Queen + Adam Lambert Deliver Hits & Deep Cuts to a Fanatical Crowd at United Center; Chicago, IL, August 9th, 2019
When I wrote about Queen + Adam Lambert after their 2014 concert, I said the show was "pure majesty", but I had no way to prophesize five years into the future when the band would still be touring and playing to the most zealous crowds of their career. Having seen all three American tours in the last five years, Friday night's stop in Chicago was the brashest and most powerful of the three. Looking over the set lists from previous tours, while there are slight differences, the core set has largely remained the same, so what made this performance so blistering? Having an Oscar winning motion picture, Bohemian Rhapsody, about the band that grossed $903-million helped. The crowd engagement far exceeded the previous tours and Queen + Adam Lambert was light years ahead of their classic rock counterparts. From the moment the lights went out until the tape of "God Save the Queen" blasted throughout the arena speakers, Queen and Lambert owned the Chicago crowd where band and fan broke bread over arguably the greatest singles catalog of the rock era.
Opening with "Now I'm Here" Adam Lambert, Brian May and Roger Taylor made a dramatic entrance going for the jugular right from the get-go. In quick succession, they performed "Seven Seas of Rhye", "Keep Yourself Alive" & "Hammer to Fall". Watching Lambert interact with May on "Keep Yourself Alive", it became evident the audience was experiencing these songs in a completely different manner than ever before. There was an amplified concentration to the show, with a groundswell of roars and emotions coming from the crowd pushing the band to new bold heights. "Hammer To Fall" solidified that bond with a lofty performance accentuated by May's sledgehammer riff and Taylor's two fisted bludgeoning of drum kit. Audience reactions can make or break a show and as many classic rock acts age, so do their audiences, but Queen's resurgence has brought in an entirely new generation of fans and their energy was felt throughout.
Adam Lambert was in top form during the 135-minute performance. Always a flashy entertainer, there was a burgeoning coolness to this latest tour. He knows these songs well enough to allow him to reach to the furthest extent of the audience to bond the fan with the band. On "Killer Queen", Lambert was in his element sitting on Spike Edney's piano with an eye-winking flamboyancy no other living performer could pull off. Lambert announced early in the show how no one could ever replace Freddie Mercury, but what Lambert has been able to do is be the perfect foil for Taylor and May to keep these songs alive. Lambert slid in perfectly on nearly every song and on some, he left the crowd speechless. "Who Wants To Live Forever" featured Lambert casting a spell none of the 17,000 in attendance wanted to end. It may not ne Queen's most popular song, but it is living proof Lambert is able to keep this legacy alive.
The 27-song set list was one gargantuan Godzilla-like anthem after another and even the deep cuts and slower songs brought the audience to the brink of ecstasy. "Don't Stop Me Now", especially the mid-song breakdown, tore the walls of the United Center down while on "Somebody To Love" you could feel the ground shake in a thunderous manner before the final hand-clapping reprise highlighted by Taylor's punctual drums. Neil Fairclough's bass on "Another One Bites the Dust" slithered while Lambert cued up his best Elvis impression for "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" on the b-stage. "I Want It All" found Lambert throwing himself into every note while May's guitar solo and Taylor's lashing drums pushed the song to new heights.
The evening's most emotional moment came with Brian May alone on stage as he made his way to the tip of the b-stage where he told the crowd, "We want the audience to be part of our show". May began performing "Love of My Life" which found him surrounded by 17,000 cell phone lights. The crowd sung along to every last word of "Love of My Life" and let out a deafening roar when Mercury appeared on a screen to finish the song. At the song's conclusion, he commented, ""I think this is the light the world needs right now". The enthusiasm spilled over into the next song, "'39" a splendid time travel folk song that had the crowd clapping throughout. "In the Lap of the Gods... Revisited", "I'm in Love With My Car" and "Doing All Right" were all deep cuts that resonated deeper than anyone could have imagined. The monster box office of Bohemian Rhapsody has given the band new legs; the types of legs where they can get away with anything. Every song Queen performed took on a new light through the filter of the film.
The staging was enormous yet engaging. With a walkway above Taylor's drum kit, Lambert was able to strut and interact with the fans inside the opera boxes against the screen of the stage. The b-stage with a long ramp went halfway into the audience and a circular screen that hung above the audience, which appeared as a crown at the start of the show, ensured everyone in the nosebleeds could see the action up-close. A disco ball appeared for the jaunty "I Want To Break Free" which Lambert relished while "Fat Bottomed Girls" featured the band at their arena rock best and the bittersweet rhythm of "Under Pressure" found Taylor and Lambert in a conjoined vocal full of opulent textural variations that evoked the spirits of both Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. If all this wasn't enough the synth opening and shuffling rhythm of "Radio Gaga" threw the audience into overdrive. As "Bohemian Rhapsody", "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" reverberated throughout the arena, it was the synth rocker that flooded the emotions of the crowd. "Gaga" contains a classical elegance with a perfect blend of instrumentation that isn't just gentle, but it encapsulates everything Queen does well while pivoting the band towards a stirring finale. Listen to the simple Brian May guitar solo, the way the chords descend, it almost as if he makes his guitar weep as the duteous rhythm etches itself into our mind. Lambert reached out, arms stretched reaching for the heavens, for every fan and for the spirit of Freddie and as the chorus came to life, 17,000 Chicagoans clapped their hands in unison for a call-and-response with the fans that has no peer. It was nothing short of glorious.
On previous tours, the audience used the concerts as a way to remediate the pain of Mercury's untimely passing while championing Queen's legacy, but the 2019 The Rhapsody Tour is all about celebrating that life and in turn, allowing us to stand back and celebrate as well. Queen + Adam Lambert are making the heart of these songs beat brightly while proving once and for all that the Queen catalog is ageless, forever young and majestic.
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 has seen over 1,000 concerts in his life, has far too many CD's and has covered Lollapalooza in-depth for seven years. He can be contacted at tonykAT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Photos by Jake Warkel
Queen + Adam Lambert Pure Majesty Live In Chicago
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