Lucky for me none of the staff at Where Y'at Magazine loves classic rock. I've been comped great seats at a succession of arena concerts at the Smoothie King Center and Mercedes Benz Superdome in exchange for a five-hundred-word review of the show. From Paul Simon and Elton John to Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones, each show has gotten more grandiose in both music and production. Last night's Queen+ Adam Lambert show was no exception; it was the icing on the cake.
I made the last-minute decision to bring my eleven-year old son to the sold-out concert at the Smoothie King Center. Queen is the only band that I like that my kids seem to appreciate, and my youngest has a particular affinity for Freddie Mercury, especially after seeing the recent Bohemian Rhapsody biopic. There was only a smattering of tickets still offered for re-sale on Stubhub so we pounced on a sixty-two-dollar upper level seat. The plan was to sneak him down to the lower bowl as a very big lap child. With The Advocate/Times Picayune writer Keith Spera ending up in seat two and us on the aisle, everything seemed to be working out just fine. Then we noticed four open seats a few rows down so we grabbed the two on the aisle and no one ever came to claim the three-hundred dollar-plus seats.
When the stage began to reveal itself shortly after 8:15, I knew the show was going to be something special. The sound-wall would have made the Grateful Dead proud, and behind the band were huge screens and theater style boxes holding a few dozen lucky V.I.P.s. Brian May and Roger Taylor, the original guitarist and drummer of the band, pounded out the opening notes of "Now I'm Here," while former 2009 American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert belted out the lyrics to the Brian May original from the 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack. While I loved Adam Lambert and American Idol a decade ago, at first glance, I felt like I was listening to a cover band of Queen, unable to separate Freddie Mercury from one of the best live arena rock bands of all time. While Lambert's vocals are spectacularly strong and his stage presence is formidable, he just seemed to be slightly less engaging than the singer who passed away from A.I.D.S. complications back in November of 1991.
It wasn't until song five, "Killer Queen," when Lambert took to the front of the long catwalk in the center of the floor seats to recognize May and Taylor, and tell the audience that he was, and never will be, the immortal Freddie Mercury, that the show kicked into second gear. That's not to say that Lambert didn't fill his shoes admirably and his vocal chops and incredible range really started to shine with the next two songs "Don't Stop Me Now," and "Somebody to Love."
A few songs later, Lambert disappeared and made one of his half-dozen costume changes into a spiked leather jacket only to reappear from below the catwalk atop a rotating Harley Davidson belting out the lyrics to "Bicycle Race." The crowd was on its feet as the band segued into one of their biggest hits, "Another One Bites the Dust" written by original Queen bassist John Deacon, who retired in 1997 and has declined invitations to tour with both Queen + Paul Rodgers in the mid-2000s and Queen + Adam Lambert since they first graced the stage during the 2009 American Idol.
After a rousing rendition of "I Want it All" which highlighted the drumming of Taylor, Brian May took to the front of the catwalk, sat atop a stool in his traditional sneakers, black pants, and geezer button down shirt for a solo performance of "Love of My Life" as the audience lit up the flashlights on their phones for a touching and heartwarming rendition of a song original sung by Freddie Mercury who makes his first appearance as a hologram as the song ends.
May, an actual astrophysicist, continued on vocals with "'39" as the video monitors flashed visions of Apollo 11's Real Time Mission Experience. The crowd clapped along as May turned on his own vocal prowess to go along with his nifty acoustic guitar. Lambert and Taylor joined May on the catwalk taking turns on vocals for "Doing All Right" before Lambert took control with a rousing rendition of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." It was probably his strongest vocal performance of the evening.
Bassist Neil Farclough, who has been touring with the band since 2011, took over for May on the catwalk for "Under Pressure." Bass is obviously an important component of this song as well as many others, and Fairclough handled the duties quite admirably, although his vocals weren't nearly as strong as the other two singers.
"Dragon Attack" and "I Want to Break Free" came next as the laser light show took center stage. The colorful lasers crisscrossed the stands captivating the audience, while my young son sat by my side the entire show lip-syncing the lyrics like a rock star at an open mic night. We were already dually impressed when a giant disco ball dropped from the ceiling creating a strobing effect throughout the arena.
Next it was May's turn to shine again. The arena turned dark for a moment when May rose from below the main stage behind a sheer curtain seemingly perched atop an asteroid slinging electric guitar during an ethereal performance of "Who Wants to Live Forever" followed by a powerful guitar solo, all the while miniature planets bobbed up and down in the sky as laser lights attacked the upper deck.
It was nearing ten o'clock on a school night when I looked at my son who was starting to get those sleepy eyes. While we knew the biggest hits were yet to come, I feared it was time to head home for the evening. But he was insistent on staying and the final three songs of the set were well worth the later bedtime. The crowd rose to its feet for "Fat Bottom Girls" and stayed up for "Radio Ga Ga. Of course, no Queen show would be complete without "Bohemian Rhapsody," which was saved for the final song of the set. While Lambert handled the difficult vocals terrifically, it was the one time in the show we really missed Mercury. Though Spike Edney, has handled the keyboards since 1984 very capably, everyone remembers Freddie's powerful solo introduction on piano and vocals.
After a short break with the crowd still on its feet, the Freddie Mercury hologram reappeared for his famous "Ay-Oh" call and repeat that is highlighted in the epic 1985 Queen performance at Live Aid. May jumps into the act with Freddie as if they were talking to one another. The two hologram appearances during the show fit perfectly, and fortunately, was not what could have been a cheesy gimmick.
The final two songs of the night were the encore of arena rock anthems "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions." Though we've all heard these songs a gazillion times at sporting events around the country, hearing them live was like hearing them for the very first time. They were the perfect finale to an amazing evening shared with my youngest son.
Those of my generation have been treated to some of the most wonderful musicians that have ever lived. I've had the opportunity to see most of them live and I cherish those days and nights as some of the best of my life. But Queen + Adam Lambert may have been the best of all of them. I still remember back in the day Queen's Live Aid performance at Wembley Stadium which I watched on T.V. A friend and I had won tickets to the U.S. version of Live AID, but at only fourteen-years-old, my parents weren't about to let me run off to Philadelphia without parental supervision. Having my son along for this ride made the show even more special. Unfortunately for him, it's all downhill from here.
With all of these musical legends dying off or retiring from live performances, there will be fewer and fewer opportunities to share these special occasions. Experiencing these concerts live is the only way to capture those lasting memories that I hope he will have at least until he's reached my age. Since he's a performer in his own right, seeing a show of this caliber should undoubtedly having a positive lasting effect on how he lives the rest of his life.