Concert Review – Queen + Adam Lambert Madison Square Garden 7/17/14

Adam Leading Singalong (pic courtesy of playingwithu)

Adam Leading Singalong (pic courtesy of playingwithu)

I’m not an unbiased reporter. I’m not going to pretend to be. I love all these guys, especially the front man, and I’m not going to hide it.

I watched the show from the second tier of seats, which meant I got to see everything. Looked directly over the catwalk, but I could see the Q screen, too.  It was also a no-standing zone which changes the energy. However, I was surrounded by both Adam and Queen fans, and one guy who came just to hear Brian May play. He didn’t actually care who sang. He was also A. a scalper who loved going to concerts himself and B. a neighbor I’d never met before. He gave me his card.

Show started at what has become it’s normal starting time of about 8:15, by which point the arena was mostly filled. Other than obstructed zone, though, every section, no matter how high or far away, had someone sitting there. And they didn’t stay alone long. Filled to the rafters.

There were a couple of false alarms, but then the lights dimmed, the chords of Processional filled the air, and we on  stage left could see Adam running onto the ramp that formed the tail of the Q. The lower tiers and the floor all stood and the concert began with a glorious high note, with more glorious ones to go.

First song was “Now I’m Here.” Adam appeared in Versace leather and designer sunglasses, first as silhouettes on the large video screens flanking the stage, and then, as the curtain shot up, right there. This song, and the one following (“Stone Cold Crazy”) focused as much, or more, on Brian May’s guitarwork and Roger Taylor’s drums.

And they demonstrated why Queen can’t be put away in a box – Freddie was great, one of the greatest frontmen of all time, but Queen was and is a BAND.  I know that all of them have  solo careers, but there’s a synergy that happens when a real, cohesive band plays together, especially one with a long history.  While they are well and active, it would be a shame to deprive the world of it.

And, yes, this means they are still Queen, because they’re playing AS A BAND. That Adam fits in so seamlessly is a gift, a gift that made this tour possible.

Anyway, in the first of many tributes to Freddie, in a show that was NOT actually a tribute show, Adam changed the verse “Down in the city, just Hoople ‘n me” to “just Freddie ‘n me”.  It was a small change, but telling. Adam knows half that audience is challenging him for taking their beloved icon’s place. And this was the first place he told them that he’s NOT, that Freddie is HIS beloved icon, too.

Things started rocking when they burst out with “Another One Bites the Dust” and Adam engaged the crowd in a bit of a call and response before they all came alive with “Fat Bottom Girls.”  I’ve see reviews that implied things were almost sedate before this song happened, but only in comparison. At other shows, with other artists, they’d love the response for the first three. But FBG dwarfed it. Entire stadium sang along with him, to his great delight.

The band took over for a very short time while Adam dashed backstage for the first of many changes of costume, which is one of Adam’s trademarks. Yes, Cher and Lady Gaga do it, too, but Adam even managed a costume change of sorts (well, he took off his jacket) during a 20 minute Idol tour set, and had a dozen full and partial changes when he hosted VH1 Divas.

He came out singing “In the Lap of the Gods Revisted” with a pair of gold-encrusted leather sleeves with sweeping gold fringe over a black vest (new addition for this show) and gem-embellished black platform heels under black bell bottoms. Very, very dramatic and fun.

He segued into “Seven Seas of Rhye”, his voice set on drama, and then came one of the highlights of the night – “Killer Queen.” He draped himself over an ornate purple and gold fainting couch, with a gold hand fan and a gold-painted champagne bottle, and sang flat on his back and sitting up with his feet propped on the arm of the couch. Real singers tell me these aren’t possible but Adam doesn’t actually care about the possible. It’s a piece of glorious shtick. He fans himself, he jokes around with Brian when he joins Adam on the couch, he chugs from his bottle and sprays the audience with both a fountain produced by sheer lung power and the bottle.

Adam Lambert in fringe and glitter lying on a purple couch

Adam and couch – Killer Queen. Pic courtesy of knyghtlyn

Then he greeted his mother in the audience.

