The favourite band of his youth, Shaun Ponsonby heads to the Echo Arena to find out whether Queen are still the champions with Adam Lambert.
Forgive the indulgence, but allow me to tell you a story.
I grew up idolising Queen and especially Freddie Mercury. The insanity, the melodies, the camp, the hilarity, the charisma. I found it irresistible from the time I was about three or four years old.
By that time, of course, Freddie had already passed away. I had long resigned to the fact that I would never see Queen in any guise. I mean, how do you replace the irreplaceable? Yet somehow since 2005 I have seen various incarnations of the band, or at least Brian May and Roger Taylor with featured singers.
This is my fifth show with Queen + [Insert Singer], and what is immediately apparent when the lights go down tonight is how much more effort has been put into the stage show than in previous visits. The screen shakes and footsteps get closer, before a giant robotic hand breaks down the screen covering the stage with a deafening thud, and Frank, the apocalyptic creature from the front cover of the News Of The World album, peeks through before lifting the screen high above the stage to the opening bars of We Will Rock You.
Sure, it was ridiculous and over the top. But that’s Queen’s entire appeal.
It takes a while for your ears to adjust to Adam Lambert’s voice. Freddie had one of the most distinctive voices in rock history, so hearing May’s equally recognisable guitar and Lambert’s voice is a little jarring. He warms himself to the crowd quickly though. It’s hard to fail with such a catalogue of songs, especially when delivered so expertly.
It is a while before anyone addresses the crowd. After Killer Queen – which featured Lambert sitting on Frank’s head which appeared from beneath the stage – Adam joked that Frank was “so far up my ass tonight” and that he “gave good head”. He then paid a heartfelt tribute to the band behind the songs he has the privilege of singing. “I know what some of you are thinking. ’He ain’t no Freddie Mercury’. Well, you’re right. I’m not. There will only ever be one rock God called Freddie Mercury. I’m a fan, I’m just like you. Except I’m wearing the gayest suit you’ve ever seen.”
If there were any people still sat with their arms folded, no doubt his self-deprecating proclamation won them over.
It also made comparisons to Mercury moot. It is more interesting to look at Lambert in relation to Paul Rodgers, who took the spot from 2005-2008.
Rodgers had his own history, one as rich as Queen’s, but he was an odd fit. In some ways that worked; he was so far removed from Freddie that it felt as much about him as it did Queen, and they would sprinkle some Free and Bad Company songs within the set.
But fans of Queen’s royal campness weren’t necessarily fans of his down to Earth blues style, and it also meant that he was limited in the material he could sing.
Lambert doesn’t have that problem. Whilst Rodgers may pip him slightly in the harder rock numbers (he is a veteran, after all), Adam is far more versatile. He can do the hard rock numbers, but he can also segue into Killer Queen, Don’t Stop Me Now, Somebody To Love and Bicycle Race with relative ease.
But it is May and Taylor that most of the audience came for. They take the lead occasionally, with Brian paying tribute to Liverpool with an impromptu run through The Beatles’ You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away and leading the crowd through Freddie’s Love Of My Life (with Freddie himself taking the last chorus, much to the crowd’s delight).
Taylor took the lead on These Are The Days of Our Lives and I’m In Love With My Car, which he also sang on the record, and duetted with Adam on Under Pressure. These moments feel like the most intimate – not a word one would usually use to describe Queen, but it almost makes you long for May and Taylor to do a low key tour of smaller venues playing rarities and fan favourites.
That isn’t to take away from Adam. It may be a dream job, but it’s a daunting one too. His achievement shouldn’t be downplayed. His performance of Who Wants To Live Forever? is genuinely stunning, and this moment alone justifies his place in the line-up. On top of that, since he started doing this five years ago, he has morphed into a supreme frontman, and commands the audience skilfully.
In 2017, we could probably live without Brian’s lengthy guitar solo, even if they did at least make it more visually interesting this time, but that is a minor quibble. A bigger one is the deeper cuts the band were playing earlier in the tour that have been dropped for the old warhorses – perhaps another argument for May and Taylor to do a tour of smaller venues. No doubt the bigger fans who have seen them multiple times would have preferred to hear It’s Late and Spread Your Wings over some of the more obvious tunes.
But ultimately it is a triumph. Lambert has breathed new life into a couple of old rockers. They are playing better than they have at any point since reforming over a decade ago. By the inevitable closing of We Are The Champions, nobody could doubt that Queen really are the champions of the world.
After decades of being trashed by the arbiters of good taste, they have undoubtedly become the ultimate band of the people. Don’t think about it – go and see them while you still have the chance.
Pictures courtesy of Sakura