A great review – step by step through the entire concert….
2 September 2014 by Natalie Bochenski
Photos: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
Adam Lambert on stage with Brian May in Sydney. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
Hours after Queen and Adam Lambert lifted the roof off the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, it will be difficult for many in the crowd to provide more than a breathless: “That was amazing. I can’t believe I was there. That was amazing.”
With a rock ‘n’ roll show combining reunion, tribute and baton-passing facets, Queen and Adam Lambert delivered just over two hours of pure sensation straight into the nerves and bones of anyone fortunate enough to witness it.
Lambert, of course, is the ring-in, the latest in a series of singers who have appeared with Brian May and Roger Taylor in the years since November 24, 1991. That date is etched on the heart of every Queen fan, for it marked the day the world lost Freddie Mercury. His spectre hung heavy in the air as the audience readied itself on Monday night. Would Lambert be just a pale imitation? Was it even right for the others to perform without Freddie
Bass player John Deacon certainly took that tack, retiring from the music industry in the 1990s and shunning the limelight ever since. But May and Taylor’s approach is one of proud ownership of the work created with and alongside Mercury, tempered with a deep fondness and respect for their lost friend. Lambert, it therefore had to be assumed, must have something.
The band was heartily welcomed to stage, but there was a sense of audience reticence about Lambert during the first two numbers, Now I’m Here and Stone Cold Crazy. It takes the familiar funky lick of Another One Bites the Dust to truly relax fans, and by Fat Bottomed Girls, Lambert’s brash delivery and flamboyant stage persona (complete with studded leathers and sky high quiff) have brought the audience onside.
Adam Lambert performs in Sydney. Photo: Getty
Meanwhile May has begun an evening’s worth of solos as awe-inspiring as that shock of ringlets that encircle his head like a curly halo. The solos serve the twin purposes of allowing Lambert, Taylor and/or their supporting musicians a brief respite and reminding you that May is the best damn guitarist in the entire damn universe. He doesn’t so much play the instrument as conjure notes from it, notes that gratefully explode in a perfect cascade of sound.
The simple but effective set design features an oval-shaped rig with a runway on its left-hand side, beautifully creating the letter “Q”.
Lambert returns in a gold-fringed jacket and sparkly platform shoes to explore the runway to the esoteric Seven Seas of Rhye, before finding himself on a chaise with a fan and a cheeky version of Killer Queen. It’s here where Lambert starts to make the crowd eat out of his hand. His animated face fills the big screen, all suggestive eyebrows, princess attitude and effortless high notes. Once the song finishes, Lambert chats while mopping the sweat off his brow, thanking the audience for suspending their disbelief to let him sing the music, and paying tribute to the late, great Freddie Mercury. It cements the audience’s approval: this man is not trying to be Freddie. He loves him as much as we do, he just sings better than we do at 2am karaoke.
Lambert also has the endearing habit of looking thrilled to bits every time he ends up next to May in full flight, which happens as the anthemic Somebody to Love rings out over the capacity crowd. He rampages up the scales to the falsettos like a pre-pubescent rocket, and welcomes everyone to the church of glam rock for a joyous singalong (“Find…me… somebody to love, find…me….somebody to love”). I Want It All closes out the bracket, the booming, uncompromising vocals reinforced by Taylor’s beat and May’s dextrous solo.
The mood softens, and May then takes a seat alone at the end of the runway. He declares it’s lovely to be in Australia because he feels a part of our lives for a moment, then picks out a sublime Waltzing Matilda on his acoustic guitar. May is now a noted astrophysicist, but I suspect wizardry may be involved in the spell he casts over the crowd, which sways gently and softly breaks into the lyrics. It is a magical moment, but there is an even better one to come. “Shall we sing one for Freddie?” he asks, to a roar of approval. What follows is the most tender moment of the show: May singing Love of My Life, the audience joining in, and finally archival concert footage of Mercury himself beams onto the big screen. I can’t have been the only one to notice big fat tears sploshing down my face.
Once it’s over, May lightens the mood and uses a “selfie stick” to take a video of the audience doing a wave, before bringing out Taylor and their three supporting musicians for a lesson in Einstein’s general theory of relativity, time dilation and an intimate performance of the beautifully folksy ’39.
Adam and Brian – BrisbaneTaylor then impresses with strong lead vocals on A Kind of Magic, before setting up a game of duelling drum kits with none other than his own son, Rufus Tiger Taylor, who’s been supporting on percussion all evening. Both are phenomenal, prompting one lady nearby to yell “You’ve still got it, old man!” which thankfully the elder Taylor didn’t hear.
Drums still at the front of the runway, Taylor is joined again by Lambert for Under Pressure, in which Taylor takes the David Bowie part. Those lyrics seem extra poignant sung by an older man (“It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about”), while Lambert again adds power and range.
When May asks the crowd “What do you think of the new man?”, the applause is deafening. Lambert has won them over, and launches into Dragon Attack, a song designed for strutting and flashing some style. It is, however, immediately dwarfed by the epic brilliance of Who Wants to Live Forever. Here, Lambert’s haunting vocal sends chills up the spine, and the performance possibly even betters the Mercury/May version used for the film Highlander.
The old and the new …
Adam Lambert and Brian May. Photo: Getty
The crowd is then treated to an extraordinary extended solo from Brian May called Last Horizon, which again seems to connect his mastery of music with his specialty in science. May plays up and down the neck of the guitar with no trouble, getting sound out of every fret, no pick required, just battle-hardened fingers and the alchemist’s secret knowledge of how to turn sound waves into emotional heat. It was like a message from the edge of the universe, speaking to us in a scientific musical language only our hearts understand.
Lambert dons zebra print stripes for Tie Your Mother Down, jams with the audience, then teams up again with May for a ferocious wail on I Want To Break Free.
The show is building to a crescendo now, and the entire audience is ready to sing along to the uplifting Radio Ga Ga, not to mention take part in the essential all-in overhead double clap. Then the spirit of Elvis seems present in the room when Lambert shimmies along to Crazy Little Thing Called Love, just another example of how Queen managed to transcend music styles and popular trends.
Bohemian Rhapsody is of course the official closing song, and again archival footage of Freddie singing is seamlessly weaved into the live transmission. The whole crowd headbangs at the appropriate time, and offers huge acclaim as Freddie’s face appears for the final “Any way the wind blows”.
It’s not the actual end, and of course it can only truly end one way.The audience begins the familiar stomp-stomp-clap of We Will Rock You before May returns to the stage to ramp it up, and Lambert turns leopard with a print suit and fabulous diamond crown.
We Are the Champions follows, its warm embrace giving the crowd one last group hug and confidence booster before it returns to the non-awesomeness of a life outside the Queen concert. A final bow to the electric version of God Save the Queen and it’s over.
When the ledger of great rock bands is finally balanced, Queen must surely come out in the top five. For many, Freddie, Brian, Roger and John will be number 1. It’s rare to find a band that everyone likes, with such a musically strong and well-known repertoire. It’s also rare to find a talent like Lambert, able to channel his vocal power into a respectful but not slavish interpretation of Mercury’s works. Freddie may be gone, but he would surely approve.