For Queen obsessives, the advent of remastered CD and DVD has served to keep the - ahem - 'magic' alive long after the demise of the band itself as a creative unit. The latest release is this long-awaited Milton Keynes Bowl concert, recorded June 1982, on the European leg of the Hot Space tour. A heavily-edited film of the show was first used, improbably enough, on Channel 4's alternative music show The Tube in 1983; that edit has since featured regularly on VH1. Individual songs have also appeared in video montages and compilations. Now, after the success of the Live at Wembley Stadium DVD, this is the MK show in its entirety - warts 'n' all - and very welcome it is too.
Previous 'live' offerings from Queen too often suffered from heavy handed editing, remixing and general interference, sometimes due to the limitations of technology at the time but more often in a mistaken attempt at quality assurance. The nadir is 1986's Live Magic which employs a ghastly mixture of omission and (unbelievably) song editing to fit a two-hour show onto LP. A close second is the video of 1985's Rock In Rio triumph: Brian May's guitar is hopelessly buried in the mix and the overall band sound is dull and blunted. Now, as this DVD demonstrates, even on basic home equipment, digital remastering brings a raw freshness to the sound as well as sharpness and colour to the picture.
After the pomp and grandeur of two world tours between 1977 and 1979, their stage show by 1982 had adopted a pared-down, 'hot and spacey' feel to match their changing musical direction. The grandiose 'Crown' lighting rig in 1977-78 and the 'Pizza Oven' roof of lights that spectacularly adorns the Live Killers sleeve were replaced by relatively modest, moving banks of lights and powerful spots. Musically, while the new songs from the sharply criticised Hot Space album undoubtedly benefit from a live work-out, this viewer well remembers their muted greeting by the crowd at the previous week's Elland Road concert.
However, Queen always delivered onstage and this DVD magnificently captures the power of Queen live. Freddie is in particularly mischievous form, teasing and energising the crowd ("are you ready...are you ready brothers and sisters?"). The consummate showman bounds across the stage and athletically utilises gangways incorporated into the stage set to project the band in larger venues. Though Freddie did not personally write a Queen blockbuster after 1979's Crazy Little Thing Called Love, he was still fit and lithe, aged 35 in 1982, the singing voice strong and assured. Only later did a combination of wear and tear, age and smoking lead to difficulties at the end of long shows and tours. Before AIDS (first identified in 1983), it is also interesting to note the overtly sexual nature of much of his onstage banter, strutting and posing.
The performance - and the filming - is not quite as polished as 1986 and casual buyers might begin their collection with the aforementioned Live At Wembley Stadium DVD. It was 1985's Live Aid that truly elevated Queen to superstar status. In 1982, the set list still contained obligatory new-album material and hard-rocking (but relatively uncommercial) stage favourites like We Will Rock You (fast) and Sheer Heart Attack. For the Queen connoisseur, however, there is much to enjoy. Particular highlights include Somebody To Love: a singalong favourite and live staple from 1976, it was inexplicably left off the Live Killers LP and finally dropped in 1986. If Queen's finest hour (or, rather, 17 minutes) at Live Aid can be criticised, it is surely the inclusion of Hammer To Fall at the expense of Somebody To Love.
Another fine Milton Keynes moment is the gloriously un-PC Fat Bottomed Girls. Unfortunately, a raucously out-of-tune scream by Freddie has been polished out - but at least problems with Brian May's lead during his earlier solo spot have been left in; anoraks truly treasure such moments! This tour is also noteworthy for fans as the first to feature additional (off-stage) keyboards to supplement the band's sound. Brian's 'chat' before Love Of My Life is also somewhat unusual. Dedicating the song to people "who have given up their lives for what they believe", it is a reference to the Falklands War that dominated the headlines that spring and summer: Queen were in an acutely difficult position as they had played in Argentina the previous year, were selling phenomenally well over there and had just released a single in English and Spanish - Las Palabras De Amor.
Overall, Live At Milton Keynes Bowl is another top quality Queen DVD. What delights await next Christmas? Paris 1979? Houston or Earl's Court 1977? Hyde Park 1976, please.