Queen at Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne: First night review
ADAM Lambert may well have the toughest job in modern music — fronting Queen.
However the American singer brings his own personality and vocal prowess to the gig, rather than merely doing karaoke Freddie Mercury.
We’ve all seen when the replacement singer in a superstar band doesn’t work, but this is a triumph.
Now on their second Australian tour with Lambert, Queen’s guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor are clearly loving keeping their music pumping in arenas.
Lambert’s even more comfortable in his night job this time around. He not only nails those insanely high notes (Bohemian Rhaposdy, Somebody to Love) but the rapid fire wordplay of Stone Cold Crazy and the theatrical camp of Killer Queen and Don’t Stop Me Now.
Plus Lambert has his own flamboyant stage craft to put his stamp on one of the best known catalogues in rock.
It’s the songs that sell the show — anyone who has a problem with Queen continuing just needs to watch the audience both young and old beaming with joy. And there’s a not inconsiderable amount of Lambert’s own diehard fans.
Lambert points out early on, in case it wasn’t evident, the entire show is a tribute to Mercury. “Some of you out there might be thinking ’He’s no Freddie’. No shit,” he says. “There will only be one rock god named Freddie Mercury.”
After a burst of “Australia’s national anthem” Highway to Hell by AC/DC May takes over vocal duties to sing Love of My Life. He’s then ‘joined’ by Mercury singing on video.
Lambert also now gets to perform his own solo hit, Whataya Want From Me. And while the staging and production is state of art May and Taylor shamelessly bring back the lengthy and bombastic guitar and drum solos like it’s 1978.
Queen and Adam Lambert play Rod Laver Arena again on Saturday night
Queen + Adam Lambert – Rod Laver Arena
We take our seats, settle in and admire the spectacular stage setting, which features a guitar neck-shaped catwalk extending out from a stage-level curved screen emblazoned with the act we’ve come here to worship, “Queen + Adam Lambert”. Before too long a giant, animated version of Frank the robot, who graced the cover of Queen’s News Of The World LP – which celebrated 40 years’ existence in October last year – smashes through the screen, leading with a ginormous iron fist. The curved screen rises to reveal another humongous screen at the back of the stage. The band are already in place playing We Will Rock You.
Guitarist Brian May’s long white mane looks a bit like a wig you could purchase from Spotlight and again with the white Adidas trainers ruining an otherwise incredible all-black stage outfit! But, ah, Adam Lambert – perfection personified! He starts off in a long, black sleeveless tunic – which is perhaps inspired by Trinity from The Matrix – for Hammer To Fall and can even pull off sunnies that light up. Queen are totally paying tribute to Frank on this tour, with the robot’s concerned-looking face also gracing Roger Taylor’s drum skin. Lambert belts out, “Give me all your looooove tonight!” during Tie Your Mother Down, but he would never need to beg.
That trademark Another One Bites The Dust bass line just never gets old and Lambert perfectly replicates Freddie Mercury’s irate delivery. At the start of Fat Bottomed Girls, Lambert’s sunnies fall off his face and this is probably his only false step all night (if you could even call it that). After playfully addressing, “All you fat-assed bitches,” during this song, Lambert then twerks while pulling some rapid tongue manoeuvres directly in May’s face and we see the guitarist’s bemused-but-simultaneously adoring expression magnified on the big screen. His movements are slick and Lambert has obviously taken a few million dance classes in his time.
After the quickest costume change, Lambert rises up at the base of the phallic, guitar-neck catwalk sitting on top of giant Frank’s head wearing a cerise suit and massively high, black platform boots with flashy red stack heels. Lambert just can’t help himself, quipping, “Frank gives great head.” He then continues, “Can you believe that I’ve been working with Queen for over five years!?” before describing the band as “rock royalty. Literally”. Cue Killer Queen.
But Queen’s relationship with Lambert is mutually beneficial. Where would Queen be without Lambert? May actually addresses this later on in the show, introducing Lambert as “the man without whom we would not be here tonight”. Lambert’s voice is so powerful yet completely his own and there’s zero chance these songs could ever sound like karaoke versions in his capable hands. And Lambert’s perfectly made-up face looks like a permanent Snapchat filter set to ‘pretty’. It’s virtually impossible to drag your eyes away from his charismatic onstage presence. Also fair to say that Lambert has had the best reality TV talent show result of all time.
