[Live Review] The Rolling Stones, Auckland, 22nd November – ’14 On Fire tour

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In order to review a The Rolling Stones concert there are a few requirements. I have to mention that in spite or because of their age, they’re a pretty impressive live band. I have to mention Mick’s energy; that he has showed no signs of slowing down in the ten years since their last world tour. I definitely need to include a few song puns, saying that in spite of the rain, the 38,000 strong crowd left Satisfied knowing that they may have seen this classic band for The Last Time.

Disregarding facetiousness, the Stones did genuinely put on a great show – as I was expecting – although I was unsure it would match up to their performance at Wellington’s Caketin in 2006. It did, with an inspired setlist that included recent-era songs such as Doom And Gloom and Out Of Control, their cover of Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone as voted by the public and a Keith Richards set that managed to be one of the highlights of the night. Richards played three as opposed to his usual two, perhaps giving Mick a break after having to cancel an Australian show due to a throat infection. Richards’ You Got The Silver was the bluesiest moment of the night, his creaky vocals housing a lot of emotion, and the upbeat Before You Make Me Run was a welcome inclusion as well as the standard Happy. Mick’s stage presence is still something to be marveled at, shaking like a man possessed, venturing out onto the catwalk multiple times, in spite of the drizzly Auckland weather.

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I hate to bring age into it again, but Charlie Watts, at 73, is a mother-fucking miracle. Most of the people I know in their 50s or 60s would find it tiring even attending a concert for a few hours. But at his age, still managing to hold down the grooves and with impressive flare is something to behold. His fills have always been sloppy but there is something unique and delicious in his grooves, part of the reason the ‘Stones repertoire is so diverse rhythmically compared to their contemporaries (of which are getting less and less) from the disco of Miss You, to the modern rock of Doom And Gloom. Rock drumming need not be perfectly tight, and Watts’ instinctively knows how to keep the beat just loose enough to roll, but tight enough to rock – and has lost none of this touch with the years.

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I’ll digress slightly to talk about Stadium concert politics – I went for a few wanders during the show, attempted to view the concert from as many vantage points as possible. The giant screens and multicolored stage looked great from all angles, although the money orientated decision to have the G.A. section behind the costly front seated section, meant a lack of atmosphere in many place. The G.A. section was the most energetic in some ways, with a group of Argentinians sporting a hand-crafted Stones flag, and attempting crowd surfing. The seated areas had plenty of people getting up to dance, especially in the stands, and in their defense the majority of the seated floor crowd stood for nearly the entire show. So a minor gripe would be that the G.A. floor couldn’t have been extended to the front of the stage, or at least had a cheaper G.A. standing section and a pricier one right at the front, such as the set-up for Bruce Springsteen’s tour earlier in the year. I guess if you want a standing Stones show you’d have to see them at a festival, and seeing as this most probably will be their last New Zealand show and perhaps last tour – it’s true that You Can’t Always Get What You Want, but if you try.. (you know the rest).

The best place to be in the whole stadium was of course, right at the front, because although the screens were huge they couldn’t compensate for seeing the musicians in the flesh. I may have pulled another concert sneak and made my way near the catwalk.. but I’ll let the photo’s say the rest.

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I haven’t discussed the rest of the band yet, and it would be a crime if I didn’t mention the great guitar work of Ronnie Wood, the youngest of the main four, and guest Stone Mick Taylor, who provided the best solos of the night during Midnight Rambler. On paper a Stones set of this era may appear formulaic, but when there, everything comes to life, with the professional ensemble of support musicians, the sax, keyboards and soaring backing vocals from Lisa Fischer, notably in Gimme Shelter. On stage banter and rapport between the band mates enthusiastic, Jagger reminiscing with the crowd about the Stones visiting Auckland for now nearly fifty years, mentioning the shows with Roy Orbison, and stating that it was too long perhaps.

Fifty years is an extremely long time for a rock band like this to be going, and to be going with all of the enthusiasm and camaraderie they’ve always appeared to have. A large amount of the audience perhaps turned up to celebrate this fact. Though the setlist was slightly familiar at times, they’ve lost none of their ability to entertain and still put on a show that’s probably a shit-ton better than Stadium acts half their age.

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Original-era rock bands such as The Rolling Stones will soon fade away. Will we have a constant revolving platform of other bands aging and taking their place? Will it be Metallica next celebrating their 50th anniversary? Arctic Monkeys a generation after that? Or will rock audiences splinter and festivals that cater to the diverse tastes of those raised on electronic just as much as rock – metal just as much as rap – be the only places where crowds big enough to fill stadiums will come together to celebrate the strange movement that is modern rock. Or will the music industry finally collapse onto itself along with the capitalist machine due to irreparable human consequences, over-population and worsening global weather conditions. Who knows. For now, we still have our rock titan’s. And The Rolling Stones prove with their seemingly unstoppable stadium filling appeal and age defying energy, that just like any Renaissance-era statue – human achievements can be immortal.

Ok, that last paragraph was maybe a stretch too far, and I’d better end on a song pun, so not to break the cliche of Stones show reviews. It was Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, but we liked it.

Queen – “Let Me In Your Heart Again” (Song Discussion)

This month saw the release of a new Queen compilation; Queen Forever. In order to differentiate from the other worn out Greatest Hits collections previously released, this time both album tracks and singles are collected, under the theme of classic love songs. There’s some decent deep cuts, Nevermore off Queen II (which I wrote about here) is a beautiful and not too well known Freddie Mercury ballad. Jealousy is a favourite of mine from Jazz and one of Brian May’s best non-singles, Sail Away Sweet Sister is a great inclusion.

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But the stand-out is by far the forgotten unfinished song from The Works’ sessions, Let Me In Your Heart Again. Written by May, it’s a touching and earnest heavy-ballad, comparable to earlier stadium hits like Somebody To Live or Save Me but with it’s own unique energy. Some of the melodies are recognizably similar to other May songs written around the same time, the bridge/solo being of similar melodic structure to Hammer To Fall. The lyrics seem slightly unfinished, with certain verses appearing rather aimless in sentiment;

When People Talk Of Love
I Have No Hesitation
( It’s Your Heart Again)
Tell Me What Your Dreaming Of
I’ll Hold That Conversation For You Best
( it’s Your Heart Again)

Not the most deep lyrics ever on the subject of love, but this is made up for by the narrative that runs through the rest of the lyrics; of a man putting on a brave face in response to the questioning of others, but who’s heartbreak is transparent. Much better lyrics are found in the first verse;

When People Talk Of Love
I’ll Lead The Conversation
I’ll Say I Feel Just Fine
Happy With My Situation

But When I Look Away ha
People Know My Mind Is Straying
To Where I Once Belonged
Dreaming About Your Heart Again

Brian May was near the end of his first marriage upon the time of writing this song, so I can only wonder if that was an influence on the lyrical content. But lyrics aside, the reason why this song is worth talking about is of course Mercury, and hearing such a strong vocal from him twenty four years after his death, when one assumed they had heard all they would ever hear of Fred, is pretty remarkable.

The vocal take sounds raw – it may have well been the demo vocal. There has probably been a lot of studio processing to brighten it up. A fantastic bass track from the now retired John Deacon is also heard on the track. I believe it’s Fred’s original piano take, though am unsure. Brian and Roger have added new backing vocals and guitars, and it really does sound fantastic. It’s a great piece of songwriting and I’ve not heard many posthumous releases this strong. If only there was more. It would have been great on their first posthumous albums Made In Heaven and perhaps would have been the single that album was missing – a bit of dramatic, heart-on-the-sleeve balladry to distract from the themes of death that permeate the rest of Heaven. Queen’s final album released during Fred’s life, Innuendo is also strikingly dark and worth a listen if you haven’t checked it out.

Producer William Orbit provides a second version of the song, remixing it into a synth heavy pop anthem, aligning the song with the poppier side of 80s Queen, i.e. Radio Gaga and A Kind Of Magic. I wasn’t sold on this version at first, although it was the first version of the new song I’d heard. The drums seemed slightly to quiet, the synth and bass too loud, and all kinds of studio effects were used and thrown around the place, bit-crushed drums, distorted vocals, a pitch shifted operatic section in the middle. It still seems a bit thrown together, but the new melodies he includes have grown on me, to the extent that I almost prefer this version. I think Freddie would have led the song towards this dramatic vibe had he still been around. This version ends with an emotionally charged outro which places the pre-chorus and chorus vocals over the bridge melody. An inspired improvisation that works. At six minutes long, it reaches towards Bohemian Rhapsody epic-ness, perhaps with mixed results. But I could have gone for another eight reworked demos such as this.

