The benchmark for live rock performance was surely set by Queen in their heyday, the way they stole the show at Live Aid perhaps being conclusive proof. While there were many aspects to Queen’s success, the larger than life routine of the late Freddie Mercury was the centrepiece of their live shows, from his extravagant costumes to the audience call and response.
While Queen’s music lives on everywhere from musicals to sporting events and Brian May and Roger Taylor keep the band in the public eye, efforts to fill this gaping hole have proved less satisfactory. Even their mid-2000’s partnership with one of rock’s all-time greatest singers, Paul Rodgers, received mixed reviews, so the announcement a couple of years ago that former American Idol finalist Adam Lambert was teaming up with the band was met with some cynicism, at least from those of us who contrast ‘real’ music with those in the Cowell lion’s den.
A small number of dates in 2012 had made a favourable impression, and a televised New Years Eve concert put their collaboration in the spotlight, but this extensive UK tour was my first chance to see whether he could cut the mustard in earnest.
Thankfully, after standing through the tedium of no support act, just some ambient background music, when the curtain fell, Brian’s unmistakable introductory guitar riff to ‘One Vision’ got the gig off to a flying start and Adam, looking like a cross between George Michael and Elvis in the first of his many outfits, shades and studded leather jacket, was instantly confident. A great stage set with staircases on each side, not to mention big video screens and lasers, made this a ‘proper’ show, but he had the self-confidence and charisma to own the stage.
He achieved the right balance between respecting the material and not trying to overshadow Queen, with being more than just a Freddie clone. His own manner combined flamboyance with a real sense of old-fashioned theatrical showmanship, plus it is of course easier to be an openly gay man in rock than it was in dear old Freddie’s time. His wide vocal range also meant he could tackle the back catalogue with ease and only on a couple of occasions did I feel he failed to nail the songs they way they were meant to sound.
Second song in, ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ was a welcome deep dip into the catalogue and proof that this ‘pop’ artist could master Queen’s heavier material. ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ had the first audience participation and nifty bass work from Neil Fairclough before ’Fat Bottomed Girls’ with Brian coming out onto the walkway in front of the stage to solo, had a big and meaty sound to justify the claim some of us cling to that, while Queen covered many musical bases, at heart they were a great hard rock band.
‘In the Lap of the Gods’ was a welcome return to the set and the way people swayed to the refrain suggested it was perhaps an early prototype for Queen’s later scarf waving anthems, leading into a medley of ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ and ‘Killer Queen’. For the latter the sight of Adam spreadeagled over an antique purple sofa, fanning himself and swigging champagne, achieved the impossible and outdid Freddie for sheer campness.
‘A Kind of Magic’ stirred the first bouts of dancing in the seated areas, while a joyous ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and theatrical ‘Somebody to Love’ were also welcome set additions, suiting Adam’s style more than Paul Rodgers, before the pace was taken down somewhat as Brian came onto the walkway with acoustic guitar to play ‘Love of My Life’, a video of Freddie singing appearing halfway through, and, after some contrived scientific banter, ‘39’. However during this interlude I could not help but be drawn to his bouffant head of hair which has been allowed to go a snowy grey but whose lustrous curls seem thicker than ever for a man of 67.
After singing the elegiac ‘Those Were the Days of Our Lives’ with Brian’s assistance, Roger Taylor now came out front for his solo slot, or more accurately a drum solo duet with his son Rufus, who now features in this touring line up as a second drummer and percussion player, easing the burden on his father in a physically demanding show. The latter’s skills are undimmed though he seems over the years to have become a Ginger Baker esque grumpy curmudgeon, with his silvery beard and at one point joking he was too old for this.
He shared vocal duties with Adam on ‘Under Pressure’, as the pace picked up again with the welcome return of a quintessential Queen song in ‘Save Me’ and ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ showing off Adam’s technical singing ability.
Momentum was lost however with Brian’s lengthy solo slot which for a man of his remarkable guitar talents is surprisingly dull, and it was a relief when it ended with his characteristic introductory riff to ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ (Rufus playing the main drum kit) which I feared would be omitted having not appeared in its usual early slot set.
We were now firmly into hit territory with ‘I Want it All’ continuing the rocky theme and the crowd in seated areas finally all to their feet for an atmospheric ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, with the band getting into a great swing-like groove with ivory tinkler Spike Edney in the spotlight for once.
The set ended with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, as usual the band combining live elements, with Brian playing his solo in a very flamboyant gold cloak, with video footage of the middle section and Freddie singing, and as they moved into the fast part large pockets of people in the floor standing area jumping up and down, heads flailing, as if they were re-enacting a Wayne’s World scene.
Though there was plenty here for the more committed Queen fan, this is a band whose biggest hits are known by virtually every person with a pulse. So the encores of ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are the Champions’, delivered by Adam wearing a crown and leopardskin suit, sparked a mass outbreak of communal singing, and arm waving with lighted phones aloft, that are the rock equivalent of Land of Hope and Glory winding up The Last Night of the Proms.
Indeed this is always a time to remember that after being one of the first bands to make audience participation a part of their live show in the mid seventies, this pair of songs was among the first to be specifically written to be performed live.
I defy anyone who was there to begrudge the value for money they received even with slightly steep ticket prices. This was a night of high camp, high hair but most importantly the highest standards of a rock show as entertainment and performance, and a brilliantly presented show that injected new life into the Queen legacy. Long live our gracious Queen indeed….
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
Liverpool Echo Arena, 28 February 2015
Steve Goudie writes:
On the way to tonight’s gig it crossed my mind that Adam Lambert was just nine years old when Freddie Mercury died!
Even though he does not have the type of rock pedigree Paul Rodgers brought to the band he managed to get the Liverpool crowd eating out of his hands.
The American Idol winner made the Queen songs his own from ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, ‘Under Pressure’, and all the other Queen hits – 27 of them tonight.
The highlight of the night for me was when Brian May paid tribute to The Beatles “four lads from Liverpool who changed the world” and went into ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” which made the crowd go wild.
Adam has all the campness and charm that Freddie oozed so he fits the part perfectly. With the crowd chanting ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and loving his over the top rendition of ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ more shows must beckon.
Lambert’s duet with Freddie on the backscreen for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ sent the Scousers wild, and after the encores of ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are the Champions’ confirmed Adam Lambert had earned his place stepping into the original singer’s shoes and not least the fans’ affection.
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