Q+AL Madison Square Garden Reviews


July 18, 2014 by Kevin Coughlin

Former American Idol finalist Adam Lambert channeled the late Freddie Mercury to reinvigorate the legendary band’s classic tunes, from ‘Radio Gaga’ to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’

The last time Queen performed at Madison Square Garden was on two steamy July nights during the “Hot Space Tour” in 1982, with Billy Squier as the opening act.

Fast-forward 32 years later, and Queen is once again the headlining act on a steamy July night in the World’s Most Famous Arena. Well, at least half of the original Queen line-up; founding members Brian May on guitar and Roger Taylor on drums. Both gents showing their age, especially May, sporting a dazzling grey-white Moses mane.

Completing the band, billed now as Queen + Adam Lambert, is bass player Neil Fairclough (replacing original bassist John Deacon who retired in 1997), back-up drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor, and keyboardist Spike Edney.

Last, but certainly not the least, former American Idol finalist Adam Lambert channels the spirit of Queen’s late frontman Freddie Mercury in almost every detail.

Strutting the curvaceous stage like a black leather-clad peacock with a slight pompadour, Lambert launched into the set opener, “Now I’m Here” with ferocity and vigor. At times, Lambert’s presence appeared to rejuvenate and energize May’s and Taylor’s performance throughout the 2 hour 15-minute, 23-song set.

On songs such as “Stone Cold Crazy”, “Seven Seas of Rhye”, and “Killer Queen”, Lambert displayed Mercury-esque flamboyancy and showmanship; stretching out on a sofa at one point., Lambert must have made half a dozen costume changes throughout the evening, making one briefly think it might be Lady Gaga or Cher on stage.

On standards such as “Tie Your Mother Down” and the disco anthem “Another One Bites the Dust,” he did not attempt to “own” the song or put his stamp on it, but simply to honor Freddie.

Midway through the show, Lambert disappeared, leaving May and Taylor to offer a retrospective narrative as images of Mercury and Queen’s glory days flashed on a huge oval screen. These guys know their best days are long gone, but they were determined to rock it as long as they were still alive.

Brian May, who turns 67 on Saturday, played flawlessly on his trademark “Red Special” homebuilt electric guitar. On tracks such as “Fat Bottomed Girls” a video camera on the guitar neck displayed May’s fluid fretwork, duplicating the classic Queen album sound note-for-note.

The only downer was his guitar solo. As brilliant as it was — in parts incorporating sections of “Brighton Rock” — it seemed tedious and was more sleep inducing than energetic.

Drummer Roger Taylor, who turns 65 next Saturday, was sharply dressed in a white dress shirt and slacks as he crashed the drums and cymbals with all of the power he culd muster. Taylor took the time late in the performance to interact with the crowd and provide lead vocals on “These Are The Days of Our Lives”.

The former American Idol finalist went through multiple costume changes during the concert.

To provide an extra “oomph,” his 23-year-old son Rufus Tiger Taylor rounded out the backbeat on percussion, especially on “Tie Your Mother Down”.

Afterwards, Lambert took advantage of an old Freddie Mercury show staple and that was getting the crowd involved in a sing-along. He had the audience eating out of his hand, often singing good-natured gibberish that the crowd repeated. Either way, it worked.

The show’s climatic point was the set closer “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Lambert, a Freddie Mercury devotee, traded verses with video footage of Mercury singing the song live at Wembley Stadium in the 1980s. Brian May even got into spirit performing in a gold-sequined “rock star cape” from the ’70s.

“This is the closest that you’ll ever get to see Queen as it was in our golden days, but it’s not a reproduction.” May told Rolling Stone earlier this year. A reproduction it’s not. Did they rock us? Oh YES!

Queen performs again next Wednesday July 23 at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J.


Now I’m Here
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites the Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
In the Lap of the Gods … Revisited
Seven Seas of Rhye
Killer Queen (lying on the couch)
Somebody to Love
I Want It All
Love of My Life
These Are the Days of Our Lives
Under Pressure
Love Kills
Who Wants to Live Forever
Last Horizon /Brighton Rock/Bijou (Brian May’s guitar solo)
Tie Your Mother Down
Radio Ga Ga
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
The Show Must Go On
Bohemian Rhapsody
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champion


This shouldn’t work. In fact, there was a moment in the middle of the Queen + Adam Lambert show at Madison Square Garden Thursday night when it seemed like it might not.

