Queen + Adam Lambert Live In Chicago
On July 13th, 1985 rock n' roll royalty took over Wembley Stadium in London, England for Live Aid. The charity event was watched by the world as nearly a hundred artists on both sides of the Atlantic performed in the name of poverty, specifically the Ethiopian famine. The show is one of the defining moments of the modern music era, but no act that day was more powerful, dominant or downright magnificent than Queen. Freddie Mercury, John Deacon, Brian May and Roger Taylor dominated for the twenty-minutes they were onstage. The world was left in awe at Queen's mastery of the crowd and despite standout sets by Davie Bowie and U2, no one gripped the crowd with an iron fist like Queen.
Thirty-two years to the day, Queen + Adam Lambert setup shop inside Chicago's United Center. Deacon retired many years ago and after a brief stint with Paul Rodgers a decade back, Queen has been touring with Adam Lambert, of American Idol fame. This incarnation of the band toured America for the first time in 2014 and they have returned to American shores for a blistering 2-hour show that covers their entire career showcasing their catalog in a different light.
With a teasing "We Will Rock You" to open the show, the intense workout went into overdrive with "Hammer To Fall" delivering a powerful blow in a masterful display of a band reaching for the audiences jugular. The furious "Stone Cold Crazy" was an exercise for May shaking then more muscular side of the band. "Metallica" covered this song back in 1990 and chose it as the b-side to "Enter Sandman" which is easy to forget. Critics who dismissed Queen for their softer side obviously never acknowledged the fury within, notably their influence on hard rock and metal.
Adam Lambert has always been a top-tier showman and he's truly the only artist to emerge from the last quarter century to not so much step into Freddie Mercury's shoes but embody his art. He acknowledged this early in the show, "There will only be for all of time...one Freddie Mercury". Lambert was surreal in 2014 and since then he has continue to grow by leaps and bounds. On "Another One Bites the Dust" Lambert strutted and seduced the 17,000 at the United Center. You could see Lambert in 2014 acclimating himself with the Queen catalog where he delicately attacked these songs. Make no mistake; his performance was entertaining but this time out, his confidence level shows. It doesn't feel like he's trying to replace Mercury as much as finding a way to ensure the audience embraces these songs and their history. With his high ruby red heels and red hair, Lambert delivered these two-dozen songs in the most fantastic and splashy manner possible, notably on "Killer Queen" where he rose from beneath the stage on top of a mechanical head from the News of the World album cover.
"Don't Stop Me Now" and "Fat Bottomed Girls" featured incredible harmonies from the entire band alongside untouchable performances. Queen has always been a force to be reckoned with that the indivisible talents may have been overshadowed. They may have been the single most talented four-piece band ever. All four members wrote number-one singles; a feat the Beatles didn't even accomplish as a band. Several of the shows highlights were from songs not necessarily available on any Greatest Hits collection but they were every bit as viable. Drummer Roger Taylor have his pipes an exercise as he tore through "I'm in Love With My Car" amidst smoke and dizzying lights while May and Taylor challenge each other musically pushing the song to extremes and to a spectacular climax. "Get Down, Make Love" from the underrated News of the World album was aggressive and a welcomed addition to the set. The staging and imagery tapped into the bands sixth album News throughout the show. The current tour was set to focus on the album with the inclusion of "It's Late" and "Spread Your Wings", but they had been replaced after the first few shows. American music fans of Queen have always had a unique relationship with the band. I personally am guilty of not being as intimately aware of the catalog as a whole and what I've heard over the last few tours has peaked my interest and thanks I continue to dive into the entire Queen catalog. Their discography is so much more than compilations but a sprawling and magnetic body of work. One can only hope they continue to dive deeper into the catalog on future tours.
The second half of the show took the audience into emotional overdrive. Brian May sang "Love My Life" on the second stage and the chilling sing-a-long from the crowd induced tear ducts to open for many. A video of Freddie Mercury who joined May and it was a show stopping. On "Somebody To Love", the band was stripped back before Taylor made his way to the walkway to a second drum kit before his pounded away on his drum skins. Lambert barely needed to song "Love" due to the crowd making it their own and letting their voices reach the heavens. Lambert took the Elvis vibe of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" to new heights followed by bassist Neil Fairclough making his way to the walkway and started "Under Pressure" with its incandescent riff. The ending harmonies by Taylor and Lambert were almost enough to make this grown man cry. "I Want To Break Free" was playful and potent but it was "Who Wants To Live Forever" that may have been the drop-to-your-knees performance of the night. Lambert stood front and center and embodied every lyric. From its subtle beginning to the wailing guitar, arguably May's finest in their catalog, left the audience in awe. "Forever" wasn't a song performed on American radio and to this day may be best known to many of a certain age for being played by Axl Rose on the Rockline radio program two days after Mercury's death. Lambert found a way to live within the song, express the underlying emotions and allow the arrangement to make the song into an emotional tour de force rarely seen at any show.
The ending of the show with "Radio Gaga", "Bohemian Rhapsody", "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" reminded the audience these are songs that don't just stand the test of the time but still live on for most likely centuries and that's not hyperbole. My generation grew up without the ability to witness the grandeur of Queen in concert and the shows since 2014 are an opportunity to see something truly rhapsodic. Watching Roger Taylor and Brian May in concert transcends mere entertainment, because there are real emotional stakes in every note performed. There are a few brief videos of Freddie Mercury singing and playing with the audience reminding us of Mercury as a master performer who will rarely, if ever, be matched and yet these songs live on and have become even bigger in his absence.
The intensity, believability and authenticity of Queen has never been sanded away by success. They have more to lose than gain by touring. Their legacy has grown over these last few tours with Lambert because it's not part of a co-headline tour or some summer festival, but an evening focused on this brilliant band and their music. These songs, these albums and these men have weathered beautifully amidst a world that at time has been far too cruel. This was a first-rate spectacle without being gratuitous. All the technical precision in the world can't make up for a performance lacking heart and empathy and Adam Lambert, Roger Taylor, Brian May, Spike Edney (keyboards), Neil Fairclough (bass) and Tyler Warren (percussion) filled every note with soul. There is incredible discipline to what Queen brings to the stage every night. This isn't about needing to reclaim their glory days, because the truth is they never went away. May and Taylor have to deliver these songs each night with a heavy heart and this is part of what makes the show work. The audience is able to tap into that loss and celebrate Mercury's life while simultaneously celebrating the here-and-now with every note sung. Some artists ground us and help us make better sense of our lives, but the music of Queen makes us realize its grand potentials. They don't merely whisk us past monuments of beauty they place us face-to-face with the potential of what we can accomplish. The iron fist from Live Aid has been replaced with heart, soul and sweet musical salvation.
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
Chicago setlist for 7/13/17
We Will Rock You
Hammer to Fall
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites the Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
Don't Stop Me Now
I'm in Love With My Car
Get Down, Make Love
I Want It All
Love of My Life
Somebody to Love
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
I Want to Break Free
Who Wants to Live Forever
Radio Ga Ga
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions
Queen + Adam Lambert Live In Chicago