- 19 Jul 19
To celebrate Brian May's 72nd birthday, we're revisiting Pat Carty's 2018 review of Queen's Marlay Park outing, where they were joined by fellow rock icons The Darkness and The Boomtown Rats.
“The Majesty of Rock! The Pageantry of Roll!”
- Spinal Tap (1992)
Queen, The Darkness, and The Boomtown Rats? On the one bill? You don’t get many of them to the pound! Throw in this freakishly marvellous weather we’re having and surely nothing could go wrong? And you know what? Nothing did.
Hot Press was propping up the bar when The Darkness came on, a few minutes early, so I ran – ran, mind you - towards the stage. Justin Hawkins appears to have gotten his hands on one of Michael Jackson’s old stage outfits, a leather jacket of a colour previously unseen in nature, but not to worry; he doesn’t keep it on long. Neither would I if I had a physique honed on a diet of laxatives and humus. The opening hat trick of ‘Solid Gold’, ‘Growing On Me’, and ‘Japanese Prisoner Of Love’ is as superb as one would expect, offering ample opportunity for chest beating, arse wiggling, and guitar wangling. A blast through ‘Love Is Only A Feeling’ and, from last year’s mind-blowingly good Pinewood Smile, ‘Buccaneers of Hispaniola’, before Hawkins struts out to the end of the platform that divides the crowd, throws a few shapes and falls to his knees. Fucking easy when you know how. You have to admire the big round balls on Taylor and May, allowing these young (ish) Gods of rock to open for them - this gig might peak while they’re still in the dressing room. Hawkins explains why they came on five minutes early; it was for us, his people. However, they are not rebels, he continues, but pussies, but not that kind of pussy, objectification is wrong. He’s confused. “Fuck off. All of you” is his simple, yet effective, way out of this sophistic blind alley.
Back to business, he does a handstand on the drum riser during ‘Get Your Hands Off Of My Woman’, compliments his own beauty with the “I’m not a piece of meat” philosophical gambit, and gives us a snatch (I meant that) of Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’ before the band lay waste to the fast growing crowd with the closing ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’.
Regular Hot Press readers will know of the soft - or should that be hard? - spot I have for The Darkness. I’ve actually been hired to work on their official biography, The Darkness: Their Struggle, which should hit the shops just in time for Christmas. They rock like bandits and Hawkins is easily the most entertaining front man at work in today's hard rock milieu (thank you). Ms Kane, my companion for the day, gasped in wonder at their prowess, and imagined a world where Queen had asked Justin to join them. I shook my head knowingly, for this neophyte was wading into dangerous waters. It is possible to have too much rock; such a confluence would surely have torn a rift in time and space, unleashing chaos on our reality.
To announce yourself as “The Greatest Rock N’ Roll Band In The World”, especially on today’s bill, requires balls that must dwarf even those immense globes of Taylor and May that I mentioned earlier. Bob Geldof must have to walk around with wheelbarrow just to get from A to B. The Boomtown Rats kick off with ‘She’s So Modern’ and they do sound good. Geldof does his strutting around the place and pointing dance, not forgetting to wiggle his arse the odd time. ‘Like Clockwork’ slows things back down too soon. The Dr Feelgood-ish ‘(She’s Gonna) Do You In’ starts off well enough, but it goes on far too long, Lord Gob Almighty reminding us throughout, in case we didn’t realise if for ourselves, how “Mega” the Rats are. Geldof’s lack of acuity on the harmonica might lead one to believe that he had just been gifted it as the show started, with the simple instruction “you blow in that end”, and indeed, he does blow.
Mind you, he’s looking well. He points out his flashy bell-bottoms, comparing them, unfavourably, to the cargo pants that a lot of the audience are sporting before the band go into “Someone’s Looking At You”. The piano intro to ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ is greeted with a huge roar, and the pause after “how to die” is still brilliantly effective. ‘Mary Of The 4th Form’ dissolves into a long jam quoting The Beatles/Stones ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, Golden Fucking Earring – Ms Kane, a fan of the ‘Ring, freaks out - and a story about having a jar with John Lee Hooker. ‘Rat Trap' is great, sax and all. The last one was a bit weird though, a song which basically repeated the line “The Boomtown Rats” to an approximation of a dance beat and then Geldof feigns a bit of a druggy meltdown in the middle. Odd. “The Greatest Rock and Roll band in the world”? Hardly. Entertaining? Very. Geldof is still very much a star and fair play to him.
