‘Reality show contestant replaces deceased rock legend’ is a familiar scenario with cringeworthy disaster written all over it.
Last night in Melbourne Brian May and Roger Taylor entrusted the keys to their rocking Rolls Royce and Freddie Mercury’s legacy to Adam Lambert. To the surprise of many comprising Rod Laver Arena’s full house, who like me bought tickets primarily to see May and Taylor perform for the first and last time, Lambert drove the beast home without a single scratch.
In fact Lambert was actually quite outstanding. Inconceivably more camp than Freddie, the one-time American Idol contestant’s soaring vocals and charismatic presence reiterated that May and Taylor are no dummies, and wouldn’t have embarked on such a risky venture without happening across the appropriate individual and concept.
Whilst Marc Martel, who miraculously looks and sounds like Mercury, might have been considered a more obvious choice, May and Taylor wisely opted for a degree of separation, lest they become their own tribute band. In Lambert they’ve embraced a singer with the vocal range to carry their outrageously difficult anthems and the theatrical sensibility to carry the night with the requisite showmanship.
To the show itself, the opening refrain Procession paid homage to the band’s very beginnings, being the instrumental first track off the 1974 Queen II album.
May (whose trademark black afro has turned white), along with Taylor (now armed with a sleeve tattoo) then launched into a rollicking blast of early favourites including Now I’m Here, Seven Seas of Rhye, Stone Cold Crazy, Somebody to Love and Another One Bites the Dust. The funky yet obscure Dragon Attack took the prize though, In the Lap of the Gods Revisited a close second. Meanwhile, the bombastic I Want it All stood apart in visiting Queen’s post Magic years.
May toned down proceedings when he took centre stage for a solo rendition of Love of My Life. It was the perfect opportunity to address the elephant in the room, and when Freddie appeared on the big screen to finish off the classic it was the first of several lump in the throat moments. Despite his senior vintage, May’s musicianship has not diminished one iota and ‘39 was a joyous follow-up.
Taylor was also afforded some face-time with the devotees, which entailed a drum-off with son Rufus (part of the touring ensemble). Spike Edney on keyboards, virtually the uncredited fifth member through the band’s later tours and albums, added another layer of authenticity for Queen aficionados. Another dose of nostalgia ensued as Lambert rested his pipes during one of several costume changes, when, alongside May, Taylor performed vocals to the emotive These are the Days of our Lives.
An elongated guitar solo (Brighton Rock) by May on his ‘Red Special’ afforded less hardcore punters an intermission before Lambert returned for the home straight, cherry picking more of the never-ending Queen hit parade including Who Wants to Live Forever, Under Pressure and Crazy Little Thing Called Love . Queen’s production was as impressive as ever and Radio Ga Ga, augmented by the Metropolis themed video and en masse hand-claps, was another highlight. Bo Rap eventually reared its head, signifying the end was sadly nigh. Of course Freddie suitably and necessarily made another on-screen appearance for his magnum opus.
With class and respect, Mercury’s absence was neither under or overplayed; Lambert at one stage recognising the suspension of disbelief required of the audience. Conversely, whether by oversight or request, reclusive former bassist John Deacon was unfortunately expunged from memory, despite several hits in the bank such as Another One Bites the Dust.
Having momentarily welcomed ‘Brisbane’ fans early dawes, qualified astrophysicist Dr Brian May redeemed himself by replacing a retro gold cape (capable of reflecting light to a far off galaxy) with a black ‘I Love Melbourne’ t-shirt. May could be forgiven, Queen last playing in Melbourne across the road at the old Sports and Entertainment Centre 29 years ago (though May did play solo at The Palace in 1998).
The encore followed convention, consisting of roof raising renditions of We Will Rock You and We are the Champions. Glittering gold confetti filled the auditorium, as did a thundering ovation. God Save the Queen played and Lambert audaciously pranced about sporting a crown, a la Freddie. Mercury would have approved though – to all intents, Adam saved the Queen, breathing new life into a supergroup whose music continues to win new fans, my two youngsters included.
And as Freddie wished in his immensely painful dying days, all he wanted was to live on through his music.