If this is the last original song we get from Queen so be it. It’s a pretty fantastic final note, even if it would have been that much better with a whole album to go with it, rather than another compilation. But to be hearing new material featuring Fred at this stage, and of this caliber – can’t complain really.

queen 1973 3Though it might be a bit of a corporate plug, Coke is donating a bunch of money to AIDS research for the sponsor rights to the new Queen remix. It’s a good cause no doubt, can’t help but be cynical towards the free advertising the company gets however.

Interstellar: Review and/or Discussion

Maybe don’t read before watching the film – although I don’t spoil too much, it’s a good one to know nothing about before viewing.interstellar

I’ve not read any reviews of Christopher Nolan’s newest science-fiction epic, so I don’t entirely know the mass-consensus, or at least what the big critics are saying. This is quite fun, as I get to have an opinion not influenced by the musings of others. I also managed to avoid knowing anything about the plot of the film going in, having not watching any trailers and purposely avoided promotional material. It didn’t seem hard to avoid the promotional material, it felt as if the film sneaked its way into theaters. For what I’m assuming is a very expensive film, with some big names in it, it’s surprising the marketing hasn’t been as big as Nolan’s previous films like The Dark Knight or Inception, films that surely did well because of how hard it was to avoid them in the lead up to the films. Of course TDK was helped by the death of one of the main cast members, but Inception seemed to be all about the marketing – teasing certain scenes in a similar manner to before the release of The Matrix (with the rooftop bullet time sequence played all the time on TV for example). Perhaps Interstellar has been publicized hard and I’ve just avoided it through share luck or ignorance. I’m not looking up the wikipedia page before writing this blog, so I’m not going to bring any new revelations or facts to the table.

So without any research taking place, all I’ve got to go on is my gut feeling. Emotions, you know. Based purely on my initial thoughts about the film – I have to say, it’s a hell of an experience. Which is what we may have come to expect with Nolan; big expensive blockbusters that provide a thrilling experience especially when viewed with the intended IMAX projection. He takes the plot in some really fantastic directions and I recommend everyone, even people not usually that interested in science fiction to give it a go. I was getting pretty bored with the idea of movies in general that last few months – getting more interested in the odd TV show (mostly ancient documentaries like Civilization), or just not bothering with any fiction at all. It’s always good when going through a movie watching rut to stumble across a film that shakes you awake and reminds you of why you love cinema.

The film isn’t perfect. Without getting too into spoilers, the problems I have with the film are also partially reasons I liked it. Nolan goes just a little bit too far with the narrative, unable to pull back and know when the important stuff has been said – which is perhaps due to studio interference or maybe just due to having too much control and not enough objectivity from the piece of art being created. He missed the opportunity to pose some grand questions and make us think – letting an obsession with tying up insignificant narrative threads overshadow the deeper themes driving them. Similar issues that I had with The Dark Knight Rises. Lack of self-control seems to be a big problem with Hollywood auteur’s, affecting New Zealand’s own Peter Jackson in a similar way with his overblown and over-indulgent Hobbit trilogy. Nolan is the superior filmmaker though, so when he gets indulgent, at least there’s a heck of a lot to chew on and ruminate about – not just pretty high frame rate visuals hanging on a long narrative of nothing at all.

But disregarding comparisons with other lesser auteurs, and forgetting the negatives – it’s an amazing, pretty, ambitious, complex and hugely entertaining film. My favorite film of the year so far along with The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson) and documentary We Come As Friends (Hubert Sauper). Without ruining too much for those who read one in spite of the spoiler warning – there’s not many films that dare to explore concepts of the nature of time and space, and finite nature of human existence and the preciousness of earth in such a massive blockbuster context.

Go see it. Go see it now. Take your Mum to it. She’ll possibly hate it. But it’s the science fiction film of our generation – similar to 2001, and everyone had to see that, so everyone should have to see this.

interstellarI wrote about The Dark Knight Rises upon release here

The Positives of Having Surgery

One of the excuses for not blogging at all through October that I can make, is that I was out of action, getting surgery for a fairly routine ailment.

Well.. not completely routine, but an injury common enough, especially in men. Still an injury that carries with it some stigma and embarrassment. I’m talking about a *cough* hernia (said under the breath).  Common enough that plenty of athletes, even young ones face having to get one fixed in order to continue their careers. It’s pretty hard to explain to people what a hernia is without grossing them out if they’re squeamish – so I’ll just leave it up to “Weird Al” Yankovich.

