It’s the holy grail of going to gigs- a live show that as well as having you singing along at the top of your lungs, has the ability to make each and every member of the audience feel like they’re the only one there. Not just your favourite songs but showmanship to go with it.
A great band or artist has the audience eating out of the palm of their hand, interacting, gesticulating, and going back to see them time after time. This crowd-pleasing lark doesn’t come naturally to some of those in the music biz, and I’ve been to gigs large and small that have fallen well short of the promised land of a spectacular show.
Vampire Weekend at the new-ish Leeds arena fell into this sad category. They just stood on stage singing, no interaction with the audience, no owning the stage. It just felt a bit…flat.
A gig back in 2004 however, will be one that has me smiling, reliving the elation I felt for the whole show every time I think of it. I planned a whole holiday around it, going to Rome just because it was one of the first dates on the tour and I was too impatient to wait til the powerhouse that is Queen came to the UK.
The recipe for success
They were touring for the first time since the mid 1980’s, with former Free & Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers. As a diehard Freddie Mercury fan I was sceptical about whether he could pull it off, hoping that he wouldn’t try and emulate the ultimate showman.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Rodgers performed in his own style, ably backed by genius astrophysicist Brian May on guitar, Roger Taylor on drums and the in-house band. It felt like I was watching a group of mates jamming on stage. Like they really wanted to be there and were incredulous that they were playing to a sold out arena of both old and new fans, whilst effortlessly slipping back into the guise of elder statesmen of rock.
Queen have form when it comes to playing live, famously having the 72,000 strong Live Aid audience joining in with the iconic hand clapping during ‘Radio Ga-Ga’. (ask your Dad to demonstrate if you don’t know it!) This was no mean feat, as the crown weren’t even there specifically to see Queen! The 21 minute set has since been voted the greatest live performance in the history of rock music by a panel of artists, journalists and music industry executives.
The gig in Rome was full of emotion, fuelled by the sadness that Mr Mercury wasn’t there, absolute unfettered joy that I was, and giddy excitement that I clearly wasn’t the only person of my age that loved Queen. (I was 22 and often teased for my choice in music).
I’d dragged my then-boyfriend along with me and even though he was pretty ambivalent about the band, he was as blown away by the show as I was, reduced to tears alongside me as a video screen appeared for the finale of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Freddie took over lead vocals from beyond the grave with footage from various live shows before his death, and stole the show in 6 short minutes.
When looking at great live shows, the eye-popping pyrotechnics of Muse or the circus style stage antics of Lady Gaga might seem like a good choice, but I think its more about the attitude of the artist than the visual spectacle.
They need the ability to command the stage- whether that’s in a back room in a pub or Wembley Stadium- and no amount of fireworks or huge set pieces can influence that.
What do you think makes a great live show? Let us know your favourites in the comments below!