“Queen Rock Montreal”: A Peak Moment

Depending upon your point of view, Queen in 1980/1981 was either a band in complete control of their live shows or a heavy metal act rejecting the essence of their modus operandi to produce material that was accessible and lightweight. As it happens, Queen had their feet in both camps; ultimately for the members, the singles and stadiums were more important than the aphorisms of their 1970s work, which is evident in Queen Rock Montreal, a near-perfect hybrid of 1970s metal and succulent 1980s pop. More than that, it shows the band thriving on creative risks, which ultimately resulted in Hot Space, the band’s most accomplished and inventive recording since Sheer Heart Attack. A new 4K release of this iconic 1981 Montreal show is just out; it will also be streamed on Disney+ starting May 15.

Vocalist Freddie Mercury had become something of a pinup by the 1980s – he looked much better with short hair and mustache than he did as a tousled, clean-shaven rocker. The purpose of the concerts seemed to be a reassurance of sorts to critics and fans that the band intended to be as outrageous as they had always been. Out of the four members, only guitarist Brian May remained faithful to the garb of his younger days, his brown hair billowing over the waistcoat and shirts that had long been his signature dress. Bassist John Deacon, by contrast, sported it more casual, his leather jacket flitting up and down the fretboard during the bouncy “Let Me Entertain You.” The concert consisted of chorus-oriented numbers, and many of these live renditions, “Sheer Heart Attack”, “Dragon Attack” and “Save Me” have a looseness that is sorely missing from albums News of The World and The Game.

This could be written off as adrenaline, but there’s no denying the synchronicity onstage,  unhindered by engineers, agendas, or studio interference. “It’s a four-piece,” May recalled in 2024. “There’s no keyboards, no percussion; nothing extra. And, God, it rocks.” As it happens, part of the enjoyment stems from the fact there was hardly a genre that the band wasn’t willing to conquer — in addition to superb cymbal work from Roger Taylor, the drummer’s falsetto vocals on “Somebody to Love” were at least a match for Mercury.

On the funkier material (a direction Queen was drifting towards, spearheaded by Deacon’s “Another One Bites The Dust ”), the results are sloppier. May’s rock instincts are at odds with the looser edges of the material. “Get Down, Make Love” definitely suffers from an overabundance of guitar feedback, and really can’t compete with Mercury’s splashy piano parts and Taylor’s rock-steady beat; May fares better on “Another One Bites The Dust”, a song that needs muscle and grit as much as it needs groove. “Tie Your Mother Down” – powered by May’s fiery riff, and Taylor’s turbo-charged harmony – would hold up by the measurements of the new century, which might explain why May and Taylor opted to perform it with Paul Rodgers in 2005. Even the impish “Jailhouse Rock” holds a homespun charm that’s worth sitting through just to see the normally poker-faced Deacon jive beside the ebullient fans.

It’s easy to pencil Queen as some sort of out-moded, aristocratic fantasy, and some of their antics – the “Body Language” music video, the “I Want To Break Free” ballet sequence, and the Sun City debacle – give credence to this argument. But there’s none of that visible during Queen Rock Montreal. What we see is a quartet who are focused on the task at hand, discovering that sweet spot between abstract and appetizing. Queen rarely did better – then again, who did?

-Eoghan Lyng

Photo: Fair use image from Queen Rock Montreal


2 comments on ““Queen Rock Montreal”: A Peak Moment

  1. Gotta see this. Caught this tour in ’82 here. Thanx for the head’s up, Eoghan!

  2. Oh, sounds great. I’ll have to check it out.

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