“Weird Al” does nothing to promote the social acceptability of having a hernia – and the ailment will no doubt never be considered cool like a broken leg or a burst appendix, but at least it’s inspiring hilarious parody songs such as the above.

Surgery itself, not something that any young person would expect to have too regularly, has it’s positives and can almost be considered a fun experience from a certain perspective. You’re the center of attention for starters, being wheeled into an operating theater surrounding by many friendly anesthetists, surgeons and nurses all attempting to make the experience as pleasant for you as possible – depending on your surgical team I guess. General anesthetics themselves are pretty crazy and a unique experience. Entering the theater you might be initially a tad nervous at the thought of being put to sleep. At least I was. Would I wake up? Or worse yet, would I would up during the operation? It was almost pleasant however. First I was staring at the ceiling, chatting away, while they administered the anesthetic via a drip. Then my vision started getting slightly blurry, my thought process slowed slightly. I continued talking, while looking at the lights above me. The next moment – it felt like no time had past and I was still chatting, about muesli I believe (having been pretty hungry from the nil-by-mouth), except this time to a nurse on my right – it dawned on me that two hours had past and the surgery was complete. I had awoken again, modern medicine had not failed me.

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The first hospital meal I’m assuming

Not everything in hospital is fun as you might assume, but even such things as being nil-by-mouth for days on end have an amount of enjoyment to them. I had to await a second surgery to remove a blood-clot that had formed post the first surgery. Too much information I’m sure. Due to the acute ward having to let the most urgent patients through first (and due to some communication errors) stayed nil-by-mouth for several days before having this second surgery. But the good things about being nil-by-mouth are several. Modern hospital beds are awesome for starters. They’re pretty damn comfortable, and you have control to move so many parts of them – the back angles up and down, the middle as well, and a section for your feet. I could spend hours getting into ultimate comfortable positions and then abusing the free hospital WiFi on concert streams and TV shows. Being nil-by-mouth I was attached to a drip, but this was pretty fun, not having a feeling of hunger at all meant I could sit and chill and not worry about my stomach. Perhaps that’s the way of the future – we’ll all hook ourselves up to drips as we go to bed to give us the nutrients we need to survive, removing any of the hassle and time wasted from having to prepare meals and worry about nutrition. Food is of course a very fun social activity and we’d probably miss the pleasures of taste, but not having to worry about food was a fairly fun gimmick for a few days.

Perhaps during a moment of frustration

You also meet a lot of cool people in hospital wards. One night an older man named Ron was wheeled in beside me. I wasn’t sure we’d get along as he spent the first night yelling at the nurses, but the next day we struck up conversation and ended up talking for hours. He’d been a great piano player, a tour bus driver and told me all about his life and various romantic (mis)adventures. He had also been struck with polio at a young age, but had not let it hold him back, become quite an accomplished swing dancer with the help of an older woman who’d opened a dancing school in the Waikato with her husband. She was a bigger lady, and he had several hilarious and un-politically correct (true to his generation) morals to impart. One of which, regarding dancing with this lady was that – “you should never underestimate the dancing skill of larger ladies – she was big, but light on her feet”. He sadly had broken his shoulder and arm in a year previously so could no longer play the piano, but he schooled me up in some of his favorite honky-tonk and jazz – leaving me with the advice – “music is harmony, harmony is understanding – and with understanding, you’ve got it sussed”. I’m not entirely sure what it means but I liked it none-the-less.

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Ron and I. Cool dude, don’t know if he’d want his photo online, but oh well.

The second surgery was once again pretty fun and I quizzed the surgeons in how long it had taken to get trained as they again knocked me out. Waking up was a bit harder this second time round, perhaps due having two lots of anesthetic in several days, and the fatigue catching up to me from being nil-by-mouth. Never the less I recovered fairly quickly and was able to rest at home, receiving home cooked meals and not having to do anything by lie about for a week or so. That rest period is now all but over and I’m back at work, but I have to say there’s more to appreciate about having routine surgery than one would initial expect.

Feeling great, post-discharge

Will I look forward to the next lot of surgery I have to receive,  if so necessary in the future? Well.. probably not look forward to. Good health is much preferable to hanging in a hospital, using up free WiFi and not eating for several days, while being knocked unconscious and re-awoken at various intervals. But at least I know that there are pleasant elements to the experience and while I don’t wish another bout of surgery anytime soon, I’ll not worry if that is what fate brings my way. Perhaps I’ll take more time off work next time however.

