Queen + Adam Lambert, Hammersmith Apollo, London

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OK, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Nobody can or will ever ‘replace’ Freddie Mercury. That is absolutely certain. The guy was a true rock’n’roll god, he held entire stadiums in the palm of his hand, and made everyone be the in the front row or all the way at the very back feel like he was talking to them and performing for them individually. Which voice was stunning, his stage presence second-to-none, and his contribution to Queen’s song-writing outstanding. Queen’s performance at Live Aid is generally acknowledged to be the best performance of the day by a long way, and that is in no small part due to Freddie’s handling of the audience. And now dear Freddie is no longer with us, that is significant loss and he leaves a Freddie-shaped hole in the music industry which nobody can or would attempt to fill.

And there is no question that the remaining active embers of Queen are deeply aware of this (it is not too hard to imagine that they realise this more than the rest of us, for obvious reasons). Which is why they have never tried to ‘replace’ Freddie, be it when they worked with Paul Rogers, or now as they work with Adam Lambert.

It is interesting reading the inter webs to see many people slagging off (often in less than complementary terms) Queen’s choice of Adam as lead singer.  Even more interesting to observe that absolutely none of those doing the complaining have actually seen Q+AL perform.  Very telling observation indeed…

Having been a long time Queen fan, the news that they were teaming up with the runner up from American Idol, someone I’d never previously heard of, I was intrigued.  After learning that they had already performed with him a few times (as part of American Idol and outside of it), I figured that they knew what they were doing, and I grabbed the opportunity to get tickets to see them at Sonisphere, which was then promptly cancelled.  Argh!  Mercifully, both Queen and Adam Lambert said they were going to play the UK regardless, and shortly afterwards they announced they would be playing Hammersmith Apollo (nee Odeon) for 2 nights, which sold out in 24 hours so a third night was added.   I got my standing tickets for 12th July, the second of the nights.  Having seen Queen at Knebworth (on their last ever gig as the original band), and Queen + Paul Rogers at both Hyde Park and the O2 Arena, I was really looking forward to seeing them up close at a much smaller and more intimate venue, albeit with a (to me) completely unknown singer.  Would it work? Only one way to find out!

So it was on a pouring wet Thursday evening I was queuing up outside the Apollo about an hour before doors open, along with an already sizeable (and damp) crowd, chatting away exchanging stories of when we’d seen Queen before and wondering what was in store.  Soon enough the doors opened and we were in.  The queuing paid off as we got relatively close (about 1/3 of the way from the stage) with an excellent view.

The lights go down and we are treated to an extended mix of Flash, with the stage curtain backlight by strobes at appropriate points, which builds to a crescendo of noise and light before the curtain disappears and on they come opening with Seven Seas Of Rhye and we are off!  The lighting rig was very much a modern recreation of the ‘pizza’ style of rig which Queen famously used in the past back as far as the Live Killers tour, great to see it brought up to date and used to great effect with both moveable lights and the entire rig flexible in its changing positions.  The show was always going to be pretty much a mix of ‘greatest hits’, but it was lovely to hear some less commonly played songs included in the mix.  The band were a 6 piece this time, in contrast to the multi-musician ensemble on the Q+PR tours, with Neil Fairclough doing a very good job on bass in place of John Deacon who has long since retired from public life (and we should all respect his decision – always the quiet shy member of Queen, it is unlikely that he will be tempted back into the spotlight), Queen’s long-time ‘5th member’ Spike Edney in his usual position on keyboards (and musical director), and Roger’s sone Rufus Taylor joining his dad on drums.  Indeed, leaving Rufus aside, this was the same size that Queen were on their last tours in the old days.  Which does bring a little more pressure to perform as there’s no backup musicians to fill in and hide any imperfections!  Not that there were any worries on that score, Brian May’s guitar work was as stirling as ever, even wheeling out a double-headed guitar for one number, as well as the obligatory acoustic guitar section which included a surprise acoustic rendition of Somebody To Love this time before leading the crowd in a singalong with Love Of My Life, and of course ’39 (joined by Roger with tambourine and bass drum).

Naturally it wouldn’t be a Queen show without a guitar solo and a drum solo, both of which were present but interestingly this time were preceded by a great piece of bass solo work from Neil!  So, a good bass solo, leading into a father & son drum duet / duel (which, it has to be said, finished with the slight air of ‘This is how it’s done, son’), leading to Brian’s traditional 3 day solo.  I feel that both the drum and the guitar solos are starting to show their performers’ ages, and I mean that in a respectful (not to mention impressed!) way – Roger is 62 and Brian is 64, so to expect them to perform as they did 25 years ago is a bit much.  Roger had Rufus helping out, and for Brian’s solo there was a lot more chord and multi-echo-based work than his older multi-echo-lead-run style, but it was still an excellent solo; clearly both men are still technically excellent at their instruments!

