I’m probably the wrong guy to review this show. In my opinion, Freddie Mercury will always be the best frontman that popular music has ever seen. Or, undoubtedly, ever will see. I don’t know if everyone agrees with me, but you have to put him up there in at least the top three vocalists of all time, right?
Freddie’s dead. Unfortunately, he left us in late 1991, leaving a gaping hole in the international music scene. Upon his death, it seemed that Queen would fall apart, much like The Doors withered after the Lizard King died in 1971. Thankfully, many of us who never got the chance to see a live Queen show prior to Freddie’s passing can now see the band, albeit in a different way, with the inclusion of pop star Adam Lambert.
Although this new incarnation of the band could never replace the lineup that sold millions of records and defined glam rock for a generation, Mr. Mercury’s replacement, American Idol alumnus Adam Lambert did a heck of a job. So Queen+Adam Lambert made a stop in Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena last night and played an epic show to a nearly-sold out house of aging boomers and neophyte American idol fans, all seeing how the newly-minted frontman would stack up against one of Rock’s much-loved royals.
Accepting the job to front one of the most famous bands couldn’t have come easy; Lambert seems both humbled and empowered by taking the lead on songs that defined a generation of music lovers. Ably-backed by Queen’s veteran guitar god (and also the recent recipient of a PhD in Astrophysics), the band’s original drummer and a host of backup musicians, Lambert took us all on a nostalgic two-hour trip down memory lane, punctuated by almost every hit from the Queen canon of hits. The only notable absent tune from the set was the campy, lovable title theme from 1980’s kitsch classic Flash Gordon.
Dr. Brian May, the recently-appointed astrophysicist, picked up his guitar and gave the crowd a PhD-level clinic in shredding. After almost fifty years playing the axe, May’s performance was downright virtuoso.
Drummer Roger Taylor sat behind the kit, as he has since 1971, and pounded the skins with aplomb. Original bassist John Deacon, notably missing from this lineup, left the band shortly after Freddie’s passing. He reasoned that no one could replace Freddie and that, for all intents and purposes, Queen was dead. Picking up the bass on the very rare occasion, Deacon is retired from music and is living the quiet life in England, far removed from the sold-out stadiums of his youth.
Lambert, donning a bright-red spiked dome and a leather vest, didn’t try to channel Freddie Mercury. Like any good frontman, he did it his way and made the material his own. Much of Queen’s repertoire is so closely-associated with Mercury that it seems almost sacrilegious to let another vocalist attempt them. In particular, the 1986 tune “Who Wants to Live Forever?” from the film Highlander tells a very pointed story, yet came out just as Freddie was getting sick with HIV. Although it’s meant to remark upon the fictional immortal character Connor MacLeod, it’s almost impossible not to relate the song to Freddie’s worsening health and eventual death. Lambert wisely sings the tune in his own voice and didn’t attempt to ape Mercury’s vocal stylings.
With a twenty-six song set list, the evening went by quickly. Too quickly. This is a show that brought back too many good memories. And reinforced how the world could use a Freddie Mercury right now. In an age of Kanyes and auto-tuned disasters, a four-octave range and enough swagger to stop a raging herd of buffalo, Freddie’s stage presence was something to behold. Lambert did a great job of bringing Queen into the twenty-first century.
But, oh, how I miss the old days.