"We'd like to apologise for this godforsaken shit heap of a building."
Yeah, too bloody right Brian. For those of you who have yet to visit the abomination that is Wembley Pavilion we have one small piece of advice for you. DON'T! Even if you hear that the ghost of Jimi Hendrix is going to be jamming there with Jesus on bass. DON'T GO! If Satan himself had to design a music venue it would be heaven compared to the soul sucking monstrosity that is Wembley Pavilion. An enormous over heated tent that stretches on for ever, and guarantees obscured views unless you're in the stands that are so far back you'll need more than the over priced rental binoculars to make head or tale of the pixels on the stage. We loathe the place with a vengeance usually reserved for genocidal dictators and members of the Big Brother House and we've only been in there 2.1 seconds.
Still it's nice to know that one Brian May, curly of mane, nimble of finger, victim of fashion agrees with us. And since we've paid a genuinely stupid amount of money to be trapped in this gehenna we reckon we've earnt his apology.
Ah, we here some sniggering in the back! Yes you heard us, that's Brian May of pomp rock behemoths Queen, back in town with Rog the drummmer and stand in vocalist Paul Rodgers (ex of Free and Bad Company). Now let's face it, Queen are a pretty easy target for general gibes and sneers. Bohemian Rhapsody has long since become a parody of the worst excesses of 70's rock, and pretty much any band whose core audience might include your parents is JUST NOT COOL!
So let's clear up a few things here.
Queen were absolutely totally f***ing awesome. They were an unparalleled live force driven by an odd looking man with bad teeth and a moustache who could sing the arse off of anyone; and who exemplified that genteel campness so beloved of old ladies and tv chat show hosts yet who had a wink that said he'd quite happily bend you over a flight case and make your eyes pop out whilst waiting for the next plattter-of-coke carrying dwarf to wander by. They pretty much reinvented the art of the live performance as spectacle, invented the pop video, and consistently played places they shouldn't have done (which they're still doing today). No one told Queen what to do. Their music has encompassed rock, metal, pop, glam, jazz, swing, folk, opera, disco, in fact pretty much everything except country, but we could even be wrong on that one. They were four hideously well educated and prodigiously talented guys who took on the world on their own terms at every stage and won. Big time. They are quite possibly the best singles bands of all time, one of them wrote the theme to Star Fleet, and they counted fans as far afield from David Bowie and Elton John to Kurt Kobain and Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat / Fugazi, for those non harcore folks out there). They stay in touch with their fans, they control the use of their music and they can do pretty much whatever they want, when they want to. Now tell me. How punk is that?
Of course, not all of their decisions have been wise ones (playing Sun City anyone?). And this current reformation, the first time anyone has toured under the Queen banner since 1986, could well be one of those.
So let's not be the last to point out that this is NOT Queen. This is QPR. Queen Paul Rodgers. 50% of the old band, 66.6% of the band that are left - the majority rules - and a mate of theirs singing some Queen songs, some Free stuff and a couple of Bad Company numbers. And for what it's worth that's more than enough to send the 80 gazillion fans who've gathered in shitsville, UK, apoplectic as the curtain drops, four WWII style spot lights temporarily blind us, Brian stikes a pose and Paul chucks his stand into the air. Note: there will be MUCH more of this kind of behaviour for the next two and a half hours. If you can't or won't tolerate it then please leave now by the nearest exit. A polite young person probably wishing they'd taken the job at McDonalds will guide you.
With that in mind this is a pretty good show. There are some great moments, it's good to be able to hear these songs live again and this is probably the last time we'll ever be able to do the Radio Ga Ga hand clap without feeling like we've just run over the neighbour's cat. And there are of course, the songs: Tie Your Mother Down, Fat Bottomed Girls, I'm In Love With My Car, We Will Rock You, Wishing Well, Feel Like Making Love. Classics every one. Of course there's also A Kind Of Magic so we'll move swiftly on.
Vocal duties are split between Paul, Roger Taylor and Brian. Brian and Rodger still cut it, Rodger especially, keeping that old rasp up for a fair few tracks. Unfortunatley he does also sing a solo spot: new tune Say It's Not True which is a pretty apt description. Loads of people diappear to the toilets never to be seen again. For the better part Rodgers does a grand job of filling in for Freddie's vocals. Hi is a powerful dirty rock blues voice that could probably impregnate a woman at thirty paces. If it falters from the moustachioed one's operatics then that's ok. They've stayed away from anything too bombastic, although they've still left a fair few of the belters out. But this is where it all gets rotten in Denmark. He just doesn't have the life in him. When he does swing his mike stand around it's pretty slowly. He walks, not runs around the stage and often looks as if he's doing some stretching exercises (shouldn't he have done them before the show?). Queen live were about Freddie's energy: running up speaker stacks and creating an adrenaline fuelled bond betweeen himself and the audience and with every passing hobble on stage tonight we miss him.
And that's ultimately what's wrong with this tour. It's not about the new singer, it's not about the abscence of the bass player, it's not about the over priced baby grows available in the merchandising warehouse or the enviromentally damaging light show. It's that Freddie was the life and soul and persona of Queen's songs; there was and to this day still is no one like him, and without him it's just not right. Not wrong, just not right. It's great to hear '39, it's hysterically camp to see Brian play an extended solo in front of a screen projecting first clouds and then stars so it looks like he's playing in space. It's actually pretty cool to hear Alright Now live and it's funny to think that Paul Rodgers looks like Dave Grohl's evil uncle in an episode of Miami Vice. But it's not Freddie and the soul that's missing does make the initially exciting running time of two and a half hours drag somewhat.
There is one moment when the show does gain a sense of beauty. And that's when Rodger Taylor sings These Were The Days Of Our Lives: an incredibly moving song written by a man who'd lived his days at a pace few of us could even dream to match and who was watching himself fade away; yet had no regrets other than missing all the friends around the world he loved. We're not ashamed to say it was a real lump in the throat moment.
But despite all that we couldn't help thinking as we trekked back to Wembley Park that Freddie would have loved it. He's no doubt laughing his arse off up there at the commenorative sixpence picks and the earnest words of memorial, shouting down to us: "Oh don't be so stupid darlings!"
And yes they do play Bo Rap. They leave the stage for a film of Freddie playing it and damnn it just makes us miss him even more.