NB This is a repost taken from the archives of my previous music blog; I will periodically resubmit to this blog as and when time permits.
Towards the end of this set, Brian May asks the capacity crowd at Liverpool’s Echo Arena: “What do you think of the new guy, then?” The roar that came back was the loudest of the night, in recognition of the performance given by Adam Lambert alongside the legendary Queen duo of May and Roger Taylor.
This was a completely different experience to the last time the two remaining active members of Queen appeared at this venue (in 2008, with Paul Rodgers as the vocalist). Rodgers is a rock legend in his own right, and although that partnership produced two tours and a studio album (‘The Cosmos Rocks’), it never fully recaptured the spirit of the old band. Asking anybody to step into Freddie Mercury’s shoes is a poisoned chalice, but eyebrows were certainly raised when May and Taylor invited former ‘American Idol’ finalist Adam Lambert into the role. The act was billed as Queen + Adam Lambert in the same way that they did when Rodgers was with them, presumably to show that he is not intended to be a replacement for the late Freddie Mercury. Lambert looked much more the part than Rodgers however; he had the flamboyance, the confidence and the sense of style to pull off the role without actually trying to imitate the icon that was Mercury. It goes without saying he has the vocal talent to back all of this up, his natural tenor range is noticeably higher than that of Mercury in his latter days and this probably explained in part why this set contained several of the band’s earlier songs.
The Liverpool date was one of several extra shows added on to the European tour after the initial batch of dates sold well. I admit I had some reservations at first, deciding not to book for Manchester when it was first announced. However the fact they brought the show to this end of the East Lancashire Road swung it for me, and their subsequently well-received televised show on New Year’s Eve will also have won over waverers.
The show was billed as starting at 8 sharp, but upon getting into the venue (just about!) for that time there was a long wait, as the PA emitted what sounded like introductory ‘noise’ not unlike what Whitesnake do shortly before hitting the stage. This ‘noise’ went on for up to 30 minutes however, as all we could see was the stage curtain adorned with the ‘Q’ logo. It got to the point where the crowd started doing the dreaded ‘Mexican Wave’ but finally, the lights dipped and the show proper commenced. I was about halfway back on the main floor, still some distance from the extended ramp they had coming from the stage. Opening with ‘One Vision’ just as the original Queen did on their 1986 tour, huge cheers greeted the band and their singer. Unlike 1986 though, Lambert opted to wear a studded leather outfit in a clear homage to Mercury’s late 70s period, the first of several outfits we’d see him in during the show. Queen always did come on stage rocking out, and they followed up with ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ which had your correspondent already reaching for the air guitar! One other parallel with 1986 was that they played ‘In The Lap Of The Gods… Revisited’ this night, albeit with a couple of word changes from Lambert (“It’s so foggy” he sang while engulfed in some dry ice at the back of the stage!) Last played live (to the best of my knowledge) on that final 1986 tour with Freddie, it showed how well the former American Idol star could deal with songs written for Mercury’s upper range.
One thing Lambert does not do is play piano while singing; that’s the job of Spike Edney, whose involvement with the Queen organisation dates back to 1984. He was one of three sidemen alongside the main trio; bassist Neil Fairclough (John Deacon has stayed out of the public eye for many years) and percussionist Rufus Tiger Taylor (son of Roger). Occasionally father and son swapped places, and the younger Taylor is equally at home behind the main kit.
There was a large stage ramp extending from the main stage well into the arena floor, and the first use of it came during ‘Killer Queen’ when Lambert, now in a studded, fringed-sleeved ensemble, came to the front to sing while perched on a purple chaise longue. This was an early high point of the show, he displayed the theatrics and the poise which Mercury used to bring, and was quite willing to send himself up at the same time, posing in an exaggerated manner complete with a gold-coloured fan! He did remark between songs how he aimed to pay homage to the great man, he managed that with a performance that had all the hallmarks of his predecessor, including a sense of fun that was lacking when May and Taylor played with Rodgers. A mass crowd singalong came during ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, a track the guitarist is known not to be keen on but is aware that it has become a favourite down the years.
The traditional mid-set acoustic spot soon followed, as Brian May sat alone on the stage ramp. He produced a camera on a ‘selfie stick’ so that he could do a sweep of the crowd and film it (the resulting footage can be seen below)
He then remarked how both the band and himself had many links with the city, (he was until recently Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University) before playing ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ in tribute to the Beatles. Following this, of course came the singalong ‘Love of My Life’ before he invited up Roger and Rufus Taylor, Spike Edney and Neil Fairclough to the ramp for another song that has grown in stature down the years, May’s own ’39’. Lambert was off the stage for a considerable period during this part of the show, but when the band returned to the main stage it was Taylor Sr who took over the mic to perform ‘These Are The Days of Our Lives’ (with footage of the band in their younger days showing on the big screen) and ‘A Kind of Magic’. Rufus Taylor took over the drumkit, and he remained in place when there was another solo spot, this time featuring Neil Fairclough initially (who teased the crowd with snippets of both ‘Don’t Try Suicide’ and ‘Body Language’) then Roger Taylor, who played a specially-built kit at the front of the stage ramp. Following a short drum duet between Roger and Rufus, Lambert returned and he duetted with Taylor Sr on ‘Under Pressure’. May performed his traditional ‘Brighton Rock’ guitar solo spot, also featuring ‘Last Horizon’. When the band re-emerged for ‘Tie Your Mother Down’, it was Rufus who was playing the drums while his father took the percussion. This was the last stretch of the show, and was packed with favourites including ‘I Want It All’ and ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’. They shortened ‘Radio Ga Ga’, cutting out the second verse which spoiled my fun a little; you know how the audience always clap to the chorus just like in the video? Well, watch that video again and when it gets to the second chorus, watch how the crowd only thrust their arms forward. I’d planned to be the only one who did that right (just like at Knebworth 1986, where everyone clapped to the second chorus – except the younger me, who’d made note of that and was the only one in the whole crowd just pushing out my arms when it got to that point!) So they spiked my guns there (!)
However the disappointment didn’t last, as the set ended as it had to, with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. This was performed as a duet between Lambert on the stage and Mercury on video footage; another loud roar went up as Freddie appeared on the screen at the back of the stage and the band played around his recorded vocal. Brian May played the song clad in a gold lamé cape, a throwback of sorts to the costume he wore in 1975 when they shot the now-classic video for this song. This was of course the end of the main set, but everyone knew what was coming in the encore. ‘We Will Rock You’ then ‘We Are The Champions’ were played as the closing numbers, these songs have ended Queen shows for as long as I can remember. For these closing songs, Lambert was clad in a leopardskin print suit, complete with a crown! All six took extended bows as confetti rained down on the audience.
Once again May and Taylor have proven their critics (this time including many of their own fans) wrong, they did know what they were doing when they chose Lambert to front the new-look act. The guys are both now in their mid-60s, and although 32-year old Lambert can look forward to many years performing, with the best will in the world there will not be many more opportunities to see Brian and Roger play live. If they do decide to do this one more time, go along and just enjoy yourself.