Review: I Survived A Zombie Holocaust (Guy Pigden, 2014)

*Some spoilers – I tried to keep them to a minimum but proceed with slight caution

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Ever since Peter Jackson arrived on the scene with the uber-low budget splatter sci-fi Bad Taste and put NZ on the horror film map with the zombie gore-fest Braindead, any New Zealand filming maker attempting a film in a horror genre has faced inevitable comparisons with Jackson and his horror classics. Some have added extra NZ themed gimmicks into the mix the differentiate themselves, i.e. the sheep of Black Sheep and Maori cannibals of Fresh Meat – both of which stuck to a comedy/horror template comparable to that of Jackson’s – others have played it straight such as The Ferryman.

Perhaps New Zealanders are more naturally gifted or comfortable with satire – Guy Pidgen’s debut film I Survived A Zombie Holocaust is another successful combination of both comedy and horror – differentiating itself from those that came before with a self-aware narrative that winks at the audience as it deconstructs horror film cliches. It also cleverly manages to comment on the nature of film-making in NZ, with a frustrated director brought to the brink due to the stress in part of being turned down for funding time and time again – as well as by the real life living dead that have invaded his film set. The film also nods to cult classics of yore – with references to Sam Raimi and Romero films – and is sure to appeal to jaded international horror fans with its mix of horror homage and fresh ideas – thus breaking away from the long shadow of Jackson. This is also the first major horror film to have been majority shot in Dunedin (by Dunedin-ite filmmakers), the city where I’m from – so I’m quite proud to have the city not immortalized in cult-horror history.

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We open with a succession of stumbling zombies and a bulked up hero brandishing science fiction weaponry – this turns out to be a film-within-a-film as we’re introduced to the film set of maniacal auteur director SMP, played brilliantly by New Zealand screen veteran Andrew Laing. The bulked up hero is vain celebrity Adam Harrison (Mike Johnson), whose co-star of this film-within-a-film is diva Jessica Valentine (Reanin Johannink). SMP’s crew includes location manager Tane Henare (Ben Baker) whose rugby past is explored through-out the film, the loyal Assistant Director Richard Driver, whose loyalty might prove to be fatal, and a gun friendly American props-master, Randy Bateman (Mark Neilson). Into this wanders aspiring writer and first time runner Wesley Pennington (Harley Neville), who fumbles his way through a first day, attempting to get his script read, only to have it used as toilet paper by the director – and who falls for the kindly caterer Susan Ford (Jocelyn Christian).

The variety of stories and strength of acting is impressive – it is unusual for a low-budget film to have a scope such as this and not trip over its own ambitions. As the real life zombies appear and the massacre begins the gore and action set pieces don’t let down for a good 50 minutes. Egg beaters are taken to faces, dismemberment abounds and there’s even some good head explosions. There is an eyeball gag to rival Fulci’s slow ocular impaling from Zombie. Towards the end, there is something particularly unexpected involving a characters hand, but I won’t mention any more as this also forms a crucial plot point. Although violent the gore never takes it self too seriously, and there are some hilarious set-pieces – such as a misguided rampage on civilians mistaken to be the living dead – a handheld horror segment in which SMP takes one last shot at finishing his film and one involving a phallus that won’t soon be forgotten.

The performances and script are strong across the board – Ben Baker as the broken ex-rugby playing location manager delivers some great moments in his subplot, as does Mark Neilson, whose one-liners and misguided rampage provides some of the most memorable comic moments. I felt truly sympathetic to the plight of the DA brought to life by Simon Ward, who sacrifices himself more than his job would usually entail. Mike Johnson is given some of the best catch phrases of the film and proves he has a knack for comedy. We are also sympathetic to Harley Neville’s Wesley Pennington, whose writing ambitions take a backseat as he must help his fellow crew members survive the real life zombie violence. Neville gets some great comic moments as well – such as early on when he is forced to be a nude stand-in – the results are one of the comedy highlights of the film. His romance with Jocelyn Christian’s Susan Ford is also a nice touch – and the duo have a fair amount of onscreen chemistry.

