By Chuck Cox
In the summer of 1980, I just about wore out Queen‘s The Game album. Not only did it have two monster hits in “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” but it was one of the few albums, at the time, I truly loved from start to finish.
I was 11. And I fully understood even then that Queen is rock and roll royalty.
With brash singer Freddie Mercury, amazing guitarist Brian May and the fantastic rhythm section of bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor, Queen was pretty much the perfect band.
Fully realizing seeing Queen without Mercury, who died in 1991, would not really be like seeing the band I have loved for so many years, I was still excited for Thursday night’s American Airlines Center show with Adam Lambert handling the role of lead singer.
After all, May and Taylor are both still in the band, which has toured only once since Mercury’s passing. That tour was in 2005-06 with Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company) signing. I didn’t get to see that incarnation of the band. And even though Rodgers is a great singer, him with Queen seemed to me like a weird fit to me.
Lambert is another story. In several ways, he is a much more logical choice to front Queen. In addition to matching Mercury with the flamboyance, the former American Idol contestant has some seriously powerful pipes and big-time range, which is a nice bonus.
After a slow start, Lambert really relished the role. He camped it up throughout most of the evening, lounging on a couch and rolling his eyes at May on the small stage, spitting champagne at some of the crowd, making several costume changes and even taking a selfie with a fan.
Although his vocals were spot-on throughout the night, he seemed really into some songs and not so much into others. But the moments when he dug deep were pretty spectacular. Lambert and Taylor handling the vocals for David Bowie and Mercury on “Under Pressure” was nothing short of fantastic — one of the definite highlights of the two-plus-hour show.
I fully realized going in Lambert was facing an uphill battle. But he did a great job of embracing that knowledge and putting his own spin on things that worked more often than not. He even donned a crown late in the show. Lambert didn’t try to be Mercury. Rather, he paid homage while doing his own thing in a big, arena setting. And when he told the crowd he still couldn’t believe he was singing with Queen, I bought what he was saying.
As expected, May blew me away. Finally getting to hear him play live was well worth the price of admission. When he hit that guitar solo on “We Will Rock You,” it was almost a religious experience for me. May also did some singing, including a nice turn on “Love of My Life,” during which video images of Mercury made their first appearance of the night on the giant screen at the back of the stage.
He did that song on the smaller stage that was near the middle of the floor. May was joined by Taylor and several other musicians, including Taylor’s son, Rufus, for “’39.” Then, Taylor took his turn on vocals with “These Are the Days of Our Lives.”
That was followed by a bass solo and a “drum battle” between Taylor and his son. It was an interesting part of the show, considering Lambert was off stage completely for a good 20-25 minutes. He finally came back out for “Under Pressure.”
After two more songs, May played an amazing guitar solo that was way, way too long. It had to have been longer than 10 minutes. I felt like I turned 46 during it. As much as I love May, it was total overkill.
That led to the home stretch, which included “Tie Your Mother Down,” “Radio Ga Ga,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “The Show Must Go On,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and encores “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.”
I thought Lambert was great on all of those songs, including a sort of “duet” with Mercury on “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
When it was all said and done, I’m not sure seeing Queen was exactly what I expected. But I couldn’t be happier I finally got to hear some of the songs I’ve loved almost my entire life played live by a couple of guys who originally played them. Not bad for a Thursday night.