It all started two years ago, as I was standing in front of an outdoor stage, watching the children’s choir of our city perform “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The whole crowd, the whole street was singing along, and this experience made me revisit Queen, the band that I knew and loved since my early teens, when I was the same age as these kids. And then, something happened: I think all fans are familiar with this cascade of emotions – when you fall in love with Queen, it will not let you go. Of course, most of all I wanted to see them live – but the tour of 2017 has just ended, I knew I missed a concert just by two months, and my hope was extremely faint. Thanks to the phenomenon of fan-made live streams, I was able to follow the European tour of 2018; and finally, when the North American tour was announced, I became a happy holder of four tickets for the Toronto show. Of course, after dreaming of this moment for so long, I had a clear picture in my mind; I imagined how, after recovering from euphoria of seeing my beloved band live, I would sit down and write about this. Little did I know how difficult that would be; in fact, I was faced with almost complete inability to put this experience into words. And yet I had to preserve this moment, otherwise, I would have thought that it was just a dream. That’s how my Russian text was born – and now, I am half-translating, half-rewriting it into English for all of my stereo / Queen friends out there. I begin this story with my own shaky and blurry video – because that’s how I saw them, from above, from the last rows of Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
July 28, 2019. A packed arena, happy faces, endless Queen t-shirts; my head is spinning because of the realization that I am now among my people, my worldwide family of fans that I usually only see on social media. And over our heads, over the stage slowly flows the familiar sound of Track 13, an unnamed song from “Made in Heaven.” I feel as if I have suddenly found myself inside a YouTube video, where everything is real and three-dimensional; I have managed to go through the Looking Glass. The stage is glittering with a beautiful crown rig featuring drum sets, guitars, and the Owl stereoscope invented by Brian, a portal that led me into the 3D world. The anticipation is swelling up, and finally, we hear the sound of orchestra tuning, a moment of silence, and then, a magnificent, overwhelming rhythm of Bolero, of “Innuendo.” The history starts rewinding, from 1991, back to the first North American tour; to those happy and wild times that served as a background for “Now I’m Here.”
The opening is loud and spectacular – that’s how it always went. So many traditions and references are kept in place: as the curtain rises, we see the silhouette of Brian with his guitar, and it takes us back to the concert of 1975 that started with Freddie standing in the spotlight; the tradition lives on. And of course the sound is so inimitable and so recognizable, as this rich and dense tune kicks in, featuring our beloved guitar and drums, bass guitar and keys, percussion and of course the vocals. Adam brings it all together, being so powerful and strong, having become so essential for the history of Queen. Last year, on European live streams, I noticed how wonderfully he sings “I Want it All:” preceded by the meditative, almost psychedelic dialogue between Adam’s vocal and Brian’s guitar, an electrified moment of silence, and Roger’s countdown, it plunges into a joyous celebration. Long live life!
Prior to the show, I did not watch any videos from this tour to avoid spoilers, and some additions to the set list came as a complete surprise; for example, the order of songs – like “The Show Must Go On” that usually was performed closer to the finale, was moved to the first half of the show, and in a way, changed its influence on the audience. After having done our share of mourning, we are moving on, always remembering about our losses. Or, for example, an inclusion of futuristic “Machines (Back to Humans)” into the set list, one of many Queen songs that for me have the “Doctor” quality – in this case, I am talking about Doctor Who, a perpetual space wanderer. Somewhere above our heads flows the eternal voice of Freddie.
I will always remember how Brian suddenly ran up to Adam and hugged him; how the whole crowd (including myself) screamed on top of our lungs when Bohemian Rhapsody started playing; how breathtaking were the highest notes sung by Adam on Who Wants to Live Forever; how beautiful were the rays spilled by the disco ball; and how clear and strong were the voices of both Roger and Brian. But the most precious memory for me is the huge bowl of the arena filled with lights, Brian’s quiet voice as he was talking to us (somehow I knew that he was addressing every single person in the audience), the communal singing, and how I started crying loudly when Freddie appeared. Even though I have seen this number on YouTube many times I could never imagine how overwhelming this moment would be.
Doctor Brian plays so many roles on stage: he is a rock star shredding these fiery guitar solos, he is quiet and sentimental, commemorating his dear friend; he is also a powerful wizard floating on an asteroid among shining stars and planets. Since the last tour, his symphony has transformed, both emotionally and conceptually, and from extremely personal “Last Horizon” it turned into something more global and universal. Now the highlight of his solo is Dvorak’s “The New World Symphony,” which I think reflects Brian’s own mood – always moving onward.
For me, Queen music is saturated with love, it glorifies life and fills your heart with joy, and this is how we all felt throughout this show. One of the highest points of this experience was the performance of “Fat Bottomed Girls”, the song that I adore in all forms (be it a studio version, or a live footage with Freddie, or with Adam). In Dallas and Philadelphia, the band invited the local ensembles of cheerleaders, thus not only demonstrating their great sense of humor but also paying their respects to local football teams of those cities. It did not happen in Toronto – but we cheered, sang along, and took in all those beautiful Queen harmonies. At that point, our section was up and dancing.
I keep on focusing on all these small details, at the same time struggling to find the proper words to describe this experience. I have been to many great shows, including some big names – and I have never ever felt such powerful and intimate bond between the band and the audience. It really did not matter where you were sitting, in the first rows next to the stage or, like us, in the last rows under the ceiling. In fact, it became absolutely irrelevant after the first songs. We were ALL together, there was no distinction between us and them, between the performers and their listeners.
And that is why, in my opinion, we all need to attend Queen and Adam Lambert shows while they are still touring. Of course, there are other reasons as well, such as seeing this stunning, artistic show, admiring the amazing musical wizardry, hearing Adam’s beautiful performance, and after all, experiencing our beloved band and their powerful sound! But the most important thing is that the magic of Queen is still there, as it was almost 50 years ago, and this is something you cannot miss. Even though times change, historical epochs come and go, this magic lives its own life, blessing this band with its glow. I do not know how this feeling of belonging, of togetherness is achieved but now I can say for sure that it is real and almost tangible.
I am so thankful for having priceless opportunity of witnessing the performance of my favorite musicians whose music is so deeply ingrained in my own life. And even though I never saw Freddie onstage, I can at least imagine what kind of experience his audience had. The fact that I have attended one of the Rhapsody Tour shows was a great privilege: this set list gave a deep insight into Queen history that allowed us to see it, as we say in our 3D community, “in stereo”. We watched in awe how these two guys, a guitarist and a drummer, got together to form their first band. And seeing them performing a song dating back to the late 1960ies, amazing us with the same harmonies, I cannot help but cry grateful and happy tears.
God save the Queen.
Katya Neklyudova, 2019 (@katya.3d on IG)
P. S. Great thanks to all the fans that filmed this concert.