It was a night I wasn't about to forget. Queen hadn't played America since 1982, but, thanks to an extensive promotional campaign supporting their latest album, I found myself amongst forty thousand other exuberant Queen fans at Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia on a warm summer's night - June 27, 1989, to be exact.
The anticipation was building as the support group came and went. I can't even remember their name (if anybody out there was at the same show, help me out here!), but they obviously didn't make much of an impact on me! And then, at 9:45, the lights dimmed, and strange sounds came blasting out of the massive sound system at the front of the stadium. I didn't expect to be standing twenty-five rows away from the rock group I always loved, with a beer in one hand and my girlfriend holding the other... but here I was.
I learned later that the introductory song was called 'Chinese Torture' and could be found on the CD version of the album - I'm a vinyl man myself. CDs will fizzle out. Trust me. Anyway, as soon as that track finished, the crowd was in an uproar, and I very nearly missed the sound of the band singing the opening words to 'Breakthru', which I received as an early birthday gift, imported from the UK. It was turning out to be my favorite song, but I was disappointed that the band themselves weren't singing it - it was pre-recorded. However, smoke bombs and a massive explosion occured after 'somehow I have to make this final breakthru', as the band bounded onto the stage and Freddie sang, 'Now!'.
The next two and a half hours were a blur. Freddie looked amazing, as always, and the band never sounded better. After 'Breakthru', they launched immediately into the two old warhorses, 'Tie Your Mother Down' and 'Somebody To Love', offering tight yet stunning renditions of each. Freddie walked to the front of the stage after the former, addressing the crowd by saying, 'Hey hey! Hello Philadelphia! Good to be back - are you glad to see us?' (loud cheers and whistles) 'Alright. Let's play games.' He then sat down at the piano and played an improvised, one-minute introduction before stopping and saying, 'Alright, here we go!' 'Somebody To Love'.
It's A Hard Life' followed. I'd never gotten a chance to hear this song live, and I'm really glad I did now. Freddie was amazing, and the band turned in an extended six-minute version of this song. 'Thank you,' Brian said afterwards. 'We're gonna take a blast to the past and play you a song by John Deacon.' Welcome surprise song number one - 'If You Can't Beat Them'. This was a great rendition, which was followed by 'Under Pressure', a vocal exercise from Freddie, and then 'A Kind Of Magic'. 'I Want It All' was great, but was played like the album version, with some interesting guitar work beforehand.
'Who Wants To Live Forever' came after, and was unusual in that it featured Brian on acoustic piano and not keyboards. He even sang the intro line, which was unexpected. 'The Miracle' and 'I Want To Break Free' followed, and were nice performances, and the crowd sang along to every line, but I was wondering when they were going to surprise me again. I needn't have worried.
Freddie introduced the band after 'Break Free' finished: 'OK, we've been together for nearly twenty years now, and the only thing that's changed is that we've gotten older and fatter. Now, here's Queen as we exist today: Spike Edney on keyboards, guitars, and vocals. John Deacon, patented bass guitarist and father of the year! Roger Taylor on drums and scandals. Aaaaaaand, Brian May on guitar, and Brian's gonna sing for you.'
Brian then came center stage with an acoustic guitar and said, 'Thank you, very kind of you. This is a song that I wrote many years ago, and the sentiment of which I still believe today.' He performed a solo acoustic version of 'Leaving Home Ain't Easy', then walked over to the piano at its conclusion and started singing 'Sail Away Sweet Sister'. Roger and John had returned for this song, and Freddie emerged for the bridge of the song, sitting down at the piano for the conclusion of the song as Brian soloed.
The audience loved the two songs - it was probably the first time Brian had ever sang lead at a Queen show - and Freddie stayed at the piano, saying, 'That was a first for us. We're gonna take you back to 1979, when we last played this next song - 'Spread Your Wings'!' The audience went absolutely nuts for this song - apparently, it had become a cult classic in the preceding decade - which inspired an exuberant vocal performance from Freddie. The band launched into a double-time, upbeat finale, and, hardly giving themselves a chance to breathe, launched into a fiery version of 'Now I'm Here'.
After 'Now I'm Here' concluded with an enormous ending, Freddie and Brian then appeared at the front of the stage on stools, with the latter sporting an acoustic guitar. The duo played 'Love Of My Life' and 'Is This This The World We Created...?', with the audience taking over most of the vocals on the former. Brian thanked the audience for their participation on both numbers and then said, 'I've been playing a lot of piano tonight,' before laughing. Freddie quipped back, 'Yeah, I might just play guitar!'
'Las Palabras De Amor' followed, and was an absolutely gorgeous version (then again, I'd never heard them do this live, so I only had the studio version to compare it to). Then Freddie sat down at the piano and said, 'OK, we're gonna do something we've never done before. Haha, it seems to be a night of firsts, doesn't it!' The audience went wild at this, and then Freddie shouted, ''Keep Passing The Open Windows'!'
I can honestly say that Roger and John both shone brilliantly throughout, both giving their best and undeniably wearing themselves out in the process. So that's probably why, after the ending of the song, Freddie said, 'Alright, we're gonna take it easy with this next one. It's for all you ladies in the front row who have been throwing your bras and panties and showing me your tits and asses all night - 'Fat Bottomed Girls'!'
After this song, Roger then spoke: 'We're gonna do something now that's gonna be the B-side of our next single. It's a song I wrote, called 'Hijack My Heart'.' I was extremely surprised at this, as I'd never heard this song before, and it wasn't on the new album. But Roger sang very well, and this quickly turned into my favorite song of the evening.
Another One Bites The Dust', 'Hammer To Fall', 'Bohemian Rhapsody', 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' (with Freddie on rhythm guitar, naturally!), and 'Radio Ga Ga' all followed, and were all amazing versions of each, but Freddie said to the crowd, 'Thank you, goodnight!' after 'Ga Ga', prompting many to believe the band were done for the night. After about five minutes, the PA started blasting the opening strains of 'One Vision', and the band came running out for the first of their two encores.
After a tremendous finish to 'Vision', Brian started making weird noises with his guitar as the stage grew dark. 'Great,' I said to my girlfriend. 'They're going to play 'Get Down, Make Love'.' As Brian tore down the neck of his Red Special, the band launched into 'Was It All Worth It?' and, after an eight minute version, ran back off the stage.
But not for long. A solitary spotlight picked out Roger as he pounded out the rhythm to 'We Will Rock You', which then led into 'We Are The Champions'. We all knew things were coming to a close, but Roger refused to let the show end - he kept bringing the band back into more and more choruses of 'Champions', before Freddie, voice straining, weary from a nearly three hour show, and becoming visibly annoyed, brought the song to a finish. It was the first time I'd heard a seven-minute version of that song...
The band then appeared front stage, bowed several times as 'God Save The Queen' played over the PA, and the band walked off. Like I said, a night I would never forget - Queen proved they really are a miracle.