Queen + Adam Lambert | photo by Gabriela Barbieri for WXPN
Queen and Adam Lambert provide much-needed catharsis at Wells Fargo Center
In its lifetime, Queen – whether with the late Freddie Mercury or with Adam Lambert – have been considered many things. They have been art rock, arena rock, jock rock, heavy metal, disco, glitter, rockabilly. Bombastic. Brash. Glamorous. Forceful. Ferocious. Precious. Fey. Obvious. Oblique. Potent. Sexual. Sensual. Magnetic.
Cathartic was never one of the things you thought of when you considered Queen. At least not until now.
Surely, Queen had emotion to their work. Please. But their music and lyrics didn’t – for me – never truly felt purgative, relieving or cleansing. They may have sung “I Want to Break Free,” but, rarely did their music feel freeing or soulfully exorcising.
Perhaps, then, it is my own emotional state at present – the sense of loss that is a recent death in the family – or a greater understanding of what drove Mercury before his passing, what caused him turmoil, that allowed his lyrics (now interpreted by the more-than-amply-suited Adam Lambert) to reach me in a deeper sense. At the cavernous Wells Fargo Center, before a screaming, sold out crowd, Queen genuinely touched me, just when I needed it most.
Surely, it was Queen’s slower songs, and the softly, subtle manner in which Lambert essayed them that aided in their more tonic, healing qualities. The moodily mid-tempo “I Want to Break Free” certainly essayed the lengths and breadths of independence and emotionalism. The pensive, breathtakingly operatic “Who Wants to Live Forever” paired with May’s balming “Last Horizon” guitar piece (performed hammily, but not without theatrical merit, “atop” a moon rock projection) that was absolutely heart stopping and sensual in the most tactile sense of the word.
It was if an invisible hand was set upon your shoulder at this moment, removing any of “Live Forever”’s icy chill for something warmer and more spiritual. A tender hearted “Love of My Life,” one of Mercury’s most brusied lost-love songs, was performed as a solo acoustic number by vocalist May and suddenly turned into something more: about missing a friend, a soulmate, someone with whom you shared everything. This wound up a bit of a tear-jerking moment, one whose tension was broken (oddly enough) when a projection of Mercury posed next to May, sang the remainder of the song, then stuck his ass out at may for comic relief. That was a gentle reminder that no matter how sad an event, you could always poke your tongue or your ass out, and giggle.
Don’t think Queen + Lambert’s Rhapsody show was filled, solely, with these sober, yearning, tender moments. Dressed like Liberace in Dolce & Gabanna gold lame (when he wasn’t in one of their Jacquard casino tuxedos), Lambert did the rock-out-with-your-cock-out metal of early Queen (“Seven Seas of Rhye,” “Keep Yourself Alive,” “Hammer to Fall”), the campier metal of “Tie Your Mother Down” and its el Greco epics such as “I Want It All” proud. The hammy glam of “Killer Queen”and “Bicycle Race,” along with the rushy-rush of “Don’t Stop Me Now” blasted off and came through with effortless elan and cabaret-ish eclat due to Lambert’s splashy theatrical vocal prowess. The vocalist’s clarion-clear and powerful vocal highs were only rivalled by his obviously elegant lower range, a tenor voice ranging three octaves with a B2-B5 semitone, in comparison to the late Mercury and his possessing a range of F#2-G5 — just over three octaves, heading into four octave range.
Along with commencing the night with the quickly ascending “Now I’m Here,” Queen attacked the jittering, soft-electro “Radio Ga Ga” with dramatic ease. In case you thought that “Fat Bottomed Girls” couldn’t have been kitschier or more misogynistic, Queen brought out the Cheerleaders of the Philadelphia Eagles to boogie and raise their pom-poms, dance on the risers and stroll the catwalk with May.
Just like in the Queen bio-pic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” no one could or should enjoy drummer Roger Taylor’s screeching, scuff-y solo vocal cut, “I’m in Love with My Car,” yet everyone in the Wells Fargo Center did.
Queen’s greatest hits, such as the big beat-driven likes of “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Under Pressure,” the classical gassy “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the sports arena anthems “We Will Rock You” and “We are the Champions” were untouchable, no matter how you view them (although I dare say that Lambert managed to throw some flitting vocal vamps into the “Rhapsody” to make it his own).
They took no chances with experimental options when it came to their smashes, and those moments were all the more better for it. No one wants to hear the acoustic version of “We are the Champions” and Lambert & Co. played up to those hot hits’ mass popular purity.
One suggestion for where Queen could go in an imaginary future – May and Taylor’s band turms 50 years old in 2020, an anniversary I’d be surprised if they didn’t celebrate – is to integrate Lambert more fully into their ensemble. Having been part of Queen since he first sang with May and Taylor during 2009’s season finale of American Idol, perhaps Lambert could tailor his glossy mod-disco solo material to suit Queen’s sound. Maybe Queen could record new, fresh songs with Lambert, and truly act inclusively toward their lead singer. As stated during the Wells Fargo show – and every concert I have witnessed them do together since the American idol joined – Lambert could never replace the late Freddie Mercury, now gone from the planet since 1991. Vocally, there’s never a question that Lambert and Mercury aren’t the same, and that Lambert isn’t working hard at forging his own tonal, vocal path.
Maybe, May and Taylor (and Lambert) should focus less on what Lambert isn’t and more on what he could and should be to and with Queen going forward.
Now I’m Here
Seven Seas of Rhye
Keep Yourself Alive
Hammer to Fall
Don’t Stop Me Now
Somebody to Love
The Show Must Go On
I’m in Love With My Car
Another One Bites the Dust
Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)
I Want It All
Love of My Life
Doing All Right
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
I Want to Break Free
You Take My Breath Away
Who Wants to Live Forever
Tie Your Mother Down
Fat Bottomed Girls
Radio Ga Ga
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions