For those who have spent the past eight years harrumphing that an Adam Lambert-fronted Queen is a glorified cover band, well, get over it.
This is a partnership to be celebrated because it works to perfection, but, more importantly, because Freddie Mercury would have found a kindred spirit in the supremely talented Lambert.
On Thursday night, the “Rhapsody” tour – so named to connect with not only one of the band’s most recognizable anthems, but the Queen resurgence that stemmed from the worldwide movie smash, “Bohemian Rhapsody” – visited Atlanta at a sold-out State Farm Arena.
This is the first time the Lambert-led incarnation of the band played the market and their third tour together. The 12,000-plus fans greeted Lambert feverishly, but saved their loudest whoops for original Queens, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor.
The 25-date North American leg ends Friday in Charlotte - the lasers and sequins will be resurrected in early 2020 for a lap around Asia, New Zealand and Australia – but there wasn’t a molecule of tiredness on stage as the three key figures and additional trio of musicians romped through two hours of Queen’s diverse catalog.
Lambert, 37, changed outfits several times during the show, but kicked off the glam-rock-a-thon in gold embroidery and black ruffles, pasting his operatic vocals all over the opening “Now I’m Here.” May, with his signature pouf of ash-colored hair, tossed out serrated licks during “Hammer to Fall,” the most ostentatious thing about him the shimmer of his shirt, while Taylor, ensconced in a circle of cymbals and tom toms, effortlessly flicked his sticks to “Keep Yourself Alive.”
At 72 and 70, respectively, both men continue to excel. Taylor is a stylistic beat keeper, while May reminded of his guitar prowess during a delicate and tasteful musical interlude late in the show that, true to Queen form, segued into the rock crunch of “Tie Your Mother Down.”
They are the heroes of his continuing story, but kudos to them – and the cosmos – for trusting the Lambert experiment.
Not only is Lambert a joy to watch – whether hopping on the piano to fan himself before a delicious “Killer Queen” or shaking his shirt ruffles as he glided down the catwalk during the kinetic “Don’t Stop Me Now,” he captivates – but he also knows his place in this establishment.
There wasn’t much chitchat during the concert, but Lambert did address the crowd early to solicit cheers for the “rock ‘n’ roll legends” sharing the stage with him, call his role “a huge honor” and pay homage to the “irreplaceable” Mercury. “I’m gonna do my best to make him proud,” Lambert said.
Not only did he produce from a theatrical standpoint – Lambert’s background was well-documented during his “American Idol” run 10 (!) years ago – but his vocals were sometimes otherworldly. (My colleague and “Idol” expert Rodney Ho joined me at the show and has some additional thoughts on Lambert.)
Taylor’s muscular drumming led the band to the climax of “Somebody to Love,” but Lambert’s multi-octave voice punctuated the performance. He even injected new zing into the tired “Another One Bites the Dust” with a tough-guy delivery and Gumby dancing and embraced his inner Elvis – while displaying his sleeve tattoos under a long vest – during “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
The glistening stage featured onstage seating behind it - like theater boxes - a curved video screen hanging from the rafters and other video panels that separated and moved, even tilting forward during “I Want it All.” A blitzkrieg of lights accompanied most songs and lasers in rainbow colors shrouded Lambert as he belted the poignant “Who Wants to Live Forever.”
While the spirit of Mercury will never be detached from Queen’s music, the current band wisely included his video presence during the show. For the last lyric of a gorgeous version of “Love of My Life,” sung by May as he sat alone at the end of the catwalk with his acoustic guitar, Mercury appeared overhead to sing.
“I think he’s still here,” May said, with a hint of wistfulness.
The encore also paid tribute to one of rock’s grandest frontman with his signature “Ay-oh” call-and-response the lead-in to the finale of the obligatory “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.”
Numerous highlights emerged from the brisk set – the steady thump and mirror ball fun of “I Want to Break Free,” the aching drama of “The Show Must Go On,” Lambert’s silver fringe vest and tight pants that would make Cher envious – testament to the trove of musical gems, as well as their expert presentation.
Queen + Adam Lambert are drawing from a classic parade of hits that are integral to rock history, but fortunately with Lambert at the helm, the Queen legacy will continue to inform the future.
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