On Sunday, November 12th, Queen + Adam Lambert wrapped their North American “Rhapsody Tour” with sizzling pomp and panache at Los Angeles’ BMO Stadium on the second consecutive night of a sold-out weekend. Two of Queen’s original members, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, demonstrated the reasons for their enduring appeal over 24 of the band’s biggest hits alongside their 10-year frontman in the virtuoso Adam Lambert who again skillfully paid tribute to the late Freddie Mercury, perhaps rock’s most preeminent vocalist, while adopting many of the renowned anthems as his own. The sum of these parts proved to be as qualified as any wildly successful band, including the original iteration of Queen.
In 1970, May, Taylor, Mercury, and bassist John Deacon (who hasn’t performed with the band since 1997) formed the legendary Queen, making invaluable contributions to music, notably with their theatrical style and lush harmonies. Today, fifty-three years later, with additional live band members in percussionist Tyler Warren, keyboardist Spike Edney, and bassist Neil Fairclough, Queen — which still flourishes as a touring juggernaut and a top-50-most-listened-to band on Spotify with a whopping five songs in the billion-plus streaming club — is as relevant as ever.
Naturally, one might ask: How does Queen manage to stand toe to toe with contemporary bands and ingratiate themselves to successive generations, whereas most of their musical peers have been rendered immaterial by the rigors of time? The answer was explained over 132 minutes, where an impeccable mix of musicianship and showmanship — not to mention an eye-catching set and top-notch production values — held an adoring audience in a transfixed state.
With 22,000 fans anticipating the start of the end-of-tour celebration, a caged oblong set rose to reveal the band members, LED backdrops, and four VIP fan boxes. Allusions to “Machines (or Back to Humans),” Metropolis (1927 film), and Mercury’s “Love Kills” segued into “Radio Gaga” as the luminescent and blond Lambert stood self-assuredly in black goggles and a silver-caped costume to guide the masses in a majestic clapping of the hands, similar to how Mercury commandingly corralled observers during the group’s famed 1985 Live Aid set.
“Hammer to Fall” (also from The Works album) was the second tune and marked the first of a multitude of times May, clad predominantly in an effervescent black or silver jacket, would be seen downstage with his guitar. At 76 years of age, May is paradoxically as youthful as ever, soloing as only he could before Lambert, a chillingly accurate and indefatigable singer, hammered home the song with one of his trademark high notes.
“Another One Bites the Dust” followed and specifically highlighted the prowess of Fairclough (who paid homage to Deacon’s masterstrokes) and percussion of both Warren and Taylor, while Lambert added a few pleasing vocal embellishments. The sun-glassed Taylor would then have the stage to himself as gargantuan spotlights — or more appropriately in this case, headlights — descended for “I’m in Love With My Car.” The degree of difficulty required to mellifluously wallop drums and sing, simultaneously no less, is not lost on the initiated and Taylor, whose raspy voice has aged like fine wine, was a marvel to watch perform.
Next, “Bicycle Race” left the crowd in awe not only for its melody but visual inventiveness as a light suddenly beamed on Lambert who could be seen unperturbedly reclining on a supersized, metallic motorbike that brightly glistened. Now in all black, Lambert played to a selfie camera affixed to the handlebar prior to transitioning to another Jazz smash in “Fat Bottomed Girls,” which underscored the combined vocals and exquisite harmonies of the entire band.
The prologue to “I Want It All” thereupon emphasized why the underrated Lambert is one of the best singers of his generation. Standing with only his microphone and a mere hum as accompaniment, Lambert soared the sky with his vibrato, which was pitched exotically and powered by a thousand suns. This led into May starting on the “I’m a man with a one-track mind” bridge in the wake of an epic instrumental section and rousing finale that culminated with smoke geysers.
Piggybacking on the out-of-body experience of the last piece, “A Kind of Magic” (from the album of the same name) began with gorgeous celestial sights, reminiscent of the aurora borealis, as the sparkly Lambert groovily intoned the lyrics as cartoon characters representing the original quartet (as seen on the album artwork and music video) danced about on the rear LED screen. And magical it was, especially when May walked toward the audience, plucking away on his instrument as flares astonishingly shot out the head of his guitar.
Like “I Want It All,” “Killer Queen” was another Queen chart-topper that Lambert made his own. The former American Idol star compellingly leaned into the narrative of the song as he sat facing a vanity mirror all the while fanning and powdering himself before drolly drinking prop champagne. There is a sass and pizazz displayed by Lambert that Mercury would have gleefully approved yet, as accomplished as he has become, Lambert remains humble and gracious, uttering, “Every time I take the stage with these guys, I realize what an honor this is [to pay tribute to Mercury].”