The film stays self-aware through-out, with our writer/runner protagonist attempting to get his own zom-com-rom script acknowledged by the film’s crew. This leads to some great reflexive moments – Wesley is given advice early on from the film’s writer Harold Beasley, who points out the archetypes that the various characters around the filmset would fall into in a theoretical way – ending with the moral that for Wesley to be a good writer he must write from what knows. This scene in turn works as an acknowledgement by the film’s writer/director Guy Pidgen of the archetypes that he himself is utilizing and commenting upon. It’s this sort of reflexivity that gives the film an intelligent edge over horror films that play it straight – and perhaps one that is necessary in the jaded film viewing world of 2014. Later, director SMP in a moment of anger teetering on madness, details the difficulties he has gone to get his films funded – facing constant rejection. Given that this is a New Zealand Film Commission funded film, one can only assume that this is direct commentary on the nature of struggling for funding in a small film industry such as New Zealand’s.

It is not often that a lower-budget New Zealand film makes as much of its funding as this –  pulling off multiple sub-plots, a self-reflexive plot that doesn’t manage to trip over its own cleverness and large horror action set-pieces ambitious enough to be in a $5 million dollar film, let alone a $250,000. There is horror, comedy, romance, meta-commentary and a good ending – ingredients that add up to one of the strongest New Zealand debut’s probably ever. The gore hounds will be satisfied but so will those that require an intelligent script. I used to be quite passionate about horror films when I was younger, obsessively hunting out cult classics such as Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and devoting many afternoons to re-watching Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead. My love for the genre has since faded, and I find myself rarely willing to praise a modern horror film. But I Survived A Zombie Holocaust is worthy of the praise – not least because it rivals Jackson’s Bad Taste (hate to mention it but the mans shadow is inescapable in NZ film history), which I remain quite fond of. I haven’t watched Bad Taste in quite a while, so who knows, perhaps this even beats it as an NZ horror debut.

I have a slight bias of course. The film is shot in Dunedin and I’m friends with the filmmakers and a large amount of the cast. You might even see me rapping in music videos with the director and the lead actor. But objectively, the film is really impressive. I only managed to see it for the first time after yanking the director’s chain for about a year to let me watch it. Go and track it down when you can – the hard-work that’s gone into the film is clear.

I also have a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo near the start of the film. If you’re watching, look for a green coat handed a gun in the opening scene of the film. Like I said, slight bias, but my opinion of the film is objective and would stand without this bias.

Queen + Adam Lambert Auckland 3rd September [Concert Review]

Note: Footage from the concert below and on my YouTube page

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I’m going to find it hard to review this concert – for being a Queen fan for so long there’s so many memories and expectations tied up in seeing an influential band like this finally, in the flesh. But it was a great experience, yes for the fact of seeing Brian and Roger in the flesh but they put on a damn good show regardless of any cynicism one might have about a band still touring decades after the death of their beloved front man. It’s by now getting cliched to compare Lambert to Mercury but I’m going to have to do it never the less. As the other fans and reviews suggest – Adam is a great fit for the band and does indeed make the songs his own, finding his own stage presentation to fit the songs, his own unique flamboyance – playing tribute to Freddie but not copying his style. I can’t claim to be an Adam Lambert fan so I still found myself comparing his performance to the way Freddie would have delivered a song, but that’s going to happen if you’ve spent as much time obsessing over a band as I have done with Queen. But if anyone was going to take this show back on the road with the original members and give it new life, it may as well be Lambert – he’s got a great voice and the stage experience to rock an arena or stadium audience with ease.

The Adam Lambert fans might not agree with me – but the parts of the show that hit me the hardest were when Brian took the mic, first performing Love Of My Life, with Freddie appearing on the large screen to help us sing key moments. This was a live staple from 1975 onwards, the acoustic sing-along of Love Of My Life and there was something so touching about a room of 8,000 singing it along with Brian, with Freddie appearing momentarily. It was just nice to hear Freddie’s voice once again booming throughout an arena. At the end of the song it looked like Brian wiped his eyes, perhaps as affected as the audience at singing along with his lost friend. Roger, long-time Queen keyboardist Spike Edney, touring bassist Neil Fairclough and Roger’s drummer son Rufus Taylor joined May for a stomping jam through of May’s 39″ off Night at the Opera. One of my highlights of the night for sure.

