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