I’m still starry-eyed after watching QUEEN (all caps necessary) perform at Ginásio do Ibirapuera. There’s always excitement among the audience before the show, but this felt different. There was such fervor and devotion, it felt like a religious experience. When I got inside and saw the curtain with the QUEEN logo, my heart stopped. This is really happening. They’re here. Sure enough, when they came out (exactly one minute after the scheduled time, bless the English) we the audience jumped up and sang along (or more accurately, shouted) to One Vision.
Even two days later, as I waited for them to come out to perform in Rock in Rio, I still felt anxious excitement, even though I was watching them on TV at home. After all, despite other major headliners such as Rod Stewart, Metallica and Elton John, they were undoubtedly the band to commemorate the festival’s 30th anniversary.
QUEEN has an interesting history in Brazil, and in South America in general. In the 2011 documentary Days Of Our Lives, they recalled when they were ready to tour the continent for the first time in the early 80s, they needed to ask permission from the Argentine military dictatorship to perform. The government initially feared it would be a political threat to have so many young people together in one space, but it eventually relented, and in 1981 QUEEN scheduled four dates in three cities. Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, they were met by a soldier who would accompany them to the show — and who cleared heavy traffic by shooting a gun into the air. The soccer stadium had a six foot dirty moat around the field to prevent political prisoners from escaping. (Stadiums were commonly used as concentration camps by many Latin American dictatorships.) Rolling Stone reported that the band brought its own artificial turf to cover the moat for the time being.
QUEEN went to São Paulo next, and did two sold-out shows at Morumbi. Brazil was also under a dictatorship at the time, but there’s no word whether the band had to undergo similar security concerns. By all accounts it was a huge moment. Few international bands considered Brazil as a place to tour regularly, but QUEEN’s success helped pave the way. When they confirmed their presence in Rock in Rio in 1985, other bands followed suit, and the festival became a reality. By then, the dictatorship was coming to a close, and Brazilians were in a place of hope and possibility. The festival’s success, cemented by QUEEN’s performance, signified to the world that Brazil had the needed infrastructure and organization to hold massive shows. South America was officially a necessary destination to tour, and bands started pouring in.
“Vocês querem cantar comigo?” Brian May asked us earnestly, sitting alone on stage, with his guitar in hand. “This is a song written by Freddie, which really, Brazil made famous.” Cheers exploded, as everyone knew he meant Love of My Life, and the iconic moment that made the first Rock and Rio when Freddie Mercury lead the crowd in singing it.
Brian continued, “This is your song.” With the first notes, the audience became a roaring chorus, and once again, the performer didn’t need to sing. And from the look on Brian’s face, it was as powerful for him as it was for us.