And it’s Lambert himself who addresses “the elephant in the room” early on in the show, saying he knows what we’re all thinking: “He’s no Freddie!” After a pause, he quips, “No SHIT!” The crowd roars with laughter and applauds loudly, showing our support. “‘Cause there’s only one rock god named FREDDIE MERCURY!” Lambert then asks, “Do you miss Freddie?” Affirmative. “Me too!” Explaining he’s also a fan, just like we are, Lambert then jokes, “Except I’m up here in the gayest suit you’ve ever seen.” He makes us a promise in song, “Tonight I’m gonna have myself a real good time…” during Don’t Stop Me Now. Following the song’s lyrical reference to “ecstasy”, Lambert cheekily admits he likes ecstasy and we’re sure Mercury would approve. A pink bicycle pulling a cart of flowers, also pink, miraculously materialises at the end of the catwalk complete with an assortment of bells for Lambert to ring and we know what’s next. Bicycle Race, of course. Lambert sings while riding the bicycle that matches his outfit back down the catwalk onto the stage proper.
Props to the slight dude in the crowd paying tribute to Mercury in his tight white singlet, tighter white jeans and ‘tache.
May’s guitar solos during I Want It All are flawless. His playing is so effortless and emotive – truly one of the all-time greats. Smoke cannons detonate across the front of the stage as if in response to his unparalleled majesty on the instrument.
From the end of the catwalk, May observes Queen have returned to our shores a couple of times since 1974. “You remember 1974? You were all at Sunbury festival, right?… Who would’ve thought? The people who were at Sunbury – I’m playing to your grandchildren now. And hoping to be able to play to your great great grandchildren.” The crowd goes wild. May then tells us he’s been practising our “national anthem”, before strumming out AC/DC’s Highway To Hell as we all clap and sing along.
May then encourages us to sing along with Love Of My Life, adding that if we do well “maybe some magic will happen”. As smartphone torches are raised into the air, May observes, “This is the only thing phones are good for!” And then Mercury appears on the giant screen alongside May’s live image, perfectly in scale. We belt out the chorus as prompted by ‘Mercury’ onscreen and then applaud as he turns and walks away, before disappearing completely. May then brings out his “stereoscopic selfie stick” to record crowd footage for his socials. Lambert joins May at the catwalk’s ‘headstock’, where Taylor’s drum kit has also miraculously appeared and all perform Somebody To Love. Everyone is finally up on their feet for Crazy Little Thing Called Love, but it’s kind of an awkies rhythm to dance to.
It’s now Taylor’s turn to shine with a drum solo then drum-off with the band’s extra touring drummer, Tyler Warren. After this, both drum in tandem and the results are astonishing. Taylor then takes lead vocals for A Kind Of Magic and the fairy-dust visuals that sprinkle across the screens look like a spell’s being cast. During this song, Taylor and May do a weird sideways crab shuffle dance, which our plus one hilariously points out is “a kind of tragic”.
The beauty of multi-coloured, razor-sharp lasers slicing through the smoke during Who Wants To Live Forever is impossible to capture with smartphones although punters try madly to do so. Singing this song, Lambert’s vocal evokes another much-missed late legend, George Michael. We’re floored by the beginning of Bohemian Rhapsody and, although we ache to sing along, we don’t want to drown out those matchless vocals. Seeing all members of Queen’s heads circling on the screens from the accompanying music video gives us goosebumps. However, May’s gold wizard cape needs to be returned to sender (Hogwarts, perhaps?). Is it the same cape Lambert sports in the encore? If so, we all know who wore it better.
Lambert emerges for the band’s encore dressed in glittery royal attire of gold and silver, crown and all, and even does the royal wave. May has changed into a T-shirt with a print of Mercury on the front. We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions are suitably jubilant hits to close with. Lambert, Queen and band take their final bows while an instrumental version of God Save The Queen plays. Everything about this show rules.