10 July 2014 by Kara Martinez Bachman
Arena-rock patriarchs Queen, along with front man Adam Lambert, brought an evening of glitzy rock spectacle during their Wednesday (July 9) performance at a packed Toyota Center inHouston – the only southern stop of Queen’s summer tour.
Since Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991, finding someone with the vocal acumen and similar over-the-top sensibility to fill his legendary shoes has been difficult.
For the first few numbers, the crowd seemed slow to warm. But minutes in, it was clear Lambert would not have trouble defending his platform-booted, leather-clad theatricality, his tongue-in-cheek attitude, or his wide-ranging vocal ability. By the time he wrapped up “Somebody to Love” with its well-placed, just-the-right-amount runs, the crowd was sold.
With as many costume changes as one might expect of Cher, Lambert hammed it up glam rock style with everything from leather to fringe to a leopardskin suit he dared to pair with a gold crown.
The 23-song set list included hits “Another One Bites the Dust,” the Queen/David Bowie duet “Under Pressure,” which Lambert performed with drummer Roger Taylor, and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” ending in its own crazy, frenetic, rockabilly jam. The goosebump-inducing ballads “Love Kills” and “Who Wants to Live Forever” were where Lambert truly showcased his chops: a huge vocal range, especially when climbing deftly into the upper registers.
There was a moment of recognition — a standing ovation — for guitar virtuoso Brian May, who, along with Taylor, are among the two remaining original members (bassist John Deacon retired from performing in the late 1990s). The applause was just before a quiet segment in which May performed alone at the end of the long stage catwalk and chatted with the audience. May – who, in addition to playing a mean guitar, has a doctorate in astrophysics – talked of having spent the day touring Houston’s Johnson Space Center. In another nod to the local audience, May then introduced the band, with each musician soon sporting NASA logo baseball caps.
Queen mega-fans from New Orleans talk about traveling to see their favorite band.
We located some Queen fans — and fans of Adam Lambert, who is vocalist for the band this summer — who made the trip from the New Orleans area to Houston for the only 2014 show in the gulf coast region. Why is it so important to these mega-fans?
The band pays tribute to Mercury throughout the show, including a particularly poignant moment when video is shown of a vulnerable Mercury, onstage wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt and trying – clearly, toward his later days – to sing on, despite the ravages of HIV/AIDS. But the tribute comes to its true expected climax for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” when Lambert starts the vocals, but cedes it to Mercury, who sings Queen’s weird and wonderful bombastic rock ballad from a video screen behind the stage.
Climbing into Mercury’s shoes is no small feat, but Lambert found a balance, somehow making each song his, while paying adequate homage. For the Toyota Center audience, it seemed to work.
No, Lambert is no Mercury. There was only one of those. While Mercury was all rock, almost feral in his playful abandon, Lambert brings something perhaps more controlled, more practiced. But both share a similar spirit – a brazen, in-your-face vanity, coupled with the sense that rock does not have to just be music, it can be theater. Lambert straddled a thin line, with one shiny boot on the rocker side, the other planted firmly in Vegas-style showmanship.
By the time Queen went into its encore — the iconic sports anthems, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions,” naturally — the audience was all-in.
Set List for Houston show, July 9, 2014:
Now I’m Here
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites the Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
Lap of the Gods
Seven Seas of Rhye
Somebody to Love
I Want it All
Love of My Life
Days of Our Lives
Who Wants to Live Forever
Tie Your Mother Down
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
The Show Must Go On
We Will Rock You
We are the Champions