A bit of cute banter, and he moved into “Somebody To Love”, where he went full-out gospel, as the song was meant to be sung, with a long, long LONG note on “LORD”.  He took the arena to the church of Glam, again engaging the audience in a call and response at the end, finishing with a full and beautiful twirl of that fringe.  This led to “I Want it All”, another powerhouse song for the audience to sing with him. And then he was gone.

I’m going to admit something here. I’m fascinated by things you’re not meant to see. The giant Q is on a pulley system so it can tilt away from the screen, or even go level, or be set totally upright. The tail ends in a B stage, where other songs were performed – and where the couch was placed. I spent some time watching as the roadies dealt with the couch, and later on built a full drum set. The stage is actually a lovely piece of structural and functional engineering, and I enjoyed staring at it almost as much as I did Adam.

What follows is a long acoustic set where the other members of the band get to solo in song and/or instrument. My assumption is that it also serves another purpose – it gives Adam a long break to rest his voice, the most delicate and irreplaceable instrument they have. Yes, Brian’s Red Special is also irreplaceable, but it’s not nearly so delicate.

We begin with Brian singing “Love of My Life” to his acoustic guitar, joined with the audience at his request. When Freddie appeared in the Q, I think we all got tears. And Brian was really crying at the end. Last time Queen played the Garden, it was 1986 and Freddie was still healthy and strong. He never expected to play there again, and here they are, in front of a sold out crowd.

The rest of the band, without Adam, join him on the B stage, where Dr.  May gave us a lecture on Einsteinian physics, as befits the astrophysicist he also is. I’m a science fiction fan and I love this sort of thing, and I love that there’s a genuine guitar hero saying this. He introduced the band as members of a starship crew before singing “’39”, which is about the time paradox.

I wonder if he wanted to talk about how it felt like time travel – to jump 28 years from one appearance here to the next, but I have a feeling he felt all of them.

Roger followed singing lead to “These are the  Days of Our Lives” while images of the whole band appeared on the screens. His son, Rufus, took over on drums for this. It was a lovely moment. Neil Fairclough then took the B stage to do a bass solo, switching from electric to electric stand-up, next to the drum set I’d watched the techs build. This ended with Roger playing on the stand-up with his drumsticks, and then doing a drum duel with his son.

This set showed the power and versatility of the whole band, plus the power of a live set as Brian interacted with the audience, Roger with his son, and the musical sets being as much improvisation as anything else. Nothing canned, nothing with a backing track, just pure musicianship sharing joy and energy with the audience.

And, yes, even with the nostalgia, there was joy. At the end of “’39”, Roger tossed his tambourine out of pure energy and exuberance. These are performers, and this is what they live for – a big audience feeding their love back to them.

Even so, the energy level changed quickly when Adam, clad in a copper lace shirt, raced out to join Roger in singing a lovely “Under Pressure”, their voices harmonizing beautifully while Rufus helped out in the drumming, although Adam made sure we knew Roger was also accompanying them.

Then Brian and the stools joined them on the B stage, where Adam gave a shout out to Freddie before setting up “Love Kills,” which Freddie wrote for Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis. Freddie wrote a disco song, but it was rearranged to be a ballad. And Adam sang it with tenderness and power. This was the only song NOT in the classic Queen catalog.

Then he stepped into the middle of the ramp and killed us all with “Who Wants to Live Forever,” filling the stadium with his voice and given me chills with its beauty.  There were lasers and a disco ball, but mostly, it was the song and the voice.

Adam singing Who Wants to Live Forever. Picture courtesy susansporran

Adam singing Who Wants to Live Forever. Picture courtesy susansporran

Adam disappeared again, leaving Brian to do a very long guitar solo. And it was long – so long that at various points the audience thought he was done, but no and applauded, but it was not to be.

I’m not an instrumental fan. I like lyrics. But this held my attention as he showed exactly what a guitar could do in the hands of a master – sing, cry, produce unearthly sounds or just plain play. And I got the feeling that that what Brian was doing – playing. Just as Adam infused many of his songs with playfulness, so too did the others. It’s just music, it’s just fun and they’re having a ball with it, and bring the audience along for the ride. It’s not that deep. Even when it is.

