vocal licks back and forth.
Freddie really takes the audience to task on “Now I’m Here,” pushing crowd interaction to levels only he could achieve. The show takes another musical turn as Brian sits down with a 12 string acoustic guitar while Freddie sings the emotional, “Love of My Life.” Following the now infamous, bass-driven “Under Pressure,” Queen thunders through the hard driving sounds of “Keep Yourself Alive” before Roger’s drum/tympani solo, which is taken over by Brian’s guitar solo. During this solo, Brian has the guitar delay to the point where it sounds as if he is playing several guitars at the same time.
Freddie takes the acoustic guitar to center stage for “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and this song is just pure fun from start to finish. Freddie and the band next take on Elvis in a sped up version of “Schoolhouse Rock.” Immediately following is the song for which Queen will always be famous for, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This live version is truly moving. Freddie’s impassioned vocals and piano playing show the belief and vision he had for this song when everyone told him it was too long to be a hit and was recorded in different parts, so nobody truly realized Freddie’s entire vision until the song was completed. The song really is the highlight of the DVD, as the music, lights, pyrotechnics are all intertwined. The last phrase, “any way the wind blows” perfectly fades the song out in the end.
After a few hard rocking numbers, we arrive at the grand finale, beginning with “We Will Rock You.” By this time, Freddie is barefoot and wearing nothing but a pair of shorts while strutting and interacting with the crowd as only he could. Brian ends the number on a classic guitar riff, while Freddie transitions over to the grand piano for “We Are The Champions,” a song that is still being played at sporting events all over the world to this day. The poignant lyrics seem almost autobiographical coming out of Freddie’s mouth.
The concerts captured on this film were the last time Queen toured with just the four original members. In later tours, they added a keyboard player to allow Freddie more time to interact with the crowd as just the lead singer. The setlist features a vast array of songs from Queen’s 1973 eponymous debut album all the way through to the yet unreleased Hot Space in 1982, and this performance will leave no reason to doubt the claim the Freddie Mercury was truly one of if not the greatest frontmen in the history of rock and roll. His musical, vocal, and crowd interaction skills truly shine throughout the film.