It came when guitarist Brian May was essentially leading a sing-along of “Love of My Life,” with the audience taking up the parts of the late Freddie Mercury. Then, a video of Mercury completing the song was shown, bringing the crowd to its feet and May to tears.

Why exactly did they need Lambert again?

After all, up to that point the former “American Idol” runner-up and current “Glee” star had proved to be a good study, but not necessarily ready to front the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band.

Leading the crowd in a chant of “Bite It!” during “Another One Bites the Dust” didn’t exactly help.

Later, however, after the halfway point, Lambert started to grow into the role. He handled “Under Pressure” gloriously, with drummer Roger Taylor taking on David Bowie’s vocals nicely. He followed with a poignant version of “Who Wants to Live Forever” that showed he could interpret a song differently from Mercury with his powerful voice.

The way he went toe-to-toe vocally with a video of Mercury during “Bohemian Rhapsody,” though, showed that Queen had made a good choice in signing him up.

Can Lambert really replace Mercury, who died of HIV-related complications in 1991? Of course not. But he may be able to help take the band in a new direction.

18 July 2014 by Jon Pareles

Queen + Adam Lambert were only two songs into their concert at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night when Mr. Lambert dropped to his knees as if worshipping Brian May, who was playing one of the show’s many lead guitar solos. It was an acrobatic move; once on his knees, Mr. Lambert bent back until he was nearly horizontal. It was also, as a show of fealty, a preview of the rest of the concert.

Queen’s songs and original band members — Mr. May and the drummer Roger Taylor — dominate this tour, sometimes too much. Mr. Lambert — singing to replace Queen’s leader, Freddie Mercury, who died in 1991 — is a modest accessory, on and off the stage as he changes into various costumes of leather, lace, studs, animal-skin patterns and shiny fringe.

Modesty was never part of Queen’s appeal. Queen piled on everything it could: umpteen vocal overdubs by Mr. Mercury, umpteen-plus guitar layers by Mr. May, and a gathering melodrama in each song that was inseparable from the way Mr. Mercury’s voice could rise through octaves without thinning out. The band’s songs merged hard rock with music-hall, blues-rooted guitar drive and oom-pah absurdity, along with a streak of Gilbert & Sullivan.

The tour set is filled were songs about love, lust, winning and death. Mr. May’s guitar arrangements were edifices of hymnlike harmony or rollicking riffs: part Palestrina, part Led Zeppelin. Meanwhile, in contrast to Mr. May’s orderliness, Mr. Mercury’s lyrics were testaments to abandon, decadence, passion and triumph, summed up by his succinct vow: “We Will Rock You.” After Mr. Mercury’s death, Mr. May became an astrophysicist, a choice presaged by “’39,” a bouncy song, Mr. May explained onstage, about Einstein’s clock paradox.

Mr. Lambert is this decade’s touring replacement for Mr. Mercury; in 2005-2006, Queen toured and recorded with Paul Rodgers, the singer from Free and Bad Company. On paper, Mr. Lambert is ideal for Queen. His vocal range extends from baritone on up, and he is openly gay and willing to be campy, as Mr. Mercury was. Queen first collaborated with Mr. Lambert in a 2009 appearance on “American Idol,” where Mr. Lambert came in second but got a start on his pop recording career. Queen + Adam Lambert have been touring the world together since 2012.

So Mr. Lambert, who like other “American Idol” contestants is a student and mimic of pop idols past, has clearly decided how he wants to approach his alliance with Queen. He’s no longer the Goth-styled, crotch-grabbing character he was while touring for his solo albums. Now he’s deferential, boyish, and trying to update Queen — an English band whose heyday was in the 1970s and early 1980s — with a touch of American R&B in his voice and with hip-hop stage patter.

Neither is a winning strategy. His voice loses fullness as it ascends, his R&B melismas are whiny, and his patter is embarrassing. Trying to lead an audience chant of “Bite it!” during Queen’s gleefully murderous “Another One Bites the Dust,” and spitting something he drank from a champagne bottle onto nearby audience members, were the lowest points.

With all its overdubbed guitars and vocals, Queen was very much a studio group. Onstage, augmented by keyboards (Spike Edney), drums (Rufus Tiger Taylor, Mr. Taylor’s son) and Neil Fairclough on bass, who replaced Queen’s longtime bassist John Deacon after he retired in 1997, there were some suspiciously perfect (probably canned) backup vocals filling out many choruses. But much of the separation between studio and stage was bridged by Mr. May’s live playing, aggressively changing from fingerpicking to power-chord riffs.

Unfortunately, the band indulged itself with long solos reminiscent of bloated 1970s shows; really, there was no need for a bass solo by Mr. Fairclough, even if Mr. Taylor joined him to drum on the bass strings near the end. There were also stretches when Mr. May and Mr. Taylor sang or shared lead vocals, including the most open tributes to Mr. Mercury; they were only adequate. They were featured during a long, sagging mid-concert stretch of unaccompanied solos, and it took the show some time to recover momentum afterward.

Performing with Queen on this tour, Mr. Lambert sometimes has to compete with Mr. Mercury’s audio and video, which outdid him in “Love of My Life.” He did have his moments, particularly in “Killer Queen,” which he sang while lying on a purple Victorian-styled fainting couch and made into a catty, confidential portrait. Now and then, Mr. Lambert rose to meet Mr. Mercury’s example, as he did in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” following its daffy, operatic choral interlude — shown and played in its 1970’s video and audio version — with full hard-rock fury as he sang, “So you think you can love me and leave me to die?” Mr. Lambert has that rawness in his voice, when he chooses to use it.

What he lacks is authority, an essential part of Mr. Mercury’s presence. When Mr. Mercury led the band, Queen was a voice of lustful anarchy and camp self-consciousness. Now it’s a holding action: a technically correct tribute to its old, extremist, disruptive self.

18 July 2014

Talking about living out your rock star fantasies.

Adam Lambert grew up adoring Queen, sang their songs at his American Idol audition and now, he’s doing it for real. But his dream felt more like a nightmare on Thursday night when the Queen + Adam Lambert tour hit Madison Square Garden. By trying to fill in for Freddie Mercury, he has drunk from a poisoned chalice and it was painful watching him slowly succumb.

Lambert’s vocals have never been in question but compared to Mercury’s booming, full-bodied range that could fill stadiums on its own, the 32-year-old’s squeaky warbling on songs such as “Somebody To Love” and “Another One Bites The Dust” sounded like farts in the wind. When footage of Mercury singing was shown on the giant screen behind the stage, it only served to put Lambert in even more shade.

His showmanship was also a pale imitation of the original Queen singer, especially during “Killer Queen” when he draped himself over a chaise lounge like a camp cartoon character. Even Lambert’s costumes were off-point, not least the studded leather jacket he wore as he arrived on stage, which looked like a fashion intern’s idea of rock star clobber. But it would be unfair to lay the blame for all of this completely at Lambert’s door. He’s just a jobbing performer who is smart enough to know that he’ll never even come close to Mercury’s level of charisma or talent. The real villains are guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor for letting this happen. Again. The duo first reanimated the band with Free and Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers during the 2000s (original Queen bassist John Deacon smartly retired years ago). Now, they’re continuing to desecrate their own wonderful legacies by limping through this pantomime. May is a guitar hero but hearing him going through a five minute solo was enough to bore you to tears and the sound of Taylor take up the microphone and croak through a version of “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” verged on the pitiful.

Given that Queen’s career album sales are in the hundreds of millions, neither May or Taylor can possibly need the money that this tour is bringing in. So why bother? The answer was hinted at during a mid-set acoustic segment when a genuinely moved May addressed Queen’s ever loyal subjects. “After all these years, you gave us the chance to come here and be rock gods again,” he said with more than a hint of relief. They worked hard to earn the rock star life, but it sounds like May and Taylor don’t quite have it in them to leave it behind. For them, the show must go on if only because it’s all they know.