Foremost on the mind of many people who have not seen this tour is, “How could anyone replace Freddie?” No one can, of course, but Adam Lambert does perhaps as good a job as anyone could in paying tribute to Mr. Mercury, without being accused of imitating him.
The band dove into “Seven Seas of Rhye” as the first number of the night, perhaps to appease hardcore fans, and perhaps to assure everyone that this would not be a “greatest hits cash-in.” Adam Lambert adhered faithfully to Freddie Mercury’s vocal tones and delivery, prancing about the stage in black neo-bondage gear and a black visor that covered most of his face; ostensibly asking the audience to focus on his voice rather than his visage. The rest of the band rocked out while dressed in matching black, and sporting black shades. A gigantic Q-shaped sign with a screen as its center, surrounded in lights, occupied the arrière-plan of center stage, flanked on either side by a rectangular screen, with two more offstage.
As the two remaining members of Queen and their backing musicians tore into “Hammer to Fall,” Lambert continued to deliver Freddie’s vocal lines rather flawlessly, without overtly mimicking them, and he traded his visor for a pair of regular sunglasses. Roger Taylor kept his shades on throughout the show, while Brian May lost his. May smiled glowingly at the audience, as the intensity of each song grew, his guitar tone remaining an almost patent-perfect copy of the original from decades past, though perhaps slightly metallicized.
As these rock’n’roll veterans and their young ally dove into “Fat Bottomed Girls,” Brian May brought 21st century toys into play, in the form of a fretboard cam – wowing the crowd via large screens behind the stage – as well as drone-cam footage. His guitar solos seemed longer than when Freddie was alive, but this slight indulgence was met with gratitude, especially in Mercury’s absence. “On Don’t Stop Me Now,” Lambert changed into a black lingerie-style top and delivered slight variations on the traditional melodies. May himself dished out his guitar lines as if he was demonstrating a historical event in which he took part. A point of contention in the performance of this particular song could be that although Freddie (as he admitted in interviews) “played a macho man” on stage, Adam flaunted his own “Queenish-ness.”
However, while this may seem like an affront to some fans, it is much more welcome that mimicry would be. It is also quite possibly where Freddie – the consummate showman – might have taken things himself, were he still alive today. Continuing along the same lines, Mr. Lambert strode the stage fanning himself with a black Victorian-style hand fan, during the intro to “Killer Queen.” Mercury himself was constantly referenced, and presented on video screens.
Leading the audience into “Somebody to Love,” Adam Lambert asked the crowd if they would be willing to help him celebrate Freddie. As an enthusiastic roar emerged from the crowd, Adam went on to explain that Freddie was all about “love.” so he’d like them to help him sing the next song, as a tribute to Freddie’s love. As May introduced “Love of My Life,” he told the audience that if they all sang this song very well with him, something magical might happen. And, in the end, Freddie sang along to the last few lines, as video footage on the “Q” screen. And, as usual, Freddie was up on the center screen during “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Brian May also did his tasteful part in keeping the magic of the past alive, performing in a silver jumpsuit with flared sleeves during a solo on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and then donning a Flash Gordon T-shirt for the last encore of the night. Nonetheless, far from being a show based entirely on nostalgia, many new elements were introduced to keep things fresh. During one guitar solo, May was lifted to the center of the Q sign by a narrow pillar, while the screen behind him played footage of the night sky, giving the illusion of the guitar hero soloing while suspended in outer space.
Also, while wanting to remain faithful to Freddie Mercury’s vocal visions, Adam Lambert also pulled some of Freddie’s influence and peers out of the hat – singing a bit more like Michael Jackson on “Another One Bites the Dust,” and a bit more like Elvis on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” In addition, rather than doing vocal exercises with the audience in between songs – as Freddie did – Lambert chose to do them during the breakdown of one particular song, and presented much more complex ones than Freddie did. For any fan who believes that some Queen is better than none, this concert served as a finely-tuned instrument, delivering the best possible package. As the final encore of the night came to a close, the band took their bows, they bombarded the audience with gold tinsel, and only purists could have been disappointed.
Main image: E.H. Tiernan