Photos by Janine Van Oostrom.
Despite being almost forty-five minutes late there was a wondrous excitement in the air as Queen + Adam Lambert were to come out. Queen currently only subsists of two original members guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor (the other two former members of the band, lead singer Freddie Mercury passed away in 1991 and bassist John Deacon who essentially all but retired from music after Mercury’s passing). Adam Lambert is most famous for being the runner up on the 8th season of American Idol (behind someone apparently named Kris Allen), but for the last six years has been fronting the current iteration of Queen after taking over for Paul Rodgers, the former front man of Bad Company.
The show was mostly a greatest hits night with occasional interludes of older tracks. While Queen certainly has the discography for a greatest hits set, the audience seemed to only be interested in singing along with the biggest hits and were mostly ambivalent to the lesser known cuts. After starting out with the riff for We Will Rock You that lead into two lesser know songs off of their albums Sheer Heart Attack and The Works they kicked the show into high gear with the first proper hit song of the night, Another One Bites The Dust. The thick and very familiar bass line bounced around the Air Canada Centre as people earnestly started dancing around.
Lambert, when first announced as the replacement front man of Queen drew ire from the classic rock fans since he was only known as the young American Idol contestant. Unlike the previous substitute front man in Paul Rodgers, who had a classic rock background and a similar enough fan base, Lambert seemed to be an odd choice. But in reality he makes more sense, Queen and more importantly Freddie Mercury was one of the first gay rock icons and despite his flamboyance was seen as the everyman before gay acceptance was a common thing. Lambert never shied away from his activism in the LGBT community while also never compromising his flamboyance to seem more palatable to middle America, making him an ideal replacement for Rodgers. Lambert also is able to bring in younger fans to the Queen brand that may not have identified with the one of yore.
The first real sing along song was Fat Bottomed Girls, an ironic song that was written by May and sung on tape and live on this evening by two gay men. Lambert knew he wasn’t Mercury and thankfully didn’t try to be him. He sung the songs in his own vocal register, rarely going for the super high notes and instead sustained them instead of letting them trail off into high soprano range. In Fat Bottomed Girls he sang with a southern drawl while late in the show during Crazy Little Thing Called Love he had an Elvis twang affect. At the end of the song he even included some Elvis the Pelvis dance moves proving that it was a deliberate choice to sound like the King while performing as Queen.
While Lambert spent most of the night strutting around in leather outfits and purple suits, he was at his most gloriously campy during Killer Queen, perhaps the most flamboyant song in Queen’s discography. He took a moment to let the audience properly applaud the main reason for coming out as he introduced May and Taylor as they got long standing ovations after Lambert talked about how he was their biggest fan and was just lucky enough to have the most expensive ticket in the venue and see them perform every night. He addressed the “giant pink elephant” in the room by letting the crowd know he wasn’t there to replace Mercury, as that was beyond impossible and claimed to be an even bigger fan of the man and his band mates than any of the diehards in the audience.
Lambert got a chance to play a song of his own, Two Fux, which came out this year and was the most Mercury like in delivery compared to every other song performed. Queen sounded in vintage form backing him evoking a song that easily could have appeared on their poppier records. The band teased the crowd by inserting an achingly long pause in the intro of Don’t Stop Me Know right before the titular words and beat change comes in showing their playfulness.
Midway through the show Brian May went to the front of the guitar shaped stage and played an acoustic rendition of Love of My Life from 1975’s A Night At The Opera. At the end of the song the giant screens flashed a 1986 era yellow leather jacket clad Freddie Mercury who sang the last verse in a very touching duet. Between Lambert clearing the air early on and May’s hologram duet, that would have been plenty enough of acknowledging the past and paying homage to it. Sadly every time you finally got used to Lambert and his takes on the music another Mercury montage or vocal appearance by the late great singer appeared. It wasn’t Lambert’s fault that he wasn’t Mercury; in fact his performance was stunning, if on the touch reserved side of things and Freddie was Freddie, one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. It was just hard to get past the ever-increasing reminders of the past.
Hits like Somebody to Love, the David Bowie duet Under Pressure, I Want To Break Free and Radio Ga Ga (yes that is the song that inspired Stephanie Germanotta to take the stage name Lady Gaga) all were performed showcasing the band’s deep well. To end the main set the band performed their most famous song Bohemian Rhapsody, although it was more of a karaoke song for the fans to sing than for the band to perform as they all left the stage during the Galileo portion allowing the music video to entertain the crowd instead.
For the encore the band performed two of their bigger hits in We Will Rock You with it’s blistering guitar solo more than making up for the cheeseball lyrics and We Are The Champions. At the end of the show a mountain of yellow confetti was shot over the crowd and the band took their bows while God Save the Queen blared over the PA system. The show was mostly for the older fans that probably didn’t get the chance to see the band in its heyday, but still desperately wanted to sing along to their most famous songs. The show is exciting with its high-end production and charismatic personality of the current front man and certainly worth the six plus years partnership.