So my feelings tonight are nothing, if not mixed. Mostly I just hope the show does Freddie justice. I watched American Idol the year Adam Lambert was runner-up and remember being engrossed by him every week. His voice. His swagger. The fact he was utterly different to everyone else in the competition and yet had the self-confidence to not only be himself but to push the boundaries every week and do things the show had never seen before.
So I’m confident if anyone can fill the flamboyant, fabulous shoes of Mr Mercury, Adam Lambert is the man.
The crowd is in for a treat as there’s an early start with no support act, meaning a longer headline performance. As the familiar sound of We Will Rock You fills the arena thousands of hands are instantly raised in the air and an unexpected feeling of immediate joy surrounds me. The fact is, after all this time, and after the untimely, tragic death of one of the most beloved performers in history, people still love and adore Queen and are here to party, and pay tribute.
The few bars of We Will Rock You give way to the opening song of the night, Hammer To Fall. The appearance of Brian May and Roger Taylor inspires roars of appreciation and Adam Lambert is no less well received. He tears into the show, full of rock star flamboyance and camp innuendo, but the key thing to note is this: he has the voice to back it up. It’s a gift from the gods as he hits notes that would shatter glass and never misses a step.
It’s soon clear this is going to be a show full of hits as they go from Stone Cold Crazy to Tie Your Mother Down and Another One Bites the Dust. Lambert and May take turns in the spotlight, on a stage that features an extended section that cuts the standing crowd entirely in two, stretching all the way to the front row of the seats, where Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot and Rick Savage sit watching.
Fat Bottomed Girls is such a fun song, and the crowd is singing along with every word. Killer Queen is next before a little bit of pure theatre as Adam rises through a trapdoor in the stage in a pink suit with sequinned flowers, and massive platform boots, perched on top of a giant model of Frank, the head from the News of the World album cover.
The innuendo continues as he comments that Frank is right up his ass but gives good head. He then officially introduces May and Taylor to the crowd, sparking cheers and applause that go on for a really long time. Every time it seems to die a little there’s a new surge and the cheers continue a bit longer. Roger looks suitably pleased but Brian May looks quite emotional, like even after all this time he still can’t quite take in how his life has turned out. The fact the previous day marked the twenty-sixth anniversary of Freddie’s death probably wasn’t far from their minds either.
At this point, Adam makes his most important move of the evening. He tells the crowd he’s well aware that a lot of them are thinking he’s not Freddie and therefore has no business here. His response? “Well holy shit, I know I’m not Freddie. There’s only one rock god Freddie Mercury. But when Brian and Roger ask you to do this, it’s an honour and a privilege and you say yes.” So he asks the crowd, can we just celebrate Freddie and Queen together. It’s a genius move, that shuts down the naysayers and brings everyone together in united love of the music.
This leads to Don’t Stop Me Now and Bicycle Race, during which Adam climbs onto a pink tricycle that appears on stage through the trapdoor. It’s pure theatre and has the whole crowd laughing and joining in. Time next for Roger Taylor to take his moment in the sun, taking the vocal lead on I’m in Love with my Car. He’s rejoined by Adam and Brian for Get Down Make Love and I Want it All before a special moment led by Brian.
His acoustic rendition of Love of My Life is mostly led by the crowd until just before the end when a bit of camera trickery with the screen sees Freddie join Brian on stage to finish the song. As it ends Freddie turns and walks off into the ether, leaving Brian alone. A chant of ‘Freddie, Freddie’ rings around the arena.
Twenty-six years gone, but most definitely not forgotten. A nice touch from Brian comes next as he produces a selfie stick and images of himself with the entire crowd are projected onto the screens. The hits just keep on coming, with Somebody to Love and Crazy Little Thing Called Love, before a second drum kit appears via the trapdoor for Roger to take part in a drum battle with band drummer Tyler Warren, who Roger says is very good. “Maybe a little too good.”
Under Pressure follows, then Brian and Roger take centre stage as Roger provides vocals on It’s a Kind of Magic before Adam rejoins them for I Want to Break Free. He’s had several, progressively more flamboyant, costume changes by this point and if he’d appeared in a skirt with a hoover I wouldn’t have been surprised. The next track sees the first break from Queen songs of the night, as they perform Whataya Want From Me? a track was written by Pink and recorded by Adam for his 2009 debut album For Your Entertainment.
The lighting rig for the gig has been incredible, dipping and tilting to direct lights exactly where they’re wanted, with a huge wraparound screen capturing all the action as well as giving us video clips of Freddie and special effects throughout.
It really comes into its own over the next few songs, with rainbow coloured lasers lighting up the arena during a beautiful performance of one of my own favourite Queen songs. Who can listen to Who Wants to Live Forever without a tear in their eye? There’s barely a dry eye in the house as the performance ends with Adam sinking through the trapdoor, lit only by a single spotlight. It’s as stunning visually as it is aurally.
The stage mechanics and wraparound screen now give us some amazing trickery as a hydraulic platform lifts Brian high into the air, the screen giving us the effect of a giant mechanical hand belonging to Frank lifting him. He gives us a medley of songs, Last Horizon from his solo album Back to the Light, which segues into Molly Malone and Brighton Rock. As he finishes the lasers light the place up again as hands shoot back into the air to take part in the ubiquitous hand claps throughout Radio Gaga.
Closing the show Adam leads a mass singalong, including the original video footage, of Bohemian Rhapsody, as Brian appears back on stage in flared trousers and cape, the white hair the only clue that over forty years have passed. As the song ends and the band leaves the stage there’s still a huge sense of excitement around the venue, the crowd knowing there’s a bit more to come.
All of a sudden the huge screen lights up again, and we’re joined by Freddie. It’s a clip from their legendary performance at Wembley where Freddie leads the audience in a bit of “ayo” participation.
The crowd joins in as enthusiastically as the original Wembley crowd; matching Freddie note for note he finishes with, “fuck you,” and disappears.
The band returns for the encore, Adam now resplendent dressed head to toe in silver, topped with a silver and diamond encrusted crown. Freddie paved the way for lead singers. Adam Lambert invokes his true spirit. He is outrageous, flamboyant, magnetic, and most of all has a phenomenal talent.
Brian May and Roger Taylor struck gold when they invited him to join them, and they must see a part of Freddie in him every night of the tour. The show closes with We Will Rock You and We are the Champions. The crowd, even in the seated section, is on its feet waving, dancing, cheering, singing, and generally inspired to demonstrate the sheer joy this music brings. Queen may have lost their Freddie, the world lost a legend, but in his music, and thanks to the determination of Brian and Roger to keep Queen going, and the reincarnation of so much of Freddie’s talent in Adam Lambert, this was a show never, ever to be forgotten. 5/5
Photography – Down The Barrel Photography © 2017 exclusively for www.overdrive.ie