Queen + Adam Lambert Tour Opening Night
When Freddie Mercury passed away in 1991, I assumed it meant the end of Queen. Obviously, Freddie's physical presence was no longer with us, but as evidenced at the opening night of the Queen + Adam Lambert world tour in Chicago, his spirit reigns over the crowd like never before. For just under two-hours, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor delivered a greatest-hits set designed to pummel led by raging riffs that took center stage. Queen has always had a peculiar relationship with America. The last time they toured here with Mercury was 1982 (in a suburb) and the last time Queen played Chicago-proper was December 7, 1978 at the Chicago Stadium. The United Center now stands in its place and it was a homecoming of sorts with the band not just staking their claim to the throne of rock n' roll but also introducing a flashy and fierce performer who helped bring these hymns to the masses; Adam Lambert. On paper, Lambert looks like a bit of a Mercury clone with his flamboyancy, but there's so much more to him than the naysayers know about. He knows there's no replacing Mercury, but there's no denying he's a musical descendant of Mercury. But would it work onstage? Could the two remaining members of Queen (bassist John Deacon retired in 1997) bring these classics to an audience who is hungry for them without soiling their memories? I am thrilled to report that with a mixture of impassioned musicianship, a crowd charged with brazen enthusiasm and a catalog that is only matched by a handful, this tour serves Queen and their legacy with purpose and pride.
A massive curtain with the Queen's logo covered the stage, you could feel the anticipation in the air in the moments before it dropped unveiling the band. Opening the show with "Now I'm Here", the crowd leapt to their feet and stayed there for the majority of their two-hour show. There was a minor snafu with Adam Lambert's microphone going out, but being a true professional, he simply moved across the stage to a back-up microphone and continued as if nothing had happened. I mention it only to show how well they recovered. If Lambert had arrived onstage on a motorcycle he could have been mistaken for Rob Halford circa 1990. Dressed in black leather and studs, Lambert complimented these songs in his own way. As good as Lambert was, the curly silver-haired guitarist, Brian May, continually stole the show song-after-song. During the night's second song, "Stone Cold Crazy", May unleashed his musical muscle on his Red Special guitar in such a manner it was hard to not get emotional over seeing him onstage playing these songs. Reaching back to the past in what seems like a bottomless reservoir, May continually thrust his magic through his fingers where it spilled out into the audience. Since 1990, I've had a hard time hearing "Stone Cold Crazy" without the Metallica version in my head, but tonight, May took it back and with infinite spirals of guitar wizardry, he continually left the Chicago audience is mouth-gaping awe. Drummer Roger Taylor provided a sense of urgency to his dynamic pounding behind the kit. Despite being in his sixties, "Stone Cold Crazy", "I Want It All", "Under Pressure" (for which he provided the Bowie harmonies) and "Tie Your Mother Down" were every bit as thunderous as you could hope for. He let his son take over the kit so he could sing the emotional "These Are the Days of Our Lives" which was the final video he band shot with Mercury in 1991.
I always knew Adam Lambert had to goods to be a great performer and front man, but could he pull of these songs with this band? Early in the show on "Another One Bites the Dust", he roamed to the front of the stage and immediately engaged the crowd for a call-and-response. During the trio of "In the Lap of the Gods... Revisited" the unbelievable "Seven Seas of Rhye" and a delicious "Killer Queen" Lambert found his groove. This is where he became less self-conscious and started embracing his inner rock God. He can command a stage like the best veterans and even though he is singing songs that are not his, it didn't stop him from pouring every ounce if his being into it all. He's playful, a tease, but he always took the music seriously. Musically the set is veers heavy on hits. This didn't seem to bother any of the 17,000 in attendance. Nearly twice as many people paid to see Queen + Paul Rogers in 2006. Ticket demand was so high that the arena opened up semi-obstructed seats behind the soundboard and next to the stage to fill demand. I've always said that you can tell ticket demand for a show when these sections are sold. Among the highlights were "I Want It All" and "The Show Must Go On" from their latter records, The Miracle and Innuendo. For a reason I can't exactly pinpoint I went on a Queen kick earlier this year. What this means is I listen to every record, begin reading biographies and get my hands on anything I could. Growing up in America, there was a time when Queen did not have a label in America, so their entire catalog was out-of-print until 1992 and since Queen stopped touring here in 1992, their records in the US came and went within a month. However, what struck me was the musical maturity on The Miracle and Innuendo, two records that were written and recorded when the band knew Mercury would not be with them forever. This awareness permeates the records in a way no one could have foreseen. More shocking is the masterpiece Made in Heaven, which was largely recorded after Mercury's death. "I Want It All" and "The Show Must Go On" despite being from records the band didn't tour behind were fist-pumping highlights.