Which just leaves the major question. How was Adam?

Wow!  His voice is absolutely stunning, no other way to describe it.  He has considerable power and a huge vocal range – that guy can SING.  He did justice to all the songs, making very good work of the entire selection of songs. He did not try to imitate Freddie, he did not try to pretend to be Freddie. He was clearly his own man, performing the songs in his own style, but in keeping with the overall feel of Queen.  He brought a lot of youthful playfulness as well to the show.  My only criticism was that he was not as ‘dynamic’ as one might have liked.  However, it is important to remember that we are talking about someone with very limited live experience – if we are going to make the tedious inevitable comparisons with Freddie, then let’s remember that Adam has been in the music business for only 3 years; when Freddie had been in the music business for 3 years, Queen had not even released their first album yet (that would be a year later).  Of course Adam doesn’t compare in terms of stage presence with Freddie of the mid 1980’s, but then again neither would the Freddie with 3 years experience.  I believe that with appropriate training and apprenticing, Adam could go on to develop quite the stage presence, he just needs the experience.  He certainly managed to work the crowd well, everyone seeming to thoroughly enjoy themselves; certainly the people I spoke to afterwords were very happy to have been there.

At one stage in the show, Brian said of Adam ‘What do you think? He’s a keeper, isn’t he?’ – very much so!  I certainly hope that more grows out of this short collaboration – a full proper tour and an album or two over time would be extremely interesting.

The inclusion of Rufus in the show prompts an interesting consideration – are they testing out the waters for a possible eventual evolution into Queen II, with perhaps Rufus taking over drums, Adam taking over vocals?  Neil is an excellent choice on bass, which would just leave the tricky problem of replacing Brian if that is the direction they chose?  Who knows.

What I do know is that Queen + Adam Lambert was one of the best gigs I’ve attended in my 26 years of gig-going, and Adam brought a massive amount of youthful energy to the show, something which was sadly lacking in the Queen + Paul Rogers tours – Q+PR were very good, but it definitely felt like the Old Men Of Rock putting on a show – Queen + Adam felt much more like a happening gig, the entire band seemed rejuvenated and boosted by his youthful energy. It was an absolute joy to behind and a pleasure to be a part of.  And they even managed to bring in some pyros and flames for one number 🙂

Was the evening perfect?  No, of course not.  A few niggles included the fact that the show was suppose to start at 8pm but they didn’t come on until 8:20pm which is always frustrating; programmes were £15 for a 24 page glossy programme which was mostly pictures, and just over alf of it referring to the 1975 Hammersmith shows – a bit more writeup and info would have been nice; t-shirts were £25 a go; and the tickets were (with booking fee) £71 – compared with £2.50 for the 1975 show (which is about £17,20 in today’s money).  But hey, that’s about all there is to complain about, so it’s not bad! The band were on stage for 2 hours and 5 minutes, which is pretty good; the setlist was nicely varied; the show was excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!  I left the gig with aching legs (standing for 5 hours, including much jumping and pogoing during the rockier numbers), voice nearly shot through all the singing along, ears nicely buzzing, and soaked in sweat – a proper night out at a proper gig!  I, for one, absolutely hope that this is the beginning of a new phase in Queen’s existence, and a long-lived phase at that.  Queen were on stage for 2 hours 5 minutes, and its the best 2 hours 5 minutes I have had in years.

Oh yes, and there are rumours that 1 or more of the 3 Hammersmith shows were professionally videoed, which raises the possibility of a DVD (reasonably likely given there were DVDs of both of the Q+PR tours).  Now, I wonder… Queen’s 1975 Hammersmith gig is one of the most bootlegged of all time, it was recorded (about 1 hour’s worth was shown on the BBC recently) but never released; what’s the likelihood of a double-gig DVD of Hammersmith ’75 and Hammersmith ’12 being released in time for Christmas? Oh I do hope so, I’ll be buying it!

Setlist : Flash (intro), Seven Seas Of Rhye, Keep Yourself Alive, We Will Rock You (Fast), Fat Bottomed Girls, Don’t Stop Me Now, Under Pressure (Roger/Adam duet), I Want It All, Who Wants To Live Forever, A Kind Of Magic (Roger), These Are Days Of Our Lives (Roger), Somebody To Love (part) (Brian), Love Of My Life (Brian), ‘39 (Brian), Dragon Attack, Bass solo / Drum Battle / Guitar Solo, I Want To Break Free, Another One Bites The Dust, Radio Ga Ga, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, The Show Must Go On, Bohemian Rhapsody. Encore : Tie Your Mother Down (Brian), We Will Rock You, We Are The Champions, God Save The Queen.

What do you think? Were you there? Leave a comment!