There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
Queen’s 1986 Live at Wembley Stadium concert film. The band’s “Magic Tour,” which ran from June 7th to August 9th, 1986, marked the last time singer Freddie Mercury would perform onstage with guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon, and drummer Roger Taylor. On July 12th, the band entertained more than 100,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in a performance that spawned a multi-platinum live album and a video that’s sold over a million copies on VHS and DVD. The historic nature of the show — capturing Queen at a peak, with a staggeringly deep catalog to draw from — has made it a favorite of rock n rollers who count it among the best live sets ever documented.
Why watch now?
Because Bohemian Rhapsody hits theaters this weekend.
Mr. Robot star Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, a Queen biopic that covers the history of the group from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, before the singer retired from the stage and eventually died of complications from AIDS in 1991. The movie had a troubled production history, with director Bryan Singer fired and replaced by Dexter Fletcher a few weeks before the shoot ended, reportedly due to a temperamental personality and chronic absenteeism. Early reviews have knocked the film for being dry and corny, but critics have praised Malek’s performance as well as Bohemian Rhapsody’s re-creation of some classic Queen gigs.
The latter matters because Queen’s live act was really the band’s main raison d’être. The foursome recorded a healthy handful of hit songs that still get radio play today, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” “Somebody to Love,” “Killer Queen,” “Under Pressure,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and “Another One Bites the Dust.” But all that music really came to life in concert, thanks to Mercury’s big voice and powerful strut, coupled with May’s hooky power chords and symphonic solos. Live, Queen could make tens of thousands of people in a stadium feel part of something massive, pure, and positive.
The major music critics of the 1970s and 1980s were skeptical about Queen, dismissing the band as bombastic and haughty, antithetical to rock’s earthy working-class roots. The group turned that underestimation into an asset. With his protruding teeth, unapologetically fey demeanor, and exotic background (he was born Farrokh Bulsara, in Zanzibar, to Zoroastrian parents originally from Bombay), Mercury had no problem playing the part of the conquering underdog, alternating ballads about deep emotional yearning with foot-stompers about crushing all enemies. At the Wembley show, whether he’s swigging from a big plastic cup of beer or playing air guitar with his mic stand while wearing a sleeveless, oversized Betty Boop shirt, Mercury seems utterly sure of himself. His confidence is infectious.
Who it’s for
Fans of classic rock and musical theater.
There are several solid Queen concerts commercially available, including Live at the Rainbow (shot in 1974, when the band’s sound leaned closer to prog and hard rock, bordering on heavy metal), and Live at the Bowl and Rock Montreal (both shot in the early 1980s, when the band was riding high off the success of the poppy 1980 LP The Game). But by the mid-1980s, Mercury, May, Deacon, and Taylor were working more as a cohesive unit as songwriters and performers, and their style had evolved to integrate the different pieces of Queen’s history. Songs like “One Vision,” “I Want to Break Free,” and “Who Wants to Live Forever” fused the ear-splitting wallop of the early work, the operatic ambition of late 1970s FM radio standards, and the hooky bump of 1980s hits.
Live at Wembley Stadium features nearly two hours of well-known Queen songs, plus a few beloved deep cuts, but it also acknowledges the group’s influences via a lengthy medley of ‘50s and ‘60s rock. Queen also performs a brief snippet of the Sweet Charity number “Big Spender,” connecting a larger-than-life approach to rock n roll with the traditions of Broadway and the English music hall. “Big Spender” comes right before “Radio Ga Ga,” a fist-pumping anthem that really came to life on tour in the mid-’80s, when played in front of a teeming mass of humanity, all raising their hands in the air. Out of context, “Radio Ga Ga” can seem silly. Performed live, it’s breathtaking.
Where to see it
Qello. For those unfamiliar with this service, it’s a subscription streamer dedicated to concert films and music documentaries. Qello is currently showcasing its Queen collection, which includes a 1992 Freddie Mercury tribute show, three documentaries about the band, and four complete concerts. Qello costs $7.99 a month (or $69.99 a year) for an “All Access Pass,” which allows users to access thousands of programs, to save individual songs from concerts into their own personal playlists of favorites, and to watch an assortment of different performances from various acts on over 30 different genre-specific channels. It’s a solid way to watch concerts at home. But for those just curious about Queen in concert, there’s the standard free seven-day trial period, with the usual caveat to remember to cancel afterward.