Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Fine Revue: Fronted by Adam Lambert, Queen is Reverentially Enjoyable, If Not Quite Mercurial -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Queen + Adam Lambert
United Center, Chicago
July 13, 2017

By almost universal acclaim, when factoring in vocal ability, range, showmanship and songwriting, the late Freddie Mercury of Queen stands as one of--and perhaps the--greatest lead singers in rock history.

Although following his death from AIDS in 1991, Mercury remains irreplaceable, his legacy--and songs--deserve to live on, forever. 

I perceive Queen guitarist Brian May--who happens to hold a Ph.D. in astrophysics--to be a decent guy, and can't much deride him or drummer Roger Taylor for continuing to celebrate (or milk) their band's rich past.

But between a 2006 tour fronted by the generally stellar Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers--which I found to be rather mediocre in Milwaukee--and the disappointing We Will Rock You jukebox musical created with May & Taylor's cooperation, it seemed perhaps best to let the phenomenal Queen catalog "carry on, carry on" in recorded form only.

But for the last 5 years, Queen--without original bassist John Deacon as well--has been performing rather regularly with Adam Lambert on lead vocals.

Lambert was the American Idol runner-up in 2009 and while that ordinarily would mean little to me, a cousin visiting Chicago at the time shared that he is the son of a close friend of hers.

Having paid more attention to American Idol that season than ever before or since, I knew Lambert was a highly talented and versatile singer, though I'm oblivious to the solo albums he has made.

I had abstained when Queen + Lambert played the United Center in 2014, but noted that a friend lauded the show, and YouTube clips--including of the current outing--supported that the vocalist seemed to do a credible job with the rather impossible task of standing in for Freddie Mercury.

So the day before Thursday's show at the UC, I got myself a ticket.

And I wound up with about all I could really hope for:

A solidly enjoyable show, with Lambert proving to be rather good, some indelible guitar moments recreated by May and some clearly reverential nods to Mercury, who appeared on the video screens at various moments.

But never did it really feel like I was seeing Queen--who I was a bit too young to catch live in original form, despite being a fan since "We Will Rock You" thrilled my 9-year-old self circa 1978--but rather a really good tribute band, albeit with May and Taylor on hand.

With no opening act, the 2-hour show to a soldout crowd--which seemed to bridge long-standing Queen fans with more recent admirers of the 35-year-old Lambert--began with a brief tease of "We Will Rock You" before solid takes on "Hammer to Fall," "Stone Cold Crazy" and "Another One Bites the Dust."

Although these are great songs to which the singer and band--with three additional musicians largely shrouded in darkness--did justice, I can't deny experiencing a fair amount of cognitive dissonance.

Imagine seeing and hearing the Rolling Stones with a singer other than Mick Jagger.

Or Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic performing Nirvana concerts with someone in place of Kurt Cobain.

Though such shows would obviously include terrific songs played--and likely even sung--well, something would just seem odd, if not quite off-putting. 

To his credit, after thanking May and Taylor for allowing him the opportunity to perform such hallowed material, Lambert openly noted that there would only ever be "one Freddie Mercury."

And without ever attempting to imitate the icon, Lambert got to show his own campiness, wit and theatricality, including on a lusty "Fat Bottom Girls," while sitting upon a huge sculptural head (from the News of the World album cover) and riding a three-wheeler on "Bicycle Race."

Lambert's own "Two Fux" didn't compare to the best of Queen musically, but fit in well-enough, and I enjoyed hearing less-famed catalog gems such as "Don't Stop Me Now," "I'm In Love With My Car" and "Get Down, Make Love."

And also, "Love of My Life," sung by May sitting alone atop the guitar-shaped catwalk amid the arena floor.

When the video screen behind him juxtaposed Freddie singing along, I found myself getting a bit verklempt.

"Somebody to Love" well-fit Lambert's vocal style, as it had George Michael at the tribute concert for Mercury in 1992.

I'm surprised that recently-passed brilliant singer didn't get a mention Thursday, but Roger Taylor did make note of David Bowie before the drummer and Lambert dueted on "Under Pressure," perhaps the highlight of the show for me.

As until LiveAid in 1985, Queen largely disappeared from the American zeitgeist for a few years, I'm not sure songs like "I Want It All," "I Want to Break Free" and even "Radio Ga Ga" can really be called "hits," but I'm glad they were included, along with the #1 "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."

Delectably closing the main set was "Bohemian Rhapsody," but with classic video of the band singing the operatic middle part, and imagery of Mercury dwarfing Lambert near the end, it served to reiterate that this was more a scripted revue celebrating the past than it was a concert kicking my ass in the here and now.

Granted, I probably wouldn't be seeing an Adam Lambert headlining gig--unless his solo material should catch my fancy--and he's been doing a more-than-credible job filling in with Queen for five years now.

But whereas Sammy Hagar with Van Halen or Arnel Pineda with Journey--who replaced famed singers for reasons other than death--recorded new material soon after coming into the fold, Lambert unavoidably feels more like the singer in a Queen cover band than an actual member (although the "Queen + Adam Lambert" marketing moniker is probably as much a testament to his own popularity as it is a respectful reminder that it's not really Queen without Mercury.)

The encore couplet of "We Will Rock You"/"We Are the Champions" certainly felt at home in Chicago's primary sports arena, though I wished someone had found May--or Lambert--a Cubs jersey rather than just a Chicago flag t-shirt.

But it was thrilling to sing along with "We Are the Champions" with it being currently--and rather historically--true for my favorite baseball team.

Just another lasting moment to cherish from a concert that served as a ready reminder of transcendent greatness...

...without in itself achieving it.

But for what it was--basically a reminder of how singular Freddie Mercury remains--Queen + Adam Lambert was royally fun.

See the Queen + Adam Lambert Chicago setlist here.

No comments: