THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Queen + Adam Lambert’s Hollywood Bowl set a fitting tribute to Freddie Mercury
27 June 2017 by Philip Cosores
“American Idol” alumnus Adam Lambert peforming as vocalist for Queen at the Hollywood Bowl on Monday night. (Photo by Philip Cosores, Contributing Photographer)
“I’m not Freddie Mercury,” Adam Lambert told the audience early into his two-hour, sold-out performance as frontman for Queen at the Hollywood Bowl on Monday night. “I’m just a fan like you guys.”
It was part of an apologetic speech aimed at softening the unavoidable comparisons likely flooding the minds of thousands beginning with the concert’s first notes.
Sure, Lambert has a great voice that can often match Mercury’s most reaching vocal acrobatics, but of course he can’t equal the spirit that made Mercury one of rock’s all-time great frontmen. No one can. That talent was lost when Mercury died in 1991.
But Queen + Adam Lambert is a different beast, more of a tribute to the music of the iconic theatrical rock group than an attempt at imitation, even with two of Queen’s original members, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, in tow. It’s the Broadway revival version of the famed band. It’s “Queen: The Musical.”
The partnership that began as a one-off while Lambert was still a contestant on “American Idol” in 2009, slowly expanded to occasional shows and eventually a proper tour by 2012. Now on the latest run, which included a second Bowl appearance Tuesday, the set is already silky smooth in its execution.
That can work both for and against Queen. Early on, during an opening run of “We Will Rock You,” “Hammer to Fall” and “Stone Cold Crazy,” Lambert and May came across as overly rehearsed, hitting their marks as they strolled the catwalk but losing a little of the music’s inner spirit. It wasn’t until the aforementioned speech that a sort of relaxation fell over the band, and the moments of kitschy spectacle (like Lambert riding a bicycle around the stage during “Bicycle Race”) were replaced by something more organic.
This included both original members of Queen getting their time in the spotlight. Taylor took a stab at lead vocals on “I’m in Love With My Car,” a song he originally penned and sang on 1975’s “A Night at the Opera.” Along with his drum battle with touring auxiliary percussionist Tyler Warren and handling David Bowie’s part in “Under Pressure,” Taylor proved to be a secret weapon, injecting his moments with swagger and surprising capability, his charmingly imperfect voice infusing the performance with humanity.
May, on the other hand, offered the evening’s most memorable moments. In the middle of the set, he made his way onto the catwalk, armed with an acoustic guitar and a chair. “I love this city so much and I love this place,” he told the crowd. “It breathes life into me.” He then encouraged the audience to help him sing “Love of My Life,” with a video of Mercury projected onto the screen for the song’s conclusion. May even used the opportunity to take a video selfie with the crowd, giving a modern touch to an evening that could have been lodged firmly in the past.
That’s not to say Lambert didn’t have his moments. “I Want It All” was particularly effective for the singer because he could curtail his theater kid tendencies and embrace his role as a genuine rocker. Late-set standout “Radio Ga Ga” found Lambert at his most comfortable, enough that the audience joined in for one of the biggest participation responses of the night.
Comparisons are indeed unavoidable, and perhaps a bit unfair, as Lambert tries to replace who many consider to be the greatest singer of all time. But Queen and Lambert know the songs deserve to live on, and the joy that the set brought on Monday stands as proof that they’re right.