Queen + Adam Lambert
Madison Square Garden
July 17, 2014
Review and photos by David Chiu
Twenty-five years ago, the idea of Queen ever performing a rock concert at Madison Square Garden again, let alone America, would have seemed out of the question. During most of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, the British band’s popularity in the States was at an all-time low — although Queen conquered the rest of the world with its hit albums and sell-out shows. It was almost as if Queen — who was once the most popular band in the world during the banner year of 1980 with “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” – became an afterthought in the States. Was it because of the cool reception to the 1982 dance-oriented Hot Space album, or the “I Want to Break Free” video in which the members were dressed up as women? Who knows. The clear fact was Queen didn’t have a Top 10 hit song or album on the American charts for the rest of the ‘80s.
But a lot has changed in the last 25 years. Factors such as the death of the band’s irreplaceable and magnetic front man Freddie Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody”’s resurgence thanks to the Wayne’s World film, and the placement of Queen’s popular hits in TV ads and movies made America reconsider how important and influential this band was for bringing a sense of pomp, majesty, camp and spectacle to rock and roll.
So it was amazing to witness a huge sea of American Queen fans of different age groups this past Thursday night filling up the seats at Madison Square Garden where the band performed for the first time in probably over 30 years. Certainly it’s not the same Queen of yesteryear – this incarnation features guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor along with American pop singer Adam Lambert taking over for Mercury, along with backing players, bassist Neil Fairclough, keyboardist Spike Edney and drummer/percussionist Rufus Taylor (Roger’s son). The odds seemed relatively stacked against Queen 2014 compared to the legendary lineup of Mercury, May, Taylor and bassist John Deacon. So it begs the question: Could they actually pull it off?
The answer is yes. For over two hours, this configuration rocked out the old hits with the same fervor and passion that marked Queen’s legendary live performances from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Throughout the course of the evening, you forgot the cynical notion of, ‘Oh, this is not the same without Mercury.’ Instead, you saw a very unified group that you can accept at face value and yet still feel the spirit of the original band.
With the exception of the self-titled 1973 debut album, Made in Heaven and The Cosmos Rocks, the set list drew at least one song from each of Queen’s records from the last 40 years, starting off with a blistering rocking version of “Now I’m Here.” It was great to hear a few older numbers that probably hadn’t been performed live in a long while, such as “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “In the Lap of the Gods, “’39” and “Stone Cold Crazy — along with other tracks like “The Show Must Go On” and “I Want It All” that were never performed when Mercury was near the end of his life. The poignant moments occurred when May did “Love of My Life” and “’39” on lead vocals, numbers they was usually reserved for Mercury to sing live; Taylor, meanwhile, took up the mike himself to sing the touching “These Are the Days of Our Lives.”
As far as a major song highlight from the set, it had to be the performance of “Love Kills,” a song that Mercury first recorded for the 1984 Metropolis soundtrack; the original version was an electronic-oriented disco song; Queen and Lambert’s rendition was a more straight-ahead power ballad version.
To his credit, Lambert was born to sing Queen’s songs. The great Paul Rodgers did it previously in the mid 2000s when Queen revived being a performing band, but in retrospect, Lambert seemed to be a much better fit. Not only did he possess a more flexible vocal range than Rodgers, but Lambert had the flamboyance and charm that recalled the best aspects of Mercury on stage – as the young singer did during his performances of “Killer Queen” and “Somebody to Love.” I was never a fan of American Idol since the beginning, but I have to say Lambert impressed me.
Another takeaway from the concert was to witness the instrumental playing of May and Taylor once again live, especially here in the Big Apple – boy were they sorely missed for the rest of the ’80s. As usual, May delivered the goods on his Red Special guitar, especially during his epic solo showcase that incorporated elements of “Last Horizon” and “Brighton Rock.” The solos he performed throughout the show were absolutely lightning quick and dazzling. And Taylor still had the drum chops – he even engaged in a drum duet with son Rufus, who proved himself to be on a par with his old man. In fact, it was a shock to see the elder Taylor not performing the lead drums on the thunderous rocker “Tie Your Mother Down,” but Rufus did a capable job in his place.
The last three songs of the show — “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which featured Lambert duetting with Mercury (who appeared on the video screen), and the performances of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champion” — provided the penultimate and satisfying final moments of the show—-with confetti raining down on the crowd. As the band took their bows to the sounds of “God Save the Queen,” you can kind of come away feeling uplifted because the proceedings were so lively and energetic. The original band lineup will never appear on stage again, but this version of Queen with Adam Lambert somehow proved the next best thing and more.
Now I’m Here
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites the Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
In the Lap of the Gods
Seven Seas of Rhye
Somebody to Love
I Want It All
Love of My Life (Brian w/Freddie)
These Are the Days of Our Lives (Roger)
Bass medley: Don’t Try Suicide/Body Language/Dragon Attack
Drum solo (Roger and Rufus)
Who Wants to Live Forever
Guitar solo (elements of Last Horizon/Brighton Rock)
Tie Your Mother Down
Radio Ga Ga
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
The Show Must Go On
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions
God Save the Queen