29 June 2014 · by the newt
Freddie Mercury is a hard act to follow, there’s no doubt about that. The Queen frontman possessed one of the greatest voices in rock, and anyone who’s seen him live at his peak in the seventies can testify that he was a truly riveting performer. Mercury’s death from AIDS in 1991, at the age of 45, didn’t stop Queen from touring, but it took them a while to get back on track. It wasn’t until 2005 that the band ventured out again as Queen + Paul Rodgers, with the former singer from Free, Bad Company, and the Firm joining Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor on stage (Queen bassist John Deacon opted out of the gig). Now May and Taylor have recruited a frontman exactly half Rodgers’ age–32-year-old American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert–to carry on the Queen flame, and judging by his showing at Rogers Arena last night, it wasn’t a bad call.
The concert opened with the multitracked guitar instrumental “Procession” from 1974′s Queen II before a huge curtain bearing the majestic Queen logo was pulled away to coincide with May’s delivery of the monster guitar riff from “Now I’m Here”, a heavy rocker from the 1974 Sheer Heart Attack album. The raucous vibe continued with another Sheer Heart Attack number, the frenzied “Stone Cold Crazy”, before the familiar bass line from the band’s best-selling single, the Deacon-penned “Another One Bites the Dust”, made its presence known. May took the opportunity to inject some wild fuzz sounds into the tune via his “Red Special”, the reddish-brown guitar custom-built by him and his dad.
By the time Queen was halfway through its fourth number, “Fat Bottomed Girls”, it was obvious that Lambert’s vocals lack that special something that made Mercury’s–or even Rodgers’–stand out. But the openly gay singer’s flamboyant performing style, charming audience interaction, and heavily accessorized glam-rock look went a long way toward making up for the relative blandness of his voice.
“Whaddya think of the new boy?” asked May after a performance of the 1981 Queen/David Bowie collaboration “Under Pressure”, and the resounding applause made it clear that Lambert had impressed the vast majority of the crowd. Still, whenever Queen brought Mercury’s vocals back via video, as it did briefly on “Love of My Life” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, you could tell their original crooner was in another league altogether.
And no matter how many fans Lambert won over during the night, he couldn’t really wrest the spotlight away from the mighty May. The sheer joy that the 66-year-old rocker emanates–whether in straightforward boogie mode (“Tie Your Mother Down”), while dabbling in sci-fi skiffle (’39), or during pseudo-operatic excursions (“Bohemian Rhapsody”)–is a wonder to behold.