Queen with any lead singer who isn't the inimitable Freddie Mercury will always be its own thing: Queen with [blank]. And any singer filling in the [blank] is ill-advised to try too hard to emulate Mercury because, like I said, it's not a thing that's possible. Adam Lambert, who's front-manning on the tour that kicked off last night at the United Center, is no Freddie Mercury—nor did he try to be. Nor should he. He's so completely his own flamboyant thing and he's amazing in his own right. He was reverent without relying on mimicry. I'd like to think Freddie would approve. The crowd sure seemed to.
Lambert came in second place when he competed on season eight of American Idol. Remember who beat him? ME NEITHER. (All right, it was this guy.) It was common consensus among people with brains that Lambert was robbed, but what a hearty last laugh he must be having now. Remember: Lambert sang "Bohemian Rhapsody" in his initial audition and was criticized by Simon Cowell for being "theatrical," like that's a bad thing. What do you do when you're theatrical? You front a band like Queen. That just five years later he's singing in arenas with one of the biggest bands in history, I mean, it's enough to move you to tears. Well, it was enough to move me to tears. Like, a couple of times.
The spectacle of it all was overwhelming. The stage's backdrop was a gigantic Q with a video screen in the center, used alternately to show footage of the band, close-ups of May's fingerwork, and, on a few songs, vintage Freddie footage. The Q's leg extended out beyond the stage like a catwalk into the crowd that ended in a circular platform. The whole set was so impressive looking, so meticulously crafted that it seemed mildly ironic when Lambert's microphone failed during the first song ("Now I'm Here"). It was small, easily remedied—another mike stand was mere feet away—but first show of the tour, a little fuckup can really cast a pall on the entire night. Lambert was mostly unfazed.
By the fourth song, "Fat Bottomed Girls," he was good and loose. You know when Freddie instructs, "Get on your bikes and ride"? Lambert went with, "Now all you fat-ass bitches out there, get on your bikes and ride," which might've sounded crass had it not come from a man who wears glitter eyeliner. He really hammed/glammed it up for "Killer Queen," which he performed from a chaise lounge at the tip of the stage's protrusion. "Hey, Chicago. Look at my couch," he said, "It's really butch." He was being facetious.
Really, the greatest thrill was sharing air with May and Taylor (and 40,000 other people). May's hair has grown silver—and looks not unlike a really beautiful version of a barrister's wig—but his ability, incredibly, hasn't aged at all. The soaring tones and the staccato finger tapping that makes his guitar sound almost like a synth are spandex-tight. Taylor, also spry, showed off by engaging in a drum battle with his son. Lambert was at his best when he was belting—"Crazy Little Thing Called Love" was fine, but Christ, I wanna hear him swing for the fences. I could curl up and live the rest of my life in his upper register. A complaint: ending with "Bohemian Rhapsody" and encoring with "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" felt so obvious.
Actually two complaints, a thing I bet bands with massive catalogs never hear: they didn't play my favorite song. The chaise was cool, but someone get Lambert a piano.
Here's the entire set list from my sketchy phone notes:
"Now I'm Here"
"Stone Cold Crazy"
"Another One Bites the Dust"
"Fat Bottomed Girls"
"In the Lap of the Gods"
"Somebody to Love"
"I Want It All"
"Love of My Life (Brian May acoustic)"
"These are the Days of Our Lives (Roger Taylor sings)"
"Drum battle between Roger Taylor and his son (!)"
"Who Wants to Live Forever"
"Keep Yourself Alive"
"Tie Your Mother Down"
"Crazy Little Thing Called Love"
Encore: "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions"