THE CALGARY CONCERT – 2014
All I want to listen to these days is Queen, and its all because I went to see Queen and Adam Lambert on their World Tour two years ago in Calgary in 2014. Yup, two years ago and here I am still going on about it…
You see, the sheer energy and brilliance of the music re-lit a fire in me and brought me back to my true self. My happy self. It was life changing.
I know this sounds overly dramatic… but its true – it was a powerful turning point for me.
Like everyone who listened to rock in the 1970s and 80s, Queen was a significant part of the music landscape back then.
And as the years passed, their music became the backdrop of my entire adult life. In a way I took their music for granted because it was ubiquitous; not that I didn’t love their music, but it was just such a familiar part of my life.
All four members of the band were amazing songwriters and musicians. Their blended talents produced some of the most original and memorable music of the Rock Era.
When Freddie Mercury died in 1991 it felt like Queen died too.
But Queen is still very much alive – even without Freddie and John Deacon.
Adam Lambert has been touring with them as their new front man, and they rock…
During Season 8 of American Idol, we watched Adam Lambert dominate the competition with his intense artistry and powerhouse voice. We cheered for him from his first audition to his final performance. And when Brian May and Roger Taylor joined him for a finale performance, it was exciting to see the blending of such great talent. There seemed to be a natural and intuitive bond between them. We knew that if Adam Lambert ever toured with Queen we had to go.
And lo and behold – they joined forces, and as soon as the tour was announced, and the minute the tickets went on sale, we got online and frantically started trying to buy seats.
We lucked out. Our seats were near center stage, only several feet from Brian May and Adam Lambert. We were close enough to see their expressions as they performed, and even close enough to see May’s tears as he spoke of the late Freddie Mercury during one of the more emotional moments of the show.
The first song they played got lost in the rotten acoustics of the Calgary Saddledome – it took a few moments for the crowd and the band to find a balance, and then we were off…
I sang and danced and laughed and cried throughout the entire concert just like everyone in the boisterous crowd. It released a pure joy from the very core of me that I hadn’t felt in decades.
I’ve been to other concerts and seen other famous musicians in person before, but in some cases it felt like they were just phoning it in – bored with having to repeatedly play their big hits, and road tired. But Queen and Lambert took on the show with commitment and energy. Each song built on the next, and one hit after another continued to amp up the crowd. It was clear that everyone onstage were of one mind and heart as they played.
And something that’s new to me – the crowd was comprised of all ages – grandparents all the way down to toddlers – which surprised me, though in retrospect its not so surprising given that Queen music is timeless and known to many generations now.
You hear performers say that they feed off the energy of the crowd, and I’d say that it goes both ways. The crowd got louder and more vibrant as the band and the vocalist threw themselves into each song.
Queen has never shied from the campy, and much of their lyrics are rich with humor; these qualities shone through. Lambert sang and performed with his superb voice and vibrant personality.
And though no one can replace Freddie Mercury, Adam gave all the best of himself and he was truly amazing in his own right.
At one point, at the end of a particular favorite, the crowd went wild and Lambert turned back from center stage to walk back to May. You could see May gesturing and telling him that it was for him – to go back – take his bows – and revel in the mad hysteria of admiration that was flowing from the crowd. It was a surprisingly humble moment to witness. To see Lambert, who is such an incredibly talented and experienced performer, be so unassuming in front of the roaring audience. It was also telling evidence of May’s generosity of spirit and comradery.
I know I sound like a fan girl (my kids call me that) but Brian May’s solo Last Horizon, was some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever experienced.
It felt like it flowed directly from him across the crowd and into my heart, lifting me from myself – freeing me from the present. It was moving, sensitive, powerful and visionary. I have never heard the guitar played with such mastery.
The images projected on the screen behind him were of the stars and the vastness of space and they helped pull you into the music, but his presence on stage superseded all the lights and special effects.
He played his piece with passion and soul. He was present in the moment and yet seemingly lost in his own world. The guitar was really a part of the man, and the artist was sharing something private from deep inside.
I was rapt…
… that is… until I was interrupted partway through the piece by my daughter who wanted me to go with her to the washroom. It was extremely hard to pull myself away from where I stood. But May and his music were filling the entire stadium and I found that even as we hiked across the floor and up tiers of stairs to the tiled washroom, his music was just as powerful.