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The show was great – high production values with one of the most impressive lighting rigs I’ve ever seen at an arena show, a huge screen that was made to appear as the circular Queen ‘Q’ logo. The rig that made up the Q itself moved over the band in a spectacular fashion, reminiscent of the moving lighting rigs Queen employed in tours between 1977 and 1986. During Lap of the Gods, the fantastic final song off Sheer Heart Attack the giant circle light detached from it’s place in the center of the stage and turned into quite the magnificent ring hovering over the band. Lap of the Gods is a brilliant song – and this was a performance well worthy of previous Queen performances of the song – such as at Wembley in ’86. Brian May later took a guitar solo, incorporating parts of his Bijou guitar piece from Innuendo, and filling the arena with his trademark delay harmonizing. This was set to a hypnotizing array of red lasers and cosmos-esque images.  Visually, very elaborate – and perfectly fitting to a the legacy of the Queen live show.

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Other musical highlights include a drum battle between Roger and Rufus, both amazing drummers – Roger with his very unique tom heavy style, and Rufus a technically skilled modern rock drummer. Roger took lead vocals for A Kind Of Magic, great to hear the man singing and would have loved to hear more of him. Neil Fairclough provided the best bass solo I’ve ever heard, dropping in riffs from Queen classics such as Nevermore off Queen II, Don’t Try Suicide from The Game and Body Language and Staying Power from the underrated Hot Space. Adam performed the lesser known songs really well, stuff like Dragon Attack off The Game. It was kind of amazing to hear a song such deep cuts played live and still sounded as fresh as when they were first toured.

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The show ended with the traditional onslaught of Queen hits – Tie Your Mother Down with Rufus Taylor on drums, I Want To Break Free, Radio Gaga with the crowd doing their best to imitate Live Aid and Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Then it was on to Bohemian Rhapsody, with Lambert nailing the vocals as a singer as trained as him should. But the original members could not be out-shined – Brian taking his place at the base of the walkway, busting out the most iconic guitar solo he ever wrote while wearing a shiny gold suit reminiscent of the band’s early 70s glam attire. Freddie appeared again on screen in the operatic section of the song and again at the end in a duet with Lambert, each singing a line each. Freddie was most definitely watching over proceedings, but Lambert held his own. The night ended as all Queen gigs have since again 1978, with We Will Rock You followed by We Are The Champions. Lambert wore a crown in regal style, and they all stood together side by side taking one last bow towards the crowd which was by now well and truely one over. Brian and Roger are playing their cards right, appearing to still love performing to the adoring masses, and securing their legacy for many more decades thanks to the suitable front-man they’ve found in Adam Lambert. As another reviewer mentioned, with so many classic rock bands unwilling to tour for the fans (such as Zeppelin and Floyd) – it’s a lucky thing that we have a band such as Queen so dedicated to keeping the legacy alive. That is if we leave our cynicism at the arena doors.

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I may have been slightly unfair on Lambert at times – but this is only due to being such a strong fan of the original Queen. The show they’ve put together really is something special, even if it yet again seeks to highlight to lost talents of the unmatched Freddie Mercury in some ways. A part of me thinks they don’t need to still be touring in this way, Brian and Roger both have amazing voices and are great songwriters and performers in their own right, they could have each focused on their solo careers instead of continuing with the world conquering beast that is Queen. I’m divided as to whether I think they should keep touring for many more years – part of me would love to see the show again, but the other part of me feels it’s a great tribute, perfect for a fleeting moment for fans and the band to get together and celebrate their legacy, but perhaps one that should stick around just long enough for it’s best qualities to be appreciated. I hope for a few festival dates at least, they’re putting on a show that feels much larger than the arena’s it’s being staged in. At the end of the day, I’m pretty amazed I’ve had the chance to see any of these Queen members in the flesh and hear these songs live. Credit to Lambert for putting his solo career on hold to play this part in Queen – there’s not many singers who could do as good a job as he has – he’s a much better fit than Paul Rodgers, having the vocal chops, the right glam image and the chemistry with the remaining Queen members to pull it off.

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To end this review on a hardcore fan note, I waited outside the venue (the next night, after getting a spare ticket to the 2nd show) for many hours with some other New Zealand and Australian Queen and Adam Lambert fans. Brian took the time to stop and meet the fans, a real honor and it shows how humble a guy he is. The best I could manage was to tell Brian some of my earliest memories were listening to his music. I don’t remember his reply, I was too in awe of standing next to the guitarist who I’d been looking at on album covers for such a long time. Still haven’t learnt how to keep my cool when meeting heroes or people I admire.

Brian May meeting New Zealand fan