I’ve been listening to the music of Queen since I was seven years old. The new album at the time was “News of the World,” which contains the one-two punch of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions,” and I listened to it obsessively.
When singer Freddie Mercury died in 1991, I believed that the book had been closed forever, that any chance I had to see the band died with him. Maybe that was for the best anyway. Who wants to see those guys continue solely out of some morbid sense of obligation? Sometimes it’s better for something, even something great, to just be over.
Queen tried to soldier on with Paul Rodgers of Free and Bad Company at the helm, and even though he’s one of my all-time favorite singers, it just didn’t work. He was simply the wrong person.
A few years later, I heard that they were going to go back out on the road, this time with “American Idol” finalist Adam Lambert at the mic. This struck me as an even shittier choice than Paul Rodgers. Rodgers at least had decades in the business behind him. Lambert, on the other hand, was a runner-up on a glorified game show. Why didn’t they just pull some homeless guy off the street and give him the mic while they were at it?
Well, on July 28, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, I was served heaping helpings of crow, heavy on the humiliation, right in front of the band. Lambert is not only an excellent singer who’s 100% up to the technical challenges of singing Queen’s music, but his entire approach is one of appropriate humility.
Lambert seems both cognizant of how lucky he is to be fronting this band, but not intimidated by the task. He sings the songs like he’s been singing along to the records for his entire life, but he doesn’t imitate Mercury – he has a style all his own, both completely original yet a fitting tribute. It’s a delicate balance to strike, and he nailed it.
The set list didn’t include any deep cuts or rarities, which was one of only a couple of problems I had with it. There are a lot of songs less famous than “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Radio Gaga” that would have been nice to hear, but at this point, it’s fairly well-established that the people at the concerts want to hear the hits. The crowd, which ranged in age from my 10-year-old son to people who appeared to be in their 70s, certainly didn’t seem to mind.
So it was a set list that was heavy on the familiar, not that that’s necessarily a problem. In addition to the expected “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the band performed “Killer Queen,” “Stone Cold Crazy” the mighty “Fat Bottomed Girls,” and many, many more. It also had a couple of moments of tribute to Freddie Mercury that I don’t mind saying got both me and my lovely wife more than a little choked up, which we really weren’t expecting.
The only really noticeable flaws came courtesy of drummer Roger Taylor. His playing seemed to drag a bit and the tempos wandered freely, up and down. He sounded kind of tired, and with good reason. He’s now 68 years old, playing the drums every night of the week on a 100-plus-day tour, in a set that lasts for two hours, may simply be more than he can handle.
The fact that there was a second drummer onstage with the group would seem to bear this out. It wasn’t enough of a problem to compromise anyone’s enjoyment of the show, but it’s definitely there, and the recent retirement of Rush drummer Neil Peart from live performances may simply mean that rock drumming is a younger person’s game, like playing football, or any other physically demanding vocation.
Not affected by his age was guitarist Brian May, who just turned 70 and played every note flawlessly. His performance, as well as that of Adam Lambert, was extraordinary enough to overshadow any other problems that might have beset the evening, including the row of doofuses sitting behind me who generally acted like drunken yahoos from the beginning of the show until the last note.
If you have any doubts about whether or not you should see the band perform in this incarnation, you should ignore those doubts and go see them while they’re still playing. Everything works with Lambert at the helm, and if you’re any kind of fan of this group’s music, you should see them perform while they’re still alive and well. You won’t regret it.
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