Fox Tales: 'News of the World' tour showcased Queen's majest

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Fox Tales: 'News of the World' tour showcased Queen's majest

Postby nicksmithworld » Sun Dec 24, 2017 2:18 pm

Fox Tales: 'News of the World' tour showcased Queen's majesty

When it comes to memorable concerts I’ve seen that were somehow sprinkled with magical memories of the Christmas season, there is absolutely no doubt that Queen’s “News of the World” tour remains a crowning achievement.

Quite literally, in fact — as the stage centerpiece was a gigantic fabric crown which not only housed the lighting rig, but also rose and descended at the beginning and end of what historically remains Queen’s most glorious and extravagant tour.

The show a couple friends and I saw on Dec. 22, 1977 (40 years ago today), at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., easily ranks in the top five concerts I have ever witnessed. Watching YouTube clips or videos from that night — or other performances from the same tour — literally sends adrenaline through my veins, quickens my heartbeat and, I’m not ashamed to admit, brings a few tears to my eyes as the memories come flooding back. There are great concerts — and then there are mindblowingly unbelievable show experiences, and this falls into the latter category.

The thing one must understand about Queen in 1977 is the band was pushing the envelope in terms of the live experience. Much like “Bohemian Rhapsody” expanded the scope of what kind of music rock bands could conceivably record (as did the entire 1975 album from which it was pulled, “A Night at the Opera”), Queen was several years ahead of its time when it came to the pure spectacle of a live show.

I had seen the band for first time earlier that same year — remember the days when bands actually released a couple albums a year? — in its Forum appearance for the “A Day at the Races” tour, and was visually and sonically blown away with the group’s entire presentation. Flash bombs, smoke effects, dynamic lighting, a lead singer in Freddie Mercury whose primary stage attire consisted of multiple spandex unitards, guitarist Brian May in a flowing Japanese shirt, Mercury’s spellbinding stage presence ... all of which, incidentally, bizarrely seemed to complement the wide-ranging styles of the band’s music. Queen was unique in every sense of the word.

Having that initial introduction to the Queen live spectacle just nine months earlier, my friends and I thought we were somewhat prepared for what we would experience that Dec. 22. We were not.

We were comfortably seated in the fifth row of the Colonnade (upper level) at the Forum — tickets $7.75 with tax — when the arena lights went out. The immediately recognizable “stomp, stomp, clap, pause” of “We Will Rock You” (just released as the B side of lead single “We Are the Champions”) began pounding from the speakers. This didn’t sound live, so I’m pretty sure it was the main backing track from the album.

There was a large curtain in front of the stage and suddenly Mercury (resplendent in a black-and-white checkered unitard and accompanying black leather jacket) popped out from stage right and began animatedly sang the anthem’s first verse and chorus — all by himself. As the initial chorus vocal concluded, he pointed to stage left, where May (wearing black slacks and an elegant white suit coat) slipped out of the curtain with his iconic Red Special guitar to rip his way through the song’s amazingly cool closing guitar solo.

In a play off of a famous movie line from years later, you could say that Queen had us — and another 16,000 fans in the soldout Forum that night — at “Buddy.”

With Mercury and May both having retreated behind the curtain again, the bombast was just getting started. With the intro buildup to “Tie Your Mother Down” gradually getting louder and louder from the speakers, the curtains dropped to reveal the giant rising fabric crown, with smoke billowing out and totally obscuring everything on stage. Instead of launching into the expected “Tie Your Mother Down,” however, which would have made total sense, Mercury and May exploded out of the smoke playing an incredible rocked-up version of “We Will Rock You,” joined by bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor. While this version has become well-known to fans over the years, keep in mind that nobody in attendance had heard this rendition before.

It was dynamic. It was adrenalized. It was daring. It was totally a Queen gambit. It still remains one of best concert openings I have ever seen, whether in person or on video. It would be an incredible opening sequence today — but in 1977 it was undeniably unprecedented.

It was with wondering awe that the rest of the show unfolded before our eyes and ears. The band’s setlist was highly representative of both its hits and deep album catalog. The band did a seven-song medley early in its set — Mercury referred to it as a “cornucopia of delight” — in another move that seemed nontraditional for a rock show. In an added show of confidence, Queen placed two of its biggest hits, “Killer Queen” and “You’re My Best Friend,” in the medley, seemingly to recognize their existence while also reserving more time for album cuts in the main set.

The concert also featured a three-song acoustic set of “Love of My Life,” “39” and, in a nod to the holiday just three days away, Mercury and May did a duet of “White Christmas.” Mercury said it was the first (and presumably last) time they’d ever performed it.

As I look through the setlist today, I still shake my head in disbelief of all the great songs they played: “White Man,” “Brighton Rock,” “Now I’m Here,” “The Prophet Song,” “Stone Cold Crazy,” and the list goes on.

“Tie Your Mother Down” closed the main set in raucous fashion — and the encores were truly memorable. The first encore opened with “We Will Rock You” — this time the regular full-band live version, complete with the guitar solo and leading right into “We Are the Champions.” So, yes, for those keeping score — the band played “We Will Rock You” three different times, in three completely different ways. The audacity of such a move still puts a smile on my face 40 years later. Vintage Queen.

The second encore opened with “Sheer Heart Attack” and gave way to a rip-roaring “Jailhouse Rock.” Things got totally off the hook here as belly dancers, other characters in Christmas costumes and Santa Claus with his sleigh all hitting the stage. Mercury, now bedazzled in a sequined silver unitard, sang one of the encore songs sitting on Santa’s shoulders as the jolly man himself wandered about the stage.

The show — the final one in the band’s 1977 tour — closed in traditional Queen fashion, with a recording of “God Save the Queen” as the crown slowly lowered again to the stage.

I've had 40 years to relive the show and mentally evaluate just why it still resonates with me so strongly. A major part of it certainly, is the artistic tandem of Mercury and May -- two musicians who could both be considered top five in their respective musical realms. Mercury, in fact, may be the best vocalist/frontman combo the rock genre has ever seen. May's tremendous guitar sound, equal parts raw, powerful or delicately touching proved the perfect complement.

Taylor's energetic drumming and raspy background and occasional lead vocals were also a key component in Queen. Deacon may have been an understated live performer, resolute in his stoicism, but his bass was intrinsic to the band's sound. He also wrote a few of the band's biggest songs.

Queen recently released a "News of the World -- 40th Anniversary Edition" box set, with a picture disc vinyl album, three CDs of music, a photo book and, perhaps the most intriguing aspect for me, an hour-long DVD documenting the band's American "News of the World" tour. I can't wait to see that footage.

That Dec. 22 show at the Forum was the last time I saw Queen in concert. We moved to Utah six months later. For some unknown reason, and to the best of my knowledge, Queen has never played a show in Utah.

My friends and I still reminisce about our "News of the World" concert. It reigns among the most regal of concert experiences. Three days later I unwrapped an electric guitar from my parents — essentially delivering two Christmas miracles in one week.
‘...and I find myself thinkin', well, what would you do?’
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