It was that performance more than any of the other numbers that made a lasting impression on me. It was a privilege to be there.
I found out what so many other people already knew – that Brian May is a masterful musician – a true artist.
After the concert, I began in earnest to listen to the recordings of Queen again. It was with a fresh perspective and newfound enjoyment. Being able to look back and understand the eras in which they worked and know who their peer musicians were, their music has taken on a new dimension for me.
I’ve never been a real aficionado of music (I don’t know much about the technical aspects of composing, playing and recording) but I can now, with age and experience, appreciate the creations of this unique group of artists and more deeply feel the music and lyrics and vocals better than I ever could when I was younger.
In the 1970s their music was revolutionary and was part of the British scene that came over to North America. We only ever heard their big hits like We Are the Champions and Bohemian Rhapsody on the radio and at sports venues, even though they have a huge catalog of original music (including 18 number one albums, 18 number one singles, and 10 number one DVDs*).
Back then, albums were often conceived as fully realized works of art. From the cover to the careful planning of the progression of sounds and songs, the albums deeply reflected what the musicians wanted to express with their music.
Nowadays with the downloading of music you can choose which hits you want on your personal playlist – which has its merits. But the unique flavor and vision of the artist somehow seems more watered down without the almost operatic rise and fall of the plot of a fully realized collection of works.
Within Queen’s oeuvre you can find a full range of styles and themes – hard rocking pieces like Tie Your Mother Down and Hitman; soft ballads like ’39; tender love songs like Love of My Life and Bijou; comical songs; songs about life and death – love and loss (Who Wants to Live Forever); humanity. These aren’t superficial pop songs – they’re far more intelligent and complex than most of the rock music out there (and yes, Fat Bottomed Girls is a smarter rock tune than most of the junk on the radio today).
It has been a remarkable reawakening for me – to rediscover this band after so many years – its like they are brand new to me again.
Lately I’ve been listening to Innuendo, the last album that Queen recorded with Freddie Mercury. Knowing that Mercury was suffering with the last stages of HIV/Aids at the time of the recording only adds more depth to many of the lyrics and music. His voice can bring tears to my eyes in The Show Must Go On and These Are The Days of Our Lives. While the song Don’t Try So Hard seems to come from a man who wants to share what he’s learned about life.
Headlong, Ride the Wild Wind and Hitman from Innuendo are my favorite driving songs now – they’re great for speeding along the highway and singing out loud, (and also great for dancing in the kitchen).
And the song I’m Going Slightly Mad sums up my general state of mind at this stage of my life.
I’m grateful that these artists shared themselves with the world. It takes a real bravado to do so – to create something completely new and gift it to everyone out there.
And it takes a real commitment to their art to continue working and performing and honing their mastery.
Like many great artists Queen has suffered blistering reviews from critics, but they weren’t making their music to suit the critics or go with what was the next in-thing – they followed their own path, making music that was true to themselves – never getting into a rut, never just making the same old sound over and over again to sell records.
And like all real art, Queen’s music stands the test of time.
There have been multitudes of rock bands over the years but in my opinion few have the same breadth of talent, breadth of material, and incredible musicianship of Queen. I guess I really am a fan girl after all.
Note: You can still catch the tour in Europe this year if you’re lucky – everywhere they play they get rave reviews and perform to sell out crowds (wish I could go again!). For a full listing of venues check out Queen online at http://www.queenonline.com/en/the-band/live/queen-adam-lambert/2016/
To finish, I’m including some quotes that speak to Brian May’s unique and brilliant musicianship:
“May delivers the magic dust that makes the music insanely interesting and provides an everlasting durability.”
“Brian May plays very dynamic solos. His riffs are often just running scales, but he does it with incredible variances in timing and attack. Other guitarists can attempt to copy his style, but they fall short of his abilities. He injects such emotion into his work that the listener not only hears his solos, but feels them, as well – often with lightening bolt intensity. He rises above most all other rock guitarists and certainly deserves a spot in the top ten.”
“…the greatest guitar-god fans say Brian May is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, guitarist of all time…”
“Even other guitar greats admit they cannot replicate what BM does. His sound is unique, his solos so intricate and clever, his playing is precise. He dips under the radar because he operates in his own incomparable universe.”
(the quotes are from the following website: http://www.thetoptens.com/guitarists/brian-may-3358.asp)
* statistics from wikipedia.org