The main stage featured a circular screen, lasers, lights and smoke but it was the mini stage that featured some of the night's finest and most intimate moments. May tackled "Love of My Life" alone with an acoustic guitar but before the song could finish the screen featured Freddie Mercury singing the song. It was almost too much to bear. Moments like these make you wish you could have seen a sixty-something Mercury creating music and what it would sound like. May continued with a stunning rendition of "'39" from A Night at the Opera which feature the band joining him on the smaller stage upfront. Roger Taylor took his turn with a dueling drum solo with his son, Rufus Tiger Taylor. As the band gathered around Taylor and his kit, they launched into a drop-to-your-knees version of "Under Pressure" where Taylor and Lambert gleefully traded lyrical barbs as the audience hung on their every word. Following it was a new Queen song, "Love Kills" which will see a release later this year on a compilation album entitled Queen Forever. "Love Kills" was originally a Mercury solo single, but it's been recorded by the band in order to make it a Queen number (much like some of the material on Made In Heaven). Lambert was especially heartrending in his stoic delivery of the song.
Back on the main stage, Lambert wrung every drop of humanity from within on "Who Wants To Live Forever" with May pairing arena bombast with gripping despair. The band was accentuated by lasers and a disco ball, which descended upon the mini stage where Lambert and May touchingly brought to song to its climax in a moment I won't soon forget. The first time I ever heard the song was on Rockline two days after Mercury passed in 1991 when Axl Rose was the featured guest. He was so moved and inspired by Mercury that he asked the host to play this song. Inside the walls of the United Center, Queen tapped into the emotional core of the song in a way I never imagined. It was during this moment when Lambert wholly won me over. He's not Freddie Mercury and he's not trying to imitate him, but he captures his soul, his talent and his drive to inspire people. In the end, Lambert is deserving of not just your time and money, but your emotions as well. For the final thirty-minutes, the band hit one home run after another with the Godzilla sized hits "Tie Your Mother Down", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", "Bohemian Rhapsody" (with video of Mercury singing the second verse), "We Will Rock You" and the rousing finale of "We Are the Champions". Each one of these hits was like a lightning bolt to the crowd, but "Radio Gaga" that left me an emotional mess.
"Radio Gaga" was one of the last Queen singles to chart here in America and they never toured behind The Works, so here we are thirty-years later and watching 17,000 hands clap in unison during the chorus gave me a chill up my back, goose bumps on my arms and watery eyes. Written by drummer Roger Taylor as a song how television overtook the radio that used to be the prime form of entertainment prior to the tube, it takes on a bit of twisted irony today considering how much has replaced music as a form as entertainment. As Lambert belted the song with all his might, he encouraged the crowd to raise their arms to the sky, which they did. The Mercury descendant commanded the audience like an arena pro eliciting responses he could only dream about a few years ago. For Roger Taylor and Brian May, this is something else; it is home. The concert stage is a sacred place they had to leave before their time was up. As the crowd watched Queen and Lambert embody this song they followed their lead and reached for the skies. Some of us lifted our arms to keep the beat, others to feel alive and free for a few fleeting moments but the majority lifted our arms in the hopes Mercury would see our signal above letting him know that "someone still loves you". This is the quintessence of Queen and its heart is still beating loud and proud. It may be too much for you to bear to hear these songs sung by someone other than Mercury, but I hope you brave it, because Queen + Adam Lambert is pure majesty.
Queen + Adam Lambert Set list at United Center in Chicago
(All songs sung by Adam Lambert except ****)
Now I'm Here
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites the Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
In the Lap of the Gods...Revisited
Seven Seas of Rhye
Somebody to Love
I Want It All
Love of My Life****(Brian May)
'39**** (Brian May)
These Are the Days of Our Lives**** (Roger Taylor)
Under Pressure (Taylor and Lambert)
Who Wants to Live Forever
The Last Horizon
Tie Your Mother Down
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
The Show Must Go On
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions
Photos in this review by Neal Preston
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Queen + Adam Lambert Tour Opening Night