I believe it was Dave Grohl who once said the only two men he has ever seen properly control a crowd are the Pope and Freddie Mercury.
The 2K5 version of this great arena rock act with former Bad Company/Free principal Paul Rodgers on vocal duties wasn’t quite such a divine intervention. But hearing some of these amazing Queen songs performed on an American stage for the first time in 23 years was definitely a sight to behold for a generation of fans who might have been too young to have witnessed these AOR legends in their concert prime.
The rush-released, shaky live album that came out in late summer culled from their reunion show at Hallam Arena in Sheffield, England, this past May might not have fans trading in their well-worn copy of “Live Killers” any time soon.
And sure, hardcore fans who wanted to hear “Ogre Battle” or “Flash Gordon” or the title track to Queen’s criminally underrated 1991 swan song, “Innuendo” were rightly disappointed in lieu of clumsy takes on “Another One Bites the Dust” and “We Will Rock You”/”We Are the Champions”.
But they were counterbalanced by such Kodak moments as a gorgeous solo take on the “Night at the Opera” time-travel ballad “’39” from guitarist Brian May and vocal turns by drummer Roger Taylor for soaring renditions of “Radio Ga Ga,” “I’m In Love With My Car” and “These Are the Days of Our Lives”.
Both men were in absolute fine voice, and to hear them play their respective instruments with renewed vim and vigor was very welcoming to the ears. And Rodgers, who commanded the stage during searing versions of “Tie Your Mother Down,” “I Want It All” and “The Show Must Go On,” had the spotlight shone on his own body of work throughout the near two-and-a-half hour set as well.
The group blasted through such Bad Co. classics as “Rock & Roll Fantasy,” “Bad Company,” “Can’t Get Enough” and “Feel Like Making Love” with more power than these songs have seen since the 1970s. But ultimately the night belonged to Mercury, who was present in spirit and vision as old concert and newsreel footage danced across the giant screen above the stage throughout the show.
The tactic was used most prominently during “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which was saved from pure disaster by utilizing video and audio footage of Mercury singing the famous rock concerto as Qv.2 played its eruptive instrumental track live.
It was a move that could’ve destroyed every shred of integrity this tour had and justified original bassist’s John Deacon’s refusal to join his old mates for the reunion. But by some kind of magic, it pulled together beautifully. And when the ghostly refrain of Freddie’s final passage of “Nothing really matters … to …me” echoed from the ceiling of the arena back up to the heavens, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.