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The classic rock band recreate their famous Live Aid set, this time, in Australia.
Published: 21/02/2020   Author: Mary Varvaris
Photo: Brian May, via YouTube
“I wonder if Queen + Adam Lambert will recreate the Live Aid performance tonight, it’s only 25 minutes, after all,” I offhandedly joked a half hour before the rock legends took Sydney’s ANZ Stadium stage for Fire Fight Australia, our national bushfire relief concert. If only I had anticipated that little joke coming true.

On Sunday 16 February, Queen + Adam Lambert did exactly that: they opened with the first half of the perpetually poignant “Bohemian Rhapsody,” then followed it up with the endlessly entertaining and commanding “Radio Ga Ga.” Lambert is the perfect person to succeed Freddie Mercury, as he possesses the ideal balance of earnestness and cheek. What’s more, he effortlessly embodies the swagger of a rock and roll icon.

A rip-roaring rendition of “Hammer to Fall” was next, with video of Freddie Mercury’s “Ay-yo” from Queen’s 1986 concert, Hungarian Rhapsody straight after. The 75,000-strong crowd roared back at the screen. My dad turned to me – emotional, having watched Live Aid on television in 1985, and asked, “do they have enough time for ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’? Maybe they’ll cut that one.” For the first time in his life, he was happy to be wrong.

They did indeed perform “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, with Lambert pulling off his finest Elvis impression. The madness continued to ensue, as News of the World’s one-two punch, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” blew the non-existent roof off the stadium. It isn’t just the Rami Malek-led film, Bohemian Rhapsody that maintains interest in Queen. It’s the music. It’s the band’s powerful, raucous rock songs headed by the most charismatic frontperson in music that inspires the timeless hits we know and love.

35 years after Live Aid, Queen and Lambert performed that same iconic set in Sydney, Australia without getting paid a single cent. During their 22-minute set alone, ordinary Australians dug deep and donated $250,000 to bushfire relief. An additional $300,000 was donated during rap group Hilltop Hoods’ set, who immediately seized the stage after Queen. Maybe all of that money raised was for Hilltop Hoods, but perhaps some came from stunned Queen fans needing a minute to decompress.

Music is the one universal healing power. Whether your cup of tea is emo, country, heavy metal, rap, or pop, stories can remain with us for generations. Nowadays, when May performs A Night at the Opera highlight, “Love of My Life,” it’s an ode to Mercury, with video of the singer serenading awe-struck crowds. As is the case with a plethora of Queen songs, whether or not “Love of My Life” elicits wistful moments for you isn’t the point. All that matters is that every single person in huge stadiums can find something (or somebody) to love. The music Queen created reaches beyond language barriers and borders and inspires generations.
The music industry has changed irreparably since Queen’s heyday.

In 2020, the number of plays on a streaming service defines an artist’s success. According to data gathered by Information is Beautiful, the income artists earn per stream sits at a woeful $0.00437. To put that in context, 1000 streams would round up to $4.47. That’s the cost of a large coffee in Melbourne.

Another change we’ve seen is this: rock music in 2020 is a hell of a lot different to the way it sounded in 1985. The rock star we knew from the ‘70s and ‘80s is dead, and good riddance. We’re done with men in their twenties and thirties writing songs about getting into the pants of teenagers. We’re fed up with lacklustre rock ballads. We’re not enthralled by pretentious guitar solos that carry on for ages. We no longer insult artists for incorporating keyboards or synths into their sound – God forbid we allow artists to evolve!

Let’s not forget that aside from the music itself, rock and roll is about attitude. It’s about sticking it to the man and breaking down barriers. Today’s rock stars are instantly recognisable, with their influence stretching to great heights. Our rock stars are Beyoncé, Hayley Williams, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Camp Cope, Amyl and the Sniffers, Mitski, Janelle Monáe and Lorde. I don’t know about you, but seeing Paramore on TV as a kid blew my mind. A woman can sing rock songs? No kidding.

At times, though, it’s easy to feel disenfranchised by everything music. The artists who have the biggest impact on our lives are struggling to find shelter while they’re on tour. Creeps in the music business is an open secret, but they don’t lose their jobs, they’re instead awarded with frequent radio play and mammoth stints on tour. Megastars are too cool for sending a message with their massive platform; meanwhile, Taylor Swift pleads with her management team to post something overtly political. Camp Cope called out the lack of diversity on Australian music festival bills. Organisers of one of the biggest festivals in the country responded that they had a “long-term strategy” and encouraged Camp Cope to start their own events. As a result, they’re been met with death threats and blacklisted from festivals in their own country.  

Photo: Adam Lambert, via YouTube

Perhaps I’m harping on a little, but the conversation must continue. Music can and should be better (of course, many artists use their platform for good). Equality in music (and in every industry) matters. I’m constantly chasing that feeling I had when I first saw Hayley Williams on TV, or the first time I watched Live Aid. That feeling of, “if they can do anything, so can I.”
The music world has seen so many changes, some great, some terrible. Maybe that’s why I never expected the deafening response to Queen + Adam Lambert a few nights ago. No matter the technological advancements and where we are as a society, the show does go on.       

That’s why Fire Fight Australia is so important. Even if it was for just one day, artists, promoters, organisers and everyday Aussies banded together to help one another. We set egos aside and simply got to work.  

When those in power sit pretty in their ivory towers with their coal lobbyist mates and do nothing about the climate crisis, it’s up to us, the people, to stand up for change. It’s up to the artists – ironic, considering the Morrison Government slashed the federal Department of Communications and the Arts, sliding it into a department that oversees roads and rail.

TEG Dainty and TEG Live pulled off the near impossible by organising Fire Fight Australia in just five weeks. On Monday 17 February, it was revealed that the Fire Fight Australia concert raised $9.5 million for those directly affected by the devastating bushfires. It’s easy to see why anyone from any social class felt inspired to contribute to a wonderful cause. International heavyweights k.d lang and Alice Cooper had the audience in the palm of their collective hands, while homegrown legends John Farnham, Amy Shark, Guy Sebastian, Tina Arena, Illy and more had us all feeling proud to be Australian. To be completely honest, though, the reprisal of Queen’s Live Aid set has me feeling lucky to be alive.




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