No one can replace Freddie Mercury. No one. The good news is no one is trying to replace Freddie. That being said, Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor couldn’t have found a better singer than Adam Lambert to take the stage with them on their current North American tour.Queen + Adam Lambert rolled into Las Vegas for a sold out, two-night stand at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s The Joint over Fourth of July weekend. Seating just around 3,000 people, The Joint is easily Queen’s most intimate venue on this 24-city tour. Despite the pared down stage (by Queen’s standards), they still left an indelible footprint on The Joint, burning through a two-hour set of obscure gems, greatest hits and re-imagined classics.
The lights dimmed to the familiar chords of Procession, from the Queen II album. The curtain dropped and Queen blasted into their set, opening the show with a raucous rendition of Now I’m Here on the strength of May’s signature Red Special guitar sound and Taylor’s adrenaline-pumping drums. Before the audience had a chance to breathe, they launched into the jolting rocker, Stone Cold Crazy, reminding fans Queen can still put the pedal to the metal.
For the next two hours, Queen, Lambert and their supporting cast (bass player Neil Fairclough, Spike Edney on the keyboards and Roger’s son, Rufus, on drums and percussion) deftly ripped through a set of Queen classics as though they never missed a beat. Whether bouncy sing-alongs like Fat Bottomed Girls, the raw power of Tie Your Mother Down or Lambert’s vocal gymnastics on Somebody To Love, Queen and Lambert were flexing their muscles, daring the audience to not love it. The Vegas audience roared with approval when, mid-show, May coyly asked, “What do you think of the new kid?”
For his part, Lambert—the “new kid”—prowled, strutted and preened across the stage like he owned it. Anyone who’s following Freddie Mercury can’t be a shrinking violet and Lambert certainly made this set his own, putting his own stamp on Queen’s daunting setlist. He was never more at home than with Killer Queen. Perched on a purple chaise and guzzling Moet & Chandon, Lambert was campy, theatrical, over-the-top and basking in music befitting both his vocal range and Broadway diva stage presence. For Lambert and the fans, Killer Queen was just one high point of many on this night; an obvious marriage of classic Queen and Lambert’s interpretation. Watching May share the stage and clown with Lambert during Killer Queen, it was evident that he was truly enjoying the performance.
Lambert also paid homage to Freddie with his vocal on a slower, rearranged version of Mercury’s solo song, Love Kills. But Lambert’s most soulful tribute to Mercury was during the powerful and emotional Who Wants to Live Forever. “Who dares to love forever, when love must die?”
With a catalog as deep as Queen’s, they found clever ways of squeezing in fan favorites in the least expected of places. Leading into an emotionally charged Under Pressure (Roger sharing vocals with Lambert), bassist Neil Fairclough paid homage to John Deacon as he ripped through a smooth and soulful bass solo that included traces of Body Language and Dragon Attack.The most poignant moment of the night came during Brian May’s two-song acoustic set, beginning with the Mercury-penned ballad Love Of My Life. As is customary at Queen shows, May deferred to the audience to sing along with him. For the closing verse, May and the audience were treated to a video of Freddie singing, eliciting cheers and tears from the crowd in an emotional and cathartic moment for both May and the audience.
The mood quickly lightened as May was rejoined by the band (sans Lambert) for a rousing, countrified version of ’39, which was followed by Roger taking the lead on the bittersweet ballad, These Are The Days Of Our Lives, which was accompanied by a video montage of Queen from their earliest days. Probably the most spontaneous moment of the night came during this song as the audience cheered loudly at the first image of original bassist John Deacon, who retired from performing after Freddie died.
Heading into the homestretch, May took the stage for himself to deliver an illusive and dark 12-minute guitar solo that weaved improvised licks through snippets of Last Horizon (from his 1991 solo album, Back To The Light) and traces of Brighton Rock. There’s a reason Eddie Van Halen considers May a contemporary and his solo on this night cemented it.
Queen + Adam Lambert closed out the night with all the subtlety of a Mike Tyson punch, bringing the heat with Tie Your Mother Down, an inspired, fist-pumping, hand-clapping Radio GaGa, Crazy Little Thing Called Love and the truly mesmerizing The Show Must Go On and the all-time classic, Bohemian Rhapsody. Freddie came back to perform with the band on the big screen, delivering the the final verse before May’s guitar solo and operatic middle section. Queen closed Rhapsody with a fury, but that was not the end of the show.
Returning for just one encore—and you know what it has to be—they blew the roof off The Joint with a heart pounding We Will Rock You and gold-glittered We Are The Champions, leaving everything on the stage.
With the exception of the youthful Lambert and Rufus Taylor, this retirement-aged group of stately Britsh gentlemen played with as much vigor, passion and emotion as any 20-something rock band out there today. It’s clear Lambert invigorated May and Taylor. They were enjoying every moment of the show.
There is no better way than this to honor the legacy of Freddie Mercury.
The show must go on.
Now I’m Here
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites the Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited
Seven Seas of Rhye
Somebody to Love
I Want It All
Love of My Life
These Are the Days of Our Lives
Who Wants to Live Forever
Tie Your Mother Down
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
The Show Must Go On
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions
Outro—God Save the Queen