I worshipped Queen growing up. They were utterly unique. A perplexing mix of kick ass rock guitars, opera, glamour, riff age and mammoth hooks. They were always about the being larger than life, bigger than big, rocker than rock. Rarely has any band produced such an endless catalogue of timelessly classic rock anthems, the fact they have THREE volumes of their Greatest Hits CD is testament to the length of that list. Right up to Freddie Mercury’s tragic death from Aids in 1991, they produced excellent records, their final album Innuendo was fantastic. There was some material finished after his posthumously, some of which was still pretty good. But bass player John Deacon, left very early on, then May and Taylor started to turn up on singles by Five or The Muppets.
I have to admit right up front, I haven’t been a fan of Queen continuing without Freddie. They toured with Paul Rogers (ex-Bad Company and Free) on vocals. He is a brilliant rock vocalist, and they are a brilliant rock band. What I saw of that configuration, was all very good but I had no desire to see it. When a band loses a singer of such unique talent and charisma, there is a case to be made just to let it go. No replacement can ever fill those glittery boots. Many have tried unsuccessfully (I am looking at you INXS) and very (very) rarely a band has managed a Mark 2 version that has had a credible second wind (think AC/DC and Van Halen). When I first heard they had taken on American Idol singer Adam Lambert as vocalist I was actually pretty sad about it. I didn’t know Lambert, hadn’t seen him on Idol and really just wanted them to stop besmirching the legacy of one of my favourite ever bands.
So given the opportunity to see Queen & Adam Lambert this week it was one I accepted with many reservations. I have to say, I was absolutely blown away. Queen with Lambert is one of the greatest shows on Earth. It is every bit the over the top epic that you would expect from a Queen concert. Incredible production, state of the art, lighting, screens, moving stages, b-stages, lasers, every single bell and whistle you could imagine. The band is impeccable, with some members being Queen side men for decades. Drummer Roger Taylor, at 68 years old, smashes the hell out of his kit like a man a fraction of his age. Brian May, lead guitarist and Astro Physicist is now 70 years old, but plays like a dream. One of the true guitar greats, his role in the band has sometimes overshadowed by Mercury’s gargantuan presence. His shock of curly hair now greyish white, his fingers still a blur of riff-tastic glory. Adam Lambert has an amazing voice, great presence, and fine stage presence. He sings these songs true to the originals, presenting them with the pomp and passion they deserve, and while he is flamboyant he is never trying to ‘do’ Freddy. The melodies are intact and he adds his own touches and flourishes.
The stage set up is themed on the art work for their 1977 album News of the World. A giant Robot head appears at the back of the stage and giant robot hands smash through a brick wall (on video screen) and the kick off with a teasingly short We Will Rock You. The stomping chant is a statement of intent. We will actually rock you, let’s go. They fire up Hammer To Fall, a song which has been in my top five Queen songs since it was released in 1984. One of the greatest riffs of all time in my opinion yet sadly not one most people think of when they think of the classic Queen songs.
Treats for the old school fans with Stone Cold Crazy and Tie Your Mother Down, from Sheer Heart Attack (1974) and A Day at the Races (1976) respectively. Tie Your Mother Down is a Brian May penned song that pre-dates Queen, and is a straight ahead boogie rocker, perhaps a little unsophisticated by other songs in the Queen songbook. Then a run of songs, each more iconic as they go on. The shuffling throb of Another One Bites The Dust, the massed harmony on Fat Bottomed Girls, and my first ever Queen single Killer Queen. Adam Lambert heads out along the ramp into the middle of the arena (it’s a giant guitar neck – cool), he is dressed in an electric pink, bedazzled suit. He says
“Let’s talk about the big pink elephant in the room. I know some of you are thinking well he’s okay, but he’s no Freddie. Right? It’s true I am not. Because there will only ever be one rock GOD, named FREDDIE MERCURY! Do you love Freddie? Do miss Freddie? You see I do too, because I am a fan just like you guys, I’m just up here in the really expensive seats. So can you make me one promise tonight? Let’s promise to celebrate Freddie and Queen together? (Thunderous applause) Then I’ll make you a promise in return…Tonight I’m gonna have myself a real good time…” and they launch into a spine tingling and utterly joyous Don’t Stop me Now.
Lambert returns to the end of the runway to ‘find’ a tricked out pink tricycle, complete with horns, bells, flowers and a mic stand. He rides it to the mainstage while singing Bicycle Race. One vehicle song leads to another with I’m In Love With My Car, which I have loved since I first heard it as the B-side of Bohemian Rhapsody and was featured on A Night At The Opera in 1975. Another treat for the older fans with a great track from News of The World, Down, Make Love before a gargantuan I Want It All. Every track played tonight, reminds you just how astounding their canon of work is. Their fans are legion and the band are still often voted the best band ever (over the Beatles and bust out a massive mirror ball for I Want To Break Free.
May takes the middle stage with an acoustic and by the lights of our iPhones, we have a nice sing-a-long on Waltzing Matilda. He starts to play Love of My Life from A Night At The Opera. It was never a single, but over the years the delicate performance of the song with just May and Freddie (with the massed choir in the audience) became such a highlight of their live sets that it is a beloved song to Queen Audiences. Brian started singing and playing, but half way through Freddie Mercury on the video screen took over on vocals. It was a truly moving moment and there were tears. Taylor and Lambert join May on the smaller stage and they turn in a stripped back Somebody To Love and then a rockin’ Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Roger takes on lead vocals for A Kind of Magic from the album of the same name (and the Highlander soundtrack). They do a cover of Pink’s Whataya Want Me For, which was Adam Lambert’s first solo single after he was runner up on American Idol in 2009. They bust out a massive mirror ball for I Want To Break Free and is also quite emotional. The giant robot hand lift May into the middle of space for Last Horizon his elongated guitar solo. There has been comments about the length of his solos, but the guy is a guitar hero, so it was pretty unsurprising really.
Radio Gaga, apart from being a massive worldwide hit, was a defining moment of the bands show stopping appearance at Live Aid in 1985. In many ways that performance reminded a world that had started to take them for granted, the Queen were truly rock royalty. They wiped the floor with every other act on the bill, with a hit heavy, perfect performance. When they got to Radio Ga Ga, the entire Wembley stadium audience of 72,000 people (and the American audience of close to 100,000 people watching via satellite) all did the salute / clap hand gestures. And we do the same tonight, a bit of mass choreography, is a fantastic part of proceedings.
The idea had crossed my mind earlier in the show ‘How the hell are they going to do Bohemian Rhapsody? The answer was deceptively simple. The massed vocal opening came courtesy of the original video on the giant screen. That image is so iconic that we are swept up in the utter glory of the most unusual piece of monumental rock opera. Lambert and the band kick in and we all sing, we bob our heads, like in Wayne’s World and marvel at this majesty of rock. Brian May emerges through a huge plume of smoke and he is wearing a garment replicating the one he wore in that video (it has enormous sleeves!).
After a short break and deafening demands for more. Freddie again appears on the screens to lead us in one of his ‘Day Oh’ call and response pieces before disappearing with a smile and a ‘fuck you’.
What can possibly be left? Well I am glad you asked. With everybody on their feet and baying for more, they give us the full version of We Will Rock You, Lambert dressed in silver pants, jacket and a crown. They close with a euphoric We Are The Champions. Hands are raw, lips are parched, minds are blown, tears have been shed, heroes have been missed, and homage has been paid.
We have indeed been well and truly rocked. Queen and Adam Lambert, they came they rocked they conquered.
Long (Brian) may they reign over us.
Review by Ian Bell
We Will Rock You
Hammer to Fall
Stone Cold Crazy
Tie Your Mother Down
Another One Bites The Dust
Fat Bottom Girls
Don’t Stop me Now
I’m in Love With My Car
Get Down, Make Love
I Want It All
Love of My Life
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
A Kind of Magic
Whataya Want From Me
I Want to Break Free
Who Wants To Live Forever
Radio Ga Ga
We Will Rock You
We Are The Champions
God Save The Queen