And then the rest of the band filtered back on, with Rufus adding his drums to the riff, and Adam ran on stage in a zebra print tank, black leather vest (with added sparkles) and knee-high Doc Martens plus red gloves, to energize us once again with Tie Your Mother Down, followed by Adam getting the audience to repeat his increasingly difficult phrases riffing on “All your love tonight.” He was playing with the music and with us, and just having the time of his life running around the stage, up and down stairs. If the solo slowed things down, this brought it all back to speed, all the better for the break.

This was followed by “Radio Gaga”, with the audience participating fully. He even complimented our “arm work” afterwards. “You really burned some calories.”

Then Elvis took the stage (after a very silly segue with Brian) with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” This was pure joy – Adam dancing non-stop through all the solos and clowning with Spike at the piano, along with Brian. And they framed him with a old-time tv set on the video screen.  Silly and wonderful and very, very playful.

 

Adam and Brian at Spike's Piano - Crazy Little Thing Called Love  Picture courtesy susansporran

Adam and Brian at Spike’s Piano – Crazy Little Thing Called Love Picture courtesy susansporran

Then we got “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which Adam began but ceded over to a recording of Freddie before disappearing off-stage, with the band still playing until the operatic section when everyone left. Then they came back after were told he was a poor boy from a poor family. Brian showed up in a gold cape shirt. And then Adam came back on, this time with a red, sparkly leopard print tank and white gloves, which was not only Freddie-esque, it showed off his gorgeous arms. He traded lines with Freddie on screen, but let the recording have the final phrase.

And the stage was empty until, after cries of encore and rhythmic clapping, they all came back to an audience fully on their feet. Adam’s final costume was a leopard print suit – sparkling, of course, and a crown on the head of a humble, honored man. He led the audience through “We Will Rock You” and “We are the Champions” in a final burst of joy and fire.

Finale - lights and bows and leopard suits. Photo courtesy josierose

Finale – lights and bows and leopard suits. Photo courtesy josierose

This was the experience of a lifetime, a gift not only to the fans of both Queen and Adam, but to those on stage as well. Adam has brought new life to Brian and Roger. Because of him, they were able to have this tour, to play the places they haven’t in so many years, to take the stage in a way they haven’t since Freddie couldn’t anymore.  They had a long run with Paul Rodgers, but he was a shaky fit. Adam is one of them in spirit, so they could BE a band again.

As for Adam – he’s not on a level to play MSG or these other arenas yet. He’s barely shaking off Idol, and he needs more hits. He grabbed this chance to play iconic songs for rock royalty just because he loves them and loves Freddie, but also because he wouldn’t get a chance to tour in this size production in these venues alone and this is the sort of thing his talent deserves. He also got to sing with a world class band, to be a part of this world class band for at least a little while. It’s a win all the way around, full of brilliant musicianship, joy and a sweet memory made sweeter.

Thank you, Knyghtlyn, susansporran and josirose, for letting me use your wonderful photos.

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About mamadeb

I'm a devoted fan of Adam Lambert, but also of cooking, knitting, science fiction and pretty anything pop culture. I'm @_mamadeb on Twitter.
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10 Responses to Concert Review – Queen + Adam Lambert Madison Square Garden 7/17/14

  1. Pat says:

    I would not add, subtract, or change one word of what you wrote, and that is a miracle since I’ m usually such a chatty thing. Thank you.

  2. Louise says:

    Best assessment I’ve read yet. Adam may not be 100% MSG/world arenas ready, but he did a damn fine job. In my own selfish way, I wanna keep him in 2-5k venues where he really connects with audience.

  3. pjd65 says:

    Lovely 🙂 I always enjoy reading your blogs. This one was full of joy. – pjd65

  4. cherch says:

    Loved this review . Just one correction. Roger didn’t sing Love of my life to his acoustic guitar. It was Brian.

  5. vistadiva says:

    Just a gorgeous piece…well written and very on-point! Thank you! And so glad you got to see the show!

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