Q+AL Merriweather reviews


21 July 2014

Adam Lambert took over leading singing duties as he joined up with Queen to rock Merriweather Post Pavilion Sunday night.

Brian and Adam - Baltimore Merriweather
The rock band Queen featuring lead singer Adam Lambert performs
at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun)

GALLERY – 22 photos

21 July 2014 by Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun

(To view photos from last night’s show, visit the Darkroom’s gallery.)

True story: I was watching “American Idol” one night during the season that Adam Lambert was competing. I said to my wife – Mrs. Brown will vouch for this – “that guy should sing with Queen.”

The band was casting about for a new frontman after ending its five-year partnership with former Free/Bad Company/The Firm/The Law singer Paul Rodgers, and Lambert was enlivening another dreary season of Idol with his three-octave range, upper-register confidence and flamboyant stage presence.

The point being: This whole thing was kind of my idea.

So I’m delighted to report that the pairing of the 32-year-old singer with Queen drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Dr. Brian May (original singer Freddie Mercury died in 1991, and bass player John Deacon has lost interest) is a near-complete success.

At Merriweather Post Pavilion on Sunday night, Lambert managed to be both respectful in his approach to the material – all of which dated from Mercury’s tenure – and confident as he worked a catwalk that curved around from behind the drum riser and out through the first several rows.

(Also through a comprehensive regimen of costume changes. I took notes through the first several, but got lost somewhere between the gold-tasseled black tunic and the zebra-striped blouse.)

And while Lambert’s voice is neither as full nor as rich as Mercury’s – he wouldn’t have been onstage if his predecessor had been available – it does cut with a contemporary R&B edge that had the effect of updating the band’s sound.

About that sound: May (one of the great innovators of rock guitar) and Taylor (one of its most influential drummers), augmented by a bassist, a keyboard player and a second drummer, brought the familiar, unmistakable thunder. May conducted the ensemble from his homemade Red Special, alternating between his melodic, endlessly sustaining lead runs and end-of-the-world barre chords.

Still, bombast wants balance. The show worked when Lambert was strutting, posing and winking over the heaviest of metal. It flagged after he departed, leaving Queen Mach II to pursue its Jazz Odyssey, a succession of overlong instrumental solos.

An early highlight was “Killer Queen,” which Lambert delivered, salaciously, stretched out on a purple velvet couch. Also “Another One Bites The Dust,” which was made to be played loud. Arranging “Radio Ga Ga” around May’s guitar, instead of the keyboards of the studio version, has improved it; the more experienced Queen fans among the audience joined in the ritual double-claps of the chorus.

In introducing “’39,” May – a genuine astrophysicist (he is the author of both “A Survey Of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud” and “Fat-Bottomed Girls”) – spoke of traveling through time. But the show, with its multiple generations (Lambert is young enough to be May’s son; Taylor’s actual son, Rufus Tiger, doubled him on drums), its laser lights, disco ball and early-MTV video effects, and its long familiar music, existed largely outside of time.

An emotional high-point came during May’s “Love of My Life,” which he sang solo on guitar. Before he began, May said Mercury used to stand at his side as he sang it. During the performance, his old friend returned, fading in on the video screen behind the stage to sing the final line.

From that point on, Mercury was seldom far from view. He appeared, with May, Taylor and Deacon, goofing around in the 40-year-old clips that were projected on the video screen during “These Are The Days Of Our Lives,” and returned for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the inevitable finale, to trade passages with Lambert.

It was not quite a passing of the torch, but a poignant tribute, and a fine conclusion to a satisfying evening.


Now I’m Here
Stone Called Crazy
Another One Bites the Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
In the Lap of the Gods … Revisited
Seven Seas of Rhye
Killer Queen
Somebody to Love
I Want It All
Love of My Life
These are the Days of Our Lives
Bass Solo
Drum Battle
Under Pressure
Love Kills
Who Wants to Live Forever
Guitar Solo
Tie Your Mother Down
Radio Ga Ga
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Bohemian Rhapsody


We Will Rock You
We are the Champions
(God Save the Queen)

21 July 2014

Adam Lambert is the latest in a line of Freddie Mercury fill-ins to front Queen in the last couple decades. (Elton John, Robbie Williams and Paul Rodgers came before him.)

At 32, he’s also the youngest, and the May-December aspect of the alliance was impossible to ignore during Sunday’s Merriweather Post Pavilion show whenever he stood next to drummer John Taylor, who turns 65 this week, or guitarist Brian May, now 67.

But somebody’s gotta sing these songs. A 2006 survey rated Queen’s first greatest hits collection as by far the greatest selling record in England’s history; press materials for the current tour claim that it can be found in “one in three British households.” (That poll also ranked Queen’s “Greatest Hits II” as the seventh biggest British album of all time.) And Lambert is likely the best choice out there. His fame came via a second-place finish on “American Idol” in 2009, and in the season finale, he performed “We Are the Champions” alongside Taylor and May. He still seems a little shocked by his hiring as Mercury’s stand-in, however.

“I’m onstage with Queen!” Lambert squealed, after getting up from the lavender couch he sprawled all over while crooning “Killer Queen,” wearing the second of many leather-spike-sequined ensembles he’d sport on the evening. Mercury was far more than just a singer, and early in the show Lambert occasionally stumbled when trying to entertain the fans in nonmusical ways; he spit a drink on the crowd awkwardly, and he didn’t seem comfortable introducing “Fat Bottomed Girls” with a crude and not-safe-for-work order for large females in the crowd to dance.

But Lambert showed he could handle the rockier passages in the Queen songbook, and he got the huge crowd jazzed by belting out “Tie Your Mother Down” and “I Want It All.” Lambert ended “Somebody to Love” with the sort of Christina Aguilera-like multi-octavial blitz that helped him catch Simon Cowell’s eye and ears back on “Idol.”

Lambert led his elders on “Another One Bites,” the pop dance tune that was the band’s biggest selling U.S. single. It was written by Queen’s original bassist, John Deacon, who has declined to join any of the band’s tours since Mercury’s 1991 death from AIDS complications.

Lambert was occasionally subservient, however. He went backstage a few times as May came front and center. May is viewed as having one of the bigger brains in rock; his PhD thesis in astrophysics is entitled “A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud.” He briefly tried explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity to the crowd before leading the singalong on the folkie time-travel tune, “39.” Less brainy was May’s decision to walk around the stage alone, save for his guitar, lasers and smoke, for a brutally long solo that started off stagnant and remained inert. Fans could rightly wish for a time machine to get back the 15 minutes or so they’d spent watching that.

The show also flagged as a result of other non-brainy staging decisions. Neil Fairclough, Deacon’s understudy, was given a bass solo while others left the stage. He’s likely a fine musician, but it’s even likelier no more than a few of the folks who showed up could even name him, and likeliest that even fewer wanted to see a bass solo. Momentum flagged again when Taylor moved to a second drum kit so he could do a percussion duet with his son, Rufus Taylor.

Lowest of all, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the prototype Queen song, was hardly given its due. The tune’s inclusion in the 1992 film “Wayne’s World” allowed secret Queen lovers everywhere to start belting out this operatic bombast whenever it came on the car radio. But on this night, half of “Rhapsody” was played via a pre-recorded video shown on the amphitheater’s big screens. The live bodies returned in time for May’s gargantuan outro guitar solo, but that staging still turned what should have been a home run into a ho-hum.

Things picked up one last time when Lambert came out for the encore of “We Are the Champions,” sporting a glittery crown on his head. Hail the new king of Queen.