And now, to the meat of the matter. A blast of ‘Seven Seas Of Rhye’ before going into ‘Tie Your Mother Down’, and they’ve already won. Sceptics might moan about leaving a legacy alone and all that, but when you see Brian May, wearing what one can only hope is his house coat - a long flowing thing covered in guitars, and a rather splendid and handsome looking Roger Taylor, you know they’ve made the right decision. The sheer joy in the air over Marlay Park would be enough to convince anyone. ‘Play The Game’ and ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, including an extended guitar wig out from May, sound spectacular. But I know what you’re thinking, what about Adam Lambert?
Lambert starts the show in some sort of red leather jerkin, during ‘Girls’, he shows off platform heels that would have given Edmund Hillary vertigo. Before they go into ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, he reappears on stage in a green leather jacket and pink checkerboard pants, rising out of the stage on the head of the giant robot from the cover of News Of The World, not missing the chance to make an arse joke about it either. He rides a bicycle around the stage for, you’ve guessed it, ‘Bicycle Race’, and it’s no ordinary bike either, more a cross between Pee-Wee Herman’s two wheeler and a child’s tricycle. He strokes the microphone in a way that would make Prince blush. Yes, he is certainly flamboyant enough for the job, the kind of fellow you could imagine receiving a late night call from Liberace advising him to “tone it down a bit”, but does he have the pipes? The answer is a resounding yes. Of course he’s not Freddie, but who could be? His voice does everything asked of it and more. He’s very good value indeed.
There’s a pleasingly rough ‘I’m In Love With My Car’ before a gritty ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, and then a call and response between vocals and guitar which introduces ‘I Want It All’. It goes double-time towards the end, Roger Taylor kicking hard at the back. Out on the gangway, a solo acoustic May dedicates ‘Love Of My Life’ to his great hero, Rory Gallagher. Lambert and Taylor then join him for ‘Somebody To Love’, which removes any lingering doubts about Lambert deserving his new job. He sings his arse off, although he does slap it a few times to check it’s still there. It’s an incredible moment, the field singing as one, everyone smiling and laughing together. They follow it up with ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ to keep it all going.
We then pause for a drum solo, because we have to, I suppose. Darkness drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor joins his father - yes, really - to add some vocal and tambourine to an absolutely monumental ‘Under Pressure’. Hot Press is getting a bit choked up. Freddie and Bowie are gone, the Gods must fall, but music is forever! I calm down a bit for ‘I Want To Break Free’ as thousands sing along perfectly to a guitar solo, only to tear up again for ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’, all dry ice and lasers.
Taylor got his turn so now May indulges himself with a solo guitar section incorporating bits of ‘Friends Will Be Friends’ and ‘Brighton Rock’. It’s all a bit Floydy for my liking with May ending up, fiddling away, on top of the robot’s hand. Once that’s out of his system, they plough through ‘The Show Must Go On’ – hats off again to Lambert - and then ‘Radio Ga-Ga’ – the crowd doing the famous handclaps is pretty awe inspiring. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is the only way they could finish their main set, May is forgiven for his earlier messing by ascending from below the stage in a space cape to take his solo. Of course the middle bits are on tape, but nobody cares, it’s a spine-tingling communal experience.
Before the encore, Freddie himself appears on the screen to lead us though his famous “Ay-O!” vocal exercise. The cheer this gets speaks volumes about how much the man still means to those assembled. Not one to be easily outdone, Lambert reappears in a golden outfit complete with crown to lead us through ‘We Will Rock You’ and the closing ‘We Are The Champions’. If Lambert hadn’t a note in his head, it wouldn’t matter, for during ‘Champions’ you can’t hear him. This one belongs to the crowd.
It’s one of those nights where the audience troop out of the venue grinning and asking complete strangers “Can you fucking believe that? Wasn’t it incredible?”