It was as if Mercury sprinkled a little more pixie dust on Lambert who, in otherworldly fashion, took his vocals into an even higher gear with two fan-favorites in “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Somebody to Love,” which also exhibited Edney’s effortlessness at the piano. It can’t be overstated that Lambert’s voice spans several octaves and even the most seasoned singers can only shrug their shoulders when they listen to the flamboyant wizard who finds an endless supply of strength to supply his vocal cords. Suffice it to say, Lambert is as technically sound as they come, a potential result of his musical-theatre background, and would be viewed as elite on Broadway (which unapologetically demands exactness) as he has been in rock/pop circles.
Thereafter, it was Dr. May who took center stage with a 12-string acoustic guitar to perform two numbers. May, who earned his Ph.D. in astrophysics at Imperial College London, felt comforted by the warmly welcoming iPhone lights, “the beautiful people of Los Angeles — the most beautiful town of angels in the world,” and was moved by the overwhelming universality of the occasion. “Love of My Life” was not only a tip of the hat to the band’s loyal following but the departed Mercury who, in video form, acknowledged May’s continued efforts. “’39,” which May called a “time machine in reverse,” evinced the wise doctor’s honeyed upper register, made only sweeter by the years he’s lived.
A downstage timpani solo by Taylor indicated that the 74-year-old hasn’t lost the snap in his wrists, which flicked with vigor — each tap of his snare and cymbals rhythmically rumbling in the open air. This preceded “Under Pressure” from Hot Space, which gave Taylor the opportunity to belt out again, this time David Bowie’s part, as Lambert shared a euphonious chemistry with the venerated drummer. As the last note rang out, an ingenious “hoedown” arrangement of “Tie Your Mother Down” commenced before pivoting to the original hard-rock version. Subsequently, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (from The Game) was performed expertly and detailed Lambert’s pleasing lower range.
From understated to glamorously decadent, the motivational “I Want to Break Free” made an exclamatory impression throughout the venue with not only Lambert’s sweeping notes, but a disco ball that dropped and revolved to the approval of the audience. The cadence quickly turned earnestly surreal, though, with a breathtaking prismatic light that beckoned “Who Wants to Live Forever.” Associated with Highlander, the rhetorical triumph is as powerful as ever, taken to a transcendent level by May who tugged at heartstrings with his poignant playing.
As it turned out, May was readying himself for a solo for the ages as he rose on a platform, the illusion being that a colossal space rock (portrayed digitally) was pushing him up into the middle of the universe where starry orbs and colorful planetary globes joined him in a lovely and serene sequence. Utilizing the reverb and delay on his electric guitar, May created sumptuously staggered blocks of reverberation while referencing “Bijou” and “Keep Yourself Alive.”
Afterwards, the socially conscious “Is This the World We Created…?” — with May on a six-string acoustic guitar — echoed the previously momentous tone as did Innuendo’s “The Show Must Go On,” which Lambert vocally realized with a robust and audacious resonance, reminding of Mercury’s inspirational grit in his last days. And, of course, soon to follow was arguably Mercury’s most exceptional bestowment to music, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which unsurprisingly elicited the roar of the attendees as Mercury’s recorded words kicked off the preface before the extraordinary operatic section and resolutely rock coda.
Certainly, there is no Queen concert without Freddie’s sing-along “Ay-Oh” interlude, which other artists have embraced as a means to increase crowd participation. The 12-minute encore boasted the Zanzibar-born icon in all his glory at Wembley Stadium in 1986 as the fans at BMO Stadium happily obliged trying to match Mercury’s vocal agility. “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” (both from News of the World) are two other Queen concert must-haves, which were expectedly and magnificently performed, with a “Radio Gaga” reprise sandwiched in between.
As Lambert reached into his diaphragm for more preternaturally conjured notes, Taylor determinedly negotiated his drum set, and the emotional May fretted and strummed at full tilt — right up until the closing blasts of confetti — it was clear that this Queen + Adam Lambert rendition is just as proficient as the classic Queen foursome ever was.
Ultimately, Queen lives on both because of the nostalgia they excitedly stir in the hearts and minds of their listeners as well as the modern flair and refreshing newness which Lambert, who is not weighed down by the group’s formidably royal reputation, confidently brings each time he performs alongside the esteemed Sir Brian May and Roger Taylor.
Queen + Adam Lambert will resume touring in Japan in 2024. For more information on the band’s upcoming shows, and to purchase tickets, visit: queenonline.com.